Saint Louis Blitz: Vachier-Lagrave climbs in the standings

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/15/2018 – The first day of blitz action in Saint Louis was won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman scored no less than five wins (four with Black) to recover after a disastrous third day. Both Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura totalled positive scores and are still sharing the lead, while Caruana won three and lost three and is currently in sole third place. V. SARAVANAN reports from Saint Louis. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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Nakamura beats Mamedyarov in key game

After the resurrection of Mamedyarov and Nakamura in the final stages of the Rapid, it was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave who came back with a vengeance in the first day of the blitz leg at Saint Louis. In nine games, Maxime scored an effortless five wins and four draws, a full one-and-a-half points ahead of Grischuk, and two points ahead of Mamedyarov & Nakamura, who are leading the combined standings jointly, overtaking Caruana.

What was behind Vachier-Lagrave’s such strong showing in the Blitz? “Well, it depends on the day. My chess felt consistent from the start, almost till the end. And I used the momentum”, the modest Frenchman told me. But what did you do after yesterday, to gain this consistency? “I just tried to forget about yesterday. Thanks for reminding me about yesterday!” 

Do you go to the board with the same attitude for Blitz, just like Rapid? “Oh, it’s very different. Rapid chess is probably closer to classical chess. Very traitorous I would say — there is enough time to think, but not like the classical games”.

He never seems to be emotional on the board even today through all the blitz battles, just like in classical or rapid — very controlled, he is the same! “I keep emotions inside, probably. I am definitely emotional during chess games. Just that I don’t have any reasons to show my opponents how I feel during the game!”

And he turned up in a very casual T-shirt for the day, which he considers as ‘cool’, in synergy with his mood…

Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave with a friend. Maxime’s T-shirt was a gift and reads ‘I am Pickle Rick!’ from the Rick and Monty show | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Watching all his games, one could not help being impressed with his endgame technique. Consider the following positions:

 

Vachier-Lagrave’s conversion started briskly with 36…h4! and he went on to win the game after 37.gxh4 Kh6 38.Rc6 Kh5  39.c4? Ra4 -+.

 

Maxime achieved a beautiful zugzwang with 42…d4 43.Nf2 b6! 44.a3 a6! 45.a4 a5! 46.Kg7 Nxh5 -+.

But just when I was expecting such endgame prowess in every game, came the following middlegame precision:

 

30.Rg3! Nxc4 31.f6! (a nice intermezzo) Qe5 32.Rxg7 Kh8 33.bxc4 +-

Only in the final round of the day, did Vachier-Lagrave escape thanks to his opponent’s blunder:

 

Black is probably winning — after 39…Ne8 40.Bd4 Kf8 Black’s a2-pawn is lethal. But Nakamura came up with 39…Nxd5?? 40.Rxd5 and the game was agreed drawn shortly.

Nakamura was involved in the most dramatic moment of the tournament, in his game against Mamedyarov:

 

Black is completely winning after the simple 37…Qg5 or 37…Rxa3. With seconds in his clock, Mamedyarov came up with the horrendous 37…e4?? 38.Qxd3 dropping the whole rook. A shocked Shakh lost all his control and banged on the table, realized his mistake, apologized immediately and resigned. Blitz chess at its painful worst!

A considerable portion of the drama has been captured in the live webcast video:

Here's the final blunder with ambient sound from the playing hall:

Mamedyarov must have been quite disappointed with this loss, as this proved to be costly in the final analysis — it cost him the top finish in both the blitz section of the day and the combined standings. He was especially happy to receive supporters from his native Azerbaijan, though, complete flags and scarves!

Azerbaijani supporters for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov | Photo: V. Saravanan

Another dramatic moment happened, but it only came after the game was finished! Wesley had a very rough day, and he finally won his first game in the ninth round, when Karjakin overstepped the time. The gesture of triumph from So had to be seen to be believed!

Wesley So's grand gesture had to be seen to be believed! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

It was quite difficult to imagine the plights of those who had a tough time in the tournament…

Losses are never an easy task to handle for chess players — Vishy Anand and Leinier Dominguez share a moment of sorrow together | Photo: V. Saravanan

But we can say with certainty about someone who had an average tournament and took it very cool all through!

A cool Fabiano Caruana talking with his second Rustam Kasimdzhanov | Photo: V.Saravanan

Undoubtedly, Mamedyarov played with his characteristic sharpness, producing some of the most interesting ideas of the blitz section, just as in the rapid:

 

18.dxc5!? Bxb2 19.Rxd8 Bxa1 20.Bh7 Kxh7 21.Rxf8 and Shakh won the game by confidently applying pressure in the resulting imbalanced position.

He reserved his best for the last round against Anand:

 

15.Nd7!? Bxd7 16.Bxd6 Re8 17.Qf3 Nf5? 18.Be5 Ne4? (it was just not Vishy’s day!) 19.Bxd7 Qxd7 20.Nxd5 1-0. It was the shortest win of the tournament.

Combined standings after day 4

Blitz standings after round 9

 

Games and commentary - Day 4

 

Commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade

All rapid games and commentary

Scroll through the complete list of games, or select any video from the playlist below.

 

Commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade

Links




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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