by IM Kostya Kavutskiy
The final leg of the 2023 Grand Chess Tour kicked off today with a very guarded first round as all five games were drawn, including the all-important match between So and Firouzja, which has heavy implications for the 2024 FIDE Candidates tournament. The longest game of the day was Dominguez-Caruana, where the former Cuban No. 1 pressed for some time in a rook endgame with an extra pawn, but was unable to break Caruana's defenses.
Check out the full replay of live coverage from the day here. The event features a 10-player round-robin format with a time control of 90 minutes for 40 moves, with an added 30 minutes for the rest of the game, plus a 30 second increment from move 1.
SO - FIROUZJA | ½-½, 31 moves
In a game that’s crucial for the January 2024 FIDE rating list, which will determine a final player for next year’s FIDE candidates event, So faced the extremely solid Semi-Tarrasch Defense (with 5…cxd4) from Firouzja. Opting for an endgame, So tried to make the most out of his ‘Catalan’ style pressure, but ultimately couldn’t generate any real winning chances, eventually resulting in a draw.
Only 10 points separates Firouzja from So, with today's game allowing Alireza to keep his current lead in the race to the candidates. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
RAPPORT - NEPOMNIACHTCHI | ½-½, 35 moves
A well-prepared Nepo showed no problems equalizing in a theoretical Petroff, which led to the players exchanging off a lot of pieces early on, ending up in a very drawish endgame with opposite colored bishops.
Rapport-Nepo saw few fireworks to start off the event. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller
GIRI - DUDA | ½-½, 29 moves
In a Berlin Endgame Duda made some quick advances on the queenside, offering Giri some potential chances for an advantage. Giri found a way to snag a pawn, but at the cost of allowing Black serious counterplay on the light-squares. Soon it was Duda with the initiative, pushing Giri to bail out with a nice combination to force a draw by repetition.
Giri-Duda: After 24.Rd8+!, White sacrifices a rook in order to force a draw after 24...Rxd8 25.Rd7+ Ke8 26.Re7+
Giri is also in contention for the January 2024 FIDE ratings spot for the candidates, but is more likely to get in via the FIDE Circuit.| Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller
VACHIER-LAGRAVE - ARONIAN | ½-½, 45 moves
Facing the Ragozin Defense, MVL opted for the theoretical 5.Bg5, soon sacrificing the c4-pawn in exchange for the two bishops. He managed to win the pawn back, but at the cost of time, allowing Aronian to fully develop and equalize in the center. The players soon reached an endgame, where White had a small edge but not more than that due to the presence of opposite colored bishops.
MVL is the only player with a theoretical chance to catch Caruana in the 2023 GCT standings, but odds are slim! | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
DOMINGUEZ - CARUANA | ½-½, 65 moves
In the longest game of the day, Dominguez went for the 6.f3 English Attack against Caruana’s Najdorf. Leinier was able to generate some pressure on the kingside, but a timely defensive maneuver by Caruana forced the queens off, where White was left with an extra pawn in a rook endgame. Dominguez tried to make the most out of his advantage, but couldn't make anything happen against the precise defense of Caruana.
Dominguez-Caruana: After 30.g4! it looked like White was making headway on the kingside, but 30...Qd8! soon shut down all the fun.
Dominguez-Caruana ended in a draw after a long struggle. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes
Round 2 Pairings
The Sinquefield Cup continues tomorrow, November 22, with live coverage starting at 1:15 PM CST. Catch all the action live with grandmaster commentators Yasser Seirawan, Peter Svidler, and Jovanka Houska on uschesschamps.com and on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and Twitch.tv channels.