Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz: Nepomniachtchi first to clear lead

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/16/2017 – After six rounds of rapid, Nepomniachtchi leads with 4.0 / 6. He dealt the first loss to Garry Kasparov in Round 5, as the 13th World Champion sits near the bottom of the cross table. But a large group is just half point behind with 3½ points. | Photos: Lennart Ootes

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Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz

Playing hall

The hall, briefly cleared of spectators on Tuesday | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Day 1 — Blunders and Brilliancies

When you entered the venue for the start of the rapid, you suddenly felt the surge in crowd, all wanting to buy the tickets, all wanting to get in fast!

The whole world watched with bated breath for "the Beast from Baku" to make his presence felt. The slight crampedness of the tournament hall in the face of such interest was challenging for spectators and media alike.

Start of the rapid

Everyone wants a piece of history being created in front of our own eyes! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

And then one remembered what Garry Kasparov did whenever he got serious with the position, remembered what it was like when the 13th World Champion got out of his opening preparation and started the psychological ‘second battle’ of any game. And it didn’t take you long to understand that it was vintage Garry all the way!

Kasparov's watch

That piece of metal which used to tell us the story of the moment! | Photo: V.Saravanan


Eyes! Those eyes which held such lust, hunger, thirst and dreams in them | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Is rapid chess only about quick thinking and reflexes? Are blunders and absurd decisions the only entertainment for spectators? Does age matter, particularly, in quicker time controls? These are the questions which spring up whenever one observes these faster events.


Consider these positions:


50...Ke8?? A horrendous blunder in a winning position (e.g. 50...Rf2) 51. Ra7 (White would win more easily with 51.Rg8+ Kd7 52. R6g7+ Kc6 53. Rc8+ Kb5 54. Rb7+ Ka4 55. Rxb1) 51...Kf8 52. Ra8+ Kf7 53. Rag8 and tragically, White wins here, as Black cannot prevent mate! 1-0


Caruana - Blundering into a mate | Photo: V.Saravanan


Anand has given up a pawn and he has complete compensation here, probably looking at winning it back and retaining a small edge:

25. c4? (Clearly overlooking a tactical detail.) Ra5 26. c5 Qd5 27. Rb4 Nxc5! The point. Black simply wins more material here. He went on to win the game without a fuss.

And Anand’s woes did not end with this game:


23. Nxe5?? A blunder which throws away the advantage. (23. Bxe5 Nc2 24. Re2 Na1 25.Kf1 would keep an edge.) 23...Nxe5 24.Bxe5 f4 and White lost all his advantage and went on to lose the game.


Anand - two blunders cost two games with White | Photo: V.Saravanan


51.Bxc3? Panic? White's position wasn't all that bad as Aronian probably feared.

There was a defence but it is very difficult to find such a cold-blooded defensive move when short of time: 51.Kg2! Nxd4 52.Re4 c2 53.Bxb4! Rxb4 (53...c1=Q 54.Bf8+ Kg8 55.Ba3+ Rc8 56.Bxc1 Rxa8 57.Rxd4 wins) 54.Rc8 and White wins) 

51...Bxc3 52. Kg2 Rxd4 and Black went on to win.


70...Ke4?? (A blunder in a theoretically drawn position, but Black can draw the game by simply attacking White's passed pawns: 70... Kc3 71. a4 Kb3 72. a5 Ka4 73. Kb6 (73.a6 Ka5) 73... Kb4 74. a6 Bh1 with a draw) 71. a4 Ke5 72. a5 Ke6 73. Kb6 Be2 74. Kc6 Ke7 75. b6 1-0


A disheartened Nakamura offers a displeased handshake | CCSCSL YouTube


Of course it was not only blunders providing drama throughout the day, but also briliancies. Here's a smattering:


19.Rde1!! (Fantastic! Aronian gives up the piece for long term compensation, which translates into an attack on the kingside here) 19...fxe5 20.fxe5 and he had permanent compensation, which he demonstrated beautifully in the game.

Kasparov's games weren’t the glorious battles of old. But Garry proved his erstwhile class, and also his ability to maintain his chess strength all these years, as he avoided obvious blunders in all the three games. Considering the gap of twelve years since his last rated tournament game, it was commendable that he drew his games with Karjakin, Nakamura and Dominguez Perez. For me, the glimpse of vintage Kasparov play was revealed in an almost negligible moment on the board:


After a short thought, Kasparov played without hesitation: 19...e5. When I saw the move, I could not stifle a smile. Okay people, we have him, with all his straightforward approach to chess, with all the eccentricities of his persona still intact, and the same determination to overtly play to the fullest on the board.

That dogged determination came through when he saved a losing position:


Now, after a long time pushing, Nakamura finally faltered with 52.Ke4? The other choice, 52.Kc4 Bf2 53.Kb5, would have won the game.

No doubt that the slightly portly Kasparov also shows signs of nervousness with age. The grimaces, head shaking and exaggerated eye-widenings were all there, and worse than ever!

Kasparov's many faces

Remember the immortal words of Vladimir Kramnik, when asked for his favourite actor. "Garry Kasparov!” And smile!  |  Photos: V.Saravanan

Master Class Vol.7: Garry Kasparov

On this DVD a team of experts gets to the bottom of Kasparov's play. In over 8 hours of video running time the authors Rogozenko, Marin, Reeh and Müller cast light on four important aspects of Kasparov's play: opening, strategy, tactics and endgame.

Day 2

As I hurried early into the tournament hall to get a decent vantage point and watch the eagerly awaited clash between Anand and Kasparov in the 6th round of the rapid event, I found another journalist simply squatting on the floor in front of the table which would host the game between the two world champions. Unlike the regular practice of all the spectators leaving the playing arena in the 20 odd minutes between the rounds and rushing in back again, the gentleman had never exited the hall for fear of losing a comfortable standing place from which to witness the game.

In reply to my questioning glance, he smiles softly and says,”Yes, I am neither a Russian or Indian, but I was present at the now-destroyed World Trade Center when Rudy Giuliani inaugurated the event. And after these 22 years, this is the first time they will be playing each other again on American soil”.

This particular game was not about the competitive element of the tournament or for scrutiny of scoreboard later on. Simply, it was about witnessing a historic clash between two former world champions who probably know each other the best due to their years of rivalry and their proximity in age. After all, 54-year-old Kasparov and 47-year-old Anand are considerably more experienced than the other participants in the event, the next in line being Levon Aronian who — at 34 — is thirteen years Anand's junior.

Fittingly, Anand paid warm compliments, remarking about Kasparov that he was “very impressed...[Garry] is playing very well". With characteristic sense of humour, he good-heartedly needled Kasparov in the commentary room:

Anand on the live webcast with Maurice Ashley | CCSCSL on YouTube

“He still calculates, calculates, calculates calculates! He is giving me all these long lines on his game with Aronian, complaining that Aronian escaped!” chuckling all the way. And, "in the end, we chatted like some World War-1 veterans".

Anand and Kasparov

"World War 1 veterans" in fire-forged friendship? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Kasparov was as serious as ever, and ever the maximalist regarding his 1.0/3 on the second day.

“20 years ago it could be 3 out of 3. As promised, I played more aggressively. I wanted big fight[s]. I said I would entertain everybody”. Promising to continue in the same way, he said, “I am going to have fun, and hopefully if I get winning position[s] I will not blunder again!”

Kasparov joins the webcast after Round 6 | CCSCSL on YouTube

With Kasparov around, there was no lack of fun, with the small expection of when summer heat briefly overhwelmed the air-conditioning, forcing the organisers to clear the room of spectators so as to keep the temperature under control. A perspiring Kasparov produced a almost pleading expression at one moment:


Kasparov - Feeling the heat? | Photo: V.Saravanan

And what were those ‘many many good moves’ which Kasparov was referring to? Anand resorted to the Rossolimo, explaining “I tried to play something he might be unfamiliar with. (But) he hung in there quite well”. And more! With that intuition honed from years as the best Sicilian Najdorf player ever, Kasparov reached the following position:


Vintage Kasparov boldly uncorked, 19...d5! 20.Ncxd5 (Only move) Nxd5 21.exd5 Bg5 and it was Black who had the initiative here.

In the first game of the day against Aronian, Kasparov created winning possibilities in an equal looking ending:


 32.Nc3? After Aronian’s mistake here, Kasparov, even when short of time, found: 32...Rxd3 33.Kxd3 Rxc5 34.bxc5 Ke6 and Black had chances to win the endgame. Garry missed a tactic at a critical moment.


Here, instead of the patient 40...h6 41.h3 g4 42.h4 Ke6 which would have given Black serious winning chances, Kasparov went wrong with 40...Kg4?? 41.h3! Kxh3 42.Nxg5 Kxg3 and the game was drawn.

But Kasparov’s most disappointing moment had come in the 5th round, when he held a clear initiative:


Conducting an impressive assault on Black, White has created an advantage, but he inexplicably played 22.exd7? losing the pride of his position: the e6-pawn. After 22...Nc3 23.Bc4+ Kh8 24.Qxd2 Ne4 25.Qe3 Qxd7 when the position was equal.

As pointed out by Kasparov himself, he missed 22.Bxd7 Nb6 23.Bb5 Qd5 24.Qe2 when White keeps an edge.

Knocking pieces aside, Kasparov's lack of recent practical experience showed up in the following position which brought him his only loss so far in the tournament:


35.Bf7?? Re3!! Beautiful! Kasparov obviously overlooked this tactic 36.fxe3 Qxg3 37.Kf1 f3 and faced with mate, Kasparov resigned.

But at the end of the day, Nepomniachtchi was the only unbeaten player of the tournament, taking the lead by a razor thin margini going into Wednesday's play.


Nepomniachtchi, beating Kasparov and leading the tournament | Photo: Spectrum Studios

The games provided the most thrills only towards the end as they inexorably descended into clock-induced chaos. The once exception of the day was:


32.Nxh6 A delightful sacrifice — the knight can't be accepted, and White rips open the kingside 32...Nc7 33.Qd2 Re6 34.Rh4 Qxb3 35.Qg5 Qb2 36.Ng4+ (White chooses the wrong check with the knight, but ultimately finds the correct mating sequence anyway) Kg8 37.Nh6+ Kh7 38.Nf7+ Kg8 39.Rh8!+ Kxf7 40.Rd7+ and mating.

Navara - Karjakin

Sergey Karjakin suffered at the end of an impressive sacrificial attack from Navara | Photo: Austin Fuller

Games and commentary


Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade

Current standings 



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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