The Sinquefield Cup, the strongest tournament in the country, begins tomorrow. This year’s field features the return of World Champion Magnus Carlsen to the Grand Chess Tour, 7 players from the world’s top 10, and a 2788 average rating.
Let’s take a look at the field.
GCT Champion vs. World Champion
Wesley So vs. Magnus Carlsen
Last year, Wesley So dominated the Grand Chess Tour, winning the Sinquefield Cup, the London Classic, and the overall tour. Such a strong performance against many of the best players in the world had a huge impact on the chess world, but one player was noticeably missing from the field: Magnus Carlsen, who opted out of most of the tour to focus on World Championship title defense last November.
The finish of the tour left fans with one question in mind: How would So fare with Carlsen in the field?
Soon, we’ll get our answer.
Carlsen, on the other hand, has had a more turbulent year. He hasn’t won a classical tournament since Bilbao Chess last July (although he won that event very, very convincingly). He barely held his World Championship title against Karjakin by winning the rapid tiebreak. And, he finished half a point away from last at Norway Chess.
Despite this, so far in the Grand Chess Tour, Carlsen’s been back to dominating in his usual style. He won first in both of the rapid and blitz events he’s competed in (Paris and Leuven), placing him in clear first overall for the tour.
Will we see a race for 1st between the top two players in the world?
No one can forget Caruana’s spectacular 7-0 winning streak to win the Sinquefield Cup in 2014. Although that kind of a streak hasn’t been repeated since (by anyone), throughout the past year, Caruana has been one of the few players to consistently maintain a 2800+ rating. Averaging higher tends to show improvement more clearly than any one amazing performance, and I think Caruana has excellent chances to reclaim the Sinquefield Cup title.
“You’re free to express yourself in the game of chess. You can play anything as long as you are determined to fight for the ideas you put in your moves.”
-Levon Aronian, “A Chess Master with an Unpredictable Style and the Hopes of a Nation”, The New Yorker
Aronian has made great strides this year. He crossed 2800 for the first time since 2014 (when he was the clear number 2 in the world). In the process, he won both Norway and GRENKE Chess.
He managed to win Norway Chess by a full point lead over the field, which was especially impressive because the event featured every single player from the top 10 at the time, giving it an average rating just under 2800 and making it one of the strongest tournaments in recent times. He also won GRENKE Chess by 1.5 points, which featured Carlsen, Caruana, and MVL in the field.
Will Aronian add a second Sinquefield Cup victory to his 2017 comeback tour?
Formerly 2800+ Club
Both of these players have been above 2800 FIDE before, making them capable of defeating anyone.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is one of the most consistent players in the field, regularly turning in strong, competitive results and finishing 2nd or 3rd, though he has less overall tournament victories than many in the field.
His best result to date was his victory at Dortmund in 2016, which featured both Caruana and Vladimir Kramnik. However, several of the top players did not participate in the tournament, such as Carlsen, So, and Aronian.
MVL is certainly able to hold his own against any of the world’s best. I’m curious if he’ll push beyond that and make a run for 1st at this year’s Sinquefield Cup.
Although Nakamura’s never won the Sinquefield Cup, he’s had a fairly successful year: He won both Gibraltar and Zurich Chess for the third time in a row. He tied for 2nd at Norway Chess. And he’s had respectable performances at the FIDE Grand Prix Sharjah, US Championship, and FIDE Grand Prix, tying for 3rd in the first two and tying for 4th in the latter—losing only one game in all three events.
Nakamura is currently ranked 4th in the overall tour, but he’s only competed in one GCT event (the Paris Rapid & Blitz) while everyone ranked ahead of him has already completed two. In addition, Nakamura finished 2nd overall in the 2016 Grand Chess Tour.
Will 2017 be Nakamura’s year at the Sinquefield Cup?
Former World Champion
Viswanathan Anand hasn’t had the best results this year so far, but with his massive amount of experience and achievements, it would be unwise to count him out of the race for 1st. In addition, last year, he tied for 2nd, only half a point behind the winner, Wesley So. I think there are great chances that Anand will get his groove back during this tournament.
Even though Peter Svidler is the Official Wildcard, I’d say that Karjakin is the real wildcard of this field. He’s strong enough to take clear first among any field as he did at the 2016 Candidates, the 2015 World Cup, and Norway Chess in 2014 and 2013. He also held Carlsen dead even in the Classical portion of the World Championship match, losing only in the rapid tiebreak. However, on a bad day, he can also finish last in such a competitive tournament—as he did at this year’s Norway Chess.
Peter Svidler is no stranger to top notch competition. In 2016, he competed in both the Sinquefield Cup and Candidates Tournament. In 2015, he made it to the World Cup finals against Karjakin and missed out on winning the entire event (which nearly every top 10 player except for Carlsen participated in) by inches. Even though he’s an underdog as one of the lowest rated players in the event, he is not to be underestimated.
New Kid on the Block
Ian Nepomniachtchi is a completely new face in the Grand Chess Tour. He’s never competed in the Sinquefield Cup or any classical Grand Chess Tour event. However, he’s made great progress over the past year, rising from the low 2700s to 2750+. I’m excited to see how a new, up-and-coming player fares against such a competitive field.
Watch the games live and enjoy engaging commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, and Maurice Ashley on the Official Grand Chess Tour Website.
The Sinquefield Cup runs from August 2-12 with rounds everyday at 1 P.M. CST (except for August 7, the rest day).