The dramatic third day of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz certainly shook up the standings. After going 3 - 0 yesterday, it seemed as if Magnus Carlsen was going to be unstoppable. The World Champion scored a lukewarm 50% today, and with three players hot on his heels, it wasn’t enough to maintain the lead. With the exception of Carlsen’s loss due to disconnection in round two, Alexander Grischuk spoiled what was otherwise a perfect event thus far for the World Champion. Grischuk joked, “Coming to the tournament I had only one ambition: 9th place”, as he entered the tournament “extremely tired and ill”. The former World Blitz Champion, apparently in better shape than he claimed, is now tied for third place with the blitz double round-robin to come. Grischuk’s triumph allowed Wesley So to leapfrog to 1st place, one point ahead of Carlsen. With nine points on the line tomorrow and a hungry pack chasing So, day one of blitz promises to be full of action.
The day kicked off with a bloody round of four decisive results.
Magnus Carlsen continued his winning streak, this time defeating the 17-year-old Grandmaster Alireza Firouzja with the black pieces. Carlsen had an edge out of the opening, netting him a pawn and ultimately the game. This victory allowed him to take a two-point lead over the field as his two close rivals, Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi drew their respective game.
The epic matchup of the round was between Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura. The Armenian grandmaster sacrificed two pieces for an attack on move 16. The players went on to play an impressively precise game, finding phenomenal resources at a rapid pace. The game remained complex as the players entered an endgame with a material imbalance. Even though the engine was showing a big edge for Nakamura, the U.S. Champion had to wrap things up accurately to secure the full point.
Leinier Dominguez suffered a heartbreak against Alexander Grischuk when he blundered in a drawing pawn endgame. This win allowed Grischuk to inch his way into fifth place after a slow start.
Pentala Harikrishna won an instructive knight and pawn versus knight endgame by trapping Jeffery Xiong’s knight on the edge of the board.
Carlsen faced off against the other teenager of the tournament, the American Jeffery Xiong. The World Champion narrowly escaped as his young opponent misplayed the rook endgame. Xiong was clearly disappointed that he let such a big game escape unscathed, while Carlsen had a smile of relief on his face. Carlsen later tweeted that the game was a “proper bullet scramble”, as at one point he made a move with a mere second left on his clock.
So struck while the iron was hot and defeated Levon Aronian with the white pieces. So masterfully demonstrated the superiority of a bishop over a knight in the endgame, dominating Aronian’s knight, which helplessly watched as So’s passed pawn marched down the board.
Yesterday, Ian Nepomniachtchi lost a 21 move game in round five against Xiong. Today, he suffered the same fate against Leinier Dominguez. While the Caro Kann has been a popular opening this tournament, Ian struggled with it and ultimately found himself in a lost position after 15 moves.
Firouzja and Nakamura drew Grischuk and Harikrishna respectively.
The players saved the best for last as the final round of the day was full of drama.
Carlsen chose the unusual Dragondorf opening against Alexander Grischuk. The Dragondorf is a hybrid of the Dragon and Najdorf variations of the Sicilian Defense and was first surveyed in the mid 20th century. On move 19 Carlsen chose to go for the thematic exchange sacrifice on c3. Grischuk played flawlessly, first warding off his opponent’s attack, and ultimately converting the material advantage.
Wesley So was pleasantly surprised to learn after his victory that he leapfrogged the World Champion to take the lead. So’s technique in the knight endgame was praised by commentator Yasser Seirawan; the former U.S. Champion distracted Harikrishna’s king with an outside passed pawn and marched his own king to collect all the kingside pawns. He ultimately sacrificed a knight for an unstoppable pawn avalanche.
Aronian recovered from two losses with a swift 33 move victory against Leinier Dominguez. The normally quiet Italian Opening quickly became unpleasant for Dominguez as he found no compensation for the bishop pair. After losing a pawn, Dominguez quickly collapsed, allowing Aronian’s rook to infiltrate the position, ultimately winning the pinned dark-squared bishop.
There were peaceful results in both Xiong vs Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi vs Firouzja.
Text: WGM Tatev Abrahamyan
Photo: official website
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