Sinquefield Cup: Vachier-Lagrave grabs the sole lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/25/2021 – In yet another action-packed round in Saint Louis, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave grabbed the sole lead at the Sinquefield Cup by beating Jeffery Xiong from the white side of a Berlin Defence. Fabiano Caruana, who had lost against Xiong in the previous round, bounced back by defeating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a double-edged encounter. In the remaining decisive game of the day, Peter Svidler obtained his first win of the event as he got the better of Dariusz Swiercz. | Photo: Bryan Adams

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Caruana wins double-edged encounter

Classical chess can be exciting. The recent FIDE World Cup and the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis provide plenty of evidence. At the last event of this year’s Grand Chess Tour, 17 out of 35 games have finished decisively, and the fans have ‘withstood’ no more than a few ‘grandmaster draws’. With two rounds to go, four players are fighting for first place, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave the current sole leader.

MVL beat Jeffery Xiong’s Berlin Defence on Tuesday, thus scoring his fourth win — in four attempts — with the white pieces. The Frenchman will again get white in the penultimate round, when he will face one of the three players currently standing a half point behind: Wesley So.

So is joined in the chasing pack by Leinier Dominguez and Fabiano Caruana. The latter bounced back from his round-6 loss against Xiong by defeating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a sharp tactical struggle.

Leinier Dominguez

In the chasing pack — Leinier Dominguez | Photo: Austin Fuller

Vachier-Lagrave and Xiong followed 14 moves of theory out of a Berlin Defence. Soon after, the American faltered by opening the h-file with his king still stuck in the centre.


After 18...hxg4 19.hxg4 g6 20.Rh1 Black cannot exchange the rooks, as White will get a big initiative by combining a potential infiltration along the h-file with the advancement of his central pawn mass. Xiong thus continued with 20...Rf8, another mistake — 20...Rg8 was a must for reasons that will quickly become clear, although Black was already in deep trouble.


21.f6 and Black’s dark-squared bishop is almost out of squares. There followed 21...Bb4 22.Ne4 Be6 23.c3 Bd5 (pinning the knight) 24.Kf3 Bd6


The piece has been trapped. Going for an immediate 25.exd6 was good enough for White, but MVL played the precise 25.c4 and went on to win the game four moves later. Putting a single foot wrong in the Berlin can be very costly.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Jeffery Xiong

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Jeffery Xiong | Photo: Austin Fuller 

While MVL obtained a rather quick, devastating win, Mamedyarov and Caruana were battling hard in a time-trouble fuelled struggle. A principled player, Caruana created havoc on the board by (correctly) pushing his g-pawn on move 14.


White has prioritized keeping a strong pawn centre and the bishop pair, while Black got to grab the initiative on the kingside in return — thus 14...g5.

Caruana knew that he needed to make the most of his dynamic trumps, as he continued to create threat after threat while giving up two pawns on the kingside. Moreover, both players were already in time trouble 15 moves prior to reaching the control. Shakh erred on move 27.


With so many lines to calculate in so little time, we cannot blame the Azerbaijani for not finding why it was needed to play 27.Qf2 instead of 27.Qd1.

The game continued with 27...Bxd3 28.gxf6 Bxf1 29.Qg4+ (had White played 27.Qf2, he would have given this check from g3, which is an important detail in this line) Kh8 30.Rxf1 Rxf6 


If the exact same variation had been played after 27.Qf2, White would have had 31.Be5 here, in fact getting a big advantage — of course, it is very likely that Caruana would not have entered this specific line.

In the game, there followed 31.Rf3 Rg8 32.Qh4 Qxb2, and Black, who was up material, had managed to stabilize the position. Six moves later, Mamedyarov ran out of threats and tricks, so he decided to resign.


Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Fabiano Caruana

Calculating — Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Austin Fuller

Earlier in the day, Svidler had scored his first win of the event. The 8-time Russian champion beat Dariusz Swiercz in 35 moves from the white side of a Spanish. Richard Rapport and Leinier Dominguez entered a sharp opening variation but were the first ones to sign a draw, while Wesley So got a slight advantage against Sam Shankland but could not make much of it in the late middlegame. The Filipino-born grandmaster confessed:

Standings after round 7


All games



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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