Aronian Defeats Firouzja After Near-Catastrophe At Time Control
Aronian became the second player to win a game in the 2023 Sinquefield Cup. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

Aronian Defeats Firouzja After Near-Catastrophe At Time Control

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Levon Aronian joined GM Wesley So in the lead at the 2023 Sinquefield Cup after dispatching GM Alireza Firouzja in a rook endgame on Saturday. The game very nearly came to an end early as Firouzja came within one second of being flagged but in the end, Aronian was forced to convert a tricky endgame.

As the other games were drawn in round five, the race for the final Candidates spot has just become even closer as So's rating is now one point higher than Firouzja's with just three games left to play.

The Sinquefield Cup continues with round six on Monday, November 27, at 2 p.m. ET/20:00 CET/00:30 a.m. IST. (Sunday is a rest day.)

Standings After Round 5

So and Aronian technically lead the tournament; however, due to Duda's withdrawal, there is a temporary game imbalance which means Aronian has played one less game.

Aronian vs. Firouzja

Aronian-Firouzja was undoubtedly the most thrilling contest of the day and while Aronian was "clearly in control," according to commentator and GM Peter Svidler, multiple swings of the evaluation bar left fans guessing as to whether the Armenian-born GM would take down Firouzja.

A stressful day at the office for Firouzja. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

By move eight, the players had escaped from the clutches of known theory in the Nimzo-Indian Defense: Three Knights, Duchamp Variation, and as the center opened up, Aronian's pieces appeared to be better placed relative to his opponent's clunkier ones.

Firouzja adopted a pragmatic response to the setback, giving up a pawn so he could enter a rook endgame with reasonable drawing chances. This part of the game was not without drama, though, and as the players approached move 40 (where extra time is added to their clocks), Firouzja played 40...Rc4? with a single second on the clock.

The move left Firouzja in a worse position than expected, and Aronian took full advantage, masterfully converting the rook and five pawns vs. rook and four pawns ending and joining So in the lead. Our Game of the Day has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao.

Firouzja, who entered the event as the favorite to take the Candidates rating spot, has now dropped lower than So. With just one point between them, the race will be a tight one.

A game of fine margins. Giri is also just one win away from surpassing the pair. Image:

Dominguez vs. So

GM Leinier Dominguez was the only player other than Aronian who had serious winning chances in round five. Although the world number-11 elected to take on So's rock-solid Berlin Defense: l'Hermet, Berlin Wall Defense, he was able to garner a small edge around the 30-move mark, which he transformed into a one-pawn advantage.

Dominguez found something in his preparation, though it did not prove to be decisive. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

The world's most solid player of 2023 was unfazed by the deficit, though, and confidently played out the opposite-colored bishop endgame until move 81, when the players decided to call a truce.

Dominguez is trying his best to break the draw curse that plagued him in last year's event (Dominguez drew all nine games in the previous edition) but has so far been unsuccessful.

Vachier-Lagrave vs. Nepomniachtchi

Historically, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has scored well against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in classical chess, and their lifetime score heading into round five was seven wins, one loss, and 10 draws in favor of the Frenchman. 

The 39 degrees Fahrenheit temperature in St. Louis on Saturday didn't stop the games from heating up. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

On this occasion, though, Vachier-Lagrave couldn't find a way to crack Nepomniachtchi's Ruy Lopez Opening: Morphy Defense, Neo-Archangelsk Variation following a precise temporary pawn sacrifice. Though his preparation procured a bishop vs. knight ending, Nepomniachtchi was content with a draw after an ice-cold defensive effort by Vachier-Lagrave.

Rapport vs. Giri

GMs Richard Rapport and Anish Giri's Giuoco Piano Game barely lifted off before the players began repeating on move 20. A downtrodden Rapport would later indicate in his post-match interview that he didn't feel he was playing well and wished he "could claim jet lag" as an excuse for his "poor play."

In fairness to the Romanian representative, he is just 1.5 points off the lead and will again play with the white pieces against Vachier-Lagrave in round six.

Two key questions come to the fore after five rounds at the 2023 Sinquefield Cup: Who will win the $100,000 first prize, and who will secure the Candidates spot? With a match between the leaders scheduled for round six, the answers to these questions will come one step closer.

Results - Round 5

White Black
Dominguez 1/2 - 1/2 So
Aronian 1 - 0 Firouzja
Rapport 1/2 - 1/2 Giri
Vachier-Lagrave 1/2 - 1/2 Nepomniachtchi

Pairings - Round 6

White Black
So - Aronian
Firouzja - Caruana
Rapport - Vachier-Lagrave
Giri - Dominguez

How to watch the 2023 Sinquefield Cup

You can keep up with all the games and results of the tournament on our live events platform by following this link.

All Games

The 2023 Sinquefield Cup is the strongest international classical OTB tournament in the U.S. and the final leg of the 2023 Grand Chess Tour. Starting November 21 at 2:30 p.m. ET/20:30 CET/01:00 (+1) IST, 10 elite grandmasters will compete for their share of the $350,000 prize fund.

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