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.


(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. 


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 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.


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.


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 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 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.


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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mathematics1 mathematics1 8/21/2017 04:03
nice artical !!!!!
daftarche daftarche 8/21/2017 11:43
garry just needed some time to shake off the rust. being inactive and suddenly coming back to play with top players is not easy.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/20/2017 05:27
And, if we need corroboration, we have the Ultimate Blitz Challenge from last year, where he did just as well as he did here on the final day. Of course, he CAN'T calculate AS well as he used to, which is why his blundering frequency is higher now than it was back in the day. This was inevitable, with age and lack of practice. Some things do go away, no matter what, under these circumstances. What WASN'T inevitable was the poor time management he displayed here early on. (Of course, he knows best whether this is just my theory, or the way things actually went. It certainly seems that way, if we look at the evidence.)
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/20/2017 05:22
"What he can no longer do is calculate instantly like he once could." Agree 100%. He was probably much too worried about that, too, which is why he took so long on his first four days. But then the fact that he stopped overthinking it and made more moves intuitively and with less calculation on the last day, and got a way better result, shows he had no reason to be worried about it - at least nowhere near that much. Either his intuition helped him avoid bad lines without the need for excessive calculation, or he was able to calculate almost as well with less time used (he still got to the heart of the position, and calculated what was most important) - whatever the case, the last day proved how well he might have done had he let go his unwarranted anxiety from the beginning.

(And thanks for the favorable comments, guys!)
KevinC KevinC 8/20/2017 03:48
The reason no one outplayed Kasparov is simple: He still understands chess better, and at a deeper level, than almost any human alive (Karpov is another). What he can no longer do is calculate instantly like he once could.

At 55, a little older than Kasparov and an NM, I probably have never understood chess positions better, but I calculate worse and worse at I get older.
naisortep naisortep 8/20/2017 12:31
Brilliant commentary by imdvb_8793.
Jarman Jarman 8/20/2017 11:59
@Tom Box: repeating the same comment in every article doesn't make it any more valid. If you lack inspiration, please read imdvb_8793's comment - which btw is way more well thought out than yours. Cheers.
Tom Box Tom Box 8/20/2017 10:43
It’s irritating when people win games in the post-mortem that they lost in the tournament. In the interviews, as well as at the closing ceremony, Kasparov kept saying how he had a better position and then blew it. That is the nature of blitz: time vs quality. Kasparov was very frequently spending more time on the clock, so it is natural that he might get a better position, but then he blundered when short on time; the price you often pay for thinking too long. Always smcug in victory, Kasparov is consistently ungracious loser.
macauley macauley 8/20/2017 09:48
@imdvb_8793 - Thanks corrected.
Pieces in Motion Pieces in Motion 8/20/2017 09:17
Dismal performance by Kasparov as an impressive one by Aronian. Lookimg forward to London.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/20/2017 07:26
And yes, a correction to the article is probably in order - Garry did only score 5.5/9, not 6/9, on the final day. (I'd be happy to be wrong, somehow, obviously, but I've checked and re-checked, so I'm afraid not...)
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/20/2017 07:18
I'll just say this much: once he actually started playing moves and being practical (which is obviously a lack of actual game time thing, not even an age thing - and this last day's result proves it), Kasparov finished in clear 3rd/10 players, and, with 5.5/9 (+2), just half a point behind the two people tied for first (also based on just day five's results), Karjakin and Aronian, with 6/9. And this WITHOUT his luck turning in any way (I'd say his luck was more or less average for a day of blitz) - he just outplayed people, the same way he'd been doing before, except not taking anywhere near as much time to do it, and thus leaving enough time to also convert (or hold equality, as the case may be), instead of almost inevitably blundering in the endgame with seconds left on the clock. Which also proves his poor time management was NOT a consequence of the problems he was being set by opponents (which was pretty obvious from the games themselves, anyway), at least not entirely, but of the severe lack of practicality (which made his score drop significantly from what it could have been, which I dare say is quite high) inherent (apparently) to not having played any official competitions for 12 years. (And probably not too much chess altogether, apart from the 1-2 rapid/blitz exhibition events he's showed up for once every 3 years, or whatever.)

Apart from Fabi and maybe Sergey (funnily enough, the two top finishers in the last Candidates cycle), nobody really outplayed Garry in these five days of play - even though others scored just as well against him, usually by getting lucky and/or being more practical. He almost always beat himself after getting good or great positions. One could say those people outplayed him from the worse positions they got, but, in the first place, with him having, sometimes, as little as a tenth of the clock time as them, that was pretty inevitable, and, also, that theory doesn't explain why he did so well on the last day. When he should have been both the most tired of the five days, and probably also the most demoralized. Instead, he started playing quickly=practically, like he should have from the start, and I strongly believe the result on this second day of blitz is the one we should truly be looking at when evaluating Kasparov's skill as a player, even at this age. I'm sure many computer age fanatics will find ways to argue against it (and I'm sure some of them will be quite valid, though in the minority, compared to the counterarguments), but to me this all seems rather clear. In any case, nobody can tell me Kasparov spoiled anywhere near as many good positions as this during his heyday, or that his opponents defended THAT much worse than today's top players do. It's just too many wasted points to justify. I don't buy it. I'd need analytical proof...

(Which is why it was so incredibly frustrating to watch those first 3-4 days, and see how, by being so impractical with his clock, Garry was refusing to give himself any chance of maximizing his score, and having it be more relevant to his current true/potential playing strength, despite clearly showing an overall level of understanding, in my opinion, far superior to the average level of understanding of his opponents, even as good as they are. To say the least.)
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 8/20/2017 07:18
Kasparov finished 5th in Blitz and 8th overall. Still, the venue was strong. And he had a good last day - which is a day when older people should be more tired.
RayLopez RayLopez 8/20/2017 02:39
Kasparov finishing fifth, out of ten spots, at his age, and after being negatively affected by the blown win earlier vs Navara, shows one of two things: 1) there is ratings inflation at the top end, for Kasparov, at his advanced age, to finish this high, or, 2) Kasparov is so exceptional that even after all these years he can still, without much preparation, finish relatively high against modern players. I think it's a combination of 1) and 2).