I’ll let you in on a little secret: many reporters try to have their report completely written before the games are actually finished. How is this possible? Well, you just guess what will happen and write the story. If you are right you can turn your report in as the player’s shake hands. If you’re wrong you have to start from scratch but this won’t happen often if you are a skilled guesser.
The Carlsen vs. Vachier-Lagrave game was a guessing journalist’s nightmare. As Magnus traded queens on move 6 they would have written “Magnus takes his no-risk style a bit too far and the players agreed a draw at move 30,” After Magnus hammered out a winning position on move 45 they would have had to change it to: “Magnus does it again! squeezes points out of nothing,” After Magnus Blundered and threw away the advantage move 46 they would have gone back to their first article. And after MVL won they might stop trying to guess. MVL did win by the way, and is now in sole possession of first place.
Let me get this straight before we get to the game. We want Nepo to have success here. He plays sharp interesting chess full of 1. e4 and Najdorfs and Gruenfelds. He’s the one guy who refuses to wear a suit to the board. He’s a huge fan of DOTA. Journalistic neutrality is nice but journalistic honesty is better. And honestly, I love Nepo and you should too.
As for the game, Naka took the IQP in an IQP position and stumbled badly around move 20, dropping an exchange. Nepo cleaned up accurately and then Naka mysteriously skipped the traditional post-game interview with Maurice Ashley. Moments later Wesley So cracked a joke about only doing the interview so he wouldn’t be fined and Jennifer Shahade mentioned that interviews are required by contract. It’s possible that Naka was excused and I’m unable to find other chess news sources reporting on this, so who knows.
Sergey sacrificed a pawn for activity early on and Fabi gave it back to stabilize the position but while figuring all this out the two of them burned through most of their time and were in terrible time pressure by move 25. After some tense moments all of the pieces evaporated off the board and a draw was agreed on move 31.
Levon played the same English + H-pawn plan from the first round but with less impressive results this time. The h pawn made it all the way to h6 but after the queens came off it just seemed like a sad reminder of all of the attacking potential that had long since drained out of the position. Both players agree that Anand was a bit better in the ending but the game ended in a repetition on move 27
Svidler’s opening was something you would expect an archaeologist to dig out of a desert somewhere in Arizona and if you plug the position on move 10 into your database it will return games from a bunch of people who never saw an airplane like Wilhem Steinitz and Harry Nelson Pillsbury. A flashy tactical sequence cleared most of the pieces off the board and Svidler thought he might be ahead before Wesley So found the unlikely defensive move 25...Qg8! and the game was immediately drawn by repetition. https://lichess.org/study/IdIqECUg/BV2HyMrF#0
cover photo courtesy of Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour