USA’s Wesley So couldn’t have asked for more. On the penultimate day of 2016 London Chess Classic, Wesley So drew his game with compatriot Fabiano Caruana and clinched the top spot among 14 contestants of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour that comprised of tournaments at Paris, Leuven, Sinquefield and London. Next day, So also won the London Chess Classic to make it a grand double inside two days. So not only won the first prize of $75000 for winning the LCC but also collected a bonus of $100000 for emerging as the top GCT player. In addition, he also became the 12th player in chess history to cross the coveted ELO score of 2800.
The Grand Chess Tour was conceived in 2015 as a circuit of prestigious chess tournaments, where the best chess players competed for multiple prize pools. Last year, Norway Chess, Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic were the three tournaments, which formed part of the 2015 GCT. There were 9 top players beside a wild-card, who competed in the three GCT tournaments and Norway’s World Champion Magnus Carlsen was the winner. Early this year, Norway Chess declined to be the part of 2016 GCT but the organizers added two rapid/blitz tournaments in France. These were Colliers International at Paris and Your Next Move at Leuven. Thus 2016 GCT became a circuit of four tournaments. Only 7 players competed in all four events, while others skipped this tournament or that. Carlsen played in Paris and Leuven while India’s Vishy Anand skipped Paris.
2016 GCT began at Paris in June 2016. USA’s Hikaru Nakamura was a run-away winner though his start was shaky. But Nakamura picked up the tempo and kept winning after that. 2015 GCT champion, Magnus Carlsen failed to strike form and lost a series of games. After the 16th Round out of 18, Nakamura had a 2.5-point margin over second-placed Magnus Carlsen and won at Paris with two rounds remaining.
A week after Paris, the second-leg of the GCT featured another Blitz event, when players met at Leuven’s Your-Next-Move tournament. After losing out to Nakamura in Paris, Magnus Carlsen bounced back with a vengeance and won convincingly. Levon Aronian was second and India’s Vishy Anand third.
The third GCT tournament was the famous Sinquefield Cup, where a solid-looking Wesley So emerged as winner with 5½ points ahead of Aronian, Topalov, Caruana and Anand, all of whom could only manage 5 points. The tournament was played during August 5-15, 2016 in the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, where So was the only one, who didn’t lose any games and strategized to make draws, when he couldn’t win.
The 2016 GCT culminated with London Chess Classic on December 18. In 8th and the penultimate round, Wesley So officially won the 2016 Grand Chess Tour by drawing his game against Fabiano Caruana. That day, India’s Anand was the only winner after cashing on Veselin Topalov’s mistakes. So went into the final round next day and promptly drew his game with Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to finish on top. Thus the 23-year old American won two top honors in two days. He couldn’t have dreamt of a better personal finish for the year 2016. His compatriot and closest rival Fabiano Caruana was second. Vishy Anand finished fourth at LCC and fifth overall in GCT. Draw specialist, Netherlands’ Anish Giri once again justified his famous tag by drawing all his nine games in London. On a lighter side, the LCC proved cruel to two famous birthday boys. While Hikaru Nakamura was defeated by Wesley So on his birthday on December 9, Nakamura came back to upset 2014 LCC winner Viswanathan Anand on the Indian legend’s birthday on December 11. Incidentally, three weeks ago, Magnus Carlsen played incredible birthday chess on November 30 to retain his World Championship title in New York.
On December 17 & 18, LCC featured another notable event; the Super-Rapids. Russian woman Valentina Gunina emerged as an incredible winner at 9/10 ahead of 42 Grandmasters in a field of 400 participants. Fancied players in Super-Rapids were; Armenia’s Hrant Melkumyan, England’s Nigel Short, 2015 winner Luke McShane, another Englishman, Etienne Bacrot and Laurent Fressinet both from France, England’s David Howell, Israel’s Ilya Smirin Azerbaijan’s Eltaj Safarli. But none of them could match Valentina Gunina. She drew with French Etienne Bacrot and Laurent Fressinet but defeated GMs John Nunn, Ilya Smirin, Eduardo Iturrizaga, David Howell and Luke McShane. Her last round with 2015 champ McShane was an absolute thriller. Valentina trailed at the start and McShane reached a winning position. But when McShane blundered with his rook, Valentina showed no mercy.
After the conclusion of 2016 Grand Chess Tour with London Chess Classic, it seemed as if the American trinity of Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana was in the forefront in world chess. One of the three could pose a real challenge to the Norwegian World Champion Magnus Carlsen in years to come. India’s 47-year old Vishy Anand may still be playing but time is his biggest enemy, whereas, So-Nakamura-Caruana have clearly shown their immense prowess in recent tournaments.