Sinquefield Cup Highlights

by Joshua Doknjas
8/29/2021 – The Sinquefield Cup concluded on August 26 with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scoring 6/9 points and winning clear first ahead of three Americans: Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Dominguez, and Wesley So. So scored 2½/3 in the early rounds and played a very solid tournament, which brought him the 2021 Grand Chess Tour title. Joshua Doknjas takes a look at 4 interesting games from the event. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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MVL’s Italian

MVL scored a remarkable 4½/5 points in his White games, taking advantage of an error by Peter Svidler in the first round and then scoring wins in his favorite opening systems: the Italian and Berlin Endgame. His game in Round 3 was a very interesting one because of the double-edged opening variation employed by Sam Shankland. Despite the opening success, Shankland didn’t find the strongest middlegame plan and fell under some pressure. After the exchange of queens, MVL displayed some deep calculation to convincingly win the arising pawn endgame.


Sharp Najdorf Battles

MVL defended the Black side of a sharp and highly theoretical Najdorf in two games against Dominguez and Caruana. The game between MVL and Dominguez was one of the best in the tournament, where Dominguez unleashed an impressive piece of preparation and finished it off with a crushing attack.

Two rounds later, Caruana challenged MVL’s Najdorf with the same setup, but this time MVL precisely navigated the problems posed by his opponent and made a draw.


Leinier Dominguez

Leinier Dominguez during his round-4 game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (with MVL’s portrait in the background) | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Fighting for First

In Round 7, Caruana scored an important win with the Black pieces against Mamedyarov. This win allowed him to bounce back from an upset against Jeffery Xiong and put himself in striking distance of first place. Interestingly, the line that Mamedyarov chose was one that Caruana had introduced last year, which leads to very unbalanced and original play right out of the opening.  


Going into the final round, MVL was in clear first with 5½/8 points, while Caruana, So, and Dominguez were close behind with 5/8. MVL’s game ended in a quick draw, putting the three Americans in a must-win situation if they wanted to fight for tournament victory. So and Dominguez faced each other, but the game never strayed far from equality, as So was content with a draw having already secured first place in the Grand Chess Tour. 

Meanwhile, Caruana created chances of winning the event by entering an unbalanced Taimanov Sicilian against Richard Rapport.


As a result of this game, MVL took clear first and won his second Sinquefield Cup title.

Fabiano Caruana, Richard Rapport

Fabiano Caruana and Richard Rapport | Photo: Crystal Fuller

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Joshua Doknjas is a FIDE Master from Canada and the author of two books on the Sicilian Najdorf and Ruy Lopez. He enjoys teaching, following, and writing about chess. Joshua is especially interested in the role of engines during opening preparation and understanding how AI has influenced modern chess.


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