Sinquefield Cup 2018 – A Threesome

The Sinquefield Cup finished a few days ago and I would like to share some impressions I got from the tournament.

The crucial moment of the whole tournament was the game Carlsen-Caruana. The game lived up to the expectations and it followed a scenario where Carlsen managed to outplay Caruana, but failed to nail the game when it was within his reach.

If you take all their classical games from this year (Wijk aan Zee, Grenke, Stavanger and Saint Louis) you can notice that in all of them Carlsen had the advantage – he was constantly outplaying Caruana, but he only managed to win one, in Stavanger. This is both good news and bad news for Carlsen. The good news is that he manages to outplay Caruana on a more constant basis, but the bad news is that he wins very rarely. He was doing the same in his match with Karjakin, obtaining winning positions and failing to win, and I’m sure we all remember where that got him. As for Caruana, it is quite clear that he will have to raise his level even more if he wants to be equal in that match, but at least he can take a positive from this last game that he managed to save a lost position.

Another characteristic is that Caruana won his games showing fruitful opening ideas and then capitalising on them. Carlsen won his games in long, “completely drawn” endgames. It has been a while since Carlsen won a game in this manner, but I am pretty sure that this won’t work in London. He needs to find other ways to win games and his adoption of mainstream theory in his last tournaments looks promising in that direction. Even in the above game he introduced a fresh opening idea!

Nakamura continues to be awful in classical chess. Shared last place with 3 losses and no wins and even more shockingly a drop out of the top 10 (of which I have already written on this blog) is a big concern for the American player. He is still dominant at faster time controls, but in classical he seems to have lost the patience. The way he lost to Carlsen in the last round is shameful. I really doubt it that he will find motivation to get back on track, but I also hope he proves me wrong.

Karjakin was similarly horrible. Just plain, no opening ideas, no spark, no motivation. He lost a Berlin endgame to Aronian and a “dead drawn” endgame to Carlsen before losing to Caruana after falling into an unpleasant position. Both Karjakin and Nakamura know that they will never become a World Champion and they are both financially secure for life – what motivation do they have?

The tournament ended in a farce. The regulations stated that there should be tie-break between two players, but since there were three and their tie-breakers were all equal, the odd man out had to be determined by drawing of lots. The players protested, but that’s what the regulations stated. Still, the organisers decided not to follow their own regulations and proclaimed all three, Caruana, Carlsen and Aronian, as winners.

This is ridiculous. Why are they writing regulations if they don’t plan to follow them? If they are so bad, why not take some time to write better ones? This is very similar to the Candidates tournament – back in 2013 in London everybody agreed that the first place shouldn’t be decided by a Sonneborn-Berger or whatever, but rather by a rapid tie-break match, yet the same regulations have remained in place for all the subsequent tournaments. Sometimes I get the impression these organisers are really lazy sods who hope that the tricky situations never occur. And to make it worse, that’s what most of the time happens!

There was still a tie-break in the end, for a place in the GCT Final Four in London in December. Caruana easily dispatched of So 1.5-0.5, securing the spot. I am firmly convinced that So’s loss was a result of his miserable last round game against that same Caruana. The previous day he boldly stated that he must go all in for a win in order to secure qualification for London, yet when the game came he chickened out with the queen exchange in the Petroff and a boring draw. This failure to stir up the spirit to fight for the prize is not a sign of strong character. When you don’t take your chances somebody else will, and that is what Caruana did in the tie-break. So is a great player, but his character seems to be still “under construction.”

The next big tournament is the Olympiad, where I will also be present, only this time not as a player. Too bad, but then again being there “where the action is” is still something that excites me.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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