All Draws In Sinquefield Rd. 8: Caruana Protects Lead, Qualification Spot
Fabiano Caruana, still the man to beat at the Sinquefield Cup. | Photo: Mike Klein/

All Draws In Sinquefield Rd. 8: Caruana Protects Lead, Qualification Spot

| 51 | Chess Event Coverage

Does anyone want the 20 Grand Chess Tour points?

The action has stagnated at the 2018 Sinquefield Cup. The only classical event on the Grand Chess Tour calendar has produced a few interesting moments over the last 48 hours, but no more wins.

So if you want to see the standings, you can check the bottom of this report, or the one from Friday. They're the same.

Short answer: Fabiano Caruana still leads, but the chase group hasn't thinned.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's record of eight draws hasn't been spectacular, but so far it's been enough to protect his trip to London. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The win percentage (six wins from 40 games, or 15 percent) is by far the all-time low in the event's six-year history. In 2016, the previous low-water mark, only 29 percent of games produced wins. Even if all five games are won tomorrow, it will still be the fewest wins in percentage terms at any Sinquefield Cup.

Maybe the players are saving all the fun for Monday's final round. 

At stake is the largest money purse, and points reward, of the season. Barring any ties, the chess world will know tomorrow which four players qualify for the season-ending tour finals in London (9-16 December).


Levon Aronian is still riding the calm waves after his first-round win, but so far, coasting has been good enough for London. He currently sits in the third qualification position. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Today we will both catch up on the day's events, and try to set the stage for the possibilities for tomorrow.

Sunday was truly a day of rest. Five games gave five more draws today.

For the second day in a row, Magnus Carlsen pushed the longest, but again, he couldn't break through, this time against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The champ's frustration was evident, although slightly toned down compared to yesterday.

Magnus Carlsen

Like everyone else in the field, Magnus Carlsen is finding wins hard to come by. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Perhaps he would not have been as irked if he had to defend all game and the draw came as a relief. No, instead he was once again the pursuer, but once again stymied.

"The game kind of turned around when I activated my pieces and I was the one pushing," he said. "I couldn't quite get any mating ideas working."

His dream was to land a knight on f3 through the e5 runway, forming a common mating apparatus with an anchor pawn and rook. "I couldn't figure it out," he said. "He always has these little resources."


Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is currently on the GCT bubble: He would be the first player not to get to London, although first alternate would be good enough depending if Caruana finishes ahead and declines! | Photo: Mike Klein/

One of those resources was a fortress, something Carlsen has been running into a few times during his trip to St. Louis.


Curiously, despite the lack of personal success, the world champion said that a day of all draws was helpful to his chances. He gets white against Hikaru Nakamura tomorrow, a man he famously holds a 12-1 wins advantage over.

"My odds of winning the tournament are better than they were after yesterday's game," Carlsen said. "The status quo is OK for me."

The five draws weren't only repeat from yesterday. Carlsen again left the club without answering any questions from outside media. Grand Chess Tour officials confirmed to that it is in player contracts to make themselves available to media after each round.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen frowned as he walked downstairs to the commentary area. | Photo: Mike Klein/

One of the more fascinating developments of the day came right at the start of the round. Well, maybe a few minutes afterward.

Alexander Grischuk arrived a few minutes late against Wesley So. He sat down at the right board, but did he touch the right pawn? Yes, indeed, he meant to play 1. f4!

"I've seen Magnus play it a few times [in rapid]," So said. "But I didn't expect to see it today."

"I thought about playing it for quite a long time," Grischuk explained. "I just never had an opportunity. So it's a good day to try it out because I really needed to try to win...For quite some time it was my emergency idea."

Could things get more strange? Well, they almost did. So said he wanted to "spice it up" with an incredible rejoinder: "Next time he plays 1. f4 I'm going to be ready to with 1...f5."

Wesley So

Is Wesley So's 1...f5 really playable against the Bird's Opening? Yes indeed! Czech GM Viktor Laznicka used it to beat GM Richard Rapport in their match in 2014! | Photo: Mike Klein/

As So explained to afterward, he was serious about also advancing his f-pawn.

Grischuk said he not pleased with his setup but was happy to get his reverse-Benoni structure. Then he blundered his f-pawn since capturing Black's e-pawn back would have resulted in a near-hopeless ending. Still, he conjured enough resources to hold the draw.

"This is an incredible study," So said about the above line beginning with 30...Qf2. "I didn't even see this forced endgame."

Wrapping up one of the main conversation points from last round, Grischuk candidly weighed in on Carlsen's finger to lips gesture: conducted a video interview with So, asking him the offbeat opening and about GCT finals chances.

Watch Wesley So On Combating Grischuk's 1.f4!? from Chess on

Fabiano Caruana, the pre-round leader, kept his slim margin with a solid draw with Viswanathan Anand. But that also meant he squandered his final chance with white.

Anand, a man with five classical world championships won, may have better insight than anyone about the betting favorite in London's title clashed. It seems he has changed his tune about the expected proceedings:

Caruana has done some rough calculations and he thinks that qualifying for London is a high probability if he wins the Sinquefield Cup...but he may need to win it outright. That's because his margin is slim, and the two extra points for not going to a playoff (18 vs. 20) may make all the difference. "It's very likely," he said about needing those few extras.


Like Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana probably didn't mind an all-draws day too much.| Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

"I knew I would have a chance with a win," Caruana told about his chances before the event began, even though he was mired in second-to-last place. "It was still a far stretch."

Playing at the London GCT finals would be a strange denouement after the world championship, and unsurprisingly Caruana said he wouldn't prepare much for it. When asked if he would even accept a spot if finishing in the top four, Caruana said he wasn't sure.

Chief Arbiter Chris Bird doesn't like making the "news" but here it's all in good fun. He joked that since Grischuk arrived late, his penance was that he had to play the arbiter's namesake opening! | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Back to the high draw rate, asked Levon Aronian about it.

"When such strong players face each other, the level of defense is very high," he said. "Computers definitely changed the game a lot by making it easier to defend."

Aronian said the elite grandmaster brain has even been altered to think more in silicon terms.

"You try to concentrate and think, 'What would a computer play?'"


Hikaru Nakamura has won two GCT events in 2018, and unsurprisingly, he will be going to London (see below). | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Aronian is another one of the players trying to scratch out one of the qualifications for London (he placed getting into that event as a higher priority than his final standing in St. Louis). Both he and Caruana agreed that the math is not going to factor into their decisions once tomorrow's final round begins. Aronian said he won't even do many calculations tonight.

And why should he? None other than Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield has done them for us. Assisted by Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa Executive Director Graham Jurgensen, here's the tour points if the Sinquefield Cup ended today (and hence, the final standings if the third straight all-draws day occurs tomorrow):


The possibilities are manyfold for who might finish in the top four but here are some conclusions that can be drawn from the above graphic (remember you can see which places earn which amount of points here). If you've done your own math, or written a computer program examining everything, please post your conclusions in the comments!

  • Anand is eliminated.
  • Karjakin's maximum points here is 2.5, pushing his maximum total to 26.5 which almost certainly (and maybe for sure) eliminates him.
  • Nakamura's lowest GCT total will be 34, and there's no way four other people could surpass that. He's probably the only one to punch his ticket.
  • If Mamedyarov at least ties for first, his point total rises to 33, which will qualify him since Caruana, Aronian, etc. could not then take those points.
  • If Vachier-Lagrave wins, then his points from this event cannot go down from the above graphic, so that would seem to punch his ticket regardless of other results (since both Mamedyarov and Caruana cannot both take the large sum for first place).
  • A clear-first win for Caruana and he's certainly in for London.

There's plenty of other scenarios to have fun with, so post your favorites in the comments!



Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Games via TWIC.

The Sinquefield Cup, the final qualification leg of the Grand Chess Tour, is a nine-round tournament from August 17-28. At the end of the tournament, four players will qualify for the London finals. The games in St. Louis begin at 1 p.m. Central U.S. time daily (8 p.m. Central Europe).

Earlier reports:

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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