On a day when any number of outcomes were possible, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Magnus Carlsen drew without too many fireworks to remain in the same tournament positions. With one round to go in the first Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Nakamura is now on 3/5 and trails only Carlsen, who is on 3.5/5.
Had Nakamura won today, he would have switched places with Carlsen. Had Carlsen won, he would have clinched the title even before tomorrow's last round. As it turned out, their 32-move draw from the Berlin Defense was the shortest game of the tournament. All other games have at least reached the time control on move 40.
According to Nakamura, the game hinged on Black's plan to attack down the f-file. "Magnus thought he was playing for a win with this ...f4 business," Nakamura said, while demonstrating some of his intentions to invade down the e-file. "I don't think he was aware there are drawbacks."
Nakamura played the novelty 16. g3, giving his unchallenged bishop life but also creating a kingside target.
Later, he contemplated playing on both flanks, perhaps before pushing h4. "I considered doing something on the queenside first, but it looks so superficial. I don't think it does anything."
Would the shades make another appearance?
They did, but it remained a non-issue for Calrsen
The overriding theme was to trade the heavy pieces and attempt to grind out a two bishops versus bishop and knight endgame.
After 28...Kg2, Nakamura envisioned the Black queen going to d8, which gives the knight access to f6. From there, the American GM considered maneuvering his bishop to g6 via h5. "I was starting to think I was better at this point," he said. "I didn't see ...Qg6. It is just a good move and it forces a repetition. A draw is a logical result."
"I'm usually not too unhappy with the draw as Black against such strong players," Carlsen said. "I was hoping that he would overpress and he would play for a loss, but obviously he is much too good of a player for that."
On the choice of opening, Nakamura said he did not want to repeat the type of imbalanced position he had yesterday. "I didn't even prepare for the game," he said. "I didn't want to play anything crazy."
After the game, Nakamura answered questions from fans and analyzed the critical moments with GM Ben Finegold and GM Ronen Har-Zvi at the adjacent sports bar that the host club rented out for the weekend. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis anticipated big crowds this weekend, and that is exactly what they got.
Nakamura explained to commentator Finegold that 25. Kh1 was better than a proactive move like 25. Qe7. There would follow 25...Ne5! 26. Qxc7 fxg3 27. fxg3 Qf2+ 28. Kh1 Nf3 and Black is crushing.
Prior to the round, fans were standing about 10 deep trying to snap a photo of players.
After the round, Carlsen was mobbed by the press, autograph seekers and a documentary film crew. He stopped to talk and to sign the chess paraphernalia; it took him more than 20 minutes to get to the door.
In the game between the grandmasters in third and fourth places, GM Levon Aronian and GM Gata Kamsky also drew. Aronian is now on 2.5/5 and Kamsky sits at 1/5.
Aronian could still win the event, but tomorrow he would have to beat Carlsen as Black, and have Kamsky beat or draw Nakamura. Even then, Aronian would have to beat Carlsen again in a rapid playoff. Even a three-way playoff is possible, in which case the bottom two players on Sonneborn-Berger tiebreaks would play an Armageddon game just to enter the rapid tiebreak.
"I'm ready for any scenario," Aronian said.
Kamsky opened the tournament by choosing interesting continuations in the first two games. After losing both, he switched to more solid resources, but today he was back to the original strategy, as he eschewed the Slav.
"I've played the Dutch for a number of years," he said. "It's very aggressive - both sides get chances. If White screws up, he could possibly get a worse position."
Like his game in round two against Carlsen, Aronian again chose the rare 5. Bf4 continuation. "I don't think White has any serious advantage after playing this line," Kamsky said.
With Black's queen invading, Aronian thought it was time to diffuse the attack. "The position is really complex, so I decided to simplify," he said.
Kamsky was much more upbeat following today's game. When asked if he relished playing the role of spoiler, he indicated he had not forgotten his poor results.
"I'm playing White tomorrow, so theoretically I should have an advantage," Kamsky said in a lighthearted, self-deprecating manner. "But the way I'm playing, I don't know...Today I had a blackout and I started to play some really weird moves. I don't know why I did that."
Tomorrow's final round will be at 11 a.m. Central, with any playoff scenarios to follow. There will also be a press conference that will be carried live on the official commentary