Wesley So wins 2016 Sinquefield Cup

Wesley So, in a beautiful barong, hoists the Sinqufield Cup aloft after winning the 2016 edition.

Wesley So, wearing a beautiful Filipino barong, hoists the Sinqufield Cup aloft after winning the 2016 edition. Photo by Lennart Ootes

Wesley So is heading to Baku, Azerbaijan to compete for gold on the U.S. Olympiad team. He got an excellent tuneup for the event with his close victory in a strong field. Despite Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik withdrawing, the field featured seven of the top ten (ten of the top 14) players in the world. The top seed would be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. Although there were a high number of draws in the tournament, the games were hotly-contested with So eking out the competition with +2. Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand and Veselin Topalov followed with +1 on 5/9. Below So talks about the what helped him to succeed in the tournament.

Video by Mike Klein (chess.com)

So played the steadiest of them all with a key win over Hikaru Nakamura in the first round. With Topalov and Anand in the running, So vanquished the Bulgarian in their sixth round matchup. Annotations by GM Elshan Moradiabadi.

After this win So vaulted to 4/6 with only one point separating the top eight players. Going into the last three round there were marquee matchups and there were no easy outs in the field. Both Anish Giri and Peter Svidler were having a rough time of it and could ably play the role of spoiler. However, the seventh round saw draws on every board and such a situation favored So. In round eight, Anand-Topalov would be a key matchup as was So-Caruana. Caruana had been the butt of jokes on the Internet about his seven consecutive draws.

Fortunes would not change as both of these games were drawn. Svidler-Giri was a bout of the tailenders and the seven-time Russian champion got his first win. It appears that Giri is taking more pride in his fashion sense than anything else. Truly a disaster for Giri who hemorrhaged 14 Elo points in the tournament. Both MVL and Ding Liren were not vying to win the tournament, but could certainly change the order of the tournament with an “upset”.

Nakamura watching the tension build in Topalov-Aronian.
Photo by Lennart Ootes.

Going into the last round, So only needed a draw to clinch a tie for first. However, a potential three-way made things a bit tense. Svidler-Anand playerd a trivial 30-move draw meaning that the Indian legend was satisfied with letting the other 40-something player to catch So. MVL-So had a theoretical discussion in the Berlin, but it ended in a comfortable draw. Now only Topalov-Aronian was left to determine whether there would be a playoff or not.

Unbelievably, Topalov got a winning position but bungled the rook ending. The timely 48.f4! would have created a passed pawn thus rook cutting the king off. It should have been enough to score the full point. Instead Topalov traded kingside pawns without with forcing a concession from black. The black rook fronted the passed pawn and black had a fortress. Thus, So would take clear first pipping the field by half point.

One wonders what will become of the Grand Chess Tour. The London Chess Classic is indeed a wonderful close of the season’s tour, but with the defection of the Norway Chess and the repetition of the players in the field for four events, it may not have the legs needed for the tournament to have a long run. The field has expanded from four players in the first season, six players in the second and then expanding to the current format of ten. The tour was affected by the exit of Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik, but maybe a bit of tweaking is needed. For example, replacing the bottom feeders (last two) in each tournament as an incentive for fighting play. That way there is more incentive not to play a torrent of drawing games.

The Grand Chess Tour seems to be replacing some of the languishing tournaments in the circuit such as the Tata Steel tournament (successor to ill-fated Hoogovens and Corus) and whose future seems to be uncertain. After Linares folded in 2010, the six-player Bilbao (part of the Grand Slam Masters) has remain as one of the mainstays. However, it also features a number of the same players. Although it was announced that Tata’s sell off of the steel business would not affect the event, it is unsure how long the India company will stay vested.

The Qatar Masters and Millionaire chess have risen as strong opens, but are brands that are still growing. Nevertheless, the Sinquefield Cup remains as a wonderful event and St. Louis has become quite the venue to host the event. With Carlsen winning the first event in 2013, Caruana in 2014 and Aronian in 2015, the tournament was buoyed by the last to first victory of the personable Wesley So. The commentary in St. Louis was excellent and the production team was first class and has set new standards for making chess watchable and entertaining. See you next year!

2016 Sinquefield Cup
USA USA USA
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Final Standings (Overall)
Rank Name Score Fed. Rating TPR 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 GM So, Wesley 5.5 USA 2771 2859 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½
2 GM Caruana, Fabiano 5.0 USA 2807 2818 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1
3 GM Aronian, Levon 5.0 ARM 2792 2820 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½
4 GM Anand, Viswanathan 5.0 IND 2770 2823 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½
5 GM Topalov, Veselin 5.0 BUL 2761 2824 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½
6 GM Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 4.5 FRA 2819 2774 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½
7 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 4.5 USA 2791 2777 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1
8 GM Ding, Liren 4.0 CHN 2755 2738 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 0
9 GM Svidler, Peter 3.5 RUS 2751 2702 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½
10 GM Giri, Anish 3.0 NED 2769 2655 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0
(All PGN Games)

Wesley So makes his statement.

Wesley So makes his statement. Photo by Lennart Ootes

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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