St. Louis Rapid: Carlsen’s perfect day

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/17/2020 – World champion Magnus Carlsen took the sole lead of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament after winning all three of his games on the second day of action. Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi share second place a point behind — So repeated his formula from day one, winning a game and drawing the remaining two, while Nepomniachtchi won two and lost against Jeffery Xiong on Wednesday. Three more rapid games will be played on Thursday, before 18 rounds of blitz on Friday and Saturday decide the winner of the online event. | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Sole leader

Magnus Carlsen’s unflagging energy continues to bear good results in the era of online tournaments. The world champion has played almost nonstop since the pandemic forced organizers to set up online events for the world’s elite, and has consistently fought for first place in all events no matter the format.

After ending day one on an even score, beating Hikaru Nakamura and losing due to a disconnect to Ian Nepomniachtchi, the world champion scored a perfect 6 out of 6 on Wednesday, winning all three of his games each worth two points for the overall standings. Carlsen beat Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez and Pentala Harikrishna to take the sole lead.

Wesley So and Nepomniachtchi had grabbed the lead after winning in round 4, and finished the day sharing second place a point behind Carlsen — while So drew his last two games on Wednesday, Nepomniachtchi lost to Jeffery Xiong and defeated Hikaru Nakamura to remain in the fight for first place.

Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz 2020

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Round 4: All decisive

No points were split in round 4, as then co-leaders Aronian and Harikrishna lost their games and allowed So and Nepomniachtchi to climb to first place. Aronian’s creative handling of the Grünfeld Defence was no match to Carlsen’s straightforward play in the centre of the board:

 

The world champion converted his positional trumps into a tangible edge with 14.Bxh6 Bxh6 15.Bxf5 gxf5 16.0-0 e6 17.dxe6 Nc5 18.exf7+ Rxf7 19.Qa3 — Black is a pawn down and has weakened his king’s position. Aronian resigned on move 34.

Meanwhile, Harikrishna was trying to defend a materially-balanced position in which Nepomniachtchi, playing black, had a strong passer on the d-file:

 

White’s 38.Qe4 was the losing move, as Nepomniachtchi now had 38...Rc3, and after 39.Re8+ Rxe8 40.Qxe8+ Kg7 41.Qe2 Rc1 there is no defence for White:

 

42.Nxd2 Rxd1+ 43.Qxd1 Qd4 and the knight is lost. Harikrishna resigned two moves later.

Alexander Grischuk also won with the black pieces, taking down Xiong in a complex struggle. So and Nakamura, on the other hand, won with white, defeating Leinier Dominguez and Alireza Firouzja respectively.

 

Round 5: Carlsen shines

While he thought his remaining two wins were rather lucky, Carlsen was happy with his victory over Dominguez in round 5. Out of a sharp Philidor Defence, the world champion correctly gave up an exchange in the middlegame:

 

Black chose to keep his dark-squared bishop alive by capturing with the rook — 30...Rxe5 31.Nxe5 Bxe5. Six moves later, the well-placed bishop was key in allowing Carlsen to execute a beautiful tactical shot:

 

37...Rxb2+ 38.Kxb2 d3+, opening up the diagonal, 39.Kc1 Qc5+ 40.Kd2 Qc2+ 41.Ke1 Bh4+ (again, the bishop) and Dominguez resigned.

Earlier in the round, then co-leader Nepomniachtchi lost in barely 21 moves against Xiong. The Russian star badly miscalculated as early as move 10:

 

White’s greedy 10.Qxb7 was duly punished by the American youngster. It all started with 10...Ndb4 11.Bb5 Nxc2+ 12.Ke2 0-0 13.Bxc6 Rb8 and White could not survive such a grave disadvantage in development.

The three remaining games finished drawn.

 

Round 6: Nepomniachtchi bounces back

True to his style, Nepomniachtchi did not shy away from entering a sharp battle after his quick loss with the white pieces. He was facing a hungry-for-points Nakamura, who gave up no fewer than three pawns in order to keep the initiative:

 

29.Nd4 is a good-looking move, but it is also a mistake, as Black now has 29...Qe4. After 30.Rf4, Nepomniachtchi correctly assessed that 30...Qxf4 31.Qxf4 Bxd4+ 32.Rxd4 cxd4 gives him a comfortable edge with the pair of rooks and the extra pawns against the queen.

Notice that only 29...Qe4 wins for Black, with other sharp lines favouring White — for example, 29...Bxd4 30.Rxd4 Nf5 31.Rxf5 and White is ready to set up a battery on the h-file.

Carlsen beat Harikrishna with white in 31 moves after the latter miscalculated in a complex position, while Firouzja strangely lost on time against Dominguez. So v Grischuk and Xiong v Aronian were rather uneventful draws.

 

Standings after Round 6

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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