Any risk of the four grandmasters playing it safe to open the first-ever Sinquefield Cup turned out to be unfounded. A packed house at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis witnessed a lot of drama to open the event.
Both games could have easily ended in peace, but instead GM Hikaru Nakamura pounced on GM Levon Aronian's elementary tactical oversight, while GM Gata Kamsky's desire to play an interesting game backfired against GM Magnus Carlsen.
With the American number one on the verge of offering a draw, Aronian's 30...Qb5 was a drastic mistake. Nakamura admitted he did not immediately see the problem with the move, but it didn't take long for him to find that trading queens led to the facile trick 32. Nd7, after which 32...Rfe8 is met by the fork 33. Nf6+. If instead the Black queen had retreated to c6, Nakamura said he would have offered a draw right away.
"I think he thought it was too simple," Nakamura said. "At that point we had resigned ourselves to the outcome (of a draw). He just got a little bit careless. When he played it I didn't realize it was a blunder."
"It happens," Aronian said, blaming a lack of concentration. "That's one of the things they teach little kids. If you see a forced line, check that you're not blundering anything. I've been telling that to my friends many times. It's embarassing."
Aronian remained moderately upbeat about his chances, even though the event is only six rounds. "I've lost many games and still won tournaments." He paused, and after a few seconds of recollection, he then said, "Actually I don't remember a tournament I won without losing a game." He later joked that tonight he planned to "hit my head towards the wall."
He even appreciated that losses like this can help give perspective. "There is something nice about the game of chess. It is humbling."
The Carlsen-Kamsky game turned on every pawn advance by the underdog. The relatively static structure did not put Kamsky at ease. He feared a slow expansion by his opponent, so he grabbed space with the enterprising advance 14...h5! After more aggression, Carlsen's pieces benefitted more from the space, and he was able to even his lifetime score against Kamsky (the only player in the field he had a minus score against).
"I felt like pushing," Kamsky explained. "The main idea is to get the square g3 for my knight." He said Carlsen's reputation may have also influenced some of his kingside thrusts. "He is famous for squeezing out small advantages. I didn't want to let him do that. It is easier to attack than to defend.
"I wanted to play something interesting today. This is an event where you can just play chess and there are not consequences."
Carlsen did not fully trust the whole plan. "I thought [...h5] was a very weird move," he said, but added that he was not impressed with his own play afterward. "I think I just drifted horribly over the next five to 10 moves. He got everything he wanted. At some point he should have cut his losses by playing ...g3 and closing the position." Instead Kamsky opened the position, which allowed all of White's pieces to infiltrate. Carlsen said that his wasted tempos with his rooks on the c-file may have had the hidden benefit of giving Kamsky a chance to overplay his hand.
One idea both players highlighted was White's creative defensive idea 30. f3 in response to Kamsky's continued pawn advances. "g4 was just horrible," Kamsky said. "He punched me pretty well. I didn't see f3."
"It was a good example of defending economically," Carlsen said. "You don't want to defend with more pieces than you need to."
In round two, Aronian will get his first White against Carlsen, while Kamsky gets another Black, against Nakamura. "I will try to kick him while he's down," Carlsen joked about playing his friend. The round starts at 1:00 p.m. Central, 2:00 p.m. Eastern.