Maxime Vachier-Lagrave wins the 2021 Sinquefield Cup

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/27/2021 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got clear first place at the Sinquefield Cup after all five games finished drawn in round 9 — i.e. none of the chasers managed to catch up with him in the last hurdle. Thanks to his performance in Saint Louis, MVL returned to the top 10 in the world ranking and grabbed second place in this year’s Grand Chess Tour. Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Leinier Dominguez finished a half point back. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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The first 2-time clear winner

Saint Louis Chess ClubThe Sinquefield Cup joined the circuit of elite chess events in 2013, and has been played yearly since then (except in 2020). Famously, the first five editions saw five different players winning the event, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave getting clear first place in 2017 — with a 6/9 score, much like this year.

In 2018, a strange occurrence saw Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian agreeing not to play a tiebreaker and simply share the tournament victory. Since all three of them had won previous editions, they became the first repeat champions of the event.

Then came a sixth different winner, as Ding Liren beat Carlsen in a playoff in 2019. And finally, two years later, MVL has just become the first player to win the tournament outright twice. Lately, the Frenchman had been having a tough time after failing to show his real strength in the second half of the Candidates Tournament, a disappointment which was compounded by a drop in rating points.

After quickly drawing his game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on Thursday, which secured him at least shared first place, he told Maurice Ashley:

I’ve been putting my play back together basically since July, and my results have improved. Yeah, here’s the culmination of all the efforts I made to get back in good shape.

Later in the interview, the ever-friendly Vachier-Lagrave confessed that “[this victory] feels more like a redemption”, as he compared it to his previous triumph in the same event, when he was trying to prove himself that he belonged among the very best.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

A handshake? A fist bump? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

MVL’s performances at the World Cup and the Sinquefield Cup gained him 11.8 rating points, which prompted him to return to the world top 10 in the live ratings list. Coincidentally, back in July, the 30-year-old told Dhananjay Khadilkar:

It’s good that we finished this edition of the Candidates once and for all and move on to another cycle of tournaments. One of my aims is to get back in the top 10 very soon. The other is to qualify for the next Candidates which is not going to be easy. But it’s going to be an exciting challenge.

Not only did he fulfil his goal to return to the top 10, but he also got clear second place in the 2021 Grand Chess Tour, despite finishing last in the first event of the series. In addition, MVL was the player who earned the largest amount of money in the tour (adding their earnings in individual events, as shown in the image below), even more than Wesley So, who clinched overall first place on Wednesday.

Grand Chess Tour 2021

Grand Chess Tour final standings

Caruana cannot catch the leader

Less than 15 minutes into the final round, Mamedyarov and Vachier-Lagrave found a triple repetition and drew their game. The second encounter to come to an end was So vs Leinier Dominguez, in which the queens left the board as early as move 8. By that point, the only player who could tie for first with MVL was Caruana.

Playing black against Richard Rapport, the world number two did all he could to keep the fight going. Eventually, he entered a slightly superior rook endgame.

 

Black has a small plus in this position, but Rapport proved that a correct defence allows White to get a draw without much hassle. The Hungarian was the only player to finish the event with a fifty-percent score, as he obtained seven draws, defeated Peter Svidler and lost to Mamedyarov.

Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport | Photo: Austin Fuller

Svidler’s missed chance

Svidler, who was supposed to work as a commentator but ended up replacing one of the players that could not make it to Saint Louis due to Covid-related restrictions, was the player who got closest to score a win on Thursday. The 8-time Russian champion had the white pieces against Jeffery Xiong.

 

Despite having played what he described as “a Florida move” (14.Bxf6) — i.e. the kind of move a retired player makes to avoid complications — earlier in the game, Svidler got a clear advantage after Xiong faltered with 15...Bxh4.

In the diagrammed position, though, the Russian lost his edge by going for 20.Qxd6 Qxd6 21.Rxd6, with a very slight advantage in the endgame for White. Instead, Svidler had to play 20.e5, when 20...d5 fails to 21.Bxd5 cxd5 22.Nxd5, and 20...exd5 21.Ne4 (diagram below) gives White a clear initiative with his better-coordinated, active pieces.

 

In an entertaining post-game interview, Svidler told Maurice Ashley that he had planned to play 20.e5, but then “talked [himself] out of it”. The ever-eloquent grandmaster jokingly confessed, “I used to be a good dynamic player”.

The game was drawn in 44 moves.

Peter Svidler

Peter Svidler | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Final standings

 

All games

 

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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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