Aronian wins Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/16/2019 – Levon Aronian won the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz 2019 despite losing the first and last game on the final day. Aronian managed to score only 5 points out of the last nine rounds but that was enough to beat Vachier-Lagrave. MVL's only consolation is that he beat Aronian in both of their blitz encounters. Caruana got his much awaited revenge against Carlsen in round fourteen. IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN reports from Saint Louis. | Pictured: Aronian on being just informed by fellow Armenian GM Manuel Petrosyan that he has won the tournament. | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

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Levon pips a trio at the post

Levon Aronian emerged as the winner of the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz leg of the Grand Chess Tour after a tumultuous day of blitz games here at the Saint Louis Chess Club. The day almost belonged to the wildcard participant from China, Yu Yangyi, who excelled and barely missed tying for the title — which would have forced an eagerly awaited tiebreak match — as well as winning the blitz tournament. The day was disappointing for the overnight leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and for World Champion Magnus Carlsen, as they could score only 4 and 4½ points respectively.

To keep things in perspective, there was almost no one who managed to score heavily on the last day, with Yu (6 points out of the final nine rounds) the top scorer of the day, followed by Levon Aronian, Ding Liren and Sergey Karjakin with 5 points each. It underscores the tough level of this tournament, as well as the great battles seen throughout.


Yu Yangyi | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

The World Champion suffers

To begin with, Magnus Carlsen continued his indifferent form in a topsy-turvy encounter with Vachier-Lagrave:


Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen

Vachier-Lagrave ½-½ Carlsen | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Carlsen followed that with a very smooth win over Karjakin, and then a win over Ding, outfoxing his opponent in a typical endgame grind:


Just when there was a hope that Carlsen was indeed coming back to form, another old rivalry popped up again:


You can also follow the game from 6.0-0 directly with the video:

Pause if you want to try your own variations or analyse with the engine!

The next game was an absolute shock!


With a further loss to Dominguez in the 16th round, Carlsen finished a forgettable tournament.


At least his hair was in form for the occasion! | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Rapport fades

It was also a day when Richard Rapport couldn't build upon the momentum he had gained over the previous day's blitz games. He too lost a topsy-turvy, but very interesting game to Vachier-Lagrave with a glorious trading of 'shots' between the two heavyweights of sharp play:


He missed a golden chance against Yu Yangyi in the twelfth round: 


In a winning position, Yangyi blundered with 69...e5??

The point is, the pawn ending is a draw after 70.♖xe5 fxe5 71.♔e3 ♚h4 72.♔d2!! ♚h3 73.♔d3!! keeping the opposition. If Black goes back with the king: 71...♚g6, 72.♔f2 ♚f6 73.♔e3 ♚f5 74.♔e2!! holds. Check the variations for yourselves — it's a lot of fun!

Trusting his opponent, Rapport too blundered with 70.a4?? after which he went on to lose the game.

Another disaster struck soon after:


25...c2 26.b4 and White went on to win. He lost two more games in the tournament —  momentum killed.


Richard Rapport turned out in a colourful shirt on the last day | Photo: V.Saravanan

A Ding down day

Ding Liren started the day disappointingly, losing to his own countryman:


Ding conducted the game well for the most part, nursing a slight advantage from the opening phase. But Yu showed his dynamic skills here:

30...d4! Ding is suddenly faced with a big surge of counterplay from Black now. 31.exd4 d5! 32.dxc5 f4+ and Black's mating attack succeeded further on.

In a repetition of the same story, Ding further mishandled an equal position against the eventual winner:


Here, 30.a5! ♚f8! (30...♜bxb4 31.♖xb4 ♜xb4 32.♖e7) 31.b5 ♜c5 32.b6 might have led to a draw. Liren missed his changes with 30.e7? a5 31.b5 xa4 and black went on to win the game. He further lost to Carlsen in the 13th round.

Though he did fight back and won four games after that, there was simply no time to fight for the top honours.



Ding Liren had poor start to the final day | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Crackin' Karjakin

Counting the games from the first day of blitz, Karjakin blazed to a 5½ out of 6 games streak in the middle of the tournament, only to be stopped by Carlsen in the eleventh round. His chances ended with a peculiar piece of play in the fifteenth round:



Karjakin's promising run ended midway through | Photo: Grand Chess Tour

Vachier-Lagrave disappointment

One of the most disappointing stories of the last day was the leader from the previous day, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Though he was in lead with three games to go, his Waterloo came in the 16th game:


Here, MVL could have maintained his advantage with 17...♛a6+ after which it is Black who has the initiative. But for a second, he lost his sense of danger and played 17...e5, after which he was hit with 18.xh7!!

The point is, 18...♝xh7 is met with 19.♗xf7! ♚xf7 20.♖xf7 and White's attack will be decisive. 18...a6+ 19.e2 d6 20.xf6+ and White had an overwhelming advantage, which he converted.

Though he defeated Aronian in the last round, it was not enough to catch up with the Armenian, as he had already built up a full point advantage over his opposition and 1½ points more than the Frenchman.



'MVL' suffered from a poor run on the last day | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

We have seen bits and pieces of Yu Yangyi's performance throughout, and one of his best efforts came against the previous challenger to the throne:


But Yu Yangyi missed a golden opportunity in the last round when he missed a beautiful shot in a bishop ending. Arguably, it could have been the most interesting game of the tournament if Yu had won, as it featured one of the best elements of the endgame: Zugzwang. Actually not just one — a total of three of them in succession!


Yu interview

Yu Yangyi interviewed by Maurice Ashley (with an interpreter) after one of his best ever performance | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

And then there was Lev...

That finally brings us to the winner of the day, Levon Aronian. He showed his brilliance most of the time, as in his win over Mamedyarov. But an important point to understand is that, Aronian messed up two easy positions, against the world champion and the erstwhile challenger, which could have given him a point more:


I was curious about his pronouncements after the end of the first day of Blitz. So, what did he do different on the last day?

“I played fast throughout the day, and focussed on keeping the initiative more. And except some of the games, it worked. It was done consciously done, though it didn't happen in every game, but it was fine.”

I pointed out the two wins he missed against Carlsen and Caruana. After those two misses, how confident was he before the last round, on winning the tournament?

“I was certain to win the tournament, but did not expect to win in such a dramatic way! Which doesn't really do me any good, losing in such a stupid way”.

Did his emotions get the better of him?

“Yeah, I was too eager to see what would happen to Yu Yangyi, which was not a good thing. I was not happy about that”.

After all the games were over and Aronian was about to enter commentary enclosure for his interviews, he encountered his friend Vachier-Lagrave in the hallway, and both of them had a laughter with a handshake, when Aronian proclaimed, “Maestro! I promised you and I haven't let you down!”


Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave share a laugh after the end of the tournament | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

So, what were they talking about?!

Aronian grinned broadly. “Yesterday we were having dinner. I (told him), if you need any help (tomorrow) I am there for you! Jokingly, obviously”, he explains, as everyone around us break into a smile. Truly, he is one of the friendliest of all the top players around.

Thus, thanks to Yu Yangyi's miss against Mamedyarov, Aronian goes on to win the title, $37,500 and 13 tour points. This is the second win for Aronian since the inception of the tournament in 2017, and he has also ended Carlsen's streak winning all the tournaments he has participated this year!

Final blitz standings


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Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.


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