The Calm Before The Sinquefield Storm

The Calm Before The Sinquefield Storm

| 31 | Chess Event Coverage

Although the pairings for the 2015 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis didn't come out until Saturday evening, the 10 players each had several other obligations first.

At noon local time, they each sat down for a two-hour autograph session with more than 300 fans. Afterward, the world's elite had their official head shots photographed, sportcoat measurements taken, and engaged in on-camera interviews with the commentary team.

They all ended the day with a players' meeting, opening ceremony, and mini press conference, and only then did they draw envelopes to decide their lot in the tournament. For those that can't take the suspense, you can skip all the way down to the bottom to see who plays who in round one. Spoiler alert: the world champion gets the exact same pairings in rounds one and two as his disastrous 0-2 start in Norway!

Carlsen's clock snafu occurred as White in round one versus Topalov, but that was Norway (graphic courtesy Spectrum Studios).

Below is a large pictorial report of the events of the day, followed by the pairings list and opening-round matchups. But first, here's our exclusive interview with World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, where he discusses his technique in riding an inflatable whale across a pool:

And here's our video interview with reigning Sinquefield Cup Champion GM Fabiano Caruana, on his transfer to the U.S. and other topics:

If you would prefer to get excited via an in-depth examination on each player's recent performances, don't forgot to re-read Peter Dogger's report.

A look at the goodie bags of the 10 players.

The playing room has been reconfigured this year. The first Sinquefield Cup only had two boards; last year there were three; now they need to accomodate five boards. The organizers said there's no easy place to put a sixth if the tournament expands.

GM Veselin Topalov, the winner of Norway Chess earlier this year, leads the inaugural Grand Chess Tour standings.
The players signed hundreds of pieces of paraphernalia, and drank Isklar water. The Norwegian bottler sponsors both Carlsen and the Grand Chess Tour.

You may notice in the above picture that the sitting world champion is not sitting. As his father Henrik Carlsen explained, his son had a busy day, which didn't get better when the two went for a biclycle ride. Magnus had an issue, likely a puncture. Henrik had to transport two bikes back while Magnus took a taxi.

There was nothing lost -- fans waited patiently and there was still plenty of time for all 300+ in line to get something signed and meet the players.

Carlsen a few moments after arriving at his seat...
...but he greeted every fan warmly with a smile.

This was easily the largest crowd the Sinquefield Cup has ever witnessed, but the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis managed the cavernous line with aplomb. 

New for this year: hats. Not new for this year: crowds wanting to meet their chess heroes.

Some fans were so worried they might miss out on the opportunity that they planned way ahead. Just as in chess, sometimes the preparations go awry. Teenager Isaac Adams, of Wheaton, Illinois, got in town last night to get a hotel and be close to the club. The problem? His 4:45 a.m. wake-up call never came. Still, Adams and his mom got there by about 8:00 a.m. and were first in line anyway, four hours before the first fan was required to queue.

Isaac and his mom showing their positions in line. "I was a wreck," said mom on the late start to the morning.

Once things started moving, GM Levon Aronian was clearly having a good time. A few samples of his quotes:

To GM Maxime Vachier-Legrave: "Your signature is cute."

To GM Alexander Grischuk (playing in St. Louis for the first time): "East St. Louis is actually in Illinois, the next state."

To GM Wesley So (who wasn't at Norway Chess; he's the wildcard at the Sinquefield Cup): "I like blitz [to determine lots]. You get what you deserve." (Unlike in Norway, there was a random drawing of pairing numbers in St. Louis.)

Aronian (right) dispensing some geography knowledge to Grischuk (left) while So finds the camera.
Vachier-Legrave's "figure-8" signature, which Aronian joked was "cute".
The local Indian community understandably comprised much of the crowd this time. GM Viswanathan Anand is playing in St. Louis for the first time, and also the first time playing rated chess in the U.S. since his world champinship match with Kasparov in 1995.
As usual, several Armenian families attended to support Aronian.

In the past, players have signed strange items like boxing gloves. Nothing too extravagant this year, except GM Hikaru Nakamura, whose special marker was able to sign a Red Bull can.

Hikaru Nakamura posed with two "Red Bull girls".

What does it take to get through several hundred signatures? For Aronian, a double dose of espresso:

There are some extra additions to the tournament this year. The new logo includes the Grand Chess Tour linkage and ties in the American flag theme to the "O" in "TOUR".

And the addition of a "confessional booth" with some rudimentary sound-proofing. It was tested by GM Ian Rogers and myself, but comments were still decipherable. Still needing more work, the club assured it would be completely private by tomorrow.

So wasn't worried about the sound-proofing. He seems the most likely to use the booth. "I think it is a very interesting idea. Why not? After all, we play chess for the fans and spectators."

The club had one blunder which they remedied quickly. Last year's "Caruana banner" couldn't be recycled -- the Italy flag was still adorning it.

Oops! The old banner was briefly on the top floor.
Talk about quick turnaround! The club quickly printed a new one with the American flag. Caruana switched back to his native country in May.

What to do after the player's meeting? Four grandmasters sat down for some blitz games. This reporter didn't keep score, but the matches were Caruana-Aronian and So-Grischuk.

The openings for Caruana and Aronian slowly devolved. Near the end, Caruana was left trying to remember the Black side of a Max Lange Attack, only to have the next game start 1. g3 h5!

Eventually the players made their way to the opening ceremony and short press conference. Jeanne Sinquefield pointed out that eight of the 10 players have breachd 2800 at some point in their careers. Here's some other choice quotes:

GM Anish Giri: "I followed the tournament very closely [last year]. This is definitely a big milestone I've achieved to play here." What about his good tournament in Norway? "That was in my past life!"

Giri will be playing his first tournament as a married man. Here he is with his wife, IM/WGM Sopiko Guramishvili. Topalov warned that Giri can expect his rating to go down 50 points after marriage.

GM Alexander Grischuk (to emcee GM Maurice Ashley, who will also commentate): "It's a big honor for me being asked questions by you because I'm a big fan of yours. I hope that in one game you will say I have a biiiiiig attack!"

GM Viswanathan Anand: "In just a few years St. Louis has become the center of American chess. I was looking forward to seeing it for myself."

GM Levon Aronian, on his precipitous fall from his peak rating: "The year was rough, but we're in America, the land of opportunity."

IM Malcolm Pein, organizer of the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour (The London Classic): "I've got to get more people from England to come here to see the setup in St. Louis...You have to pinch yourself that it's all here."

After GM Wesley So remarked that last year he was merely a spectator at the Sinquefield Cup, GM Magnus Carlsen was asked about this year: "I would like to repeat what Wesley said. Last year I was here as a spectator!"

So had the final pick, but was the only one of the 10 players who remembered to pause for the camera.

Carlsen was also asked about coming off his poor performance in Norway. "My last tournament was a horror show. Everything went wrong...I generally don't lose my optimism."

Lastly, Kasparov Chess Foundation spokesman Michael Khodarkovsky and club Executive Director Tony Rich both weighed in on the Grand Chess Tour. Khodarkovsky said that plans for 2016 would be announced before this tournament ended, but they had to work around multiple events, including the Candidates Tournament, World Championship, Olympiad, and Summer Olympics.

Rich promised more too. "We don't want the Grand Chess Tour to be the same three wash-and-repeat events," he said. "The Grand Chess Tour is the future of chess."

Sinquefield Cup 2015 | Pairings

Round 1 23.08.15 13:00 CDT   Round 2 24.08.15 13:00 CDT
Giri - Grischuk   Grischuk - Anand
So - Vachier-Lagrave   Topalov - Nakamura
Aronian - Caruana   Caruana - Carlsen
Carlsen - Topalov   Vachier-Lagrave - Aronian
Nakamura - Anand   Giri - So
Round 3 25.08.15 13:00 CDT   Round 4 26.08.15 13:00 CDT
So - Grischuk   Grischuk - Topalov
Aronian - Giri   Caruana - Anand
Carlsen - Vachier-Lagrave   Vachier-Lagrave - Nakamura
Nakamura - Caruana   Giri - Carlsen
Anand - Topalov   So - Aronian
Round 5 27.08.15 13:00 CDT   Round 6 29.08.15 13:00 CDT
Aronian - Grischuk   Grischuk - Caruana
Carlsen - So   Vachier-Lagrave - Topalov
Nakamura - Giri   Giri - Anand
Anand - Vachier-Lagrave   So - Nakamura
Topalov Caruana   Aronian - Carlsen
Round 7 30.08.15 13:00 CDT   Round 8 31.08.15 13:00 CDT
Carlsen - Grischuk   Grischuk - Vachier-Lagrave
Nakamura - Aronian   Giri - Caruana
Anand - So   So - Topalov
Topalov - Giri   Aronian - Anand
Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave   Carlsen - Nakamura
Round 9 01.09.15 13:00 CDT        
Nakamura - Grischuk        
Anand - Carlsen        
Topalov - Aronian        
Caruana - So        
Vachier-Lagrave - Giri        

As stated, Carlsen takes White against Topalov in the opening game and in round two Black against Caruana, the same one-two start he had in Norway. With the same pairing numbers as in Norway (!), it's another Giri-Grischuk in round 1 as well.

Games will be played daily from August 23 - September 1 except for a rest day August 28. Games will start at 13:00 local time (21:00 Moscow, 19:00 London, 14:00 New York, 11:00 Los Angeles). is streaming the official live commentary of all rounds at, with GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. In addition, GM Alex Yermolinsky will host a mid-tournament highlights show on the rest day and a wrapup show. Check for listings. Games via TWIC phpfCo1l0.png

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