Sinquefield Cup 2019
The Sinquefield Cup is part of the Grand Chess Tour and the field was identical to the Zagreb field in June/July, but with alternate color pairings.
My rather awful performance in the Rapid & Blitz event the week before Sinquefield Cup eroded some of the confidence gained in Zagreb and previous tournaments. Starting with several draws (and more draws, and…) was frustrating, but I wasn’t overly surprised that victory eluded me for so many rounds. On the bright side the opening preparation worked well (cudos to Peter Heine and his team), and I didn’t have any really dubious or seriously worse positions during the eleven rounds. My play was not as good as in Zagreb, and I did miss a great opportunity against Mamedyarov.
The round 8 game against Ding Liren was amazing. As white I sacrificed two pawns for a lasting initiative, and Ding had to maneuver a minefield just to stay alive. I simply couldn’t believe that his king would survive in the g-file, but he managed to find a beautiful geometrical defense. Ding proved he is a formidable calculator, and he generally showed why he belongs in the top 3 (rated players).
Initially my Italian opening and early middle game against Wesley So in the penultimate round didn’t look particularly promising. It is not obvious that the open b-file compensates for the double pawn in the c-file. More importantly, the resulting pawn structures hide an amazingly rich plethora of positional nuances and tactical tricks. He probably only got one chance to close down the position and afterwards he faced continuous difficulties. The second half of the game is well worth a closer look! He was probably lost already after 29.Ne8. I played slightly inaccurately in the rook ending, but he didn’t put up the most stubborn defense. 1-0.
Ding was sole leader with +2 before the last round, and he seemed content playing a draw. As black against Vachier-Lagrave I was hoping he would play aggressively to try to secure an overall top-4 placement in the Grand Chess Tour to reach the final in London in December. My Rossolimo structure looks somewhat dubious, but I think it is actually quite sound. His early h4-h5 break looked premature, and black was probably not worse at all. I could have played 20… Qf8 with a small advantage, but I felt it was too little and Nc6 instead kept the tension. I suspected his 22.Nf3 simply was a blunder, and although he surprised me with 24.Rd3 keeping maximum tension, I continued to think that he was objectively lost. While getting gradually lower on the clock, I managed to keep relatively cool, and as expected my attack was more dangerous than his.
The play-off against Ding Liren this morning was not particularly fun. I was not in great shape, as opposed to Ding who played really well. I managed to salvage the two Rapid games, but in first Blitz game I made a mistake early on and had to give a pawn. He converted the extra pawn into a won endgame. In practice it was not so easy and when I hesitated to claim a three-fold draw fearing that a faulty claim resulting in one more minute for him would give him sufficient time to find a killing blow, I lost on time instead. The second Blitz game was very interesting, and I thought I had an advantage after Nc6! He found the amazing continuation Bxc6 Qxc3 Bxd5 Qa5 Bxe4! as g5 winning a piece gives no more than a draw after Ba8! I had to play on without capturing on f6 and lost instead.
Congratulations to Ding Liren on a well-deserved victory!
Anand and Karjakin shared 3rd, although Anand could well have won overall had he converted just two more of his many promising and winning positions.
In the Zagreb and St.Louis classical events I scored +7 in 22 games against the rest of the elite and even gained a few rating points overall. Combined I’m highly satisfied with my results in these events!
Right now I’m glad I decided against playing the World Cup. I need another long break and some time back home. I will instead follow the World Cup as a keen online spectator, and get prepared for the Isle of Man tournament mid October and the Fischer Random World Championship back home late October.
Heartfelt thanks to Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield and the staff and volunteers at the St.Louis Chess Club for a great event!