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So Wins Sinquefield; Topalov Falls Short

So Wins Sinquefield; Topalov Falls Short

Wesley So had all the answers as Black in a Berlin Defense against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. After 47 moves, the players didn't even need to agree a draw. The result was automatic, as there was no material left to mate. The final-round peace guaranteed So a score of 5.5/9 and a share of first place, but he could still be caught by the trio of Viswanathan Anand, Veselin Topalov, and Levon Aronian. Each began the round with 4.5/8.

Photo Austin Fuller.

Anand soon had to settle for a draw as Black against Peter Svidler, but the battle between Topalov and Aronian appeared extremely likely to end in Topalov's favor. Topalov was clearly winning; post-game, So acknowledged that he was spectating, and that his computer showed +123 (!) for Topalov. However, resilient defense from Aronian demanded accurate responses, and after subtle slips from Topalov, the win was gone. Congratulations to the 22-year-old So, whose win is his first in a super-tournament!

As thrilling as the battle for first place was, the incredible final-round victories by Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana are not to be missed. They won dominant games as White against Ding Liren and Anish Giri respectively.

The final round's mascot? How about the fighting bears! After a long hibernation (*cough* 71% draws *cough*), they really go at it!

Vachier-Lagrave had been extremely clear about his intentions to make the most of his white against So. Indeed, he gave it everything he had, but like Kasparov in his World Championship match against Kramnik, he just didn't get anywhere. At a few points, Vachier-Lagrave seemed to hold some measure of an advantage, but the prospect of a decisive result always seemed vanishingly slim.

Speaking of the great Kasparov, the legend stopped by the booth for commentary and conversation with hosts GM Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade. He was frank in his advice to Vachier-Lagrave:

Stop beating your head against the Berlin!

Kasparov noted that even he switched to 1.c4 against Kramnik to avoid it.

Lanky and languid, So was incredibly calm in the final round. | Photo by Austin Fuller.

After Svidler vs Anand was drawn, only the competitors in Topalov vs Aronian could catch up with So. Aronian offered a fascinating move in an Anti-Berlin with 5...d5!? This fresh move had been tried at the top-level before, by Giri against Vachier-Lagrave.

The pawn sacrifice offered was very interesting, but Topalov soon declined it. Aronian could count this as an opening success, but Topalov still held a slight pull. Topalov soon acquired the two bishops on move 13. Then he transformed the advantage with 24.Bxe6!?, giving Aronian doubled pawns.

Topalov further outplayed Aronian and began to tease the weak pawns. With 38.Kc4, a victory was becoming likely.

When did the win slip away? 57.Rd4+ was probably the most critical point. Topalov was critical of this move in the post-mortem, and the tablebases agree. However, the winning path was always difficult to find, and even top engines tend to improperly evaluate the endgame. Great credit should go to Aronian for his defense.

Aronian walked a fine line very accurately for many moves, and had to rely on the classic underpromotion to a knight to draw with knight against rook. Could you draw it? Practice here!

Topalov was within a whisper of catching So. | Photo Lennart Ootes.

Today, Nakamura seemed to have fully recovered from yesterday's illness. He and Ding quickly cut an incredibly sharp path into the morass that is the Anti-Moscow Gambit.

This is the kind of swash and buckle chess that spectators love to see.

However, the game also demonstrated why players don't always like this kind of chess. With pitfalls everywhere, Ding missed 22.Nd5!! and found that he was already practically lost.

Nakamura finished convincingly in a game that is sure to be used regularly to teach the dangers of leaving one's king in the center of the board.

Ding Liren appeared to have run out of gas after his duel with Caruana in round seven. | Photo by Lennart Ootes.

Caruana played a truly instructive masterpiece against Giri. First, he essayed the "anti-positional" 11.cxb3!? The capture away from the center surprised many, but Giri asserted he was ready for it. Caruana said that he actually felt this was the most natural move, because it opened the c-file for use of a rook.

Giri was confident that all of Caruana's activity should be neutralized by a timely ...f6. Perhaps he was right, but his timing wasn't. Caruana responded to 15...f6 with the gorgeous move 16.Rad1! and showed for the second time in the tournament that he understood queen vs two rooks better than anyone.

For Giri, this was his second poor tournament in a row after Bilbao. The normally sassy Dutch player seemed thoughtful and modest in considering his path forward. Of course, there can be no doubt that a young and incredible talent like Giri will be be back in form soon.

"This position leaves a bad taste in my mouth."  Caption by NoChatNoGame. | Photo Lennart Ootes.

In the final game, Svidler and Anand played interesting chess, but with no errors from either side, a draw by repetition occurred early. Both players seemed happy with the result.

Svidler selected an Anti-Berlin, but he was no more able to generate play than Vachier-Lagrave. | Photo Austin Fuller.

Congratulations poured in for So online. For his efforts, he collects $75,000. That is actually his second biggest prize check after the $100,000 that he won at the Millionaire Open in 2014.

So will play third board for the U.S. behind Caruana and Nakamura at the Baku Olympiad, and said that he wouldn't mind playing board four if they win gold. Thanks to the addition of such incredible talent, the U.S. medal hopes have never been higher.

2016 Sinquefield Cup | Final Standings

# FED Player Rtg Perf Score 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 So, Wesley 2771 2859 5.5 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½
2 Anand, Viswanthan 2770 2822 5 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½
3 Aronian, Levon 2792 2820 5 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 1 ½
4 Caruana, Fabiano 2807 2818 5 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1
5 Topalov, Veselin 2761 2823 5 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½
6 Vachier Lagrave, Maxime 2819 2774 4.5 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½
7 Nakamura, Hikaru 2791 2777 4.5 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1
8 Ding Liren 2755 2738 4 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½
9 Svidler, Peter 2751 2701 3.5 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 1
10 Giri, Anish 2769 2654 3 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0

The Grand Chess Tour standings are maintained at http://grandchesstour.org/2016-tour-standings.

The Sinquefield Cup took place August 4-16, However, the action is not over. The exhibition match, Ultimate Moves, featuring the competitors and Garry Kasparov, will take place Tuesday, August 16 starting at 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. CET).

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