Carlsen, Ding To Decide Sinquefield Cup In Playoff
Carlsen beat MVL to reach the playoff. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Carlsen, Ding To Decide Sinquefield Cup In Playoff

| 35 | Chess Event Coverage

By beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final round, Magnus Carlsen caught Ding Liren in first place at the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. The two will now decide the tournament in a playoff on Thursday.

After a very disappointing rapid and blitz event in the same playing hall, Carlsen failed to bring his A-game at the Sinquefield Cup as well—for nine rounds. But then, winning his last two games was just enough for shared first place in a tournament with an 81.8 draw percentage.

“I thought what he did was very clever,“ Anish Giri argued. “He basically had this absolute cultural shock here during the rapid and blitz. He had this incredible year and suddenly he was totally out of shape. I think it was such a big shock to him that he needed some sort of recovery therapy. I think such a huge amount of draws was for him this recovery therapy.“ 

Giri continued: “He made so many draws, he forgot all his life before that. He started like it was a rebirth for him. He started fresh and by the time he had to play Wesley he forgot about St. Louis, he forgot about everything, he forgot what’s his name, just everything, it was just playing chess again.”

Magnus Carlsen 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Carlsen took "recovery therapy" according to Giri. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

"Miracle Magnus," as he was called in the official broadcast, caught Ding in first place as the latter failed to beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. This means we'll see a playoff for the first time in the history of the Sinquefield Cup. With his splendid track record in playoffs, Carlsen is now the favorite to clinch the tournament and win his ninth event in 2019.

Live ratings
The live ratings top 10 after this tournament. | Image: 2700chess.

Staying undefeated for 90 classical games in a row now, Carlsen won this game by capitalizing on two mistakes by Vachier-Lagrave. First, the general plan of going h4-h5.

Carlsen: "I was happy to see his h4-h5 stuff because I didn't think it was very good to be honest. I thought he should aim for f4 instead."

Vachier-Lagrave Carlsen 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen about to start. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The second mistake was a positional/tactical error on move 22, called an "outright blunder" by our annotator. Carlsen: "I couldn't believe my eyes."

Here MVL has just played 22.Nf3. It can be tough to anticipate the opponent giving up his fianchetto bishop for a knight, but here it was strong. Carlsen went 22...Bxc3! 23.Rxc3 e5 and with 24...f4 next, White was in trouble.

Carlsen admitted he had missed the amazing try 24.Rd3 but felt he should be much better with accurate play. He proved that in the remainder of the game.

Carlsen 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Carlsen, once again in contention. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

As the Norwegian reporter Tarjei Svensen pointed out, the world champion won the final round in six of his last eight round-robin events and now has a performance rating of 2907 in his games this year.

“I have to say I didn’t believe it one bit before today and especially before yesterday,“ said Carlsen. “Today I knew I had a chance. Obviously when we got this very complicated strategical position from the opening then I’m starting to think: well, I have some hope but still it’s a bit surreal. Now I have to get back to earth because there’s more chess to play tomorrow.”

Carlsen Maurice Ashley 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Carlsen being interviewed in the St. Louis studio. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Ding finished about 15 minutes after Carlsen, with the knowledge that more chess was to come indeed. The Chinese player went into his game with Mamedyarov as the sole leader, but failed to keep fate in his own hands.

Ding said he wanted to play a risk-free line as he felt a draw was acceptable for him. He noted that he “could not make up his mind to fight for a win.”

Ding Mamedyarov 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Ding got nowhere close to winning chances. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

And so we'll see a playoff on Thursday between Ding and Carlsen, starting at 8 a.m. Pacific (11 a.m. Eastern, 17:00 CEST). Giri, on whether Ding had deserved to win this tournament outright: "There's no such thing as a deserving winner. There's only a winner and deserving losers."

"There's no such thing as a deserving winner. There's only a winner and deserving losers."

—Anish Giri

The playoff will start with two rapid games: 25 minutes on the clock with a 10-second delay per move from move one. The drawing of lots gave Carlsen white in the first game. 

If the score is level, they will play two games with five minutes on the clock with a three-second delay per move from move one. Up to three mini matches of blitz will be played, and if the score is still tied, regulations (here in PDF) state that the arbiter “shall be empowered, after consulting with the players, to direct that the tie be resolved by other means.“

You can watch the playoff games here and our live commentary on

“I look forward to it. I am playing with house money at this point. I have no worries,” said Carlsen about the playoff.

“I will get a fresh mind because it’s another situation, not like today. Tomorrow I need to fight for the win,” said Ding.

Ding Maurice 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Ding with Maurice Ashley. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The day ended with Giri trying to win a four-vs.-three rook endgame and succeeding after another blunder Ian Nepomniachtchi. The Russian GM should seriously reconsider his clock handling (Yasser Seirawan told the anecdote that when he was young, his coach taught him to sit on his hands) as his losing move 72...Rg3 was again played in less than 30 seconds, while he had more than an hour on the clock.

“I received a very peculiar remark by my opponent at the end. He said he thought I’m going to repeat moves,“ said Giri. “You have to either calculate or find the setup, you cannot just expect your opponent to repeat the moves.”

Giri Nepomniachtchi 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Nepomniachtchi put his head on the newly designed, Fischer-Spassky-style table, showing his disgust after another blunder. | Image from the Grand Chess Tour broadcast

Giri gave an interesting view about Nepomniachtchi:

He is like an ideal guy to show you the pluses and the minuses of the quick approach. He has won so many brilliant games very quickly. He crushed here Levon for example, he also crushed Wesley. I remember a game in Dortmund where he beat Nisipeanu when he won that tournament. He just destroyed the guy, I mean, it’s so impressive to watch. He did it to me also a few times. The guy is playing fast, looks like we see the next world champion. And at the same time you see things like that. It shows you the absolute two extremes. I wouldn’t say it’s his weakness, I think it’s his strength too. It’s basically two sides of one coin.

Nepomniachtchi 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Nepo's fast play: both a strength and a weakness. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Sergey Karjakin had some chances to join Ding and Carlsen in today's tiebreak, but eventually he couldn't convert his advantage against Fabiano Caruana.

“I didn’t see if I can get anything better than the endgame and then I made a big mistake when I didn’t play a4. I should have just fixed the pawns,” he said.

Despite missing the playoff, Karjakin was still cheerful: “It’s much better than last year. I think last year I was lucky to have minus-three and this time I am not lucky with plus-one. I think I’m on the right way!”

Caruana Karjakin 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Caruana vs. Karjakin about to start. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Viswanathan Anand also had a chance to reach the playoff, but despite having the white pieces he didn't seem to be going all in against Hikaru Nakamura.

“It’s some little idea which somehow fell flat,“ Anand said. “It’s a typical last-round game and to be honest, by the 11th game everyone’s a bit tired. It’s not a great game but at least I finished on plus-one; that’s a good end to the tournament.”

Anand 2019 Sinquefield Cup
By converting two winning positions Anand could have won this tournament outright. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Anand also reflected on his tournament, in which he had so many good positions: “I think it’s the first tournament where I’m completely gutted with my plus one. Normally you'd be happy but I think with my positions Magnus would have made plus-six. I am really embarrassed by my technique. But what can you do, I didn’t deserve to win," Anand said. 

Wesley So and Levon Aronian were probably happy to get it over with as they didn't put up a very big fight either. They reached an opposite-colored bishop endgame in just 24 moves: 

So Aronian 2019 Sinquefield Cup
So and Aronian didn't feel much like playing. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
2019 Sinquefield Cup Final Standings
2019 Sinquefield Cup final standings | Image: Spectrum Studios.

Round 11 coverage:

You can find all games here as part of our live portal. More photos from the event can be found here. The official site is here.

Previous reports:

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