Sinquefield Cup 2019 begins

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/17/2019 – The Grand Chess Tour crossed its half way mark with the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz yesterday, and continues with the Sinquefield Cup – one of the only two events with classical time control – tomorrow. Apart from higher point scores up for grabs, this is also the only event where only the 12 players part of the Grand Chess Tour play together, without any wild cards. It also carries a total prize fund of $325000, with a first prize of $90000.

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Starting the second half

This is the fifth event of the tour, after Abidjan Rapid & Blitz (Ivory Coast), Zagreb Classical (Croatia), Paris Rapid & Blitz (France) and Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, with Bucharest Rapid & Blitz (Romania) and Kolkata Rapid & Blitz (India) to follow. The four top finishers at the end of the series will play the finals to be held during the London Chess Classic at UK between November 30th and December 10th, 2019. The GCT carries a total of prize fund of $1.75 million, with the finals in London alone carrying $350,000 total prize fund.

It's important to keep in mind that the format of the GCT means that players have played unequal numbers of events in which to score points. For example, Vachier-Lagrave has played all the four GCT tournaments held so far, and hence the Sinquefield Cup is going to be his last event. (All the participants get to play three of the five Rapid & Blitz events, and both the Classical events). By contrast, Aronian and So have played only two events so far yet already have considerable points on the board, giving them a big advantage; after this end of the Sinquefield Cup, they still have two more Rapid & Blitz events to play, and hence they will know exactly how many GCT points they must to score to overtake Vachier-Lagrave.

A look at the scoring system of the GCT shows why the Sinquefield Cup is important in deciding the overall standings:

Points system

NB: An outright winner, without a tie for the first place earns two extra tour points in the classical events and one extra in the rapid and blitz events

In a way, those who play fewer rapid and blitz events in the beginning of the tour have a slight advantage compared to those who play more. It gives them a clear target points needed in the remaining classical and blitz / rapid events. On that count, one can understand that Vachier-Lagrave (with 33.3 GCT points currently) will look to give his best in the Sinquefield Cup to score the maximum points as this is his final event of the tour.

MVL

Vachier-Lagrave with a fully shaven new look, at the Autograph session of the Sinquefield Cup on Thursday | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

It is also easy to understand that Aronian's victory in the just concluded St. Louis Rapid & Blitz event was crucial for his GCT standings, considering this is just his second event of the tour, and he already has 24 GCT points.

Just like Aronian, Wesley So too starts the Sinquefield Cup with a good 22 GCT score on the table, which means that he needs to score a decent performance in the remaining three events to qualify for London. 

Wesley So with fans

So is popular in Saint Louis with a faithful fan following | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

After this top four comes the trio of Ding Liren, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who have all played three events so far, and have 21.3 points, 19 points and 18 points respectively. Needless to say, they need to put an extra effort to catch up with the top group.

Apart from So and Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura, Viswanathan Anand and Anish Giri are the 'fresh' participants at the Sinquefield Cup — they did not play at the Saint Louis Blitz and Rapid. The tournament is bound to get interesting with these 'new' faces. Nakamura's absence was felt during the Rapid & Blitz, as he excels at faster time controls. 

Nepo, Giri, Ding

Nepomniachtchi, Karjakin, Nakamura (hidden), Giri, Ding and Anand during the inauguration ceremony | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

But more than anyone, the spotlight will be on the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Though he was a firm favourite to win the Rapid & Blitz due to his brilliant performances so far this year, he was only a pale shadow of himself during the tournament. He was shockingly blund in expressing his extreme disappointment about his performance, revealing his confidence level. In that context, considering that he needs to do well in the Sinquefield Cup to increase his lead, his play will be followed eagerly. 

Carlsen gives an autograph

Carlsen in his jovial self during the autograph sessions, even face-timing with a fan's kid | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

An interesting aside of the Grand Chess Tour is that, the players agreed draws are expressly disallowed! Legally, a game can be agreed drawn only if there is a three-fold repetition or as per the 50-move rule, with the consent of the arbiter. While great for the fans, it will be interesting to observe whose life is going to get miserable because of this — the arbiters' or the players'!

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Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.
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