St. Louis Blitz: A two-horse race

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/19/2020 – Magnus Carlsen reclaimed the lead at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz online event after scoring 6½ points in the first nine rounds of the blitz section. Wesley So, who obtained the highest score in the rapid, is a half point behind. With the second half of the blitz left to go, it is very unlikely for any player other than Carlsen or So to win the event, as Ian Nepomniachtchi currently stands no fewer than 3½ points behind the leader in sole third place. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Carlsen’s lucky breaks

“Fortune favours the brave” is a common translation of the Latin phrase audentes fortuna juvat, used widely, mostly by people in the military, since the era of classical Roman civilization. The proverb is often used by sports broadcasters in modern times, with some showing some reticence to accept its validity.

Be it a credible maxim or not, the phrase perfectly applies to Magnus Carlsen’s performance on day four of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament. While his main adversary Wesley So used a safety-first approach to add 5 points to his tally, Carlsen played enterprising chess almost exclusively, entering sharp struggles which not always worked out in his favour — the world champion got a couple of lucky breaks, turning losing positions into full points by virtue of his tactical alertness while very short on time.

With nine rounds of blitz to go, it seems all but impossible for Ian Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura or Alexander Grischuk — placed third to fifth — to catch up with Carlsen or So, unless they manage to repeat Sergey Karjakin’s feat from 2017, when he scored 8 out of 9 on a single day at the same event. 

Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz 2020

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Different approaches: Carlsen and So 

Only by looking at the results of Carlsen and So in the first half of the blitz section it is possible to tell who took more risks on Friday — Carlsen collected six wins and two losses before drawing his only game of the day (against So), while the American drew six times, won twice and lost against Jeffery Xiong (his only loss so far in the whole event).

Carlsen had black both times he lost on Friday, against Pentala Harikrishna and Nepomniachtchi. The world champion could have also lost in rounds 7 and 8 — he not only survived though: he ended up winning both games. First, he was busted in a closed position against Alireza Firouzja.


White was clearly better and finally broke through with 42.Rxc7 Bh3+ 43.Kf2 Bxc7 44.Rxc7 Kh6 45.Rxe7. However, Firouzja was not able to finish off his famed opponent:


52.Qxf7 was the final blow, as the central passers are too strong after 52...Rxf7 53.Kxh3 Rxf5 54.d7. Instead, the youngster gave away his massive advantage with 52.Qd8, and Carlsen was already much better after 52...Bxf5 53.Qe8 Bd7 54. Ka8 Rg6. The world champion did not falter once he received a second chance and got the victory in 70 moves.

The very next round, it was Carlsen who got an overwhelming attack with the white pieces, against Leinier Dominguez. The Norwegian handled the critical sequence of the onslaught horribly, allowing the Cuban-born grandmaster to escape. Furthermore, he gave Dominguez a chance to all but win the game in one move:


Black would have gained a piece with 43...Rf8, due to the threat of back rank mate. With only seconds on the clock, however, Dominguez went for 43...Bf4 instead, and soon entered what engines and commentators considered to be a drawn opposite-coloured bishops endgame.

The story did not end there though, as Dominguez mishandled the technical position. For a second game in a row, Carlsen was given a second chance, and he did not let it go to waste — what could have been a disheartening 0/2 sequence turned into a perfect 2/2 run.

All games by Carlsen and So


A parallel fight: Nepomniachtchi, Nakamura and Grischuk

The second best score on Friday, below Carlsen’s, was achieved by Hikaru Nakamura. ‘Naka’ started the day with a loss against the world champion, but went on to score four wins and three draws in the next seven rounds. It seemed like he would go into the final day of action in sole third place, but first he had to face one of his direct rivals in the standings table, Ian Nepomniachtchi:


At first sight, White’s d-pawn looks dangerous, but a closer look proves that the passer is actually a weakness. However, Black still needed to be careful, as his king is vulnerable to attacks, especially along the dark-squared long diagonal.

Nakamura could have got the upper hand with 25...Qe7 instead of getting himself in deep trouble with the direct 25...Rexe6. Nepomniachtchi immediately took the initiative with 26.Qc8+ Kf7 27.Rd1 Re8 28.Rd7+ Rd8:


Nakamura was visibly upset, and after 29...Rge6 30.Rg8 he allowed mate-in-one with 30...Rg631.Rf8#. With this victory, ‘Nepo’ leapfrogged his American colleague in the standings table.

Alexander Grischuk is tied with Nakamura on 14½ points after having scored two wins and two losses (all with the black pieces) in the first half of the blitz double round-robin.

All games - Blitz


Current standings - Overall

Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz 2020

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Standings after Round 9 - Blitz


Final standings - Rapid



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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