Sinquefield Cup: MVL still leads, So wins Grand Chess Tour

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/26/2021 – With all five games drawn on Wednesday, Vachier-Lagrave is leading the Sinquefield Cup, half a point ahead of Caruana, So, and Dominguez heading into the final round. At the same time, American Grandmaster Wesley So has clinched first place in the 2021 Grand Chess Tour, securing a minimum of 7 GCT points from the Sinquefield Cup. He can no longer be mathematically caught in the overall tour standings. For his efforts, So earns the $100,000 first place bonus prize. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Wesley So clinches first place in the series

For a second time in the six editions of the series, Wesley So has won the Grand Chess Tour. The Filipino-born star won the circuit for the first time back in 2016, after winning both the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic. This time around, his victory at the Paris GCT and his good — albeit not fantastic — performances at the Superbet Classic and the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz have allowed him to secure first place in the overall standings with a round to spare at the Sinquefield Cup.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave entered the last event of this year’s series in second and third place, 5.8 and 6.3 points behind So respectively. While Shakh is already out of contention for tournament victory and cannot catch So in the final round, MVL is currently the sole leader in Saint Louis. However, even if the Frenchman gets sole first place (13 points), there is no way for So to score less than 7 points, which means he cannot be caught up by his colleague in the yearly standings.

Thus, So will take home an extra $100,000 prize for his efforts. The series grants prizes for the top 3 places, with $75,000 for second and $50,000 for third. Given the current tournament situation, Vachier-Lagrave has secured second place, while Mamedyarov and Fabiano Caruana are still fighting for the third bonus prize.

Wesley So

Wesley So drew Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with the black pieces in the penultimate round of the Sinquefield Cup | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Although there is not much to fight for in the series, the battle to win the prestigious round-robin tournament is very much ongoing. Vachier-Lagrave goes into the final round a half point ahead of So, Caruana and Leinier Dominguez. The Frenchman will play black against Mamedyarov; Caruana will also have black, against Richard Rapport; while So will play white against Dominguez in their crucial direct encounter.

It has been an all-around exciting event, with plenty of fighting chess, so we can safely expect for the final round to be a thriller, with Rapport and Mamedyarov not the kind of players to readily acquiesce to a draw even when they are not directly fighting for first place. 

Let us not forget that the tournament in Saint Louis offers a hefty $325,000 prize fund as a standalone event.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Tournament leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Missed chances for Shankland and Xiong

All games finished drawn on Wednesday, and most likely the two contenders who left the playing hall more disappointed by their results were Sam Shankland and Jeffery Xiong, who missed clear opportunities to score full points in the penultimate round.

Xiong was surprised by Mamedyarov’s 28th move.

 

The young American is an exchange up, and a couple of moves before reaching the diagrammed position, he had managed to neutralize Black’s initiative. Nonetheless, by placing his queen on d2 in the previous move (instead of f3), he allowed his opponent to save a draw with 28...Nd3.

After 29.Qxd3 (what else?), Black gives a perpetual check with 29...Qh2+ 30.Kf2 Qg3+ 31.Kg1 Qh2+, etcetera. Note that the king cannot escape via f1 nor e2 due to ...Bc4, grabbing the queen.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov | Photo: Crystal Fuller

Shankland, who much like Xiong currently has a -1 score, got an unexpected chance after Dominguez blundered on move 29.

 

29.Be6 was Dominguez’s error. In a case of mutual blindness, the players continued with 29...Nd4 30.Bd5 Nf5 31.Be6 Nd4 32.Bd5, repeating moves and signing a draw. 

Black missed 29...Rxe4 in the diagrammed position, winning. After 30.Bxf5 Rf4 31.Rgxg7, the idea that both players failed to foresee is that Black can capture with 32...R8xf5, and the doubled rooks on the seventh file cannot save the day for White.

 

Of course, the ‘more natural’ capture with the other black rook would have actually allowed White to give mate with his rooks along the g and h-files, while in the position shown above the black king can escape via f8. Shankland would have simply emerged a piece up, with a clearly winning position.

Sam Shankland

Sam Shankland’s reaction after Maurice Ashley showed him the chance he had just missed | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The final round of the tournament kicks off Thursday at 16.00 ET (22.00 CEST, 20.00 UTC).


Standings after round 8

 

All games

 

Links


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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