The Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz has been one of the stops of the Grand Chess Tour since 2017. This year, it’s a stand-alone online tournament with 9 rapid and 18 blitz games over five days and a $250,000 prize fund, attracting some of the top players of the world, including World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the two previous winners, Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian. After three rapid games, Levon Aronian and Pentala Harikrishna emerged as the co-leaders. While Aronian has won the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz in 2017 and 2019, this marks Harikrishna’s first appearance in the event.
The tournament kicked off with an epic matchup between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen; these two players tied for first in Champions Showdown: Chess9LX tournament which concluded less than 2 days ago. Nakamura sacrificed a pawn for the initiative in the middlegame but his follow up lacked flair leaving his opponent up a healthy pawn. The World Champion had no difficulties capitalizing on his material advantage.
The game between Alireza Firouzja and Levon Aronian was a total rollercoaster with a long sequence of zwischenzugs, or in between moves, starting on move 16. Ultimately, Aronian got the upper hand in the pawn race in the endgame, when his opponent blundered, allowing a promotion with a check. Harikrishna also scooped up the full point in an endgame, first grabbing a pawn, then destroying his opponent’s structure and picking up the rest of the pawns.
Wesley So was the only player to win with the white pieces, inflicting a defeat on his countryman Jeffery Xiong. So won an intrusive rook endgame just by one tempo.
The draw between Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi was the only peaceful result of the round.
The second round of the day saw the pitfalls of online chess: the World Champion lost due to disconnection in an equal position. The dust finally settled after a complex middlegame when the server suddenly showed that Nepomniachtchi had won. The commentators assumed it was some kind of a glitch but it was later confirmed that with only 35 seconds left on the clock Carlsen had suddenly disconnected and lost on time.
The only other decisive result of the round was the game between Aronian and Grischuk. The Armenian star found himself in trouble right out of the opening, with his king stranded after losing the castling right. Grischuk played a remarkable dynamic game, until he let the advantage slip away being low on time. The players entered a bishop endgame which should have ended in a draw, but after making a few more inaccuracies, the Russian player found himself in a theoretically lost position.
The rest of the games ended in relatively quiet draws: Nakamura vs So, Xiong vs Dominguez, and Harikrishna vs Firouzja.
The day concluded with a peaceful round that saw only one decisive result. In a time scramble, a check cost Grischuk the game, as it tangled his pieces. As a result, Alexander was forced to lose his bishop and found himself in a mating net.
Nepomniachtchi and Aronian played an enterprising opening which resulted in a dynamic middlegame. After losing the thread of the game a bit, Aronian opted out for an opposite-colored bishops endgame which resulted in a draw. This result was enough to guarantee him a tie for first.
Carlsen did not manage to bounce back from the misfortune of the previous round; So was very solid with the white pieces and the game ended with lone kings left on the board.
Nakamura was on a verge of disaster as his position was completely lost in a knight endgame, but a one-move blunder by Dominguez allowed the reigning U.S. Champion to escape unscathed.
The battle between the two teenagers, Firouzja and Xiong, saw a lot of tactical elements but eventually ended in a draw in a position with a material imbalance of queen against a rook and a bishop.
Text: WGM Tatev Abrahamyan
Photo: official website
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