Saint Louis Rapid: A day of typical rapid heartbreaks

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/13/2018 – After an amazing start, Fabiano Caruana kept his cool and drew all his games in the midst of a day filled with turnarounds and missed chances. Four players are now two points behind the leader, as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura tallied positive scores on Sunday. V. SARAVANAN reports straight from the Saint Louis Chess Club | Photos: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller / Lennart Ootes

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Caruana maintains the lead

The second day of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz exploded into a spectacle of sacrifices, sharp attacks, missed opportunities and downright blunders, games wrought with relief on the one hand and heartburn on the other. Only three of the players kept their head and remained stable — Caruana maintained his lead by drawing all his three games to be at sole lead on 9 points, while Mamedyarov and Nakamura scored +1 from the day and came back into the race, finishing at 7 points along with Karjakin and Vachier-Lagrave.


The biggest beneficiary of blunders on day 2, Cuban Leinier Dominguez Perez couldn’t hide his relief after an unexpected turn of fortunes against Wesley So | Photo: V. Saravanan

Devastating heartbreak was witnessed on many boards, even moves which were not terribly difficult to spot without the help of an engine:


After a topsy-turvy middlegame, So looked to have finally reached a classic endgame with the bishop pair against a bishop and knight, and looked set for a certain win…


Just when he looked to have increased his advantage and reached the flashpoint, he blundered with 43.Kg5? (43.Bxd8 Kxd8 44.e6 Be8 45.Ke5 Ke7 46.h4 is a zugzwang, for example) 43…Ne6+ 44.Kh6 Nf4 and suddenly it looked unclear again, but still…


...when he could have continued with a difficult defence after 50.e6, he once again blundered with 50.Kxf5?? c3 and had to resign 0-1.

This was all before So decided to start the game with his surprise… dark glasses! He has used them before while playing chess, and it was probably a way of reversing the bad start he had suffered on the first day…

Wesley So turned up for the first game of the day wearing dark glasses, which he has occasionally used in the past too | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Without a doubt, Mamedyarov provided considerable creative content for the day, being involved in two queen sacrifices:


Aronian had avoided a line which had brought him a loss in the second round against Caruana, and went on to play the highly interesting 14.Bxb5 here, paving the way for 14…a6 15.Bxc6!? sacrificing his queen. The game ended in a draw in 37 moves after a prolonged fight.

But impressive throughout the game was Mamedyarov’s composure on the board, bordering on nonchalance, even after accepting a sacrifice from the opponent in what should definitely be home preparation:

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov facing Levon Aronian’s queen sacrifice, cool under pressure | Video: V.Saravanan

In the very next round, there was even bigger excitement at his game:


‘Shakh’ now boldly plunged for 17.Nxd5 Nxd5 18.cxd5 Bg5 and did not hesitate to sacrifice his queen with 19.Qxe8 Rxe8 20.dxc6, obviously plunging into wild complications.

At this point, I noticed Rauf Mamedov, a strong grandmaster himself, who is accompanying Shakh here at Saint Louis, walking around the spectator arena with a smile on his face. It was obvious that he was happy with the way things were shaping up in his friend’s game. 

When I queried if the whole game was a bit of home preparation and if the queen sacrifice was a prepared one, Mamedov came up with the story, “Not at all! Before the game, we had been to the Starbucks [opposite to the tournament hall] and were discussing how to play this game over a cup of coffee. That’s when we agreed that he would aim for a slow development in this game, with Ng1-f3, b2-b3, g2-g3 etc., and I was quite happy during the game that Shakh played quite imaginatively”. So queen sacrifices can be borne at Starbucks too!

In fact, this particular adventure had obviously made Nakamura quite tense over the board, from his obvious reactions…

Focused, distracted, controlled, aerating! | Photos: V. Saravanan

But this was a day when Nakamura resurrected himself — not only did he admirably keep his nerves in this fifth round, but he kept himself alert and scored a chancy victory in the next round.


After adventurous but inaccurate play by Nakamura, Aronian had reached a seemingly better position, and needed to find 30.c3 here, after which his passed pawn on d6 would decide the game in his favour. However, he overlooked a tactic to go wrong with 30.d7?? Rb4! (Black is threatening a discovered check with 31…Be5 or 31…Bd4) 31.Rd3? Bf6+ (covering the d8-square) 32.Kc1 Rxe4 and Black is winning, as the recapture 33.Qxe4 is not possible due to the g1-rook being left undefended.

An even bigger headache was suffered by Grischuk, who consumed loads of time but built a winning kingside attack against Karjakin.


Grischuk had built up a wonderful attack, thanks in part — surprisingly — too many mistakes from Karjakin, who is recognized for his defensive abilities. Now, Sasha missed the outright win that would have followed after 26.Qd8! (with the idea of 27.Qxf6 mate), and Black is simply defenceless. Instead, he went for 26.Qc7 and the game ended in a draw after more adventures. When Karjakin pointed out this miss immediately after the end of the game, Grischuk’s exasperation was obvious.

Disappointingly missing a mate in time pressure | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

An even worse fate awaited Vishy, who simply hung a rook after painstakingly building a winning position.


Anand had meticulously built up an advantage from an extremely quiet looking — you guessed it! — Berlin Defence of the Ruy Lopez. And just when he had reached a winning position where both 34.Qxd5 or 35.Rh1 would have paved the way for a win, he went astray with 34.Bb5? f4 35.g4 Rh7 36.Bd3 Qh4 37.Rxg6?? (37.Bxg6 was still winning) 37…Kh8.


38.g5?? (This simply hangs a rook) Qh2 39.Kf1 Qh1 and Anand resigned as he loses the game after 40.Qxh1 Rxh1 41.Ke2 Re8 losing the rook on e1.

A disappointing game for Vishy | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller

If there is a justification for Caruana to lead the tournament at this stage, it must be the fact that he managed to stay out of any of the drama from the other games, except for a spot of bother against his nearest chaser, Vachier-Lagrave.


Though Caruana looked to be in trouble here, he kept admirable control over his nerves to find counterplay under time pressure with 44.b5! axb3 45.bxc6 bxc2 46.Rb3 c1Q 47.Kxc1 Rh1 and Vachier-Lagrave opted for perpetual check, being short of time.

Cool under pressure! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 6


All games - Rapid section


Day 2 commentary

Commentary by Yasser Seirawn, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley

Key interview moments:

  • Rex Sinquefield - 1.21.17
  • Aronian - 2.51.23
  • Dominguez - 2.55.56
  • Naka - 4.13.35
  • Fabi - 4.20.28
  • Shakriyar - 4.24.36


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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