On Chess: St. Louis Witnessing Chess History-As-It-Happens At Sinquefield Cup

Sep 4, 2014

When you’re claiming a page of history, you just never know who might write on it.

The 2014 Sinquefield Cup, the global super-tournament now in progress in the Central West End, had already been prepared to leave its mark in time. Headlined by reigning World Chess Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, along with five other of the world’s top-10 International Grandmasters, the event was set to become a part of chess lore even before its first move: The six-player field is the strongest-rated ever, averaging a 2802 strength never seen in the game’s 1,500-year history.

Fabiano Caruana
Credit Provided by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

But now, all that has become a footnote. In fact, just about everything else has become a footnote.

Completely dominating, headlines and otherwise, is GM Fabiano Caruana -- whom I introduced last week as the American-born, Italian prodigy finally returning stateside for his first U.S. super-tournament. As noted, Caruana was pulled out of the U.S. to pursue a professional chess career in Europe, and we here in America’s new capital of chess would love to see him return.

I even mentioned how he had won his first game in St. Louis and taken an early lead in the Sinquefield Cup, attempting to give our chess-cozy town credit for his good start.

Cozy, indeed. Now a week later, the 22 year old has piled onto that lead by tallying six wins across his first six games, for a perfect 6-0 start -- unheard of in today’s world of super chess, generally featuring drawing battles between two players who both refuse to give an inch.

As proof, the other five players have turned in a relatively “normal” tournament, beating each other up, mostly fighting to draws and remaining grouped within one point in the standings after six rounds -- though they have all been left in a battle for second place. Caruana has padded a half-point to his lead with each passing opponent and now sits three points ahead of Carlsen, who is in second place.

Caruana, left, defeated the current cupholder Magnus Carlsen in the first round of the double round robin tournament.
Credit Lennart Oots | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

I must admit I’m a bit worried about writing this column, for the same reasons baseball players aren’t supposed to talk about a no-hitter in progress. But the reality is, regardless of today or tomorrow, this performance has already found its way into the annals of chess history.

Caruana has equaled the longest starting win streak in an elite tournament in the modern era, established by World Champion GM Anatoly Karpov in Linares 1994 -- oft-argued as the greatest tournament performance ever.

Twenty years later, we’re witnessing a direct argument to that epic performance, right here in the Central West End. If they weren’t paying attention before, chess enthusiasts everywhere around the globe have already begun celebrating.

The numbers have been crunched and, considering the strength of the field, Caruana had a 3 percent chance just to go 5-0. He had half that chance to go 6-0. Now, as he continues, the probability of what we’re witnessing gets even slimmer: The chances of him going a perfect 10-0 -- that is, beating five top-10 opponents twice in the same tournament, is just .09 percent.

Just as slim as it is epic -- and we're watching it happen. With every passing opponent that falls, the roar around the chess world gets louder. St. Louis has already been written on the page.

History will continue at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, with chess enthusiasts representing 190 countries tuning in to watch at www.uschesschamps.com. The first move for each round is scheduled for 2 p.m., with the tournament’s tenth and final round set for Saturday.

Sunday has been scheduled as a playoff, if necessary. And history should show: It won’t be necessary