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10 Things We Learned From the 2013 Sinquefield Cup Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
September 17, 2013
Carlsen with the Sinquefield Cup, with Jeanne & Rex Sinquefield in the background. Photo Cathy Rogers

(1) Chess is a game for two players with 32 pieces, 64 squares and in the end Carlsen wins

This paraphrase of Gary Lineker's famous comment about soccer has also been applied to Garry Kasparov but now fits Carlsen perfectly.

The Norwegian has won six of his past nine tournaments, and in the remaining three he finished just half a point from first place.

(2) Jeanne Sinquefield was wrong

At the closing dinner, Jeanne Sinquefeld, the co-patron of the Sinquefield Cup along with her husband Rex, admitted, "I let my husband play chess because I knew it couldn't be expensive!"

With tournament prizes of $70,000 for the winner, $20,000 for last place, plus appearance fees, hotel bookings and other costs, the Sinquefield Cup would have cost more than the average golf amateur spends on his or her hobby in a lifetime!

(3) It's not about the money

Saint Louis 2013 Round 6
White: M.Carlsen
Black: L.Aronian
Position after Black's 47th move


Aronian had been pressing for the entire game and only a few moves earlier (when Black had a rook on d2) Carlsen had been moving his king back and forth. After his last move, 47...Kb7, Aronian offered Carlsen a draw, a result which would have netted Carlsen first place outright and the $70,000 first prize without risk. (A loss would have thrown Carlsen into a three-way tie for first place with Aronian and Nakamura.)

Yet Carlsen declined the offer without much thought - a decision which caused Ashley in his internet commentary to suggest that he had never seen a similar act of bravery before.
Carlsen and Aronian in the final round of the Sinquefield Cup, Photo Cathy Rogers

After the game, which Carlsen won 23 moves later, Aronian explained that he never expected his opponent to accept, saying "This is chess, it's not about money, it's about objectivity." If you stand better, you have an obligation to yourself and to the game of chess to make the maximum out of the position.

(4) If you invite the right players, even a four player tournament will provide plenty of entertainment

Four players tournaments are always a risky proposition; if one or both games are boring and/or short then fans feel ripped off. The Sinquefield Cup had a 30 move rule - no agreed draws before move 30 but that is no insurance against dull games.

Fortunately all four players displayed the one characteristic you need to have a successful four-player event - fearlessness. Even the lowest rated player in the field, Gata Kamsky, did not try to shut his opponents down and in a parallel universe at least one of the four attacks he generated might have crashed through and moved Kamsky out of the tournament cellar.

Saint Louis 2013 Round 5
White: L.Aronian
Black: G.Kamsky
Position after Black's 27th move


Kamsky's last move, 27...Qf6!, threatens to blow open the position with 28..h4, and it took some brave defence by Aronian to survive.

"I thought that 28.Rb3 was a bit passive," said Aronian."I knew that 28.Nxh5 was dangerous but it either works or it doesn't."
28...Qh8 29.Nf4 Bc3 wins the exchange, but after 30.Qe2! Bxe1 31.Bxf5! Black is the player who must be careful.
29.Nf4 Rd7 30.Nd5 Rh7 31.Kf1 Qh1+ 32.Ke2 Qxg2 33.Rg1!

Somehow White can survive Black's attack and the game ended in a draw after
33...Qf3+ 34.Kf1 Kg7 35.Qd1 Bxd5 36.Qxd5 Qxd5 37.cxd5 Kf6 38.Kg2 Rfh8 39.Rh1 Rxh1 40.Rxh1 Rxh1 41.Kxh1 c4 42.Kg2 Bb2 43.Kf1 Ke5 44.Ke2 ½-½

(5) Magnus Carlsen wins tournaments even when not in top form
Having not played since the Tal Memorial in Moscow in June, Carlsen was expected to be a little rusty and at the final press conference Carlsen expressed general satisfaction with his form. However even when rusty one does not expect the top rated player in the world to find plans such as....

Saint Louis 2013 Round 1
White: M.Carlsen
Black: G.Kamsky
Position after Black's 20th move

21.Rc2 Qd8 22.Rcc1
"I drifted horribly around here," admitted Carlsen, "and he got everything he wanted."

Kamsky started an attack with 22...h4 and later ...g5 but was out-calculated by Carlsen in the complications.

The next day was perhaps even more worrying for Carlsen fans. Given a great opening, Carlsen showed all the decisiveness of a horse equidistant from two rivers...

Saint Louis 2013 Round 2
White: L.Aronian
Black: M.Carlsen
Position after White's 17th move


Carlsen has outplayed Aronian and after the logical moves 17...Rab8 or 17...Rfe8, Black would have excellent chances.
However Carlsen spends six of the next dozen moves trying to decide where to put his rooks...
18.Qd2 a6 19.Rad1 Rb8 20.a4 Qd8! 21.Rb1 Qa5 22.Qd1 Qb4 23.Bf2 Rbe8 24.Be1 Qb3 25.Qxb3 Nxb3 26.Bc2 Na5! 27.Bd3 Re3 28.Rd1 Rb8
"OK, this rook move was nonsense," admitted Carlsen, who should have tried 28...Rfe8 29.Bf2 Rxd3! (29...R3e7 30.Bh4 is nothing.) 30.Rxd3 Nxc4 but could not bring himself to take any risks.
29.Bf2 Ree8

From the first diagram to the second, Carlsen has done little except shuffle his rooks and exchange queens, the game being drawn 10 moves later. ½-½

By then Carlsen was half a point behind home town favourite Nakamura and in round three it was Nakamura who made all the running, with Black, against the world number one

In round four, two days later, Carlsen's play was still showing uncharacteristic hesitancy...

Saint Louis 2013 Round 4
White: G.Kamsky
Black: M.Carlsen
Position after White's 36th move


Carlsen is a pawn up for nothing but now starts a series of bishop moves which would be baffling even if Black did not have a forced win with 36...Nxb2 37.Rxb2 Ba3 38.Rc2 Rd2.
37.Nxd3 Rxd3+ 38.Kg2 Bc5 39.Rc1 Rd2 40.Rc2 Rxe2+ 41.Rxe2 Rd3 42.Rc2 Bd6 43.Bc1 Be7


Still searching for the right square...
44.Kf2 a4

And this is hardly perfect timing, since had Kamsky played 45.bxa4 he would have had excellent drawing chances. Instead the US Champion erred with
and lost the bishop endgame after
45...Rxd2+ 46.Bxd2 axb3 47.axb3 c5 48.g4?! b5 49.gxh5 gxh5 50.Bc3 b4 51.Bb2 Bh4+ 52.Ke2 Bg3 53.f5 h4 54.e5 h3 55.e6+ Ke7 56.Kf3 Bf4 57.Bg7 Bg5 58.Be5 c4 59.bxc4 Bf6 0-1

In all, including the back and forth king moves in his last round win over Aronian, all three of Carlsen's wins came after a period of doing nothing.

(6) The US is again hosting elite tournaments

57 years after the second Piatigorsky Cup - an historic tournament well covered in the Jacqueline Piatigorsky tribute at the World Chess Hall of Fame over the road from the Sinquefield Cup venue - the US again held a tournament starring only the cream of the chess world.
Hall of Fame, Photo Cathy Rogers

Rex Sinquefield expressed his hope that one day Saint Louis would be spoken of in similar terms to Linares or Wijk aan Zee, as a traditional chess venue. Given the reactions of the players to their treatment and conditions in Saint Louis, all will be happy to return to Missouri, though exactly how the tournament could improve from its first edition, without hiring Busch Stadium III to better accommodate the spectators, is hard to imagine.

(7) Hikaru Nakamura looks like a top 5 player
GM Hikaru Nakamura, Photo Cathy Rogers

Nakamura led Carlsen for the first half of the tournament and had no trouble in either game against the world number one. One bad game against Aronian apart, Nakamura took controlled risks and stayed calm when matters threatened to get out of hand in both games against Kamsky.

(8) US Chess fans will pay to watch chess

Charging $15 for a spectator ticket to a chess tournament was risky, and the organizers admitted before the first round that they had no idea how many people would turn up at the Saint Louis Chess Club, rather than watch the games at home on the internet.

They need not have worried. The crowds grew day by day until the Nakamura-Carlsen fifth round game on the Saturday saw both commentary rooms overflowing and the excess filling Lester's Restaurant, watching the internet commentary on television screens around the sports bar.

200+ paying customers on a single day is not yet London Classic territory but exceeds the spectator numbers seen in the past at high level tournaments like Linares and, more importantly, created a buzz around the venue which would have positively affected the players' motivation.

(9) Anand will be the underdog at the World Championship match in November

Carlsen, in modest form at Saint Louis, performed at a 2966 level. Enough said.

(10) Saint Louis has one of the best chess clubs in the world

A three story chess club in a trendy locale with 900 members, a Grandmaster-in-Residence and a Hall of Fame across the road is hard to beat. Add to that an outreach program which covers more than 100 schools and being the venue for multiple high level events, and even Moscow Chess Club - especially Moscow Chess Club - would be jealous. That such a club has turned up in Saint Louis, rather than one of the big cities on the coast, is thanks to the Sinquefields.

The Piatigorsky Cup was held only twice; from Rex Sinquefield's statements after the first Sinquefield Cup, the Saint Louis Chess Club may be hosting many more super-tournaments in coming years.

Find more details on the Sinquefield Cup on the official site and look for CLO editor and commentator Jennifer Shahade's top moments from the event.

GM Ian Rogers will be filing pieces from the upcoming World Championship match in Chennai in November, as well as an article to the current Women's World Championship match, in which Hou Yifan leads against Ushenina 3.5-1.5.