The Sinqufield Cup is underway at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, and once again, the world’s most elite players have turned out to battle for the prize. The Cup is a stop on the Grand Chess Tour, which also includes tournaments in Paris and London and is intended to function as a sort of counterpoint to the World Chess Championship.
The WCC has been won the last three times by Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who is once again the field at the Sinquefield Cup. In his first game, he’s facing down American Fabiano Caruana, currently the number three player in the world — and the number two in the US, behind Wesley So.
The Sinquefield Cup is an event with some major positive memories for Caruana, who used to play for Italy but switched his affiliation to the US in 2015. The 25 year old was born in Miami and grew up in New York City. Since he burst onto the big-time chess scene in 2007 and became at that time the youngest American Grandmaster in history.
In 2014 at the Cup, Caruana won in dominating fashion, almost running the table against a field that included Carlsen and former WCC Viswanathan Anand. The performance was compared with some of Bobby Fischer’s, and Caruana immediately looked as if he were headed toward a showdown with Carlsen for the WCC (Caruana has beaten Carlsen five times).
At the 2016 Candidates Tournament to choose Carlsen challenger, however, Caruana narrowly missed his chance, losing with black against Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who would go the distance against Carlsen in New York last year, taking the WCC to tiebreaker games before losing.
Caruana spoke to me before the Sinqufield Cup kicked off and reflected on the Candidates defeat. His feeling was that he wasn’t properly prepared, and that if can return to the WCC cycle for the 2018 title, he’ll be better equipped to go the distance.
He certainly isn’t intimidated by Carlsen, also he was a bit disappointed by his 2017 play. He wasn’t able to win, for example, the US Chess Championship, a title he nabbed in 2016 for the first time against an exceptionally strong field.
For his first match in St. Louis, Carlsen found himself in the enviable position of taking on Carlsen with the white pieces, a good opportunity to play for a win.
But he can’t ignore his American competition. Both So and Hikaru Nakamura, world number seven, are in St. Louis. Caruna is even with So in their games, but Nakamura hold a one-win advantage.
Ultimately, the Cup will help Caruana establish a pace for the remainder of 2017, heading into another gruelling march to sit opposite Carlsen at the WCC board.