For the first time in the Sinquefield Cup history, the winner will be determined in a playoff. With a clutch last round victory, Magnus Carlsen tied for first place with Ding Liren who only managed to draw his game. Sergey Karjakin was also on the heels on victory and could have joined the duo on top, but was unable to convert his advantage. The playoff will consist of two 25 minute games with 10 second delay and will move on to blitz if still undecided. The tiebreak will be immediately followed by “Ultimate Moves”, a team game with friendly banter between founder Rex Sinquefield and his son Randy Sinquefield and will feature Yasser Seirawan and legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov. Ultimate Moves will be available on grandchesstour.org approximately 30 minutes after the playoff ends.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Magnus Carlsen 0-1
“I made my own luck in the last two rounds”, the World Champion gave himself well deserved credit for his back to back wins. This matchup was a peculiar situation for both players for different reasons: the Sinquefield Cup is Vachier-Lagrave’s last event of the tour to qualify to the London Finals while the World Champion was in a must win situation with the black pieces in order to keep any hopes of winning the tournament alive. The game had a similar pawn structure to Anand-Carlsen from round. Carlsen was happy to see complications on the board once the Frenchman started pushing his “h” pawn. The big blunder happened on move 22, which allowed the World Champion to double his rooks on the g file in a forced sequence. Out of desperation, Vachier-Lagrave decided to give up two minor pieces for a rook. Carlsen converted the resulting winning position seamlessly.
Ding Liren vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ½ - ½
The Chinese player took the practical approach of playing safely without too many risks, even though a round 11 win would have guaranteed him the tournament win. Mamedyarov surprised Ding in the opening with a sharp line, putting his opponent in a tough situation. Ding’s insistence on playing safe backfired, as he quickly found himself in an unpleasant middlegame which lead to a worse endgame. Unfortunately for Mamedyarov, his advantage was small and was neutralized by Ding with good defense.
Fabiano Caruana vs Sergey Karjakin ½ - ½
Caruana had to show his tenacity to save the game, as, in his own words, he was playing “crazy” at some point. Like Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana also had to take his overall tour standings into account coming into the game and probably treated this as a must win situation. After getting too ambitious with his kingside pawn pushes, he blundered that his opponent can mobilize and quickly counterattack his weaknesses. Karjakin had excellent winning chances in the pawn up endgame but didn’t find a clear path to victory. He pointed out that just as Anand, he had good chances in several games and joked that last year he was lucky to have finished with -3, so this result is a turn in the right direction.
Viswanathan Anand vs Hikaru Nakamura ½ - ½
Anand described this tournament as the first one where he felt “gutted” by his +1 score. “I think with my positions Magnus would have made +6. I’m really embarrassed for my technique”, the former World Champion told Ashley in the postgame interview, referring to his many misses in the previous rounds. Anand didn’t show a lot of ambition in this game and didn’t pose many difficulties on his opponent in the Berlin Defense. The game ended in a threefold repetition in 26 moves.
Anish Giri vs Ian Nepomniachtchi 1-0
The players steered off main lines in the Grunfeld choosing a sideline. After a tactical sequence. Giri was left with an extra pawn in a 4 vs 3 rook endgame, with all pawns on one side of the board. Rook endgames are always challenging, but Nepomniachtchi should have held this one quite easily had he not gotten careless. In the postgame interview, Giri shared that after the game his opponent told him that he was expecting a threefold repetition, which was surprising given the extra material Giri had. The endgame became more difficult after the Dutch player gave up a pawn in order to create a passed pawn and activate his king. The moment when Nepomniachtchi needed to do precise calculation to save the game, he yet again played too fast, blundering immediately and allowed Giri to take the win.
Wesley So vs Levon Aronian ½ - ½
There wasn’t much fight in this game as both players clearly wanted to be done with the tournament. The players played down a theoretical line in the Catalan where all the pieces came off quickly, entering a drawn opposite colored bishops endgame. The game ended in 35 moves.
Wesley So and Levon Aronian