St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: Nakamura grabs the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/14/2021 – Yet another action-packed day at the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz Tournament saw Hikaru Nakamura grabbing the sole lead before entering the blitz section of the event. Nakamura beat Fabiano Caruana in their all-important direct encounter to leapfrog him in the standings table. The top scorer on Friday was Richard Rapport, who is now sharing second place with Caruana. | Photo: Crystal Fuller

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Rapport beats Caruana and Xiong

Known for his fearless, offbeat style, Richard Rapport is a feared player in the chess world’s elite. Currently ranked 11th in the world, the Hungarian is one of nine ‘regular’ players in this year’s Grand Chess Tour. Rapport tied for fifth at the Paris leg of the tour, and we expect to see him playing the Sinquefield Cup, the last event of this year’s series starting on Tuesday.

On the final day of the rapid section in Saint Louis, Rapport kicked off with a win over former sole leader Fabiano Caruana. Rapport had the black pieces, and survived what seemed to be a devastating attack out of a Sicilian.

 

This certainly looks like a winning position for White, who not only has created a strong bind right next to his opponent’s king but is also up material.

But Rapport is not one to go down easy, as he continued to create practical problems for his famed rival. Caruana slowly started to lose the thread while not finding a way to break through. After agreeing to give up his two rooks for Black’s queen, he found himself in an equal — and sharp — position.

 

To make matters worse, Caruana blundered with 50.cxb4, allowing 50...Rxb4 51.Qd5 Rxb3 and the rooks are lethal along the a and b-files. Caruana played 52.g6, giving way to 52...Ra3#.

It was a demonstration of how tough it can be to convert an advantage when facing a tough defender like Rapport, even for a player of Caruana’s calibre. (In the diagrammed position, 50.c4 would have kept the balance).

 

All games from round 7

Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 8 saw Rapport getting a second consecutive victory, while Caruana bounced back from his previous defeat by beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a brilliant showing of positional understanding. Meanwhile, Peter Svidler regained a fifty-percent score by beating Leinier Dominguez with the black pieces.

Out of an Italian, it was Dominguez who got a clear advantage in the middlegame, but Svidler’s tactical alertness allowed him to turn the tables.

 

Note that Black cannot capture the rook on f7 due to e8, queening. Svidler found an elegant solution: 45...Be3+ 46.Rxe3 Rc4+ and White cannot block with 47.Re4, since allowing that rook to be exchanged would also lose the rook on f7 (e8 is no longer protected).

 

Here 47.Kf5 would have kept the game going, while Dominguez’s 47.Bd4 was a blunder — after 47...Rxd4+ 48.Ke5 Rxe3+ 49.Kxd4 Kxf7 50.Kxe3, Black gets a winning pawn endgame.

 

The immediate 50...Kxe7 would spoil everything for Black, as White saves the draw either with 51.g3 or 51.g4. However, Svidler is not one to miss these endgame nuances — the 8-time Russian champion played 50...h4 and went on to score an important victory.

 

All games from round 8

Leinier Dominguez, Peter Svidler

Leinier Dominguez resigns his game against Peter Svidler | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Hikaru Nakamura had also beaten Dominguez in the day’s first round, and after drawing Wesley So with black in round 8, he was paired up against Caruana in the most attractive encounter of the rapid section’s final round.

Playing white, Nakamura outplayed the second highest-rated player in the world from a slightly superior endgame.

 

Black’s 26...b4 was not the best move in the position. White slowly but surely tightened the screws around his opponent’s uncoordinated position, combining threats along the eighth rank and against the pawn weaknesses. It was a fine technical showing by Nakamura, who secured a crucial 43-move victory to go into the blitz section as the sole leader — and the only player to remain undefeated in Saint Louis.

 

All games from round 9

Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana

A crucial victory for Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Final standings - Rapid (Win = 2 points; Draw = 1 point)

 


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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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