Februar 24, 2024

2023 Sinquefield Cup: Day 5 Recap

Having broken the previously perfect draw streak in the 2023 Sinquefield Cup, GM Wesley So’s victory in Round 4 forced other combatants to test the limits of their fighting spirit and determination, and determination we definitely got. With two games lasting past the 5-hour mark, it was finally GM Levon Aronian who joined GM Wesley So as the only two players with a victory. Luckily for the participants, tomorrow will be a rest day, a much-needed break for the players to recuperate and come back with renewed vigor.

Note that while GM Levon Aronian and GM Wesley So both have won a game, GM Wesley So has yet to have his bye round and thus is currently 0.5 points ahead but has played 1 extra game.

ROUND 5

DOMINGUEZ-SO | ½-½, 81 moves

So, the current tournament leader, exclaimed yesterday that “it would be nice for Alireza to lose a couple of games even though I think he’s a good guy; it would increase my chances to qualify to the Candidates!” Fortunately for him he got his wish today, but his own battle was not without its struggles. Dominguez opted for the Berlin Endgame, which So clearly came prepared for, blitzing out his first 20 moves or so confidently. Yet Dominguez, despite a huge time deficit, maintained a nagging edge, and with the help of a few inaccurate moves from So, found himself with serious chances as he nursed an extra pawn. So held strong, and when Dominguez inexplicably exchanged more pawns than needed, Wesley showed his defensive technique with conviction. Dominguez sprinkled in a few practical tricks, but to no avail as he finally relinquished a draw on move 81.


Dominguez-So: So found the excellent resource 31…Be6, after which Dominguez confoundingly took on g4; instead 32.h4 would have left the h5 pawn as a target and given Dominguez better winning chances


Dominguez has had his fair share of opportunities; will he capitalize on his chances soon? | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

ARONIAN-FIROUZJA | 1-0, 66 moves

In a battle between generations, Aronian took full advantage of his rest day last round as his unrelenting pressure eventually broke down Firouzja. Less explored choices from both sides gave us a fresh position in which Aronian kept an edge. Both players exchanged inaccuracies and while Aronian missed a clear chance on move 26, he kept up the speed as Firouzja was down heavily on the clock.


Aronian-Firouzja: Aronian strangely chose 26.Rac1, when 26.Qxb6 would’ve netted him a clean pawn and a winning position

Still Firouzja fought well with Aronian failing to punish him fully, but just as he was almost out of the woods, Firouzja erred on move 40 with 1 second left on his clock.


Aronian-Firouzja: Firouzja let his clock run down to 1 second before choosing 40…Rc4? which allowed 41.Nb4!

Aronian used the mistake to transition into a very favorable rook endgame, and while our “silicon friend” pointed out that the result may have changed a few times, Levon posed problems that Firouzja was not able to answer. Firouzja’s loss drastically impacted his chances for qualification for the 2024 Candidates Tournament, since GM Wesley So now leapfrogs him on the live rating list.


Firouzja’s recent slide is worrying for his fans, but likely welcomed by his Candidates qualification rivals such as GM Wesley So and GM Anish Giri | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

For Aronian, this victory will put wind in his sails as he hopes to win the Sinquefield Cup for the 3rd time in his career.


2024 Candidates qualification is probably out of his reach, but tournament victory is definitely not. | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

RAPPORT-GIRI | ½-½, 23 moves

After yesterday’s loss, Rapport seemed like he showed up to the game with little preparation, a tactic that famously worked out for him, ironically against GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, in the 2022 Candidates after his 7th round loss the day before versus GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. He chose a simplistic treatment of the Italian, 5.Nc3, but curiously spent time a few moves later before refraining from the typical idea of Be3, inviting the exchange of bishops to open the f-file for the white rook. Instead he decided to re-route his knight to g3, but in the process allowed Black to liberate himself with d6-d5. The players reached an approximately level position, and they settled on an early repetition to split the point.

VACHIER-LAGRAVE-NEPOMNIACHTICHI | ½-½, 38 moves

Vachier-Lagrave has proven to be a tough pairing for Nepomniachtchi in the past, as their head-to-head record in classical before this game, disregarding draws, was 7 wins for Vachier versus just 1 win for Nepo. However Nepomniachtchi brought fresh preparation to the board, transposing to the Arkhangelsk Defense except with the rare placement of the bishop on a7 instead of b6. Deep thought from Vachier-Lagrave was not enough to deter him from choosing the surprising 8.dxe5, which promised an endgame with no problems for Black. Vachier even revealed in his post-game interview that at some point he was afraid he was getting outplayed, but in reality the equality was never far from grasp. A repetition on move 39 confirmed peace on the board and a welcomed rest day for the weary competitors.


Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

The Sinquefield Cup continues on November 27, with live coverage starting at 1:15 PM CST. Catch all the action live with grandmaster commentators Yasser Seirawan, Peter Svidler, and Jovanka Houska on uschesschamps.com and on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and Twitch.tv channels!

Written by WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova

Official website:
grandchesstour.org/2023-grand-chess-tour/2023-sinquefield-cup/