By Tatev Abrahamyan
After a very dramatic round, America’s #3 rated player, Wesley So, won the 2016 Sinquefield Cup. His road to victory was not easy, as today there were several different scenarios in which someone could have tied with him, sending them to the playoffs tomorrow; in the case he lost, someone could have passed him! Wesley was very solid throughout the tournament, not losing any games and making draws when he needed to, a strategy that he felt worked very well for him. His opponent, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, needed to beat So in order to get as many points as him, but he had no real chances in the game and it was drawn quickly. The quick draw meant that either Topalov or Aronian, who were facing off, could catch him with a win. For a very long time, it seemed as if Topalov was going to win, but Aronian defended ferociously and Topalov ended up giving away his advantage and turning the game into a drawn rook endgame. Wesley waited at the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic center with his family surrounded by fans watching the final moments of the game unfold, as the handshake after 81 moves ensured his win of the tournament. So earned 13 Grand Chess Tour points and $75,000 for his efforts and is now the sole lead of the tour!
After a tough loss yesterday, Hikaru Nakamura bounced back with a brilliant attacking win over Ding Liren. Current U.S. Champion Fabiano Caruana won his first game of the tournament against Anish Giri and ended the tournament with eight draws and one win. Svidler vs. Anand was a quiet affair, as the Russian felt that it was hard to create fireworks against the former world champion.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – Wesley So ½ - ½
All eyes were on this game, as So needed at least a draw to ensure a tie for first and Vachier-Lagrave was in a must win situation. Everyone was surprised to see the Berlin Defense on the board, as the Frenchman desperately needed the win. Even former World Champion Garry Kasparov criticized Vachier-Lagrave, saying that he wasn’t sure what opening he would recommend but he definitely would not want to play against the Berlin in this situation. Right out of the opening, the French grandmaster went into the confessional booth to share that he felt he got So out of his comfort zone, but even that was not enough to bring the full point home.
Veselin Topalov – Levon Aronian ½ - ½
This was the last game of the round and lasted for 81 moves and seven hours! Topalov played brilliantly putting Aronian under an enormous amount of pressure and creating a lot of practical chances. Eventually, Topalov got a winning rook ending, which are known for being extremely tricky even when one side is winning. As some grandmasters jokingly put it, all rook endgames are drawn. This definitely proved to be the case in this game, as Topalov didn’t choose the most precise continuation, allowing Aronian go into a rook vs. pawn endgame, which is completely drawn. Even from their body language, it became obvious that Topalov had given away the win for he sat there looking disappointed while Aronian walked around confidently. A well-earned draw for the Armenian.
Hikaru Nakamura – Ding Liren 1 - 0
One of the sharpest theoretical lines of the Semi Slav was played, when black started spending a lot of time in the opening on obvious moves. Ding was up a pawn but had a king in the center and no development. His fatal mistake came when he captured a pawn on the kingside with his queen, leaving his king unattended in the center. Nakamura played brilliant attacking moves, forcing his opponent to resign just 10 moves after his greedy pawn grab.
Fabiano Caruana – Anish Giri 1-0
Going into the round, Caruana had eight draws and was looking for a win to finish his tournament on a high note. Amusingly, Giri is known for his very solid style of play and making too many draws, so fans were speculating whether Caruana was becoming the new Giri. The U.S. Champion played an excellent game, giving up two rooks for a queen and then dominating the game with his queen. His first interesting decision came in the opening when he captured a piece with the “c” pawn instead of “a” pawn, breaking one of the main principles of chess. Giri made just one inaccurate move, allowing the queen vs. two rooks imbalance. Caruana’s queen and bishop proved to be too powerful, as he collected all of his opponent’s pawns, leaving him with no hope.
Peter Svidler – Viswanathan Anand ½ - ½
Anand had some mathematical chances of tying for first place in case So lost and he won. After a marathon 7 hour win against Giri in Round 8, Svidler was not looking for another long day in the office. He explained that Anand’s opening repertoire is so solid, that when he decides to make a draw it is hard to do anything. The pieces came off the board quickly and the game ended with a threefold repetition before move 30.