Gladstone Gander

Friends of Donald Duck will also know his cousin Gladstone Gander who has everything he wants because of his incredible luck. When he picks up a piece of paper on the street, it’s always a lottery ticket that will carry the main prize and when he enters a shop he will be customer #100,000 who is granted a free shopping spree.

Such a lucky man is the mega-millionaire – he is on record as having denied being a billionaire – Rex Sinquefield. He uses a private jet, is said to own the most beautiful mansions in the state of Missouri and he can afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on chess, music and especially on his political ideals: fighting the evils of trade unions, legal minimum wage, public schools, teachers’ tenure and state income taxes. Everything I’m for, Sinquefield is against, except chess and music.

On Friday August 15, he visited the Max Euwe Center in Amsterdam, together with his wife and Yasser Seirawan, who lives in Amsterdam. The Max Euwe Center is a library, a small museum and an organizer of training sessions and other chess events, located at the Max Euwe Square in the center of Amsterdam. Adjacent to it is the Hein Donner bridge, named after the late Dutch grandmaster.

Who would be surprised that just as Gladstone Gander, lucky Rex Sinquefield turned out to be the 75,000th visitor to the chess center? Naturally he received presents. The staff of the Max Euwe Center has assured me that it was a complete coincidence that it was he who turned up at exactly the right moment, and I believe them.

Soon after this lucky visit, Sinquefield had to return to his base, St. Louis, to be present at the 2nd Sinquefield Cup tournament, a double round-robin of six players: Carlsen, Aronian, Caruana, Nakamura, Topalov and Vachier-Lagrave.

It has been called the strongest tournament in history. About such a claim one can always argue, but I think that when it is based on average rating, as is obviously the case here, one has to account for rating inflation. The tournament of Las Palmas 1996, another double round robin, but then with the six best players of the world, Kasparov, Karpov (the two reigning world champions at the time) Anand, Kramnik, Topalov and Ivanchuk, can hardly be bettered.

This said, the Sinquefield Cup is indeed a great tournament that has produced – I write this after the fifth round, when Caruana was leading with an amazing 5 out of 5 – some great games. Caruana’s victories over Carlsen and Aronian were especially beautiful.

While we were admiring Caruana, we worried if Magnus Carlsen would sign the contract for the world championship match against Anand. If not, we might revert to the uncomfortable situation of 1993-2005, when the FIDE world champion was not considered to be the “real” champion.

Carlsen was granted a delay by FIDE until September 7, the final day of the Sinquefield Cup, but according to Carlsen’s manager Espen Agdestein, this was not enough.

What is Carlsen waiting for? The answer seems obvious. He must be waiting to see how the political crisis about Ukraine develops. Whatever you think of that frightful situation – my personal opinion is that a lot of the blame should go to the EU and the US for supporting the violent political coup in Kiev in February – Carlsen would certainly be in a bad situation if he would be playing in Sochi at a time when a total boycott of all things Russian by the West might have been proclaimed. Or, to sharpen the issue, when a full-fledged war between Ukraine and Russia would be on, with NATO advisors involved. What would his commercial sponsors think of that situation?

Back to chess. The game shown in the game viewer, Vachier-Lagrave -Carlsen from the first round, refutes the opinion, often voiced by laymen with a too high opinion of computers and a too low opinion of chess, that the openings are all worked-out. White’s eighth move is a sharp novelty in the Scotch, an opening that has been known for centuries. One year ago the previous move 7...a5 was a novelty in Volokitin-Eljanov, Ukrainian Championship 2013.

And speaking about computers, the game is also proof that engines can often point out subtleties that may be beyond human reach.

This position did not occur in the game, but it might have if Carlsen had played 25...Qd3 instead of 25...Qd2. In the diagrammed position, Black would win, not with 30...Kxg5, but with 30...Kh4, and only after 31. g3+, should he take the rook with 31...Kxg5.

Naturally Carlsen could not see this five moves earlier, when he played 25...Qd2. But I think that even a high class analyst with plenty of time available might miss this beautiful point without the help of an engine.

Click to play through the game annotated by Hans...

Vachier-Lagrave - Carlsen
Second Sinquefield Cup, St. Louis 2014