GMs Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Dominguez, and Wesley So lead the 2023 Sinquefield Cup on 4.5 points heading into the final round following a day of high-accuracy draws in all four matchups. The $100,000 first prize will likely be determined by the games Caruana vs. GM Richard Rapport and GM Levon Aronian vs. Dominguez in round nine.
As for So, a rest day dashes his chances of playing for first in the event, but qualification for the 2024 Candidates tournament is still a possibility via FIDE Circuit points if he is able to finish in the top two, something GM Anish Giri will be hell-bent on stopping in order to boost his claim for his own spot.
The Sinquefield Cup will conclude with the final round on Thursday, November 30, at 2:30 p.m. ET/20:30 CET/1 a.m. IST.
Standings After Round 8
Rapport vs. Aronian
The most interesting game of the round was Rapport-Aronian and though it did not end decisively, both players were clearly trying to push for an edge throughout the game. The Giuoco Pianissimo was Rapport’s weapon of choice but Aronian defended and counterattacked accurately.
Swapping into an opposite-colored bishop endgame, viewers expected the game to end as quickly as the others had in round eight, however Rapport had other ideas and established his king in a forward position, indicating his intent to play for a win.
Our Game of the Day has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.
Giri vs. Caruana
Giri and Caruana’s clash was over within five minutes after the pair began to repeat on move 10 in the Queen’s Gambit Declined: Catalan Opening. In his post-match interview, Caruana surmised that Giri did not want to win the game due to some oddities in qualification regulations for the Candidates tournament.
Notably, if So were to finish in the top two of the Sinquefield Cup, Giri would be overtaken on the FIDE Circuit and lose his potential Candidates spot. Curiously, had Giri beaten Caruana, the chances of this would have been amplified.
The unusual loophole in the regulations is reminiscent of another famous sporting example in the 1994 Caribbean Football Cup qualifiers, where Barbados purposely scored an own goal to take the game into overtime and take advantage of a variant of the golden goal rule that counted their extra time winner as worth two goals, thereby qualifying them ahead of their opponents.
The FIDE Circuit regulations don’t explicitly cover everything about how the Grand Chess Tour does event tiebreaks, but I *think* I parsed out how they would score those scenarios. Assuming I got that right, enjoy this mess!
— Chess by the Numbers (@ChessNumbers) November 30, 2023
Dominguez vs. Vachier-Lagrave
Threefold repetition was also on the cards for Dominguez and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and the Frenchman clearly prepared the line at home, forcing a “surprised” Dominguez to come up with moves on the spot to grapple with Vachier-Lagrave’s aggressive line in the Sicilian Defense.
Now having the opportunity to play for first in the final round, Dominguez remarked: “I’m happy to be in this position and to be able to fight for first place. Of course, the last round will be crucial.” Dominguez’s task is made even tougher by the fact that he will play Black against Aronian, a player who has not yet lost with the white pieces in the event.
So vs. Nepomniachtchi
Despite guaranteeing himself an equal third finishing heading into the final round, So was unhappy with his event. Finishing on 4.5/8 with two wins, one loss, and five draws, the American’s Candidates qualification is still up in the air.
In his final game, So was easily held by GM Ian Nepomniachtchi‘s preparation on the black side of the Nimzo-Indian Defense and pieces flew off the board before So could even think about playing for a win.
Nepomniachtchi will have the opportunity to catch So in equal third should he defeat Giri in their round nine matchup.
Results – Round 8
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Pairings – Round 9
How to watch the 2023 Sinquefield Cup
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.