Opening Festivities Kick Off Sinquefield Cup

GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Levon Aronian, Lindenwood University student George Krasnapolskiy GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Gata Kamsky pose during the autograph signing on September 8.


 By Brian Jerauld

SAINT LOUIS – After a celebration weekend that began with the drawing of lots and finished with the drawing of crowds, the strongest chess tournament in American history is ready for its first move.

The Sinquefield Cup has arrived.

The top-2 players on earth – Norway’s Magnus Carlsen (FIDE No. 1, 2862) and Armenia’s Levon Aronian (FIDE No. 2, 2813) are set for battle with the top-2 players in the U.S., Hikaru Nakamura (FIDE No. 9, 2772) and Gata Kamsky (FIDE No. 16, 2741). Today at 1:00p.m., Carlsen will command white to attack Kamsky, while Nakamura takes the first move against Aronian.

The four superheros settled up on rules with International Arbiter Chris Bird during Saturday’s players meeting and drawing of lots. The Sinquefield Cup will follow a double round-robin format across six rounds, with players meeting each other twice – once as the white pieces and once as black. Time control will be 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, with an additional 30 minutes added after move 40 and 30-second increment for each move. No draw-by-agreement will be allowed before move 30. All rounds will begin at 1:00 p.m. local time, except for next Sunday’s final round, which will begin at 11:00 a.m, with a 6:00 p.m. playoff if necessary. Thursday will be a rest day.

A commemorative gift for the players, given during Saturday’s meeting, will simultaneously serve as a technological gift to the rest of the chess world. Bridging the connection between happy grandmasters and happy fans, the Sinquefield Cup will feature the first-ever DGT-enabled weighted sets. The electronic boards, which instantly cast games into digital form and fuel streaming commentary worldwide, have long drawn the ire of having sets that were too light – though any attempt to add metals as weight would disrupt the DGT sensors.

To tackle the perpetual problem, Rex Sinquefield, founder of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and sponsor of the Cup, put a phone call in to a literal rocket scientist: Frank Camaratta, a retired director of engineering for Pratt & Whitney aerospace manufacturer, and the founder of legendary chess set manufacturer House of Staunton.

“I have always wanted to make a nice-looking set that was fit for international play, and a nice weighted set for DGT boards was all part of the package,” Camaratta said. “After talking with Rex, I realized his vision was a lot like mine: This is a world-class tournament, and these professional chess players should be playing on the best equipment possible, to the level that these players deserve.”

Guided by Sinquefield’s style requests – ebony wood hand carved in the Imperial Collector design – Camaratta put some science into chess’ weight problem, figuring out the trick to DGT-allowable density and unlocking one of the hottest proprietary secrets in the game.

Also revealed at Saturday’s players meeting was the physical Sinquefield Cup, designed to be a recognizable championship trophy for years to come. The 24-inch representation of the King chess piece, a stylistic blend of Honduras Rosewood and brushed silver, will bear the names of winners throughout the years, residing on display in the tournament hall of the host Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. The winner, along with the $70,000 top prize, will receive a smaller 15-inch replica of the trophy.

"We wanted to create something timeless, classic and beautiful," said Chess Club Executive Director Tony Rich. "We hope this trophy will become the most sought-after chess hardware in the world."

With the rules, pieces and prizes out of the way, Sunday marked Signing Day in Saint Louis, where the players were available to the public for autographs and pictures. In true celebration of this first-in-a-lifetime event, more than 200 chess fans came from all corners of the nation to see Carlsen in his first tournament on American soil – and his last before November’s World Championship – or to shake hands with their favorite U.S. hopeful. By the signing session’s end, Aronian had developed his own cheering section, draped with several Armenian flags and applauding their national hero in the street.

From there, the four super stars were whisked away and brought in front of 60,000 new fans – welcomed during the halftime of the Saint Louis Rams game, where Carlsen took in his first-ever game of football.

That is: American football.