The Sinquefield Cup, final qualification leg of the Grand Chess Tour was inaugurated in a simple opening ceremony at the Saint Louis Chess Club, Missouri, USA on Friday. The field includes the same 9 players who have been part of the tour so far, with the added twist of Magnus Carlsen, reigning world champion and the highest rated player in the world added to the lineup as a wild card for the event. This means that, Carlsen’s results will not be counted for the Tour points, which will decide the 4 players who will advance to the knockout final stage to be held at London during December 2018.
Viswanathan Anand has had a tough ride in the tour so far, placed last at 9th in the table with 9 points totally, whereas American Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura leads the table with 33 points, followed by Vachier-Lagrave (25), Karjakin (24), So (23), Aronian (19) etc. Anand’s chances to qualify for the knockout stage appear remote, while it will be a fierce fight for those at the top of the table, as the leaderboard can get completely deconstructed because the Sinquefield offers higher Grand Prix points.
The earlier events of the tour at Leuven (Belgium), Paris (France) and the Saint Louis event which just concluded on Wednesday, were a combination of Rapid and Blitz tournaments. They carried a total prize fund of US $150,000 and 13 Grand Prix points (12 in case of a winner from a playoff after a tie) for each tournament. The Sinquefield Cup is the only event with classical chess time control, with 100 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 60 minutes for the remainder of the game, with a 30 second time delay from the first move. It also carries a total prize fund of US $300,000 and 20 Grand Prix points (18 in case of a winner from a playoff after a tie) making it significant competitively.
An encouraging factor for Anand is that he has performed much better in the classical tournaments he has participated in 2018 so far, at the Stavenger event (Norway), Grenke Classic (Germany) and Tata Steel (Netherlands). However, he also needs to bounce back from his indifferent play in the rapid & blitz event which concluded just two days ago at the same venue. So, it all depends upon his ability to bounce back psychologically in these two intervening days, which will decide his quality of play more than his track record this year. The arrival of his second, Grandmaster Grzegorz Gajewski of Poland might prove helpful for him in this regard.
More than anything, Sinquefield Cup is a much awaited tournament for the chess world as it will see the world champion Carlsen and his challenger Fabiano Caruana in action, before they take on each other in the fight for the title of world champion at London during November 2018. It is an unusual occurrence for the protagonists to fight each other nearer to the time of the all-important world championship clash, and hence will be eagerly followed by chess fans.
Carlsen is a favourite to win any tournament he participates, but he was not able to win the previous tournament he participated at Biel (Switzerland) last month, which was won by Mamedyarov. Even more significantly, Caruana emerged as the winner of the Stavenger event in Norway (during June 2018) and Grenke Classic in Germany (April 2018), both ahead of Carlsen, and both after winning the Candidates event in Mar 2018. Thus, the challenger has clearly demonstrated his ability to upstage the champion when time arises. But he has also made the questionable decision to participate in 6 tournaments so far in a span of just 5 months after earning the right to challenge Carlsen, which may backfire when it comes to preserving his energy and getting ready with reservoir of creative ideas to battle at the most important event of his career so far.
The strength of the tournament can be measured by the fact that, all the players in the tournament belong to the top 15 of the world, with a mammoth average rating of 2787. First round starts on Saturday at 1 PM local time.
First Round pairings (with players’ current ratings in ELO points):
Vachier-Lagrave (2796) – Carlsen (2866)
Nakamura (2812) – Anand (2771)
Aronian (2794) – Karjakin (2791)
Mamedyarov (2782) – So (2794)
Caruana (2785) – Grischuk (2782)
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Updated Date: Aug 18, 2018 18:47:35 IST