Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian All Earn Sinquefield Cup Titles As Playoff Nixed
Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, and others wait to hear Fabiano Caruana's decision. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian All Earn Sinquefield Cup Titles As Playoff Nixed

| 143 | Chess Event Coverage

First there was a two-man playoff. Then a three-man playoff. Then, no playoff at all.

After a wild day at the 2018 Sinquefield Cup when the gamesmanship didn't even end on the final move, Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, and Fabiano Caruana are all co-champions.

That's the one thing they can agree on.


After Aronian defeated Alexander Grischuk via a speculative but dynamic exchange sac, several hours later Carlsen outmaneuvered Hikaru Nakamura in an ending that had happened before. With Caruana drawing as Black with ease against Wesley So, that left the three past winners all sitting on 5.5/9.


Hikaru Nakamura could be seen grimacing in the final minutes of the game before finally conceding to Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Mike Klein/

They would all get the same Grand Chess Tour points (a moot issue for the wildcard Carlsen), and all split the money evenly. As for the trophy and the title, the regulations stated that tiebreaks would determine the top two, with the third player left out.

That was the crux of the problem: All three had the same mutual record (all draws vs. one another), the same number of wins (two), and the same number of wins as Black (zero). As per rule 2.1.4, the fourth tiebreak was a drawing of lots, meaning complete chance.

Neither Carlsen nor Aronian liked that option (Carlsen and Aronian both also pointed out that the same language was used last year, and neither one liked it then). Like on "Let's Make a Deal," someone would have certainly ended up with a zonk. Carlsen owns a Tesla; why would he want an Edsel?

Carlsen and Aronian both preferred a three-man playoff. But Caruana, who was not present, had already declined that option. GCT staff told the players that only in the case of unanimity could the rules be changed.

Short of that alteration, Carlsen and Aronian agreed the next best option would be no playoff at all and a shared title. Caruana agreed, and a consensus was reached.

Grand Chess Tour officials phoned GCT chief arbiter David Sedgewick and asked if scrapping the tiebreak altogether would be acceptable. It was. Tournament over.

Here's how it all went down:

Watch The Players Discuss Tiebreaks At The Sinquefield Cup from Chess on

But wait, there's more. 


Levon Aronian has had interesting playoff stories in his past (check the video above for more on that). | Photo: Mike Klein/

Caruana actually still has to play a playoff tomorrow anyway, since he ended the GCT regular season in a dead-heat tie. So and Caruana ended with 26 points and equal fourth for the final spot to London, which requires a whole new playoff! You can see in the above video that Aronian didn't know Caruana's plight when deciding on which Sinquefield tiebreak they prefer. Aronian on Caruana's unlikely double tie: "That's insane!"

Here's the final season-long points list, with Nakamura, Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave all earning a seat in London. The fourth will be decided Tuesday at 1 p.m. local time.


It can be reasoned that Caruana may not have wanted to play a double playoff tomorrow, and confirmed with Caruana that was "definitely part of it." He also said that in the Sinquefield Cup playoff they aren't "playing for anything." (First prize in London is 120,000 "somethings!")

For the record, the Sinquefield Cup playoff would have come before the GCT playoff, so Caruana would have been more taxed than So.

Here's more on Carlsen's reasoning for the playoff:

Watch Magnus Carlsen On Sharing First In Sinquefield from Chess on

In a weird quirk, it was Nakamura's inability to hold his ending that allow Carlsen to become equal with Caruana. The tournament ending in a three-way tie, instead of just two, cost Caruana 1.5 GCT points, thus mandating his rematch with So tomorrow. That's going to make for some fun discussions at breakfast in Batumi!


There will be no world-championship preview part two, but there will be So-Caruana part two tomorrow. | Photo: Mike Klein/

As seen in the video above, Carlsen gave tournament spokesman Tony Rich his alternate idea: Should Caruana not budge on his position, then he would prefer no playoff at all, and just have all three share the title. Sort of a chessic version of King Solomon. Aronian was also in, Caruana too, and upon confirmation with arbiters Rich came back up the stairs and declared the tournament over.

There would be no possibility of one more world-championship preview.

In a Sinquefield Cup first, all three men are co-champions, and all three instantly become the first two-time champions together.


Well before the fiasco, Caruana was being photographed by the legendary Harry Benson. | Photo: Mike Klein/

So what about the games themselves? Aronian beat Grischuk with a splendid idea: 18. Rxf7?! While perhaps not completely sound, in a tournament devoid of many big moments, his shot stands out. Of course, it didn't hurt that he was both ahead on time and needed to win at all costs!

The other option was too pedestrian.

"With 18.Rf4 I thought that the game should be balanced but 18. Rxf7 looked like it might be playable," Aronian said. "Because I do like champagne," he added, referencing the Russian maxim told earlier in the tournament.


He admitted that his big time advantage was part of the decision. Ever the chess romantic, Aronian also just wanted to go for glory.

"When you take risks you will lose or you will win but you will only remember the wins," he said.

"When you're lucky, you get hungry for more," he said about the possible playoff that never ended up materializing. Apparently he didn't like his luck that much in the drawing of lots!

Here's's interview with Aronian, when it seemed at the time that he would be playing more chess tomorrow!

Watch Levon Aronian On Curiosity And Beauty At The Chessboard from Chess on

Caruana didn't have any trouble ensuring he would earn at least a tie. Going into the day a half-point clear of the field, he diffused any chances by So, who tried an offbeat but ultimately punchless line in the Petroff. The retreat of the centralized knight to d3, not f3, didn't confuse the world-championship challenger.

So admitted he "didn't get that much." 

When asked by GM Maurice Ashley why he didn't go for more, especially in the interest of the GCT qualification, So pushed back lightheartedly: "Yeah, but tell me how to go for it?!" 

Then, So answered his own question. Recalling his game yesterday, he said, "I was considering, briefly, playing the Bird's [Opening]."

It would be several more hours of Carlsen's irrepressibility before anyone could know this, but So's performance was just barely good enough to keep his London finals hopes alive after all.

"I was expecting something like what he played," Caruana said. "It was such a dull game. Nothing really happened. He didn't really want to play today."


Fabiano Caruana didn't think Wesley So showed much effort today. | Photo: Mike Klein/

If that's indeed the case, then he will surely need to find motivation tomorrow when they meet again. If there's one thing going for So, it's that Caruana's training schedule and three weeks of competition in St. Louis have made breaks impossible.

"After the last two weeks or so, I'm pretty much saturated with chess," Caruana said. After his game, he guessed, correctly, that he's not done.

"I think there's a pretty decent chance someone will end up on plus-two." Funnily enough, two more people did, but that's not the reason he has to play more chess tomorrow.

So will next be Caruana's teammate at the Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. He said Caruana's play in both events in St. Louis bodes well for the world championship.

"Seems like a good sign for his match," So said.


Caruana and his right-hand man (and favorite bughouse partner!), GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov. | Photo: Mike Klein/

One point of clarification from yesterday's reporting, where Caruana said that if he qualified for the GCT finals, he had yet to decide if he would accept. On his stream today, GM Jon Ludvig Hammer wanted to know if that was even an option. spoke with GCT officials and confirmed that there is no language in the player contracts that mandates participation upon qualification, but that they are "strongly encouraged" to compete.

Carlsen playing a long ending is no big shocker in St. Louis. While he didn't have the last game to finish, as has become a regular event, he did win his second game of the tournament much like the first. Just. Keep. Pounding.

"After the time control I felt like I just had to keep on going," Carlsen said. "I didn't feel like I had any hope [of winning]."

But after a rook ending was reached, the faint glow got just a little bit brighter.

"I was a little more optimistic because at least I had a goal," he said about the position following the queen trade. 


Nakamura slogs through the ending. | Photo: Mike Klein/

While Carlsen couldn't say for sure to what was the decisive mistake, many grandmasters in attendance thought maybe 62...g5 was fatal. Nakamura agreed with that, telling that he didn't see the particular king invasion that White used.

"You start to see some dangers, and then eventually you panic," was how Carlsen described his opponent's decision making. 

"It makes the whole difference from a mediocre tournament to a good one," Carlsen said, adding that it also meant a modest rating gain instead of a loss.

It's too bad consultations aren't allowed in chess, because Nakamura would only have to walk to the other side of the room to be informed this ending is losing after 62...g5. Vachier-Lagrave, who was trying win his own rook ending at the time, once lost pretty much the same ending in 2013!

And whom did he lose to? GM Grzegorz Gajewski, who is Viswanathan Anand's second, and also here in St. Louis! Alas, there's no phone-a-friend in chess.

Carlsen called the similarity "kind of funny" and added that Nakamura could take some solace compared to Vachier-Lagrave: "At least when he resigns, he's a pawn up," Carlsen joked.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was the final player who would have really made the playoff a mess, but he could only draw Anand.

"Vishy for me is not an easy opponent," Mamedyarov said. "Today, I got some problems."

"Wins were hard to come by," Anand said about his nine draws. How could he have improved on his play today? He sighed and said, "I simply don't know."

After three weeks of chess in St. Louis, he will return to the board next month to lead his national team, playing in his first Olympiad in a dozen years. Anand said that since the Indian team has performed so well in the last two Olympiad, he's hoping his first appearance in many years continues that trend.

"They've set a very high bar, so hopefully I don't screw it up!" Anand said.


"Superman's" chess is done in St. Louis. Carlsen won't play the Olympiad, so only a few European Club Cup games will be between him and the chess world's biggest stage in London in November. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In the final game, Vachier-Lagrave pressed as hard as Carlsen for 119 moves. But whereas the world champion was even behind a pawn when he won, the Frenchman couldn't win with two extra pawns against Sergey Karjakin.

Despite all the storylines today, the tournament ends with just eight wins from 45 games, and a paltry 18 percent win percentage, much more sedate than the previous low, 29 percent in 2016.

The Grand Chess Tour tiebreak playoff for fourth place between So and Caruana takes place tomorrow at 1 p.m. local time. They will play two games of 25+10 and if tied after that, a series of 5+3 game couplets, until the fourth pair when the arbiter may decide to break the tie "by other means!"

Boy, wouldn't that be interesting.



Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Games via TWIC.

The Sinquefield Cup, the final qualification leg of the Grand Chess Tour, was 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 began at 1 p.m. Central U.S. time daily (8 p.m. Central Europe).

Earlier reports:

FM Mike Klein

Company Contact and News Accreditation: 

  • Email:
  • Phone: 1 (800) 318-2827
  • Address: PO Box 60400 Palo Alto, CA 94306

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.

More from FM MikeKlein
Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

New ChessKid Adventure App Released

New ChessKid Adventure App Released