So Clinches GCT Championship, Chases MVL for Sinquefield Cup

2021 Grand Chess Tour Champion GM Wesley So
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GM Wesley So clinched the title of 2021 Grand Chess Tour Champion and its top $100,000 prize in the Saint Louis Chess Club. // photo Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour


A day of draws kept the 2021 Sinquefield Cup standings steady through its penultimate round 8, though the peaceful results were enough to put $100,000 in the pocket of Grandmaster Wesley So.  

So clinched the Grand Chess Tour’s top overall prize and its 2021 champion title on Wednesday, after being ensured of a permanent lead in overall tour points over his closest chasers: Azerbaijan GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.  

While the latter will have to settle for second place in the summer tour, still within MVL’s reach is the top $90,000 prize of the Sinquefield Cup’s individual purse. Entering the U.S. super-tournament’s final round, the French No. 1 holds clear first with 5.5/8 and a half-point lead over the American trio of GMs Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Dominguez and So. 


2021 Sinquefield Cup R8 standings
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courtesy Grand Chess Tour


Fireworks are certain when So takes White against Dominguez on Thursday, both needing the full point should MVL falter in his final pairing with Mamedyarov. Caruana takes Black against Hungarian GM Richard Rapport, who sits behind the chasing pack at 50-percent through 8 rounds. Full pairings and results may be found here

So had his shot at MVL in Wednesday’s penultimate round but played it safe in a Berlin, and the Frenchman was happy to oblige. Things might have felt momentarily hairy for Black with White’s rooks stacked on the e-file, but So defended calmly, seeing the queens off the board on the 23rd move and both pairs of rooks a few moves later. 


GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
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French No. 1 GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is sitting pretty with a half-point lead over the 2021 Sinquefield Cup field, entering the final round. // photo Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

[pgn][Event "8th Sinquefield Cup 2021"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2021.08.25"] [Round "8.4"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C67"] [WhiteElo "2751"] [BlackElo "2772"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (5s)"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "2021.08.17"] {[%evp 15,99,29,29,29,61,47,47,52,53,5,5,11,0,-4,38,34,40,49,71,71,78,64,69,64, 78,26,26,13,25,11,29,31,31,9,15,0,21,21,21,11,21,4,4,4,4,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0, 0,0,0,0,0,-8,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,-23,-23,-33,-35,-40,5,5,5,5,5,0,0,0,0,0]} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 O-O 9. Nc3 {C67: Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defence: 4 0-0 Nxe4.} Ne8 10. d4 Bf6 11. Re1 {White is slightly better.} d5 $1 12. b3 {[%eval 5,18]} (12. Bf4 $14 {[%eval 53,16]}) 12... c6 $11 13. Ba3 Nd6 14. Qf3 $146 ({Predecessor:} 14. Bd3 Be6 15. Ne2 Re8 16. Nf4 Qd7 17. Nxe6 Rxe6 18. Rxe6 Qxe6 19. c3 Re8 20. Qc2 {1/2-1/2 (36) Berzinsh,R (2390)-Mischuk,D (2355) Cheliabinsk 2019}) 14... Be6 {[%eval 38,18]} (14... Nf5 $1 $11 {[%eval -4,18] is more appropriate.}) 15. Qf4 $14 Be7 16. Bd3 Ne8 17. Bxe7 Qxe7 18. Re5 g6 19. Rae1 Ng7 20. Ne2 {[%eval 26,17]} (20. Na4 $16 {[%eval 78,15]}) 20... Rae8 $11 21. Ng3 Qd6 22. Qf6 Qd8 23. Qxd8 Rxd8 24. h4 Rfe8 25. h5 {[#] Strongly threatening h6.} f6 26. R5e3 {aiming for h6.} Bf7 27. hxg6 (27. h6 {looks sharper.} Rxe3 28. Rxe3 Ne6 29. Ne2 Re8 30. f3) 27... hxg6 28. Rxe8+ (28. f4 {with more complications.} f5 29. Rxe8+ Rxe8 30. Rxe8+ Bxe8 31. Kf2) 28... Rxe8 29. Rxe8+ Nxe8 {[%mdl 4096] Endgame KBN-KBN} 30. f3 Nd6 31. Kf2 Kg7 32. Ke3 Be6 33. Ne2 g5 34. g4 f5 35. f4 Kf6 36. fxg5+ Kxg5 37. gxf5 Bxf5 38. c4 Bxd3 39. Kxd3 dxc4+ 40. bxc4 {KN-KN} Kf5 41. Nc3 Ke6 42. a4 b6 43. a5 bxa5 44. d5+ cxd5 45. Nxd5 Nxc4 {[%eval 5,27]} 46. Kxc4 $15 { KN-KPP. The position is equal.} a4 47. Nf4+ Kf5 48. Kb4 a5+ 49. Kxa4 Kxf4 50. Kxa5 {Weighted Error Value: White=0.06/Black=0.06} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Shankland missed a chance to play spoiler against Dominguez in a Najdorf on Wednesday. The California GM grabbed a pawn early with 20. … Bxg2 and fought through some counterplay by Dominguez to hold the advantage into the middlegame. Under mutual time pressure, however, both players pushed into a draw by repetition, twice missing a tactical shot that could have been at 29. … Rxe4. 


GM Sam Shankland
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GM Sam Shankland // photo Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour


The final round of the 2021 Sinquefield Cup begins Thursday at 3:00 p.m. St. Louis time, with live games and commentary offered here. If needed, a playoff to determine winner will be held Friday at 3:00 p.m. 

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