The fifth and final leg of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour kicked off today with an exciting first round, as Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Leinier Dominguez all won their games to take the early lead. In the meantime, Jeffery Xiong drew with Richard Rapport, while Wesley So squandered a decisive advantage against Shkhriyar Mamedyarov.
With a hefty prize fund of $325,000, as well as the final GCT standings on the line, we are due to see some decisive action over the course of the next two weeks.
Standings after Round 1
Check out the full replay of live coverage from the day here. The time control for the event is 90 minutes for 40 moves, followed by an additional 30 minutes, with a 30-second increment added from move one.
Xiong - Rapport
This was the first game of the round to finish as Xiong was surprised by Rapport’s unusual response to the 4.Qc2 Nimzo. Despite gaining the advantage of the two bishops, Xiong wasn’t able to keep the bishop pair, as Rapport was able to force a trade of several pieces, leaving White without any edge whatsoever. The players then repeated moves to draw in a completely equal bishop endgame.
Thanks to a nice opening surprise, Rapport held quite comfortably as Black against Xiong. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
Vachier-Lagrave - Svidler
In the battle of the two Grunfeld specialists, the French No. 1 utilized the trendy line 3.h4, launching an early assault on the kingside. Svidler was well-prepared in this variation, sacrificing a pawn in ‘Benko Gambit’ style with b7-b5, and achieved an equal position out of the opening. However MVL kept up the pressure, as Svidler blundered shortly before the time control, landing him in a completely lost situation as White’s pawn on h6 paralyzed Black’s position.
After the decisive mistake 25...Ne8. Here MVL played 26.bxc5, as 26...Qxc5 would run into 27.Bb4!+- (threatening Qh8 mate, winning). Instead 26...dxc5 was forced, but after 27.Bg7+ Kg8 28.Qa8! White had a decisive bind along the back rank. 1-0, 31 moves.
The 2017 Sinquefield Cup winner tricked his opponent in a relatively equal position. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
Caruana - Shankland
Looking to avoid deep preparation, Caruana opted for the solid but flexible London System, taking the game out of charted territory early on. After missing an early chance to equalize comfortably, Shankland found himself worse in the middlegame, as White’s pieces had better squares to work with on the kingside. Caruana built up his advantage methodically, but then capped off a great strategic effort with a brilliant sacrifice, first offering his queen before sacrificing a knight for a decisive kingside attack.
After the brilliant 28.Ng4!! (28...Nxh4 29.Nh6 mate), intending to sacrifice a piece after 28...h5 29.Qg5! hxg4 30.hxg4 Ng7 31.Qh6+-, with an irresistible attack. 1-0, 38 moves
Caruana’s victory will surely be an early contender for the $5,000 brilliancy prize. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Austin Fuller
So - Mamedyarov
After outplaying Mamedyarov in a quiet Italian Game, So obtained a long-term advantage by saddling Black with an isolated queen pawn. Although White’s edge was decisive, Mamedyarov was able to create counterplay and stir up massive complications leading into the first time control. Facing serious time pressure, So faltered, quickly losing all of his advantage, and the game was soon drawn.
Wesley So missed a big chance to defeat one of the top seeds in the event. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Austin Fuller
Swiercz - Dominguez
The final game of the round looked quite even from the start, as Dominguez played the Petroff Defense and achieved a very solid position out of the opening, despite White having the pair of bishops. However a slip by Swiercz allowed Dominguez to trade off one of White’s bishops, leaving Black with a slightly better pawn structure long-term. Dominguez carefully nursed his advantage, and eventually started to outplay his opponent, utilizing an outside passed pawn that ended up being the decisive factor in the endgame.
Here Dominguez pushed 37...b4, where after 38.axb4 Qxb4! Black’s a-pawn proved too annoying for White to deal with. 0-1, 58 moves
Dominguez played a long game and made the most of his chances against tournament newcomer Dariusz Swiercz. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller
Round 2 of the 2021 Sinquefield Cup takes place Wednesday, August 18, starting at 2:50 PM CDT with all of the action covered live by commentators GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Alejandro Ramirez, and GM Maurice Ashley. Watch live on grandchesstour.org as well as twitch.tv/kasparovchess.