MVL takes sole lead at Saint Louis Blitz

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/14/2019 – Ding Liren and Sergey Karjakin were the heroes of the day as both of them scored 6½/9 on Day 1 of Blitz. Wild cards Richard Rapport and Yu Yangyi also had a fantastic start in the Blitz as they scored 6.0/9 and 5½/9 respectively. Magnus only managed to score 50% while Caruana scored a meagre 1½/9 in Blitz. IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN brings you all action from Saint Louis. | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

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MVL and Carlsen score only 50% on Blitz day 1

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored only 50% on the first day of the Blitz part, but took the overall lead with a combined score of 17½ at the end of the penultimate day of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament. He did that with a crucial victory in the last round on Tuesday by beating Levon Aronian (who ended the day with 17 points) in a sharp game.

In a way, status quo prevailed at the top from the Rapid standings, except that Vachier-Lagrave bumped up just half a point ahead of Aronian, the other joint leader from the Rapid cycle. They were followed by Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi, who continued their decent showing in the rapid and occupied the third and fourth places.

But the biggest news of the day was the continued slide of the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, who managed only 4½ today, an equal score, with three each of wins, losses and draws. Looking at his play, Yasser Seirawan recalled one of the most memorable quotes of Vishy Anand, “Sometimes I feel like a scientist, some days I feel like an artist, and some days I feel like an idiot!”

Magnus Carlsen — Low on confidence | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

His story was almost the focal point in Saint Louis, and Carlsen himself visited the commentary box at the end of the day with words that shocked his fans.

“Everything is going wrong, my confidence is long gone, I don't really care any more. To be honest, my number one wish is for the tournament to get are probably going to see more of the same tomorrow. I cannot really be bothered (with my performance) at this point”. Whoa! Very strong words from a man who personifies self-confidence otherwise.

Do you have any explanation? “When things start to go wrong, it is easy to doubt yourselves. I tried to play more aggressively than trying to play safer, but it doesn't really seem to work out any more. I am constantly doubting myself. I don't really care any more — I'm just waiting for the classical [i.e. Sinquefield Cup] to start”. Seriously!? Well, whether it was a momentary outburst of being interviewed immediately after a bad result, or he meant what he said, will only be known at the end of the tournament Wednesday.

We could almost understand the reasons behind such depressing words from Carlsen, considering his results. He scored just half a point from his four games with black pieces. Just as in the Rapid, he lost to Ding and Karjakin once again, and Yu too, each opponent outplaying him via a direct assault on his position. 


True to his tastes in blitz chess, Carlsen didn't seem to be doing anything drastic. Perhaps fans might think he was a little desperate when they saw this position in the seventh round.


But we shouldn't forget that he has already played this stock move of Hikaru Nakamura before, against Shamsiddin Vokhidov at the World Rapid Championship, St. Petersburg 2018. 

The best of Carlsen probably came in the last game of the day, when he beat Rapport in more typical style.


But the last round belonged to Vachier-Lagrave, who scored an important win over Levon Aronian — the sole leader in the combined standings till the penultimate round.


Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian were in a jolly chat and seen heartily laughing | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Asked about their pre game chat and laughter later in the commentary box, an embarrassed Vachier-Lagrave declined, commenting saying, 'it wouldn't be appropriate'!

Aronian was not happy with his play throughout the day, and didn't attempt to mask his emotions, a la Carlsen. “The way I played today, being in second position is a miracle! Occasionally I have this problem — I am too sleepy, which I was today. I will try to change something from tomorrow”.

And how would he do that? “Generally, the openings. Some of the openings I played badly — for example against Dominguez and Vachier-Lagrave. You have to come up with a plan for the whole tournament — I did, for rapid — and stick to it”. Aronian's mood was understandable, as he scored a win, two losses and no less than six draws on the day!

Unbeknownst to him, one of his games featured the biggest unspotted tragicomedy of the tournament so far: 


28.c1?? Allowing 28...♛d1+ with mate to follow! 28...xb1?? and the game went on to end in a draw, even though black still holds a winning position!

But Yu Yangyi played an excellent round of Blitz chess otherwise.


23...xb2! Nice shot to spot in Blitz 24.c2 [24.♔xb2 ♛b5+ followed by 25...♛xe2] 24...xa3 and Black went on to win.

Yu Yangyi – Excellent blitz play | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

His fellow countryman Ding Liren had one of the best days of his career, when he scored 4 wins and drew the rest to remain as the only unbeaten player of the tournament. He too gained from one of the biggest blunders of the event.


No doubt, white has a huge advantage, as it is difficult to defend the g7 square once black's checks run out on the kingside. But his opponent came up with

26...a7?? 27.xa7 1-0

Ding Liren had one of the best days of his career | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Along with Ding, the best result of the day from the Blitz cycle with the same 6½ points came from Karjakin, who played his brand of beautiful quick chess, though not without its drama. 


Sergey Karjakin — the top blitz scorer | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

Richard Rapport was the other remarkable turnaround of the Blitz day, with many creative wins, finally showing the tactical sharpness he is known for.


Richard Rapport — the best turnaround | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

But still, the leader of the event, Vachier-Lagrave, despite scoring only a moderate equal score 4½ points was the most interesting performer of the day, as his games had four wins, four losses and a draw out of them. This, and the fact that he had six wins, two losses and a solitary draw in the Rapid part of the tournament, makes him the most decisive player so far!

Compared to Paris, I feel my level of play in general is not that bad. I was unlucky in three of my losses — Rapport, Dominguez — I had 4 minutes on the clock and I can take a draw whenever I want. He played very well under time pressure — and Liren was a heartbreak. I am losing may be another 50 points (in Blitz Rating) but that's ok! The field here in Blitz is much more competitive than Paris.

So what does it take to win this tournament now? “Keeping the rhythm, I felt I was playing fast also in the last few games — may be even too fast — and that's really a positive. This is the way I see I am going to win the event — playing faster!” Just like yesterday, confident words.

So how did everyone fare in the final analysis? By calling-in, the commentary team brought in an expert, Garry Kasparov, who had not so pleasant words for the quality of play in Saint Louis. 

It's unbelievable to see the kind of blunders these guys are making! (They) are playing way too much. And (Magnus) plays every tournament to win — it's hell of a pressure on you.

Get the feel of Saint Louis Blitz 2019 | Video: V Saravanan

Current overall standings


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Current blitz standings


Results of Rounds 1-9

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Live commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade from 18:00 UTC (20:00 CEST, 14:00 EDT)


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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