Behind the Scenes of the Sinquefield Cup

by Alisa Melekhina
9/10/2014 – The Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis not only boasted the strongest field in history, but also invested in a full-scale production to broadcast the tournament to a mass audience. Alisa Melekhina takes a behind-the-scenes glimpse while Tony Rich reveals which future high-level events the organization plans to host. Pictorial behind-the-scenes report.

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2014 Sinquefield Cup

This super-GM double round robin tournament is being played from August 27th to September 7th. It is billed as the strongest tournament in the history of chess.

The players – Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Fabiano Caruana (Italy), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) – are the world's number 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 9, the average rating is 2802, making this the first ever Category XXIII tournament!

The prize fund is US $315,000 in total, with the winner getting $100,000, the runner up $75,00, and the rest $50,000 – $20,000. The venue is the Chess Club and Scholastic Center at 4657 Maryland Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63108. Tickets cost $15 per round, $65 for five rounds and $100 for all ten rounds.


Planning for the 2014 Sinquefield Cup began as soon as last year’s concluded. Around March, the World’s top 15 players were sent “save-the-dates.” The field is solidified within two months of sending formal invitations. The players’ main concerns are usually scheduling conflicts with major events such as the Grand Prix series.

Rex Sinquefield. Credit: Lennart Ootes

Getting the players to commit was “too easy,” says Sinquefield Cup sponsor Rex Sinquefield, adding that the group of players this year are all “very cordial, very responsive.”

The goal in hosting the Sinquefield Cup is to create “the best tournament the chess world has ever seen.” Next year, the field will be expanded to eight players in a 14-game, Round-Robin format with several rest-days.


The website was receiving roughly 1.1 million daily hits. The broadcast has attracted viewers from nearly all countries in the world: a total of 192. Twenty percent of the viewership is from the USA; 8% France, 6% each Germany, Russia, Italy; 5% each UK, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.

Spectrum Studios was founded in 2009 by Randy Sinquefield, manning the camera at the set accommodating the live commentary team. Photo Credit: Kevin Duggin

Two production studios, Spectrum Studios and Fat Chimp, are collaborating to facilitate the live broadcast. Pre-production began two months prior to the match. The teams coordinated everything from table and camera placement, production and graphic design, and lighting. The equipment took four days to set up prior to the event.

The budget for production is roughly equal to the prize fund. Credit: Kevin Duggin

FST Aviv Friedman, perennial Coach of the US World Youth and Pan-Am teams, serves as the integral “stats guru” for the production team. He informs the crew of the performance and records of the players and guests, and selects the puzzles used in the breaks of the broadcast. Photo Credit: Alisa Melekhina


CCSCSL is selling about 150 tickets on the weekdays, and 350 on the weekends

The luxurious 3-story building maintains the production team on the bottom, the players on the first floor, and an area for the spectators in the lobby.

Grandmasters Wesley So, Ray Robson, and Kayden Troff drop by the Sinquefield Cup.

Next door, CCSCSL booked Lester’s Restaurant & Sports Bar to host the spectators and a team of Grandmaster commentators.

The screens at Lester’s broadcast the chess tournament
alongside the usual sports. Credit: Mike Klein

Commentators GMs Varuzhan Akobian and Ian Rogers entertain a full-house. Credit: Lennart Ootes

Visitors are treated to a free buffet of a different ethnic
cuisine every day at both commentary sites.

The World Chess Hall of Fame across the street, distinguished by its iconic “World’s Tallest Chess Piece” monument, hosts Exhibitions throughout the tournament. It also hosts a second Grandmaster commentary team consisting of Grandmasters Ben Finegold and Alejandro Ramirez.

Commentator WGM Jenifer Shahade lays down the law with ChessBase Editor
GM Alejandro Ramirez.
Credit: Alisa Melekhina

On the rest day, the players engaged in a truly novel chess variant: Burning boards, played with candles. Fabiano was taken by the aesthetics and decided to stalemate his opponent despite a tremendous material advantage. Credit: Mike Klein

After the rounds, the players are mobbed by the press
and fans asking for their chess boards to be signed.
Credit: Lennart Ootes.

A Norwegian television crew, Kaja Snare and camera-man Martin Habbestad, are on-site to interview World Champion Magnus Carlsen throughout the event. Credit: Mike Klein

FOX Sports Midwest, led by reporter Teryn Schaefer, is filming behind-the-scenes interviews. The snippets are broadcast on local television networks throughout St. Louis.

Future Events

Although the Sinquefield Cup has come to a close, the CCSCSL plans to continue making its mark in the international chess scene. Two of the Sinquefield Cup participants will return to St. Louis in late November for an exhibition match. Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian are slated to tentatively play a mix of 4 classical and 16 rapid games over five days.

A preview match was played on Tuesday, September 9th in six rapid games of chess 960 between Nakamura and Aronian, after a draw in the first game all of the other games were won by black! Nakamura took a nail-biter 3.5-2.5.

Tony Rich deemed Nakamura and Aronian his “two favorite players, stylistically.” He admires their fighting spirit and creative ideas. Credit: Lennart Ootes

Executive Director of CCSCSL, Tony Rich, hopes that hosting matches like this will “prepare the two players for a future World Championship run.”

Tony can usually be found working in his office during the rounds. He is hard at work on a number of exciting international tournaments. Photo credit Alisa Melekhina

If the Saint Louis Chess Club has it its way, the World Championship run will take place in St. Louis as well. CCSCSL has its eye on hosting Candidates Matches, the World Cup, and even the World Championship match itself.

The last time St. Louis hosted a World Championship Match was in 1886. The Steinitz-Zukertort match took place in thirds between New York, St. Louis, and New Orleans.

Presently, CCSCL is gearing up for a bid to host the 2020 Olympiad. On whether St. Louis is equipped to host one of the world’s largest tournaments, Rich is confident. “I know we can. I’ve done the legwork on that idea.” The Club is prepared to undertake the big financial commitment, and is working on obtaining sponsorship from local tourist bureaus.

Based on the organizational success of the Sinquefield Cup as the strongest tournament in history, we can expect to see St. Louis as another staple in the international chess tournament circuit.


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Alisa Melekhina is a FIDE master and one of the top female players in the United States. She won a gold medal at the 2009 Women’s World Team Championships in Ningbo, China. Alisa has competed in the United States Women’s Championships eight times, finishing third in 2009 and fifth in 2014. She is currently an attorney in New York City, practicing in the fields of intellectual property and commercial litigation. She is author of “Reality Check,” a book that discusses successful competitive strategy on and off the chess board. Her Web site is


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