Niemann Outplays Carlsen, Claims Lead, Crosses 2700

Niemann Outplays Carlsen, Claims Lead, Crosses 2700


Never a dull moment at the 2022 Sinquefield Cup: In the matchup between the two leaders, World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Hans Niemann, the young American caused a massive sensation by outplaying and eventually beating the Norwegian.

Other wins were picked up by GM Wesley So in the all-American encounter against GM Fabiano Caruana and by GM Alireza Firouzja who beat GM Levon Aronian. So is now in second place while Firouzja joins a big group on 50 percent and shares third place.

Ahead of round three, part of the pregame narrative was that the Niemann with a victory could pass 2700 on the live list for the first time—not that anyone expected this to happen; after all, with the black pieces, he was facing the world champion. Yet, it was still there, in the undercurrent, possibly waiting to happen. Of course, no one had told Niemann that it would be outside his reach because as he has repeatedly demonstrated in the past few years, boundaries are something others set, but he breaks.


In the game between the leaders, it was clear that the world champion, like in his game against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in round one, aimed to get an unresolved but playable position where he could squeeze his young opponent for hours. For this purpose, his weapon of choice was the Fianchetto Variation against Niemann’s Nimzo-Indian.

A confident and unimpressed Niemann had not much to worry about in his round-three game against the world champion. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.

That, however, did not work out as Carlsen had hoped, as Niemann smoothly gained a comfortable position where, if anyone, he had the upper hand. Unlike his games in rounds one and two, Niemann also made sure to stay healthily ahead on the clock.

As the world champion pushed to do something with his somewhat worse position, Niemann continued to play good, active moves, never succumbing to the temptation of settling for a draw from a point of strength. No, if the chance to beat the world champion arose, he would definitely grab and run with it.

The day did not work out the way Carlsen had hoped. Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour.

As the game continued, this became the exact narrative for its conclusion and when getting an opportunity to deliver the sensation of the tournament, Niemann took it and secured the full point confidently. The game is our choice as the Game of the Day.


The two combatants of this encounter have played this year on several occasions, but as far as I can remember, not once have the games featured GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave‘s favorite reply to 1.d4, the Grunfeld Indian Defense. For some reason, the French GM has consistently played Queen’s Gambit, particularly the Queen’s Gambit Accepted against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Sunday’s game made no exception to that pattern. When the Azeri grandmaster then chose to veer away from 7.b3, which has otherwise been his go-to line of late, by instead playing 7.dxc5, I started to suspect that we might see an uneventful game and a short day at the office for the two players.

Despite White winning a pawn, that suspicion soon came to be a fact when the players further seemed entirely determined not to harm each other by systematically exchanging everything off while quietly humming the familiar tune of the lumberjack song (well, probably not, but it would have been funny). 

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

Soon, they arrived at 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.


The Philippine-born grandmaster is both incredibly strong and unbelievably pleasant with kind words and compliments for nearly everyone ranked around him as well as those above.

After two solid draws with the black pieces in rounds one and two, he finally had a go with White against his struggling Olympiad teammate,  Caruana, who in round two missed more opportunities for an advantage than Liverpool had scored in their recent Premiership match against Bournemouth. (For those unaware, the red ones scored a sensational nine goals in that match.)

Against So’s 1.e4, Caruana opted for the Petroff, a weapon that he has been using with regularity since his world championship against Carlsen. Maybe banning the Petroff would be a way to lure Carlsen back to playing for the title in the future…

So chose the somewhat odd-looking 5.Bd3, a line he had also used against Nepomniachtchi earlier this year in an online game. 

Unsurprisingly, Black equalized and seemed to have a pleasant position until Caruana completely out of the blue played the hyper-aggressive and quite weakening 15…g5?! that 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 with the advantage in hand, So confidently converted it to a full point because there were countless mistakes and inaccuracies along the way from both sides. However, some facts remain: White kept an advantage for the remainder of the game and ultimately managed to win. 

With this win, So is now in sole possession of second place in the tournament, and Caruana’s woes continue unabatedly. 

Wesley So had lots to smile about after picking up a win in round three. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour.


Badly needing a victory after his fiasco in the previous round, and when offered an opportunity, Firouzja sacrificed a piece for a couple of pawns to rip open Black’s king shelter. This proved to be an effective way to unbalance the game in his favor because Aronian remained on his heels for the rest of the game.

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

There were several opportunities to play better for both sides, but the result was never truly in doubt. Firouzja 1, Aronian 0.


After the Saturday round, 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 forsook the otherwise trusty Petroff that served him admirably throughout his world championship match against Carlsen last year and the Candidates tournament this year. Maybe the prospect of playing it against Dominguez who probably knows the opening just as well as he does was the reason. In any case, he wheeled out the Najdorf, a decision that GM Hikaru Nakamura questioned on his live Twitch stream. 

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

It did not take long for this prediction to rear its ugly head because Nepomniachtchi either forgot his lines or mixed something up when he played 10…Nbd7?! instead of the theoretical main line, which is 10…Be6. Suddenly, the American player had a rather clear advantage, something that became painfully obvious when the Russian number-one had to play 16…Kf7 to avoid material losses. 

After another mistake by Nepomniachtchi, 22…Bxd2?, Dominguez had the opportunity to cash in on his advantage with 23.Bxd6, winning at least one and possibly two pawns. But the earlier moves had cost a lot of time for the American time-trouble addict. With just under 12 minutes left on the clock, he instead opted for 23.Rxd2, throwing the majority of his advantage away in one fell swoop.

For the remainder of the game, White had marginally better chances, but the hopes of victory vanished like a raindrop in the Missouri River.

All Games Day 3

Standings after round 3

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

Coverage of the 2022 Sinquefield Cup


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