Sinquefield Cup: Theoretical lines

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/10/2022 – Four theory-heavy draws were seen in round 7 of the Sinquefield Cup. Wesley So did not play on Friday — he was paired up against Magnus Carlsen — but kept the sole lead nonetheless. With two rounds to go, Alireza Firouzja and Ian Nepomniachtchi are the leader’s closest chasers. So is set to face Firouzja with black on Saturday. | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Bryan Adams

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So gets a rest day, still leads

Wesley So continues to lead the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis. With 4/6 points, he stands a half point ahead of Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alireza Firouzja, although Caruana has played one more game than the three players mentioned above. 

While Caruana is set to face Hans Niemann with black in his last game of the tournament (he was supposed to play Magnus Carlsen in round 9), Nepo will play Levon Aronian with black, and So will defend his lead against Firouzja, also with black.

Everything is still up for grabs in a tournament that has traditionally been hard-fought until the very end. The one exception, of course, was Caruana’s incredible run in 2014, when he scored seven wins in a row and finished the event with 8½/10 and a 3098 performance rating.

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Four draws

The first game to finish on Friday was the one facing Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Nepomniachtchi, an encounter that followed 23 moves of theory out of a Nimzo-Indian Defence. Similarly, theory was followed until moves 19 and 27 in Caruana vs Aronian and Dominguez vs Firouzja, respectively.

Both Dominguez and Aronian had very slight advantages in imbalanced positions. However, Caruana and Firouzja — importantly — had considered entering these somewhat inferior positions during their preparation.

Aronian did show a nice trick in a sideline though, the kind of variation grandmasters calculate frequently in what for mere mortals seem like dead drawn positions.


This position did not appear on the board, as the players battled it out in an endgame with rooks and bishops. Here, however, a nice variation starts with 24...Bh4, a move that looks useless at first sight — 25.g3 just helps White, right?

But that is not the whole story. Black has 25...f4, when grabbing the bishop fails to e4-e3 and a pawn promotes. White can still draw with 26.gxf4, though.

As GM Karsten Müller often notes, “Endgames can be very deep!”

Levon Aronian

Analysing the ending — Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In the longest game of the day, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played a d4-opening against Hans Niemann, something he very rarely does. As noted by the US grandmaster, this might have been provoked by the fact that MVL has been struggling in the tournament and wanted to try something different to shake things up.

A tense struggle followed in a structure arising from the Exchange variation of the Grünfeld. Correct play by both sides led to a 55-move draw.

In the post-game interview, Niemann talked about how tough it has been for him to deal with the drama surrounding Carlsen’s withdrawal. Niemann told Alejandro Ramirez:

I don’t think I even need to verbalize the mental pressure and everything that’s going on. Maybe only I can understand this, or people that have been through similar things. [...] This is extremely difficult.

Niemann is set to face Caruana and Nepomniachtchi in the final two games of his first-ever super tournament.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hans Niemann

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hans Niemann | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 7 results


Standings after round 7

Grand Chess Tour 2022

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.