Previewing The Sinquefield Cup (1): Can Anybody Beat Magnus Carlsen?

Previewing The Sinquefield Cup (1): Can Anybody Beat Magnus Carlsen?

Aug 23, 2014, 3:53 AM |

From Tuesday the 26th of August till Tuesday the 9th of September 2014, the second Sinquefield Cup will take place at the STL Chess Club & Scholastic Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The tournament is named after Rex Sinquefield, founder of the STL Chess Club & Scholastic Center, and one of the people that was on Garry Kasparov's ticket for the FIDE Presidential Elections that were held earlier this August during the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway.

Whereas last year's tournament had only four participants (Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky), this year's edition has six participants:


As IGM Yasser Seirawan remarked during a recent training session, it is going to be the strongest event in the history of chess with an average rating of 2802(!), putting the tournament in the unprecedented category of 23! Seirawan also remarked that no single player of Russian origin is playing, hinting at the rise of international chess. Maybe we will live to see the days of a Russia against the Rest Of The World chess match again sometime? It must be said that initially Sergey Karjakin was invited, but was replaced - apparently due to visa troubles - by goalgetter Maxime Vachier-Lagrave from France.

The Question

Can anybody beat Magnus Carlsen this time around? In the world of chess he has done it all and has become everyting, well... allmost everything:

  • Classical World Champion
  • Rapid World Champion
  • Blitz World Champion
  • No. 1 rated player in the world (classical)
  • No. 1 rated player in the world (blitz)
  • No. 2 rated player in the world (rapid) - Caruana is the current no. 1
  • Holder of the highest official FIDE ELO rating ever (2882) in the history of classical chess

To try and answer the question I will take a look at all of Magnus' opponents, the individuals scores they have with him and the very last encounters, all in classical chess.

Opponent No. 1: Magnus Carlsen(!)

Yes, I believe that Magnus may end up beating himself... As history has shown and as indicated by the current ratings, there is nobody that is objectively superior to Magnus in any chess technical, psychological or physical sense. The problem for Magnus may lie in his motivation. Apart from money, what is there to play for? And if there is anything, how to do it? During his speech at the World Rapid and Blitz championships earlier this year, he stated that he is planning to stay at the top for a very long time to come. But how to do that? He can stay at the top by just doing what he has been doing for many years, playing deep and solid, almost error-free chess. But that may no longer be inspiring or challenging for him anymore. Of late it seems that Magnus may be burdened with two issues:

  1. how to get to that magical rating limit of 2900?
  2. how to beat everybody that is weaker than me (which is everybody) in order not to lose rating points, and also because I am supposed to?

His performance at the recent chess Olympiad in Tromso has shown us some indications. He lost with white to Arkady Naiditsch (Germany) and with Black from Ivan Saric (Croatioa). In both cases it was generally accepted that Magnus pushed his luck a bit too much in order to reach sharp struggles and win both games. Most notable was his loss against Saric in which Magnus dubiously sacrificed no less then two pawns in the opening for clearly insufficient compensation. A strong grandmaster as Saric was up to task and finished Magnus off quite easily. Maybe it was part of a team strategy that Magnus would play like that, but I find it hard to believe. Let's take a look at the game:


Had Carlsen played a solid Ruy Lopez Morphy defense (3...a6) or Berlin defense (3...Nf6), I find it hard to believe that he would have lost to Saric. Of course he could have blundered a pawn as he did against Caruana during the Gashimov Memorial earlier this year, but that is another type of ball game compared to the game above.  If we have to point out a weakness in Carlsen's play it would have to be that he sometimes just goes to far in trying to beat his weaker opponents by playing slighty off-beat and dubious openings as well as having difficulty to navigate the ensuing complications, especially when having to keep certain vague winning chances alive. So, in my opinion he could well be his own worst opponent.


Having said that, I want to finish this first part of the preview with the amazing stunt that Magnus pulled last year when he won the first Sinquefield Cup. What excitement that was! Having defended a pawn down position against Aronian for many hours, Magnus turns down Levon's draw offer (which would have sufficed for first place and a $70,000.=  price), only to turn the game around and even win it! Take a look at the video below and see the drama unfold! Aronian offers a draw at 6:40 into the video, but resigns at 13:02!

To be continued...


Waldemar Moes
Chess Trainer, Lecturer & Blogger
“down-to-earth advice for the aspiring chess player”