The Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz is now a two-horse race, as Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So have separated themselves from the rest of the field with a three-point lead. After nine exhilarating blitz rounds, the World Champion leads the tournament, overtaking So by half a point. Ian Nepomniachti finished the day in third place but expressed doubt in his chances of catching the leaders. He promised to play 1.b3 again tomorrow, an unusual opening with which he defeated Carlsen today. The tournament will conclude tomorrow after another full day of blitz with the winner taking home the $50,000 prize.
Magnus Carlsen had the best result of the day, scoring 6.5 points out of 9. Even so, the World Champion had many tumultuous games and was visibly unsettled from time to time. He was lost against Alireza Firouzja, but with just 10 seconds left on the 17-year-old’s clock, Carlsen ultimately won the game. In the following round, Dominguez first failed to capitalize on a blunder then went on to lose an opposite-colored bishops endgame where he had excellent chances to draw.
Tumultuous or not, the World Champion showed an impressive performance, scoring three points in the first five rounds and another three and a half points in the last four rounds. Carlsen’s two losses today came against Harikrishna and Nepomniachtchi, and his only draw was against So, guaranteeing him a half a point lead going into the final day.
Wesley So, on the other hand, had a quiet day, drawing six of his games. He started with a loss against his countryman Jeffery Xiong in an instructive rook endgame. His recovery came quickly in the next round with a crushing defeat over Harikrishna. After drawing Aronian in a quick game, So was completely dominant against Nepomniachtchi, first getting a big edge in the opening, then winning a queen for a rook and a bishop, and finally showing the high-level technique to convert his advantage. The American Grandmaster went on to draw the rest of his games.
There was a tight race for third place between Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi, and Nakamura. In the first half of the day, Grischuk and Nepomniactchi bounced back and forth in the standings. The two entered the day tied for third place, and when the dust settled, Nepomniactchi ultimately led by half a point. Nepo’s crucial win in the final round against Nakamura ensured the Russian clear third place going into the second day of blitz.
After losing to Carlsen in the first round, Hikaru Nakamura went on to score 5.5 points in the next 7 rounds, including a crucial win over Grischuk in round two. The five-time U.S. Champion ended the day on a heartbreaking note as he blundered checkmate in one against Nepomniachtchi in an already worse position. Nakamura had the second-best score of the day behind Carlsen ending the day tied for fourth place with Grischuk.
Pentala Harikrishna and Levon Aronian have identical results both in the rapid and the blitz, scoring 3.5 points each today. Harikrishna can gain some satisfaction for his round-three victory over the World Champion, but Aronian would just as soon forget today.
The young Jeffery Xiong showed his mettle, defeating So, Aronian, and Firouzja on his way to scoring a very commendable 50%. Leinier Dominguez stayed in 9th place after a minus-two result.
Alireza Firouzja keeps struggling in this tournament, even though he achieved several winning positions today, including the one against Carlsen. But as the youngster said in his post-game interview, “What can you do?” Nevertheless, the youngster felt grateful for the opportunity, and the preparation this tournament will serve for his next over the board event starting in 2.5 weeks.
Text: WGM Tatev Abrahamyan
Photo: official website
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