Nakamura The Speed Skater, Anand The Shooter, Caruana The High Jumper?

Nakamura The Speed Skater, Anand The Shooter, Caruana The High Jumper?

If the Fourth Annual Sinquefield Cup produces the same kind of tension and storylines as the first three editions, we're in for a fun two weeks.

But before the games begin tomorrow, the players let their personalities show at today's autograph session and opening ceremony, held at the World Chess Hall of Fame in the Central West End of St. Louis.

Anand and Svidler discuss how they're going to deal with the youngsters.

If you're looking for an introduction to the players and the schedule, Peter Doggers already had you covered. If it's a more analytical session you're in need of, GM Robert Hess will scratch your itch. And if video is your thing, here's yours truly analyzing newcomer GM Ding Liren's chances (when I recorded it, GM Peter Svidler was still planning on sipping tea and watching cricket, not replacing his countryman).

In the late afternoon, the dectet gathered at the Kingside Diner, the restaurant that adjoins the host Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Most of the players have done these sessions before (they're a mainstay at the Sinquefield Cup). So how can one make them feel new again?

Sitting by your closest friends is a good start. That helps with the plotting.

For new world number-two GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and defending champion GM Levon Aronian, they decided to sign their autographs beside the other's printed name on the tournament poster.

The two admire the handiwork of their hijinks.

Then Vachier-Lagrave was challenged to sign on a picture of a U.S. state. Aronian knew which one, but did the Frenchman? 

Not only did Vachier-Lagrave know he was in Missouri, but he signed exactly where St. Louis sits within the state. Don't doubt him -- he's one of the few in the field with a college degree.

GM Hikaru Nakamura took a different tack. He practiced signing his name using the traditional Japanese spelling of his name (he lived in Japan for only six months before moving to the U.S. as a baby). But that wasn't the end of it. GM Anish Giri insisted he'd made an error on the symbol.

Giri shows Nakamura his evidence.

They went back and forth playfully until the they realized they were both wrong! The "arbiter" was Nakamura's Wikipedia page, and since we don't have a native Japanese speaker at Chess.com, we're going to hope that this is correct: 中村光.

That's not Nakamura on e2. That's Ding Liren (we think!). On these wooden boards, it was back to Latin (gibberish) letters for most.

A few minutes later the players headed across the street to the opening ceremony. The usual dignitaries gave quick speeches (including longtime Mayor Francis Slay, more on that later). Often these speeches produce the same pleasantries, but this time we learned from Jeanne Sinquefield that her husband and tournament namesake Rex Sinquefield had in fact lost to a five-and-a-half-year-old girl recently.

The story was confirmed by a chagrined Rex, who promised the crowd that he got his revenge once she turned six. Perhaps also assuaging his wounded ego -- that girl was Rachael Li, little sister of IM Ruifeng Li (2555). Rachael is already 1400+ USCF.

Jeanne gives Rex a good roast in front of the world's elite.

The event closed with two "lightning rounds." GM Maurice Ashley played emcee and polled all the players: "Who would be their biggest tournament rival/finish second to the their first place?"

GM Viswanathan Anand: Vachier-Lagrave. "But I wouldn't put my money on anyone."

GM Ding Liren: Caruana. "I'm not so famous."

GM Hikaru Nakamura: Aronian.

GM Anish Giri: Topalov. "I'm going to pick Veselin because just like me, no one's going to pick him!"

GM Fabiano Caruana: Vachier-Lagrave (tepidly).

GM Wesley So: Caruana. "Once he gets going it's hard to stop him."

GM Peter Svidler: Vachier-Lagrave. "It would be impolite of me to not pick the man who's beaten me like a drum the past week."

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: Giri. "Because there's no money on the line, I can safely bet on Anish!"

GM Levon Aronian: Vachier-Lagrave. He added that Svidler's "unexpected" invite may allow him to do well too.

GM Veselin Topalov: Giri (returning the the favor).

Thus the final count: top-seeded Vachier-Lagrave four; Caruana two; Giri two; Topalov and Aronian one each.

Anand and Giri, you've found Ding Liren, not Pokemon.

Next up Ashley handed the mike to this reporter, who polled the field in a different way. "With the Olympics opening ceremonies tomorrow night, which sport would you like to be able to play in the Olympics?"

It didn't take long for Ashley to steal the show again. Anand answered first, and said, "shooting."

"You're in the right city for that!" Ashley deadpanned, before scanning the crowd for the mayor's reaction (he had none). 

Back to lighter subjects, here are the other players' answers.

Ding and Aronian both picked basketball. Nakamura chose speed skating (the only person to pick a Winter Olympic discipline). Caruana, not nearly the tallest player out there, incongruously chose the high jump. So said, "Anything but swimming," while Svidler picked archery. Topalov said cycling and Vachier-Lagrave the marathon.

Lastly, Giri picked track, but only if it was a sprint. "To get it over with first!"

Vachier-Lagrave and Topalov are two-thirds of a triathlon. Sadly for Aronian, the Armenian men's national basketball team has never made the Olympics.

No one chose baseball (it returns to the Olympics in 2020), but then they all had to choose baseball. The explanation? The drawing of lots came in the form of baseballs autographed by St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny, a part-time spokesperson for the club who also practices tactics nightly on Chess.com.

Svidler, a huge fan of cricket, asked upon landing in town to see a Cardinals baseball game. He doesn't come to the U.S. often; his last chess event here was Las Vegas, 1999.

Two final housekeeping items. Whichever number the players selected here, they will get the inverse color allotment at the other Grand Chess Tour classical event in London. Also, GM Vladimir Kramnik is ineligible for Grand Chess Tour season prizes. The rules stipulate that players must play both classical events to be in contention. He is still allowed to play, and is still invited to the London Classic.

Beginner's luck?

"This is how many games in a row I can win!"

Here's round one's pairings:

Image courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Caruana had no explanation for this, and neither do we. If it's a Harry Potter impersonation contest, Vachier-Lagrave sewed that up 20 years ago:

You can watch the games of the Sinquefield Cup in Live Chess. Commentary by GMs Eric Hansen, Maurice Ashley, and Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade will be available at Chess.com/TV from Friday, August 5 till Sunday, August 14, with rounds starting at 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. CET).

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