The annual Sinquefield Cup recently came to a close and considering how the tournament has gone the last few years, we could venture to say that this year’s results were somewhat surprising.
In this year’s edition of the Sinquefield Cup, there were three co-champions after nine rounds: Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen, and Levon Aronian. Due to this event being the second-to-last in this year’s Grand Chess Tour, “tour” tiebreaks were held after the main event, where Caruana and So went head to head to decide who would join Aronian, Nakamura, and MVL in the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour in London. The first two games were rapid time control, and Caruana was able to take 1.5/2 and win first place. But that wasn’t the surprising part. They’re all great players. Rather, it was the fact that two of the ten players finished with nine draws out of nine games in the main event, and two more players finished with eight draws in nine games. Additionally, no player had more than three decisive games, which isn’t incredibly low by any means, but it’s also not very high.
Of course, that’s not to say there weren’t good games. There were many good games, and I will share one of my favorites further down in this article. But, it seems like this tournament will resurface comments about the number of draws in tournaments these days. Despite the many draws, at least in the first eight rounds of the tournament, all viewers were rewarded with a climactic ending in the ninth round. Caruana came into the round leading the field by half a point with 5/8, but four players were on 4.5/8, so there was bound to be some drama unfolding. We were given just that when two of those players, Carlsen and Aronian, won their respective games to jump to 5.5/8. Carlsen had a nice attack early and rode the advantage to eventually capture the full point. Aronian gambled against Grischuk with a rook sacrifice and it paid off when Grischuk blundered, allowing Aronian to win. Meanwhile, Caruana wasn’t able to do much as Black against Wesley So, who didn’t push for much himself. As a result, we had three players atop the podium in the end.
In an interesting side story, official September ratings came out, and Carlsen (2839) is currently 12 points above Caruana (2827). The Sinquefield Cup caused some shifting in the top 10, but most interestingly, if Caruana had beat Carlsen when they met in round 7 and the rest of the tournament had gone as it did, Caruana would have overtaken Carlsen for number one on the rating list. What a story that would have been! However, winning with Black against the World Champion is a tall order, so Caruana will have to wait for another chance.
And now, probably my favorite game from the tournament:
This game was my favorite for a couple reasons. Firstly, I loved the tactics and attack that Carlsen was able to command in the middlegame, seemingly out of nowhere. However, perhaps more than that, I enjoyed how he could transition seamlessly from attacking with his major pieces to liquidating to a queen and rook endgame where he ground down his opponent. For a while, it looked like Carlsen couldn’t make any progress on Black’s a-pawn, but once he decided to trade off queens and could position his kingside pawns optimally, he could march his king all over the board, eventually picking up the a-pawn and infiltrating Black’s kingside to secure the win.
Upcoming tournaments include the World Chess Olympiad at the end of September and the Isle of Man Open in late October, so stay tuned for those! As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.