The 2018 Grand Chess Tour arrive in to the United States for the second annual St. Louis Rapid and Blitz from Aug. 10-16, which will be the third leg of the tour. It will be followed by the Sinquefield Cup from Aug. 17-28, the only classical event of the tour this year.
Going into the second half of the tour, two Americans, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, are leading with 21 and 20 points respectively as the competition for the top four places heats up. They are closely followed by Sergey Karjakin who has 19 points and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with 15 points.
The first inaugural St. Louis Rapid and Blitz became the most talked about tournament in 2017 after it was announced that Garry Kasparov would be one of the wildcards. The legendary former World Champion came out of his retirement for the first time in 12 years to play in a rated tournament. Since then, he declared that he has no plans to return to the chess world as an active player.
This year, the only wildcard went to the Cuban player, Leinier Dominguez, a seasoned grandmaster and a familiar face both in St. Louis and in the Grand Chess Tour. Last year, he finished in the middle of the pack and, although he cannot qualify to the finals in London, he is definitely going to add a lot of flavor to the tournament.
The rest of the field for both events will include the nine players who competed in the first half of GCT, namely: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand, Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
St. Louis will also set the stage for the last official encounter between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana before their highly anticipated World Championship match in November. Carlsen, who seems to prefer a lighter schedule during match years, declined his participation in the entire tour but will return to St. Louis as the wildcard in the Sinquefield Cup. During their last encounter in Norway Chess in June, Carlsen emerged victorious. Certainly, all eyes will be on this game as the fans want to get a glimpse of what to expect in November. Whether fans will get a preview of what is to come or will see a quiet affair where the players try to hide their preparation, is part of the mystery.
Interestingly, the Sinquefield Cup hasn’t had a repeat winner during the five years since its inception. Last year’s winner, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, will return to defend his title. While many of the players decided to rest in July, Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave and Mamedyarov competed in the Biel International Chess Festival that ended on Aug. 1. Carlsen and Mamedyarov were neck and neck in the first half of the event, but the latter secured his tournament win with a penultimate round win over the World Champion. Vachier-Lagrave started the tournament with two losses in the first three games, but then recovered nicely and finished third behind Carlsen.
It is also important to note that, unlike the Rapid and B
litz events that offer 12 GCT points for first with one bonus point for clear first, the Sinquefield Cup offers 18 points with two bonus points. The extra weight given to the only classical event makes winning it more significant for the qualifying chances to the finals in London.
The first round of action will kick off on Aug. 11 at the St. Louis Chess Club at 1 p.m. In addition to the English commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade, Russian language commentary will be provided by the world famous Peter Svidler and Evgenij Miroshnichenko.
All commentary will be viewable at grandchesstour.org or at the St. Louis Chess Club. There will also be live commentary next door to the club in the Kingside Diner where spectators can interact with commentators Alejandro Ramirez and Cristian Chirila. Spectators can purchase tickets to watch the games from the playing hall on grandchesstour.org or at the St. Louis Chess Club.
Tatev Abrahamyan is a woman grandmaster. She will serve as the journalist for the Grand Chess Tour events and provide expert commentary on social media, as well as written reports after each event. Follow her at @GrandChessTour.