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    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Aronian Wins Sinquefield Cup, Nakamura Beats Grischuk To Tie For Second

    The 2015 Sinquefield Cup has concluded, and with a comfortable last-round draw Levon Aronian has taken clear first. None of his main rivals managed to win their games, so Aronian's draw with Topalov left him a point ahead of his closest competitors. He had Black in a Ragozin System, and despite that was never worse and could have pushed for more if he had needed to. Spotting a moment where he could force a draw (or more precisely, could force Topalov to force a draw) he took it, guaranteeing himself victory in the tournament.

    Entering the round Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk were all a point behind Aronian and theoretically still in the race for first. As noted above (at least by implication), none of them managed to win. Carlsen had Black against Viswanathan Anand, and went for a Berlin ending. He drew easily, but a win was never going to happen. Vachier-Lagrave and Giri played each other and although Vachier-Lagrave managed to obtain a little pull through much of the game, Giri kept things under control and drew a double rook ending without too much exertion.

    The big game of the day was the battle between Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura. With a win, Nakamura would join the tie for second (and take second in the overall Grand Tour standings and regain second place on the live rating list), and he pushed long and hard, taking plenty of risks along the way. He was better at first, enjoying a normal opening advantage with White. A pair of dubious, related decisions on move 26 and move 27 left him worse, but thanks to Grischuk's mistaken decision to give up his dark squared bishop for White's knight on f2 Nakamura was again in control by the end of the first time control. From there Nakamura played very well and energetically, but with victory in sight made a couple of slips that endangered the win. Fortunately for him he kept pushing and finally managed to break down the Russian's resistance.

    The final game was of no relevance to the race for first, but it was an interesting game in its own right. Fabiano Caruana came close to a win against Wesley So, but the wrong capture on d6 on move 21 allowed So to survive, albeit only after a lot of hard work.

    (The games, with my comments, are here.)

    Here are the final standings, given in tiebreak order. The tiebreakers are in fact very important, because points for the Grand Chess Tour standings are allocated based on those tiebreaks. Carlsen wound up getting second place on tiebreaks with 10 GCT points, putting him in the mix for overall Tour victory, while Giri only received six points for fifth, with the same score. So although Giri went a combined +3 in Norway and St. Louis while Carlsen is still -1 overall, Carlsen has 14 total points while Giri has 13. Brilliant.

    1. Aronian 6
    2. Carlsen 5
    3. Nakamura 5
    4. Vachier-Lagrave 5
    5. Giri 5
    6. Grischuk 4.5
    7. Topalov 4.5
    8. Caruana 3.5
    9. Anand 3.5
    10. So 3

    And these are the overall Grand Chess Tour Standings, with the points they earned from Norway and St. Louis, respectively:

    1. Topalov 17 (13, 4)
    2. Nakamura 16 (8, 8)
    3. Aronian 15 (2, 13)
    4. Carlsen 14 (4, 10)
    5. Giri 13 (7, 6)
    6. Anand 12 (10, 2)
    7. Vachier-Lagrave 12 (5, 7)
    8. Caruana 9 (6, 3)
    9. Grischuk 8 (3, 5)
    10. Hammer 1 (1, N/A)
    11. So 1 (N/A, 1)

    The last stop for this year's Grand Chess Tour is the London Chess Classic, which begins December 3, while the next major event is the World Cup in Baku. That starts September 10, and practically every player over 2700 (and more besides) except for Carlsen and Anand will be there. The top two finishers qualify for next year's Candidates' event (Carlsen and Anand were the world championship finalists last year and thus needn't play; Carlsen because he's the world champion and Anand because he's automatically seeded into the Candidates').

    Unfortunately, even though the World Cup is a colossally important event that eight of the Sinquefield Cup participants are playing in and that could be a career-changer for six of them (Nakamura and Caruana have already qualified for the Candidates' through the Grand Prix, but are still required to play in the World Cup to secure their eligibility), the players are forced to stay in St. Louis through at least tomorrow. Why, when they could be headed to Baku to acclimate, get over jet lag before the tournament starts and to engage in further opening preparation?

    The answer: it's for the sake of the so-called Ultimate Moves "competition" and a screening of what will likely be Hollywood's latest "chess players are crazy" offering, a.k.a. "Pawn Sacrifice". The former will consist of rapid and blitz tandem and consultation games that are basically an opportunity for Rex Sinquefield and his son Randy to participate with and against the world's best players; the latter is a movie about Bobby Fischer with Tobey Maguire in the lead role.

    The juxtaposition of the two events is fascinating, because Fischer, for better and worse, would quite possibly have balked at the idea of playing in the Ultimate Moves event, refusing to play the clown in exchange for a sponsor's money - especially if it got in the way of performing his best in a real event. But what do you think? Is the Ultimate Moves competition nothing more than a harmless indulgence for a rich and very generous sponsor? Or perhaps it's a demonstration of the power of money, one that takes no account of the players' dignity and schedules? Maybe to some degree it's both, or something in between, or...?

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    Reader Comments (20)

    It was amazing to see that even after the game when Maurice gave the whole line with Qh8 (except for Qh8 itself) to Caruana, he couldn't find it even after he was told that there is a one-move tactical shot and that it was a famous miss in Alekhine-Euwe game (it's at 5:36:30 in the translation). He only saw it when they highlighted h8 square after 20 seconds of him thinking. Maybe it's one of those tactics that are hard for humans to see (even GMs!). I remember there was an article by GM Serper on chess.com about one of tactical patterns that GMs miss all the time (simplest version is White has Rd1 and Qd5, Black has Re8 and Qd7 and black plays Re1 winning the queen).

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAndrey

    Dennis, thanks once again for the always excellent annotated games. Have you ever considered creating a page where readers can view all of your "greatest hits?" If so, Nakamura's win from round 6 would definitely qualify.

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDan

    Ultimate moves isn't a big deal; playing games of chess with sponsors is kind of de rigeur, I think, although the format is a little weird.

    The movie screening is insane and I'm surprised the players stood for it; Tobey Maguire may be the actor least physically similar to Bobby Fischer working today, and the early press very much appears to make it a "chess players are crazy" movie.

    At least for the next generation they'll make movies about Garry Kasparov who is perfectly normal and rational and...

    ...I guess we're waiting for Anand?

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGMC

    I don't see any problem with Ultimate Moves, the sponsors are paying out loads of money and have produced some magnificent tournaments and coverage.. The famous pre WW2 champions had to give dozens of simultaneous displays to make a living.
    Even Fischer appeared in a scripted skit on the Bob Hope Show.
    Fischer abandoned the match with Reshevsky reportedly due to the sponsor Mrs Piatogorsky wanting to rearrange a round to watch a concert by her famous cellist husband. But, he may have had a point about changing the agreed schedule or he may have been worried about losing the match as he and Reshevsky were still tied at a late stage of the match. Fischer was invited to subsequent Tournaments by the same sponsor.

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMathsChess

    I get the impression that Carlsen tends to drift in and out of playing his best maybe because he has lots of other things going on. Perhaps he won't have the inclination to stay playing top chess for as long as he could.

    [DM: That happened to Kasparov as well, though in his case whenever things went wrong he redoubled his efforts at chess.]

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

    Tradition is never an argument. The past isn't an excuse for the present. Rex should both schedule more properly like front loading the event, or leave the silly event strictly optional. If you want to argue that it helps generate interest, you are going to have to show the added value relative to the massive promotion already being done. A player meet and greet would work far better. Try to put yourself in the players shoes rather than thinking about what you want as a chess fan. People aren't puppets for rich investors...or at least they shouldn't be.

    [DM: At least one thing can be said in fairness to Rex Sinquefield here, and it's that he set the dates for this event (at least I assume so) before FIDE set the time for the World Cup. So the scheduling may not be his fault, and the choice he was left with was whether or not to cancel the after-events.]

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRoss

    The players had the choice to sign the contract and play or not, and if they chose to play, then I presume they chose to participate in the ultimate moves challenge as part of their paycheck. Since Mr Sinquefield is footing the bill, he has the right to set some conditions, and the challenge doesn't seem that onerous to me (a thrill for those involved which the players can do in their sleep for a lark).

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTEF

    I really have to credit Nakamura for his fighting spirit in this tourney. In a last round game where he could have settled for a draw and an early dinner, he instead took risks and expended a lot of energy in a tough grind of a game. In fact, he did this most of the tourney. If he's ever going to beat Magnus, it will be through effort like this.

    I have zero confidence that the Hollywood Fischer movie will do any service to Fischer or chess. At best, we can hope that it won't be overly offensive. Even with the melodrama and contrived scenes, Searching for Bobby Fischer is probably the best mainstream chess movie we're ever going to get. I quite like it, but it's nowhere near as good as the book, in my opinion.

    September 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMikeO

    Good questions about dignity and money. In other fields we are so much used to see silly commercials with somehow well known people, whereas chessplayers only can dream of “making the clown“ for much money. Exceptions are Carlsen in Norway and Anand in India and for some degree thy seem to enjoy it.
    In this case - for Grischuk, So, MVL, Topalov, Giri and Aronian this extra day might not be that critical for Baku, since in the first rounds they get relatively 'weak' opponents. Also, after such a demanding tournament, the participants might as well enjoy these ultimate moves with the Sinquefields, having some fun together before they return to their daily routine.

    September 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterralph

    I wonder whether Dennis' assumption (exact dates for Sinquefield Cup were known before those for the World Cup) is correct. The 2017 World Cup (in Tbilisi, again with Azeri money) is already scheduled for 1-25 September.

    But I don't think staying in St. Louis for one more day (Wednesday was needed anyway for possible tiebreak matches) is such a big burden for the players. The first round of the World Cup is actually 11 September - 10 September is technical meeting, opening ceremony, ... . Will players really travel straight on to Baku, or will they only 'lose' one day at home between events? Still, "Ultimate Moves" would be spectacular enough if only Anand, Carlsen, maybe the American players (plus Kasparov) were to participate.

    As there was a day for tiebreak matches and as Chess Tour organizers (unlike FIDE Grand Prix organizers) seem to insist on clear second, third, ... it might have been preferable to have tiebreak matches for all ties. Funnily, with players showing normal rapid/blitz form the final rankings might hardly change - but for 8th and 9th place between Caruana and Anand.

    September 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Competitors in any sport or game are essentially hired by the fans, working for them to display their skills. How the fans' money gets into the competitors' pocket can differ: it can be through ticket sales, sales of TV rights to big TV companies who will then pass the cost over to the fans, or through sponsors who consider it good investment to have their logo displayed on the players' car / shirt / set of clubs etc.

    Chess qualifies for neither, at least not to a degree that would enable players to make anything resembling a reasonable living for their efforts. If it weren't for people like Mr Sinquefield, even more grandmasters would be quitting chess for real-life jobs than are doing that already. Here in England many talented players choose to get proper jobs where they can make a good living.

    We should be grateful that a very wealthy benefactor chooses to spend his own hard-earned money on the game we love because he happens to love it himself. We all benefit from his generosity towards the players because we get to enjoy fantastic games, and for free at that.

    It's only reasonable that he imposes whatever conditions he chooses on the players in exchange for his money, and I'm sure that extra day was put in the contract before those were signed. He essentially offers them a job which they can take or decline as they see fit: I'm surprised any American would take issue with that idea!

    September 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKajetan Wandowicz

    @Kajetan
    Being German, I also thought, the question about money and dignity was generally answered long ago in the USA - in a pragmatic way. Only Europeans would pose it sometimes again.

    September 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterralph

    I think the Ultimate Moves is about the same as playing a simultaneous event. Occasionally, great players take a rest to interact with the general public. Why not do the same with a great chess benefactor? (especially since there are so few these days).

    September 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSorenzo

    "It's only reasonable that he imposes whatever conditions he chooses on the players in exchange for his money" is the general tone of the comments here. I couldn't disagree more. That seems a strange kind of madness to me. So it's only reasonable that he.. get them to lick his boots? Oh, that's silly - so maybe I shouldn't take that so literally, or people don't REALLY mean it, or..

    I think you've put your finger on it DM with "a demonstration of the power of money, one that takes no account of the players' dignity". I was actually into it the first time (Guy with lots of money vs son of guy with lots of money).. until they hung their queens..and suddenly you had the planet's best players there wasting their time. Uh wouldn't the same event be just as much fun - and actually good chess too - without the Sinquefields? It's really shameful, I think. They should show more respect, i.e. some. Some of the reasoning given above is absolutely wacky, along the lines of the one I quoted - i.e. questions of ethics or respect etc don't enter into it, because He's Paying For It. Ok, just don't tell me he loves chess and its greatest players when he makes them perform like his personal lackeys. Disgraceful. Like I say, without the rich family playing, the Ultimate Moves thing might be a worthwhile addition to what was a fabulous tournament. But with them, how anyone can watch without cringing, beats me. Rex S has given a lot to chess. This does not give him any kind of right to extort it back in another form. etc.

    [DM: Yes - my wondering about this isn't part of a general objection to having players do extra things. I think having them give simuls and interact with the public in various ways is entirely appropriate, benefiting the sponsors and the larger chess community. The concern is directed at what they are doing, which at this point came to little more than creating opportunities for the Sinquefields to blunder. If they were a bit stronger it might be entertaining, but not as it is. Another complaint: the players dress up during the event, and even for Ultimate moves wore business casual. Having Rex S. show up wearing shorts also suggests that the real star of the show is the sponsor and not the world-class grandmasters.]

    September 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAdamP

    The Ultimate Moves exhibition is fun and the players seem to genuinely like it. I attended this year. After the Ultimate Moves thing was over (that is, after contractual obligations were over) the players, including Kasparov, stayed at the club. They went downstairs and played Bughouse for at least another hour. Aronian and MVL “ran the table” for something like 12 straight games. Lots of laughter, huge smiles and talking smack. It seemed like a natural continuation of the fun had during the exhibition. It appeared to spectators that the players’ enjoyment for this kind of fun was sincere and it didn’t seem that their dignity was an issue.

    [DM: I wouldn't have the slightest objection to that! As I wrote in reply to an earlier comment, having the players interact with the general public is a great idea. But the Ultimate Moves? Not so sure, and in this particular case, this year, the timing is also bad due to the World Cup.]

    September 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBen Eshbach

    I don't think Caruana and Nakamura are required to play in world cup to qualify. They qualified through fide organized grand prix series. The rule states that any player who qualifies through rating list is required to play either in grand prix series or world cup. Correct me if I am wrong.

    [DM: Ah, you may be right - you probably are right, at least if this cycle is like the last one.]

    September 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDina

    I absolutely agree with AdamP and Dennis. I really loved wo watch the 9 rounds of Sinquefield Cup. The coverage with J. Shahade, Y. Seirawan and M. Ashley was simply brilliant. As a chess fan you have to be thankful to the sponsors, commentators and players for that.

    I watched ultimate moves for the first time this year and it's not interesting at all due to the reasons already mentioned. And I also was very very irritated when Rex Sinqulefield was showing up for the interview (with a perfectly dressed Maurice Ashley) in shorts and these funny looking socks (to put it mildly).

    September 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterReyk

    A similar issue was raised in

    http://gardinerchess.com.au/gm-rogers-how-not-to-buy-a-world-title/

    about a rich sponsor trying to assemble a team around him which would give him a gold medal in the World Seniors Championship. At least that time the plan back-fired.

    [DM: I hadn't heard about that - interesting story. In fairness to Chapman, he is or at least was a player of around 2200-2300 strength, at least if I'm correctly remembering reports from the early 2000s. Not at the level of the top players there, but not mere ballast either.]

    September 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClifford

    While ultimate moves is certainly of no value as master level chess and there may be better venues for public interaction with high level players via simuls, it remains that Mr Sinquefield has given immensely to chess in the US generally and to the players in Sinquefield cup personally. Therefore it seems to me that he is within his rights to have his ultimate moves challenge.

    September 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTEF

    Don't get me wrong -- I skimmed through the video of the event, albeit very quickly, and it seems to have been great fun when the pros were playing interlaced with boring bordering on ridiculous when the two sponsors sat down. I caught the moment when Nakamura was playing the younger Sinquefield with rook odds and the game went 1.b3 g6 2.Bb2 ... long think, hand hovering over central pawns ... 2... d6 3.Bxh8. Why on Earth the Sinquefields wanted to do something like this in public is beyond me, although a grown man wearing shorts to a cocktail party probably doesn't give two flips about what people think.

    Still: what is the difference between this and any other amateur hiring a GM for training games? I think Aronian mentioned once that he played some Ruy Lopez training games with the Zurich sponsor, and in the sub-millionaire universe literally hundreds of titled players offer training games paid for by the hour at websites like chess.com.

    [DM: (1) It's not public; (2) it's not tied to participation in major tournaments.]

    A lot of commentators take issue with the supposed trampling on the players' dignity here. Well, I take issue with the sense of entitlement of people who think a wealthy chess fan should stage a chess event from which we all benefit greatly and should be happy with the gratifying feeling of having contributed to the development of chess in that way, but he may not hire a top player to play chess with him as that would be a waste of the player's time.

    Was it ridiculous? I certainly think so. Do think it would be a waste of time to watch it? Yes. Do I think it's a waste of time for the players to take part? Don't know, don't care -- it's not my place to tell a grown human being how to spend his own time. I wouldn't want anyone except the missus to tell me that this or that activity I'm doing is a waste of my time. It's my time, thank you. Do I think the players' dignity suffered for taking part? Not really.

    Where the 1000th best professional footballer on Earth makes a better living than the 10th best professional chess player, I as a chess fan am very happy to see top players being hired to do an easy half-day job for what I'm sure is great pay, and therefore being able to concentrate on developing their chess without financial worries and delighting us with even better games. They didn't look very unhappy to be there either. Compare with known cases of famous singers doing 2-million-dollar private birthday party gigs for oil billionaires. Leave them be.

    September 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKajetan Wandowicz

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