Hometown GM Hikaru Nakamura is protecting his turf perfectly so far at the first Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, but today he wrestled for the win instead of unwrapping any gifts. A game of swings with fellow American GM Gata Kamsky ended with the pendulum in White's favor as Nakamura moved to 2-0 and the sole lead.
Meanwhile, GM Magnus Carlsen could not capitalize on a very early opening advantage, and was unwilling to enter the unclear complications of an exchange sacrifice. He agreed to GM Levon Aronian's draw offer just after time control.
"I wouldn't say I was in danger because of the position, but I was afraid because of the time," Nakamura said. His clock fell below two minutes with nine moves still to play before move 40, but players did have a 30-second increment. Shortly afterward, all four players were below two minutes, creating a much more tense ending to today's games than in round one.
"I think Gata probably went wrong because of ...e5 and ...Qd6," Nakamura said. "It's based on a miscalculation." Kamsky spent much of his remaining time figuring out how to answer 29. Rf1, but all of his pawns were targets after 29...exf4. Nakamura's bishop redirection and tactical queen infiltration essentially decided the game.
White could have also ignited even more complications with alternatives such as 29. Rcd1 exf4 30. Qf2! fxg3 31. hxg3. Afterward, 31...Qh6 looks scary but is succinctly answered by 32. Qxc5! Qxh5 33. Rxd7+! leading to mate, as Nakamura pointed out. Instead he chose slightly calmer waters, admitting that his time was so low anything could have happened in positions this complicated.
According to Nakamura, Kamsky's final chance to hold was 35...Qc6. On-site commentator GM Ben Finegold showed that the novel (and best) response 36. Qxd5 still retained the advantage for White. "Oh wow I didn't see this," Nakamura said.
The win also breaks the deadlock in their personal head-to-head record (Nakamura won a dramatic game to overtake Kamsky en route to winning the 2012 U.S. Championship, but Kamsky took their meeting earlier this year in a FIDE Grand Prix event).
Carlsen surprised most in the crowd with the Dutch Defense as Black, a rarity in his current opening repertoire. But he was surprised in turn when Aronian chose the exceedingly rare queen's bishop placement on f4.
The two have played more than 35 times in classical time controls, with more than two-thirds of the games ending in draws. Today's result didn't buck that trend, but the early evaluation was a clear plus for Black.
"I never saw the idea Bf4," Carlsen said. "I used to play the Dutch a bit 10 years ago. There was an IM on ICC who played Bf4 all the time, but I never could understand it."
Carlsen had all the chances, but not enough openings were created, and after his control of the e-file was muted, there was nothing to play for. "I could have sacked my rook for a bishop at some point and gotten a fat pawn, but I didn't see anything clear," Carlsen said. "It's disappointing but he deserves credit for defending such a difficult position."
Aronian said his position was always unpleasant. "The position I received because of my brilliant variation wasn't very good," he said facetiously. He added that defending such positions is "the worst thing that can happen to anybody."
For round three, Kamsky will get his first White of the tournament, against Aronian. Kamsky is looking for his first points of the event. Carlsen is on 1.5/2 and takes White against Nakamura, who will look to beat his rival for the first time ever in classical chess. "If I play good moves, I'll be fine," Nakamura said of the matchup.