Niemann beats Carlsen, claims lead, crosses 2700

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Never boring at the Sinquefield Cup 2022: In the matchup between the two leaders, world champion GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Hans Niemann, the young American caused a sensation with his outplay and finally victory over the Norwegian.

Additional wins came from GM Wesley So in the all-American encounter against GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Alireza Firouzja, who defeated GM Levon Aronian. So is now in second place, while Firouzja joins a large group at 50 percent and shares third place.

Prior to Round 3, part of the pre-game narrative was that with a win the Niemann could surpass 2700 on the live list for the first time – not that anyone was expecting; after all he faced the world champion with Black. Yet it was still there, in the undercurrent, possibly waiting to happen. Of course, no one had told Niemann that it was out of his reach because, as he has shown time and time again over the past few years, boundaries are something others set, but he breaks them.

Carlsen Niemann

In the match between the leaders, it was clear that, as in his match against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in round one, the world champion was aiming for an unresolved but playable position in which he could pressure his young opponent for hours. His weapon of choice was the Fianchetto Variation against Niemann’s Nimzo-Indisch.

A sovereign and unimpressed Niemann hardly had to worry in his round of 16 game against the world champion. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

That didn’t work out the way Carlsen had hoped, however, as Niemann easily carved out a comfortable position where, if anything, he had the upper hand. In contrast to his games in rounds one and two, Niemann also made sure to stay healthy up front on the clock.

When the world champion wanted to do something with his slightly worse position, Niemann continued to play good, active moves and never succumbed to the temptation to settle for a draw from a position of strength. No, if the chance to beat the world champion came up, he would definitely grab it and run.

The day didn’t go as Carlsen had hoped. Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour.

As the game progressed, this became the accurate narrative for his conclusion and when the opportunity presented itself to deliver the tournament’s sensation, Niemann capitalized on it and confidently secured the full point. The game is our pick for game of the day.

Mamedyarov-Vachier-Lagrave

The two opponents in this encounter have played on several occasions this year, but as far as I can remember the games never featured GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s favorite response to 1.d4, the Grünfeld Indian Defence. For some reason, the French GM has consistently played the Queen’s Gambit, particularly the Queen’s Gambit Accepted against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Sunday’s game was no exception to this pattern. When the Azerbaijani grandmaster then decided to deviate from 7.b3, which has otherwise been his favorite line of late, by playing 7.dxc5 instead, I began to suspect that we might see an uneventful game and a short day at the office for the two players.

Although White won a pawn, this suspicion was soon confirmed as the players seemed determined not to hurt each other by systematically exchanging everything while softly humming the familiar Lumberjack song tune (well, probably not, but it would be fun).

A quick, uneventful day in the office for Messrs. Mamedyarov and Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

They soon reached a rook ending that neither side could expect to win, and when they found a way to repeat the moves, the draw became a reality.

So-Caruana

The Philippine-born grandmaster is both incredibly strong and incredibly pleasant with kind words and compliments for just about everyone who ranks around him, as well as those above.

After two solid draws with the black pieces in rounds one and two, he finally tried the whites against his struggling Olympiad team-mate Caruana, who missed more chances for an advantage in round two than Liverpool did in their last Premiership game against Bournemouth had scored . (For those who don’t know, the Reds scored a sensational nine goals in that game.)

Against Sos 1.e4, Caruana opted for the Petroff, a weapon he’s used regularly since his world championship against Carlsen. Perhaps banning the Petroff would be a way of getting Carlsen to play for the title again in the future…

So he opted for the slightly odd-looking 5.Bd3, a line he also used against Nepomniachtchi in an online game earlier this year.

Unsurprisingly, Black equalized and appeared to be in a comfortable position until, out of the blue, Caruana played the hyper-aggressive and rather debilitating 15…g5?! this immediately gave White something to play for and against.

Unforced errors got Caruana in trouble against So. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

It would be wrong to say that So sovereign converted to a full point with the advantage in hand because there were countless mistakes and inaccuracies along the way on both sides. However, some facts remain: White retained an advantage for the rest of the game and finally managed to win.

With this win, So now has sole possession of second place in the tournament and Caruana’s worries continue unabated.

Wesley So had a lot to smile about after winning in round three. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

Firouzja-Aronian

Firouzja was in dire need of a win after his fiasco in the previous round, and when an opportunity presented itself, Firouzja sacrificed a piece for a couple of pawns to tear open Black’s king-protection. This proved to be an effective way to tip the game in his favor as Aronian stayed on his heels for the rest of the game.

A determined performance from Firouzja secured the full point against Aronian. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

There were several ways to play better for both sides, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Firouzja 1, Aronian 0.

Dominguez Nepomniachtchi

After Saturday’s race, GM Leinier Dominguez and Nepomniachtchi could be quite satisfied. Dominguez had saved a terrible, if not lost, position against Caruana, while the Russian had won a convincing game against Firouzja.

In an attempt to build on the momentum, Nepomniachtchi left the otherwise dependable Petroff, who served him admirably during his World Championship match against Carlsen last year and this year’s Candidates Tournament. Perhaps the prospect of playing it against Dominguez, who probably knows the opening as well as he does, was the reason. In any case, he rolled out the Najdorf, a decision that GM Hikaru Nakamura questioned on his live twitch stream.

Nepomniachtchi got into trouble early against Dominguez but salvaged a draw. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

It didn’t take long for that prediction to rear its ugly head, as Nepomniachtchi either forgot his lines or messed something up when he played 10…Nbd7?! instead of the theoretical main line 10…Be6. Suddenly the American had a pretty clear advantage, which became painfully clear when the Russian number one had to play 16…Kf7 to avoid material losses.

After another mistake by Nepomniachtchi, 22…Bxd2?, Dominguez had an opportunity to use his advantage with 23.Bxd6 and gain at least a pawn, possibly two. But the previous steps had cost the American time addict a lot of time. With just under 12 minutes on the clock, he opted for 23.Rxd2 instead, throwing away most of his advantage in one fell swoop.

For the rest of the game, White had marginally better chances, but hope of victory vanished like a drop of rain in the Missouri River.

All games day 3

Status after round 3

The 2022 Sinquefield Cup is the fifth and final leg of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour. The 10 players will compete in an all-play, all-round robin for their share of the $319,000 prize pool.


Coverage of the 2022 Sinquefield Cup

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