Saint Louis Rapid: Nakamura surges to the front

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/14/2018 – On the third and final day of rapid, Hikaru Nakamura lodged two more wins and a draw bringing his final rapid tally to 12 (using double-scoring), a point ahead of Caruana and equal with Mamedyarov. "I believe in giving my fullest, and for me, that means to be aggressive and letting myself go completely", the American said. Caruana faded after an awful blunder against Dominguez in the first round of the day. V. SARAVANAN breaks down the highlights. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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Mamedyarov also pulls ahead of Caruana

The rapid section of the Saint Louis leg of Grand Chess Tour was won by two players who stayed true to their character, and went for the title with aggression, in their own way! One just wants to have fun at all costs, while the other believes in giving his fullest over the board.

When we look up the way Mamedyarov has played this event, after his loss to Caruana in an Open Spanish and a draw with Aronian in a Caro-Kann, he chose to consistently ignore opening theory and strived for original positions in all the remaining five games, and he finished with a fantastic 4/5! Was it a conscious strategy on his part? Chatting up Shakhriyar Mamedyarov after the games, I found him dismissive about any such particular plans.

"Nothing is important — just to have fun on the board is important, and that is what I did! For the Blitz part too, I do not have anything particular in mind. Once again, to have fun is the aim".

Whatever works!


Mamedyarov in classic distant stare | Photo: V. Saravanan

What about Nakamura? How did he achieve this remarkable comeback after losing the very first game?

"The most important thing is to tell yourself there are eight more games left to play, a long way to go. And then not to rush into anything, and play simple, with balance.  That’s what I did against Wesley So, and once I won that game, I felt fine".

Though his general demeanour is cool and relaxed, he transforms into this energetic, emotional and aggressive self over the board, barely hiding his intentions. It's natural for him.

"I am a professional, and I feel that over the board I should give my complete effort. Okay, someone like Fabiano can be emotionless and look the same in any kind of position, but I believe in giving my fullest, and for me, that means to be aggressive and letting myself go completely".

And when I ask him that blitz is his forte and he is one of the best players in the world format — he gently corrects me that there is another guy to whom 'best in the world' tag should go! Does he consider himself the favourite to win this event now? "Well, I do not want to assume anything, but if I play my normal game, and if everything starts fine well tomorrow, I shall be able to do well". Very positive indeed!

Nakamura ponders

Analysing in the air | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

The most delightful game of the day was played by Mamedyarov, at the beginning of the day itself: 


8.Ng5 (a new move in the position?) h6 9.h4!? Of course, Shakh remains himself!


Is this the time to go for it? | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes


16.Bg6! Again, played with great imagination, and Shakh went on to win a very impressive game. Here are the closing moments:

Peter Svidler in his Russian commentary, hosted on-site in St. Louis for the first time, is heard to have come up with the memorable lines on Mamedyarov: "If Mamedyarov didn't exist you'd have to invent him...without him, the tournament would be much duller!" Looking at Shakh’s games of the day, we couldn’t agree more.

Evgenij Miroshnichenko and Peter Svidler

Evgenij Miroshnichenko and Peter Svidler | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller

Dominguez ended the rapid on an even score for the day, as well as for the tournament, but in the process clipped a point from Caruana. The Cuban number one defended a tough ending quite well, with an unusual material imbalance of queen and four pawns against two rooks and a knight. But when Caruana finally coordinated his rooks for a mating attack the American was tantalisingly close to a victory.


Caruana could have ended the game here with 48.Rg3, attacking the queen and with the simultaneous threat of Rh8 mate. After 48...Qf2+ 49.Kd3, Black has no checks and one final round-house kick after 49...Kh7 (49...Qb2 to guard h8 fails to 50.Nxf5+) 50.R3g7+ Kh6 51.Rg2 is the end.

Instead, Caruana's 48.Rg5 Qf4 leaves White stymied for the moment. A few moves later, and floundering to find an idea with no time left, Caruana hallucinated:


54.Re7?? Qxe7 White resigns. 0-1

Here's the fateful moment, on video:

Caruana cracks under time pressure

Caruana went on to finish the tournament with two sedate draws against Anand and So.

"The art of slow-motion swindling"

After being close behind the leader Caruana after day two, Vachier-Lagrave lost to Nakamura in the seventh round, but showed character by bouncing back in his next game against Aronian, when he steadily built up a winning position:


In a position ripe for tactics, Vachier-Lagrave came up with 28…Rc4! and for the apparently spectacular 29.Nc5, he had the retort ready 29…Rh2! He certainly looked to be on top.

One of the erstwhile articles written about the Armenian sang his praise with the headline, "Levon Aronian and the art of slow-motion swindling", and he showed just that. Just when everything seemed to have turned against him, he came up with a devilish trap.

Mere mortals may scramble to play the best moves with 30.Nxa4 Rxe2 31.Rxc4 bxc4 32.Rh1 and hope to salvage a draw from a difficult position. But Aronian came up with a beguiling threat with 30.Qd3?! The point is that, Black has to move at least two 'only moves' to net the point, and that is in the last stages of a rapid chess game low on time! Vachier-Lagrave did get it right with 30…dxc5 31.d6 Bxd6 32.Qd5?!+ but here comes Aronian’s moment!


Classic old school swindling! Here, 32...Kh8 was the only move to win, the point being that there are no real tactics anymore: 33.Qxd6 is easily met with 33…Qc2+ 34.Ka1 Rxg4 with too much material. But Vachier blundered with 32…Kh7?? allowing 33.g6 (This would not have been possible if the black king had been on h8) 33…Nxg6 34.Rg5 and suddenly white is threatening a mate in one!

34...Qc2 35.Ka1 Kh6?? (35…Nf4 and the game goes on, though black is probably not winning anymore) 36.Rg2+ and Black had to part with his queen, and the game ultimately.


Aronian plays the villain after all | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Nakamura, too, gave an early warning of his intentions, and his play against Vachier-Lagrave in the seventh round was a case of perfect harmony on the chess board: 


29.Nh1! Beautiful! The knight’s on its way to f5. Hikaru can be proud of this move in any format of the game, let alone producing it in rapid chess. In the words of the first world champion Wilhelm Steinitz, this can be termed as a 'coiled spring strategy', retreating a piece to the first rank before unleashing it on the world. Or in ancient Tamil wisdom, 'a Tiger crouches first, always to jump on its prey next'! (In this particular case, it was the horse instead of a tiger). He went on to convert his advantage quite easily after this.

In round nine, once again in a harmless looking position, Hikaru’s demonstrated admirable nuance:


22.Qa3! a5 23.Re7 Rb8 24.Rae1 and slowly he turned the screws on the Cuban, based on this control of the e-file.

Mamedyarov and Nakamura both weighed in on their rapid performances back-to-back at the close of the live webcast:

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura interviewed by Maurice Ashley

Final rapid standings


Games and commentary - Day 3


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

Correction: The standings table initially displayed an incorrect draw result for Mamedyarov vs Anand in round nine. In fact, Mamedyarov won.


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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