Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz: Highlights from Day 5

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/20/2017 – The thrills and spills from Day 4 continued into the final round-robin. Karjakin's surge faded, and he ended in a tie for second with Hikaru Nakamura. But neither player could catch Levon Aronian, who stayed one step ahead in the combined standings, to clinch first place overall with two rounds to spare. Garry Kasparov finally hit his stride, scoring 5½ / 9 on the final day. If the blitz were a standalone tournament, Kasparov would have been fifth. Here are some of Friday's highlights. | Photos: Lennart Ootes

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Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz

Day 5

On the ground floor of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis there’s an open area behind the reception desk which was dedicated for spectators of the tournament, replete with a big screen television pumping out the live english commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade. It's a good thing too, because throughout the Blitz portion of the event the tournament hall itself was completely packed, and even if one could endure the standing room only to watch the games, it became difficult to even get a clear view.

SRO

(Above) Most of the time, this was the best view you could get in the tournament hall
(Below) For fear of losing a coveted place, spectators simply squatted on the floor between games! | Photos: Lennart Ootes

Saving a spot

So, naturally the rows of chairs in the overflow area were completely filled. There, able to express thmselves openly without fear of distrurbing the players above, the commentary was enjoyed with laughter, cheering and groans throughout as the twists and turns provided by the Blitz event was unmatched spectacle. The most enthusiastic cheers and and applause was reserved for two of the participants — and when the ultimate winner of the event Levon Aronian arrived following the final round he was met with an uproarious response from gathered fans.

The lobby of the CCSCSL

Aronian receivess accolades, including from Rex Sinquefield (centre) | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The other player attracting extra plaudits was Garry Kasparov. The 13th World Champion finally hit form on the last day of the event, as he scored 5½ points from 9 rounds and tied with Aronian for most points scored on the final day. 

Kasparov

Garry Kasparov, what a fightback on the last day!  Photo: Lennart Ootes

His best effort came in the penultimate round against Lenier Dominguez:

 

8...g5!? Following the game from this point on, observe how Kasparov’s pieces keep on marching forward with purpose, as his position continues improving until his advantage becomes overwhelming.

 

27...Bd8! A move which one can be proud of spotting even with a classical time control!

 

And finally the breakthrough happened here: 31...d5 32.exd5 Bxd5 33.Bg2 Nxg4! Black went on to win.

Kasparov's other best win came against his former pupil:

 

Holding an edge throughout the game, Kasparov won the opposite colour bishop ending by walking his king across the board: Kd2-e3-d4-c5-b6 and creating a passer on the queenside.

In fact, even in the very first game of the day which he lost to Karjakin, he missed a momentary opportunity:

 

Here, Kasparov erred with 31...Ke7?, whereas 31...e4 might even have won him the game.

Yet this game was par for the course for Karjakin, who led the tournament at the end of the previous day, and started briskly with two wins in the second day of blitz, thus extending his winning streak to seven games!

Karjakin

Karjakin was unable to sustain the momentum from the previous day, but nevertheless was the best at blitz |  Photo: Lennart Ootes

 

Karjakin uncorked 16...Bxh3! here, and went on to score an impressive win after 17. Bg5 Qe6 18. gxh3 Qxh3 19. Qe2 h6! -+

But, as Karjakin’s loss to Nakamura showed, it turned out to be a day when no one could maintain consistency:

 

Insetead of 44...Rxe5 45.Nxe5 Qxe5 46.Qd3 Re7 after which it would be White who should be defending with, Karjakin went astray with 44...Nf7?? 45.d6 Rd7 46.Rf5 and White went on to win.

Nakamura had his best game against Caruana — arguably one of the best creations of the entire blitz tournament — as his handling of a certain piece on the board reminded everyone of the great Tigran Petrosian:

 

19.Bxf6! Bxf6 20.e5 and White starts pressing here.

 

Looking for a plan, Nakamura continued 40.Kf3!, and took his king all the way to c2 to protect his pawn, and start probing his opponent's kingside.

 

Once again looking for a plan, he again manoeuvred his king, this time back to g3 with 76.Kd1...

 

...only to have a change of heart, and return it to c3 beginning with 80.Kf3 here!

 

Finally he found a much needed breakthrough with 91.Qe8 and White won instantly.

Nakamura

An American Petrosian! | Photo: Spectrum Studios

Of course with blitz, tragedy and curiosities abound:

 

Anand was probably fatigued by the end of the Sinquefield Cup itself, and didn’t fare well in the Blitz. In this position where he should be looking at ways to nurse his extra pawn, he blundered with 46.f4?? Qb6 and White is losing.

Anand

Vishy Anand endured some tough days in Saint Louis | Photo: Spectrum Studios

 

White should be looking to save the position by fixing Black’s kingside pawns and keeping the black king engaged in thier defense. So, 37.g5 intending to exchange a pair of pawns and a further push g5-g6, was in order.

Here, instead, Nepo went wrong with 38. Kg3 b3 39. g5 hxg5 40. hxg5 Rb1 41. Kf4 Kd7 42. Rb7+ Kc6 and Black went on to win this endgame.

Nepomniachtchi

Nepomniachtchi vs Aronian featured a botched rook ending | Photo: Spectrum Studios

 

Instead of simply waiting for White to show his hand, Black continued 34...h5 35. Kf4 Kf6 36. h4 Ke6 37. Kg5! and White was on top.

Looking forward

Aronian won the tournament, but also many new fans, especially after the heartwarming post to his Facebook page acknowledging his upcoming wedding to long-time girlfriend / fiancée WIM Arianne Caoili.

And of course this is not the end, but only a stop on the Grand Chess Tour. Here's where things stand in the overall standings:

GCT standings

Next stop London!

Standings after Blitz Round 18

Blitz only

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Karjakin Sergey 13.5 11
2 Aronian Levon 12.5 9
3 Nakamura Hikaru 10.5 7
4 Nepomniachtchi Ian 10.0 6
5 Kasparov Garry 9.0 4
6 Le Quang Liem 8.5 5
7 Dominguez Perez Leinier 7.5 6
8 Anand Viswanathan 7.0 1
9 Navara David 6.0 3
10 Caruana Fabiano 5.5 5

Combined

Combined Standings

Games and commentary

 

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

Correction August 20: Kasparov scored 5½ points on Day 5, not 6, as earlier indicated.

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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.