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On Chess: Three co-champions take home the Sinquefield Cup

Fabiano Caruana, world champion Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian share the crown as winners of the Sinquefield Cup in August 2018.
Tatev Abrahamyan | Grand Chess Tour
(left to right) Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian and world champion Magnus Carlsen share the crown as winners of the Sinquefield Cup.

Three players were crowned as winners of the sixth annual Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. Normally, a playoff takes place to determine the sole winner of a tournament, but in an unprecedented turn of events, the players decided to share the title. 

World Champion Magnus Carlsen, his challenger Fabiano Caruana and the Armenian superstar Levon Aronian disliked the rule of eliminating one player by drawing lots and came to the unanimous decision, approved by the chief arbiter, to share the title. Thus, the “no-repeat-winner” tradition of the Sinquefield Cup was broken, as all three have won the previous editions.

Although there were three winners, each of their journeys to the top was different. The pace of the tournament was also unique: halfway through the event, half of the players were tied for first place. Following the rest day, Fabiano Caruana took the sole leadership spot with his win and kept it until the last round.

After his quick draw in the final round, Caruana waited for his competitors to try and join him at the top. Levon Aronian was brilliant in his last game, taking an intuitive risk with a rook sacrifice. The world champion, on the other hand, won in a true Carlsen-esque fashion: a six-and-a-half hour grind over Hikaru Nakamura. It was after the long game when Carlsen was reminded about the tiebreak rules and proposed the idea of foregoing the additional games and declaring all three as co-winners.

One of the main attractions of the tournament was Round 7, which was the final encounter of Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen before their World Championship match this November. Not only did this one game attract mainstream media including ESPN, HBO Real Sports, Sports Illustrated, and legendary photographer Harry Benson, but there was also much buzz about the implications of the result of the game.

The game eventually ended in a draw, but it was a true test for Caruana, who clawed his way back from a lost position. The most amusing part of the tournament happened when, at one point during the game, Carlsen entered the confessional booth and made a shushing gesture.

Unsurprisingly, this 10-second video made its rounds on the internet, turning into popular gifs and memes. There was much speculation about the meaning of the gesture, which is apparently quite popular in soccer and basketball. Carlsen later explained that he thought he had a winning position and joked that the whole thing clearly backfired. All in all, Carlsen had the contender on the ropes but squandered his advantage. Whether this game will have an impact on their match in any way remains to be seen.

The Sinquefield Cup was also the last stop of the Grand Chess Tour before the finals in London. As the only classical tournament, it offered more tour points, thus changing the standings completely.

The four qualifiers were: Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana. While the first players qualified with their final Sinquefield Cup results, Fabiano Caruana had to face his Olympiad teammate Wesley So in a tiebreak for the final qualification spot. His victory in the second game punched his ticket to London.

The Grand Chess Tour Finals are set to take place in London from Dec. 11-17. The finale will be fought out in a knockout format combining classical, rapid, and blitz time controls. The total prize fund is $300,000, with the winner taking away $120,000.

Tatev Abrahamyan is a woman grandmaster. She serves 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.