|The Sinquefield Ten: A Musical Preview|
|By GM Ian Rogers|
|August 13, 2015|
The second event in the new Grand Chess Tour begins in Saint Louis on August 23 and promises to be the strongest tournament in the series and one of the strongest in modern times.
The field for the 2015 Sinquefield Cup contains seven of the top eight players in the world, plus (using the live rating list) numbers 9, 11 and 16 - as near as any organiser has ever come to emulating the legendary AVRO tournament of 1938 in the Netherlands, which was made up of the best eight players in the world at the time. (The names Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe and Botvinnik may ring a bell - and they didn't even feature among the winners of AVRO 1938!)
The Grand Chess Tour connects three strong tournaments - Norway Chess in Stavanger, the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis and the London Chess Classic - with significant prizes ($75,000) for the winners of each individual event and another $75,000 for the best scorer over the three tournaments.
The GCT format is in its infancy; the organisers succeeded in attracting most of the world's best players but also adopted a format which means that the three tournaments are almost identical. The difference is the wild card and here the Sinquefield Cup has the edge, as the US can add world number 7 Wesley So to their tournament. (So broke into the top 10 too late to be included in the GCT.)
Under normal circumstances World Champion Magnus Carlsen would be favourite for any event he enters but after the first GCT event, won by Veselin Topalov with Carlsen nowhere, the series is wide open. Here is a less than comprehensive overview of the form and chances of the 10 GMs competing for the 3rd Sinquefield Cup.
The Sinquefield Ten
The World Champion will be making his third visit to the Sinquefield Cup, winning in 2013 but failing to keep pace with Caruana last year.
Carlsen has enjoyed an excellent 2015, winning in Wjk aan Zee, Baden Baden and Shamkir, but his first tournament on the Grand Chess Tour, Norway Chess, was a shocker, finishing near the tail of the field after famously allowing an unnecessary loss on time to destabilize him.
Carlsen to not play, and lose
Carlsen's poor performance in Stavanger elicited the extraordinary assessment from Spectator chess columnist Raymond Keene; "Inevitably this once again prompts questions about Carlsen's actual strength" - questions that have no doubt been lingering for Keene since the last time Carlsen finished below second place in a tournament, five years earlier.
No doubt Carlsen is determined to prove the doubter wrong and show that he is not dead yet in the Grand Chess Tour.
Like Vladimir Kramnik before him, Viswanathan Anand seems to be enjoying a renewed lease of life after losing the world title. Anand enjoyed a stellar 2014 and has been only slightly less consistent in 2015, his stand-out result being his April chase with Carlsen for the Shamkir title.
At 45 Anand has answered retirement questions almost as often as he has won spectacular attacks in the Ruy Lopez but can he really continue to hold back the wave of young talents? So far, with exceptional talent, hard work and motivation Anand, like Korchnoi before him, is showing that chess life can be big and long.
At 40, an age that he had once declared would be retirement age for him, Veselin Topalov enjoyed one of his greatest victories, at Norway Chess and is now leading the Grand Chess Tour and is tied for second place on the world rankings. Topalov attributed his success in Norway to his "I don't care" attitude, taking the pressure off himself and enabling him to enjoy the game more (especially given that his young daughter Laura gives him little time for preparation).
Nakamura has enjoyed a sensational 2015, winning in Gibraltar, Zurich, Khanty Mansiysk and the US Championship in Saint Louis, as well as finishing second at Norway Chess. On that form he should be a favorite to win his first Sinquefield Cup but there is one giant obstacle which he has yet to surmount in his career - Magnus Carlsen. A first win over Magnus Carlsen will be cause for great celebration.
It's been seven hours and 50 days since Fabiano Caruana took his services away from Italy to become an American representative.
His first outing as a US player was a success, topping the traditional Sparkassen tournament in Dortmund, but nothing could compare with his 2014 Sinquefield Cup win - three points clear of Carlsen in a tournament where he played almost perfectly.
Can Caruana put on a repeat performance for his new country? Chess fans worldwide would be thrilled, although there might be some bitter-sweet feelings in Italy.
World # 6
Giri has enjoyed a consistent but not stellar 2015, with his best result being a tie for second place in Wijk aan Zee.
In Saint Louis a new phase of his life begins, following his recent marriage to Sopiko Guramishvili. Giri will find out if chess and marriage go together like a knight and queen, in an endgame against bishop and queen. (It should be noted that in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy John Watson indirectly challenged the traditional linking of chess and marriage by arguing that at Grandmaster level bishop and queen were just as good as knight and queen.)
21-year-old Giri will be closely watched to see whether the theory that marriage adds at least 50 Elo points to both partners' ratings is true.
Second places in both Wijk aan Zee and Dortmund plus third in Shamkir should be regarded as an excellent start to 2015 for Wesley So. However 2015 for So will mostly be remembered for his controversy-filled US Championship, where So was forfeited for writing notes to himself.
On his return to the scene of the crime, Saint Louis, So will need to have taken measures to break his addiction to self-motivating notes, without risking forgetting to play well. The most unobtrusive would probably be to have 'Play one good move after another and don't blunder' tattooed on his left arm. What could possibly go wrong?
For a player who was firmly ensconced as world number three at the start of the year, 2015 has been disappointing for Alexander Grischuk, the worst performance being his failure to win a game on board one for Russia at the World Teams Championship in Armenia.
Grischuk thrives on tension and time trouble - his success at poker and fast time limit tournaments mark him as an adrenaline junkie - but the historic strength of the Sinquefield Cup should be enough to motivate the tournament's sole Russian to play well again at a classical time limit tournament.
Less than eighteen months ago Levon Aronian was rated 2830 and was the favourite to challenge Carlsen for the world title. Since then the long time world number two has suffered a sad decline and has fallen outside the top 10. At 32 Aronian is hardly too old to regain his former strength but he must overcome his slow starts and a growing Carlsen complex. After his near-miss in the 2013 Sinquefield Cup, perhaps 2015 will be the great Armenian's time.
Grischuk and Aronian can be encouraged by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's recovery from a dreadful start to the year, which included the wooden spoon in the Khanty Mansiysk Grand Prix.
Last month Vachier-Lagrave showed that the last can be first by winning the traditional Biel tournament for the third consecutive year. Add Vachier-Lagrave's first win of Biel aged 18 - when he was busy completing a mathematics degree - and the Frenchman has now broken the record for total Biel titles, which he shared previously with Anatoly Karpov and Alexander Morozevich. The field at the Sinquefield Cup is a class above that at Biel but Vachier-Lagrave, a wonderful calculator, can trouble anyone.
Where and When
As usual the Sinquefield Cup will be a treat for spectators, both local and around the world.
Those watching online know what to expect - the commentary team of Ashley, Shahade and Seirawan reunited again.
Those coming to watch the games live at the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Centre will have a pleasant surprise; while the number of games each day has increased by 67%, the cost of an entry ticket, which includes live commentary and snacks at the Kingside Diner (formerly Lester's Sports Bar) and the World Chess Hall of Fame, comes down from $15 to $10.
See calendar of events below, tournament details here and look for exclusive reportage from GM Rogers on uschess.org.