Caruana Takes Sinquefield Lead, World #1 Ranking At Stake Tomorrow
Chicagoan Warren Tutwiler shows love of country and its number-one player, who also now leads in St. Louis. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Caruana Takes Sinquefield Lead, World #1 Ranking At Stake Tomorrow

| 50 | Chess Event Coverage

There are about 1500 grandmasters in the world, yet Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana are separated by only one other person alphabetically. But in chess skill, they're nearly closer than ever.

Today's win by Caruana at the 2018 Sinquefield Cup just amped up the gravitas of tomorrow's head-to-head match with world champion Carlsen. Not only is Caruana now the lone leader of the tournament (4.0/6), should he win as Black on Saturday, he would usurp the number-one spot in the live ratings list.

Carlsen hasn't ceded the top position since mid-2011.


Fabiano Caruana: The great American hope. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The face-off is also their last classical skirmish before London's world title bout in November. Oh, and it's on a Saturday. No excuses chess fans; Caissa has bestowed quite a gift.

That wasn't the only storyline of the day. The square g4 proved pivotal again, and while the rest of the games all ended drawn, both Carlsen and Levon Aronian saved losing positions.

Fabiano Caruana

Caruana and his disciples. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour. 

Round seven's clash was always going to be hyped, but after today, Caruana just added some mustard. His straightforward win over the reeling Sergey Karjakin vaulted the American ahead of the other four pre-round leaders. 


Watch Fabiano Caruana On Getting A Crack At The World #1 Spot from Chess on

Karjakin has had a St. Louis trip to forget. While he had only one loss in the rapid event, he suffered seven more in the blitz and now this is his third in classical.

"Every player can empathize for a player who has nothing going right in the tournament," Caruana said. 

Henrik Carlsen

Pssst! That's my son! | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour. 

Carlsen was in a world of trouble after his Benko Gambit went awry against Alexander Grischuk, a man who has already defeated him once at a past Sinquefield Cup. 

For the current number-one player, his place at the top would have been even more tenuous if Grischuk had gone for that messier, but ultimately better continuation with 20. Nb6. Before that became a possibility, some opening transpositions unfolded.

The Russian began with 1. Nf3, which caused Carlsen to think for a few minutes. Eventually it looked like a Benoni-type structure could occur, but no, Carlsen went for the classic ...b5! break, and a Benko.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen and his entourage's "Reservoir Dogs" walk to the Saint Louis Chess Club.| Photo: Mike Klein/

"This wasn't close to the top of the list of what I thought I was going to do," Carlsen told afterward. 

"I have no idea when I've seen ...Bf5 in a Benko like this," Maurice Ashley said on the commentary, but Carlsen told that he liked the idea in the specific position it was employed. 

Carlsen also told that Grischuk's healthy usage of his clock may have had shadowy intentions. Carlsen couldn't be sure.

"His time expenditure can sometimes be, deliberately or otherwise, misleading," Carlsen said to

Magnus Carlsen

Carlsen did not make a deposit in today's visit to the Benko. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Things got interesting when Carlsen could have justified the control of the b1-h7 diagonal by placing either piece on c2. He chose the knight, but then got blasted with 13. g4!?, one of three seminal pawn advances to g4 on the day (more on the other two later). One move later, the champ took the rook instead of other ideas like 14...Bxe4, using only 11 seconds on the choice.

"I think for Magnus to play quickly in a position of this complexity, I think it shows a degree of shock," Peter Svidler said, explaining that he thought the Norwegian might have been rattled by the entire g4 idea.

"He could have done that but he was probably going for something simpler," Carlsen said about the 20. Nb6 variation.

Grischuk concurred, saying, "Somehow I wanted to win without allowing any counterplay. When you start to have this attitude too early, a lot of times it leads to you losing your advantage."


Alexander Grischuk feared counterplay, but recalling a previous expression of his, that cost him the champagne. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour. 

When asked Carlsen if he could have held the game after 20. Nb6, he didn't hesitate. Carlsen smiled and said "no."


Tomorrow: Cancel your life.

Hikaru Nakamura almost righted his tournament after a strange endgame mistake by Aronian.

"It's embarrassing," Aronian said about his oversight. "The problem is that I was trying to play bullet with Hikaru."

But even that game ended drawn as only one American could win on the day. Nakamura couldn't find the right continuation as his bonus rook tried unsuccessfully to contain some runaway pawns.

"This was a very, very nice surprise," Aronian told about his opponent's missed win. "It's clear that I'm losing, but then I got this hope by some miracle."

"I was still in rest-day mode," Aronian said. "It's inexcusable to play like this."


With Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, you always have to keep a focus on the g-pawn. | Photo: Mike Klein/

In the other games, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's trusty Grunfeld held against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. For once, the Azeri lamented pushing his g-pawn two squares.

"I don't know why I did this move," he said. "It was very bad move, fantastically bad move. I don't know how I can play [it]."

His reasoning was simple: the Nd5 can reroute to f5 through e7 (and the only reason the Frenchman's knight was posted on d5 is that Mamedyarov also regretted playing e5 earlier!).

Finally, Wesley So and Viswanathan Anand never strayed too far from equality as they drew.

As for the pictorial moment of the round, it was chess fan Warren Tutwiler from Chicago that thought to make a "Caruana Fathead" and bring it with him to St. Louis.

Tutwiler had quite an interesting prediction for tomorrow's round. He guessed Caruana would "tank" the game to set up Carlsen somehow for the more important world championship match in London.

Fabiano Caruana

Is being a world-championship challenger giving Caruana a big head? Perhaps...| Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Yeah, that seems unlikely, but not an unprecedented idea in sport. For years baseball writers as notorious as George Will wrote about the "Bagwell Gambit," where future hall-of-fame pitcher Greg Maddux would give up a home run in a less-important situation to set up a strikeout in a future game of more significance.

As fantastic of an idea as that may be, unfortunately, it probably didn't happen. And don't expect it tomorrow, either.



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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