Vachier-Lagrave Wins Sinquefield Cup; Wesley So settles as 2021 GCT Champ

GM Wesley So
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GM Wesley So is champion of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour. // photo Lennart Ootes


The 2021 Grand Chess Tour has played the final games of its five-event summer circuit, finishing with the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis at the end of August.  

French No. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the GCT’s $325,000 classical final with a plus-three 6.0/9 score, becoming the tournament’s first clear leader in the seventh round and then hanging on through two rounds of draws to close as its winner. The only super-tournament held on American soil has now been won twice by Vachier-Lagrave in its eight-year history, his first title claimed in 2017, and the Frenchman takes home the lion share $90,000 prize. Full standings and results may be found here.

“The first time I won the Sinquefield Cup, I was eager to prove my worth," Vachier-Lagrave said. "Over the last few years, I felt that I have proven my skill. This 2021 Sinquefield Cup win feels more like redemption."


GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
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French No. 1 GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the Sinquefield Cup for the second time in 2021, and finished runner-up in the overall Grand Chess tour. // photo Lennart Ootes


MVL beat out a chasing pack of three American GMs inside the Saint Louis Chess Club; Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Dominguez and US Chess Champion Wesley So each had chances to catch the leader at the finish line, but none could muster the full-point needed through the final two rounds. Both So and Dominguez finished plus-two and undefeated through nine games, the latter handing MVL his only loss of the tournament in the fourth round, though the two Americans couldn’t come to a decision when they needed it most, paired together in a Queen’s Gambit Accepted in the final round. 


GMs Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez
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GMs Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez in the Saint Louis Chess Club. // photo Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

[pgn][Event "8th Sinquefield Cup 2021"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2021.08.26"] [Round "9"] [White "So, W."] [Black "Dominguez Perez, L."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D27"] [WhiteElo "2772"] [BlackElo "2758"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (5s)"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2021.08.16"] {[%evp 15,69,33,34,34,35,25,25,7,3,3,19,-10,-10,-27,2,5,5,-11,-11,-11,35,38,36, 16,22,0,0,-1,0,-1,10,-1,-2,-1,-1,-2,-2,-1,-1,-2,-1,-2,-2,-2,-2,-2,0,0,0,0,0,-1, 0,-1,0,-1]} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Bxc4 a6 6. O-O c5 7. dxc5 {7.e4 is a critical line.} Bxc5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. Be2 {D27: Queen's Gambit Accepted: Classical main line: 7 e4!? and 7 a4.} Ke7 10. Nc3 b5 11. Nd2 { White has an edge.} Bb7 12. Nb3 Nbd7 13. Na5 Rab8 14. Bd2 Ne4 15. Nxe4 Bxe4 16. Rfc1 {[#] Strongly threatening Rxc5!} Rhc8 17. a4 bxa4 {[%eval 35,17]} (17... Bd5 $1 $11 {[%eval -11,15] is more appropriate.}) 18. Bxa6 $146 ({Predecessor: } 18. Bc3 a3 19. bxa3 Bd6 20. f3 Bd5 21. e4 Ba8 22. Bxa6 Rc7 23. a4 g5 24. Nc4 {1-0 (42) Gajewski,G (2613)-Simacek,P (2479) Katowice 2019}) 18... Rc7 19. Bc3 Bd6 {The position is equal.} 20. Rxa4 ({Not} 20. Bxg7 $2 Ra8 $19) 20... Nc5 21. Bb4 $1 {[%cal Rb4c5] [#] Threatens to win with Bxc5.} Bd5 22. Bf1 Rcc8 (22... Kd8 {looks sharper.} 23. Bxc5 Rxc5 24. Rxc5 Bxc5 25. b3 Kd7) 23. Bxc5 Rxc5 24. Rxc5 Bxc5 25. Nc4 Bxc4 26. Rxc4 $11 {[%mdl 4096] Endgame KRB-KRB} Bd6 27. Rc2 Be5 28. g3 Rxb2 29. Rxb2 Bxb2 {KB-KB} 30. h4 h6 31. Bd3 Bc3 32. Bc2 Bb2 33. Bd3 Bc3 34. Bc2 Bb2 35. Bd3 {Weighted Error Value: White=0.05/Black=0.05} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Caruana missed his chances too, in the end. The World No. 2 would probably like to retry his eighth-round draw as White against a wounded Russian GM Peter Svidler, who had stumbled out of the Sinquefield Cup gates with three of four losses and barely stabilized to finish ninth with 3.5/9. And Caruana still held chances deep into the ninth round against Hungarian GM Richard Rapport: As Black in a Sicilian Taimanov, the American was able to eliminate Rapport’s major passer threat at 44. … Rxc6 and force White’s rooks into passive damage control, though Black’s chances stalled with his own passer at d2 before drawing by repetition. 


GMs Richard Rapport and Fabiano Caruana
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GMs Richard Rapport and Fabiano Caruana play to a draw in the final round of the 2021 Sinquefield Cup in the Saint Louis Chess Club. // photo Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

[pgn][Event "8th Sinquefield Cup 2021"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2021.08.26"] [Round "9"] [White "Rapport, R."] [Black "Caruana, F."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B44"] [WhiteElo "2763"] [BlackElo "2806"] [Annotator "Tactical Analysis 4.1 (5s)"] [PlyCount "123"] [EventDate "2021.08.16"] {[%evp 9,123,6,52,14,11,-1,11,4,2,5,3,2,14,13,13,12,10,10,11,9,32,13,33,33,33, 29,29,27,37,37,57,56,63,57,56,57,82,74,79,71,93,36,32,2,1,23,21,-10,0,-35,-23, -17,-15,-15,-15,-21,-38,-55,-19,-20,-18,-18,0,0,0,-30,-30,-68,-73,-72,-41,-51, -55,-45,-27,-54,-55,-86,-84,-88,-86,-78,-73,-94,-70,-71,-79,-69,-76,-81,-84, -84,-82,-80,-82,-82,-66,-63,-63,-63,-66,-80,-61,-73,-34,-35,-27,-13,-32,-32,0, 0,-17,-33,0,0]} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Bf4 d6 {[%eval 52, 17]} (5... Nf6 $11 {[%eval 6,16]}) 6. Nxc6 {B44: Sicilian: Taimanov: 5 Nb5.} bxc6 7. c4 Rb8 8. Qc2 e5 9. Be3 Nf6 10. Nc3 Qc7 11. Be2 Be7 12. O-O O-O $146 ({ Predecessor:} 12... Be6 13. Rfc1 O-O 14. Rab1 a5 15. a3 Ng4 16. Bxg4 Bxg4 17. c5 Be6 18. cxd6 Bxd6 {1/2-1/2 (56) Warmerdam,M (2535)-Pichot,A (2630) chess24. com INT 2021}) 13. Rac1 Be6 14. b3 h6 15. h3 a5 16. Rfd1 Rfd8 17. Bf3 Nh7 18. Qe2 Bg5 19. Rd3 Qe7 20. Rcd1 Rd7 21. Bd2 Bxd2 22. Qxd2 Ng5 23. Be2 (23. Rxd6 Rbd8 $15) 23... Rbd8 24. Qe3 $1 f5 {[#]} 25. c5 {[%eval 36,18]} ({White should try} 25. h4 $1 $16 {[%eval 93,16][%cal Rh4g5]} Nf7 26. Qb6) 25... d5 $14 26. exd5 Bxd5 27. f4 Ne4 28. Nxd5 cxd5 {[%cal Bc6d5,Bd5d4][%mdl 32]} 29. c6 {[#]} d4 $1 30. Qc1 Rc7 31. fxe5 Qxe5 32. Qc4+ Kh7 {Threatens to win with ...Rd6.} 33. Bf3 {[%cal Rd3d4]} Ng5 (33... Rd6 $5 {[%cal Rc7c6]} 34. Bxe4 fxe4 35. Rxd4 Rcxc6 $17) 34. h4 (34. Rxd4 $2 Nxf3+ 35. gxf3 Qg3+ 36. Kf1 Qxf3+ 37. Kg1 Rxd4 $19) 34... Nxf3+ 35. Rxf3 Rd5 36. h5 Qe4 37. Rdf1 d3 {...d2 is the strong threat.} 38. Rf4 Qe6 39. Rxf5 Qe3+ 40. Kh2 Rd4 41. Re1 Rxc4 {[%cal Rc4h4]} 42. Rxe3 $15 {[%mdl 4096] Endgame KRR-KRR} Rd4 {Hoping for ...d2.} 43. Rf1 d2 44. Rd1 Rxc6 45. Re2 Rc2 46. a3 Rd5 47. Kg3 Rc3+ 48. Kh4 Rd4+ (48... Rxb3 49. Rexd2 Rxd2 50. Rxd2 $17) 49. g4 Rdd3 {[%csl Gc3][%cal Rd3h3]} (49... Rxb3 $2 50. Rexd2 Rxd2 51. Rxd2 $19) 50. Rh2 Rc2 (50... Rxb3 $2 51. Rdxd2 Rxd2 52. Rxd2 $19 ) 51. b4 {[#]} a4 $1 ({Much worse is} 51... Rxa3 52. bxa5 Raa2 53. Rf2 $11) 52. b5 Rb2 53. Rh3 $1 {[%cal Rh3d3]} Rd6 54. Rh2 Ra2 55. Rg2 Kg8 ({Much weaker is} 55... Rxa3 56. Rdxd2 Rxd2 57. Rxd2 $11) 56. Rh2 Kf7 {aiming for ...Ke6.} ({ Reject} 56... Rxa3 57. Rdxd2 Rxd2 58. Rxd2 $11) 57. Re2 Rb2 58. Rf1+ Rf6 59. Rd1 Rd6 60. Rf1+ Rf6 61. Rd1 Rd6 62. Rf1+ {Weighted Error Value: White=0.07/ Black=0.08} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Through the five summer events that made up the international tour, however, So came out on top as the overall 2021 Grand Chess Tour champion. His second time earning a GCT crown, the Minnesota-based GM also won the international circuit in 2016. Full-tour participants in 2021 were slated to play in each of the GCT’s two classical events as well as two of three Rapid & Blitz events, and though COVID travel restrictions caused several GMs to miss the U.S. finale in St. Louis, the steady So’s performance throughout the summer would have put him on top regardless of attendance. 


2021 GCT Final Standings
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Final standings of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour, with total earned prize money.


So notched second-place finishes in both classical events, the Sinquefield finale and the Superbet Classic kickoff event in Romania, and won the Paris Rapid & Blitz event outright in June. He also placed fourth in the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz event, edging MVL out and clinching GCT’s top overall $100,000 prize while still in St. Louis. The Frenchman won both the Sinquefield Cup and one of the Rapid & Blitz events in Croatia, but finished tenth in Romania. He earned an extra $50,000 as the GCT runner-up. 

“We are thrilled that we were able to complete the 2021 Grand Chess Tour from start to finish with five over-the-board events, while also overcoming COVID-19 challenges and travel restrictions. For all those involved with the events this year, we consider it to have been a huge success,” said the GCT's executive director Michael Khodarkovsky. “We are excited to be adding a new tournament location for the 2022 Grand Chess Tour and look forward to bringing back the world’s best chess players again next year.”


Saint Louis Chess Club
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The Saint Louis Chess Club hosts the only annual super-tournament held on U.S. soil, the Sinquefield Cup. // photo Crystal Fuller



Congrats, Fil-Am GM Wesley So ❤!!
More Chess Championships to come and GOD Bless You and Your Foster Parents there in U.S. ❤❤❤!!

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