5 Things You Didn't Know About the World's Strongest Tournament

5 Things You Didn't Know About the World's Strongest Tournament

| 28 | Chess Event Coverage

By now, you likely know that the 2014 Sinquefield Cup will be the strongest chess tournament ever held. The average rating of 2802 FIDE ensures that the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis is the place to be the next two weeks.

GMs Magnus CarlsenLevon Aronian, Fabiano CaruanaHikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave have all arrived (but some just barely -- more on that below). The event begins tomorrow at 2 p.m. Central (GMT -6) and the drawing of lots is tonight at the opening ceremony.

Update: In round one, the pairings are Topalov-Caruana, Aronian-Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave-Carlsen. Full pairings are here and added below this article.

Think you know what to expect? Here's five things that may have escaped your attention!

1. Fans started lining up more than four hours in advance of today's autograph session.

Al Myatt of Little Rock, Arkansas wins the diehard fan award. He took a seat outside the chess club at 7:30 a.m. this morning, making him first in line to get each player's John Hancock. 

Al Myatt had enough time in line to watch the extended edition of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

He drove the required six hours last night to make sure he would get a place in line.

"I thought about [coming today] but I would get here at noon," Myatt said. "I'd be number 100 in line. I want to be in the top 10."

The superfan also had to convince his wife, but admitted, "I was going to come one way or another...It makes her feel better if I let her know."

The crowd was sizable, but not as large as last year's weekend autograph session.

Fan number two was Mark Cain from Illinois (the state just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis). He took up playing chess in middle school. He also came last year but was looking forward to some new elements to the tournament.

"It's fun to see Magnus now that he's world champion," Cain said. When asked what he did with the photos he took at last year's signing session, he said, "The pictures are displayed proudly, at least wherever my wife lets me put them.

"Chess keeps me out of trouble," he said.  "She knew I was a nerd when she married me!"

2. Being a top grandmaster doesn't save you from the ice bucket challenge.

Thanks to being "challenged" by GM Anish Giri, Caruana offered himself up this morning in front of the World Chess Hall of Fame.

GM Fabiano Caruana, with club founder Rex Sinquefield (far left) looking on (photo courtesy Lennart Ootes). Sinquefield will turn 70 on the final day of the event.

Before being doused, he offered Aronian and commentators GM Maurice Ashley and Yasser Seirawan as the next participants. (A few hours later, Ashley accepted.)

As you can see, apparently when you reach 2800, you get two buckets:

Video courtesy Kevin Duggin and Spectrum Studios

Also intending to accept is Vachier-Lagrave. This reporter shared a plane with him yesterday, and the world number eight informed me that Giri also nominated him. Watch for another video to be added before the event ends.

As for Aronian, he joked that he saw nothing special in the newfound craze.

"I don't get it -- where I come from, we do this every day!" he laughed.

3. The players have been invited to play in The Burning Boards, a chess game with lit candles as pieces.

The World Chess Hall of Fame is hosting an exhibit on September 1 in which burning candles are ersatz pieces. Players not only have to remember which piece is which, but also make their moves before the flame runs out. Once the fire on a given piece is extinguished, it is then out of play.

A new kind of "Fire on Board." (Image courtesy and artist Glenn Kaino.)

All six competitors, as well as other notable chess players, have been invited to participate. Vachier-Lagrave has already accepted - let's hope he wears short sleeves.

4. One chess player gave new meaning to world's "strongest" chess tournament.

Chessboxer and St. Louis resident Justin Grimes came to the signing ceremony, but didn't ask for his board to be signed. He brought his gloves.

Justin Grimes hopes these gloves will give him an edge in his chessboxing matches.
Nakamura and Carlsen -- could either survive long enough in the ring to win a chessboxing match on the board? We certainly won't find out these next two weeks.

5. Travel schedules were quite different for the six players.

All players at the Sinquefield Cup competed at the Olympiad in Norway earlier this month, but from there the travel schedules diverged greatly.

Vachier-Lagrave only arrived in St. Louis last night. Nakamura played an exhibition match Saturday in California and survived an early-morning earthquake the next day.

"I thought it was my cell phone going off," Nakamura said of the vibration that awoke him.

Calrsen and Caruana had a more leisurely arrival. The world champion came early enough for a soccer match with the Webster University Chess Team, while Caruana played some blitz games with club members Monday afternoon.

Topalov nearly didn't make it. According to Seirawan, he simply forgot to apply for his visa while competing at the Olympiad (one can forgive him -- his focus netted him a gold medal on board one).

Topalov (second from right) cut it close.

After the Olympiad concluded, he came home to Madrid and applied for an expedited meeting with the U.S. embassy. The visa was granted, then he awaited it in the mail. It arrived Friday, the last business day before his flight on Monday.

Another complicated arrival befell Aronian, who arrived in St. Louis today minutes before the autograph session. He was vacationing with his girlfriend in Charleston, South Carolina -- "It's a beautiful city," said Aronian -- but flight delays during his connection had him sitting on the tarmac in Chicago for several hours last night. He finally got a morning flight and arrived with what he was wearing on the plane.

Aronian didn't have a chance to change clothes before the photo shoot...

...and borrowed a shirt from the club.

Check throughout the next two weeks for daily reports, video interviews, and live coverage of all the games. will embed the official commentary at 2 p.m. Central (GMT -6) for every round.

2014 Sinquefield Cup | Participants

Rank Player Age Country Rating
1 Magnus Carlsen 23 Norway 2877
2 Levon Aronian 31 Armenia 2805
3 Fabiano Caruana 22 Italy 2801
5 Hikaru Nakamura 26 USA 2787
8 Veselin Topalov 39 Bulgaria 2772
9 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 23 France 2768

2014 Sinquefield Cup | Schedule & Pairings

Round 1 27.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 6 02.09.14 14:00 CDT
Aronian - Nakamura   Nakamura - Aronian
Topalov - Caruana   Caruana - Topalov
Vachier-Lagrave - Carlsen   Carlsen - Vachier-Lagrave
Round 2 28.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 7 03.09.14 14:00 CDT
Nakamura - Carlsen   Carlsen - Nakamura
Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave   Vachier-Lagrave - Caruana
Aronian - Topalov   Topalov - Aronian
Round 3 29.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 8 04.09.14 14:00 CDT
Topalov - Nakamura   Nakamura - Topalov
Vachier-Lagrave - Aronian   Aronian - Vachier-Lagrave
Carlsen - Caruana   Caruana - Carlsen
Round 4 30.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 9 05.09.14 14:00 CDT
Vachier-Lagrave - Nakamura   Caruana - Nakamura
Carlsen - Topalov   Carlsen - Aronian
Caruana - Aronian   Vachier-Lagrave - Topalov
Round 5 31.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 10 06.09.14 14:00 CDT
Nakamura - Caruana   Nakamura - Vachier-Lagrave
Aronian - Carlsen   Topalov - Carlsen
Topalov - Vachier-Lagrave   Aronian - Caruana
FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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