Dominant victory for Hikaru Nakamura in Saint Louis

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/16/2021 – In a remarkable exhibition of speed and control, Hikaru Nakamura won the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz Tournament with three rounds to spare, going through 27 rounds undefeated against a field completely made up of 2700+ rated players. Fabiano Caruana and Richard Rapport finished second and third respectively. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Undefeated

This is the sixth season of the Grand Chess Tour, which has been held yearly since 2015 (except in 2020). So far, 16 rapid and blitz tournaments — with the trademark format of 9 rounds of rapid and 18 rounds of blitz — have been organized. And for the first time ever, a player has managed to go through all the 27 rounds without losing a single game, a feat that will surely be difficult to repeat!

Looking through the crosstables of all the previous tournaments, we in fact only find one player who has finished the blitz section of an event undefeated — and that player is Hikaru Nakamura, who did not lose once in blitz at the 2019 Tata Steel Rapid and Blitz, although his one loss in rapid against Magnus Carlsen meant he finished the tournament in second place behind the world champion.

Hikaru NakamuraAt the 2021 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz event, Nakamura scored 3 wins in rapid and 6 wins in blitz to secure first place with 3 rounds to spare. Of course, getting zero losses in a rapidplay tournament goes a long way. Managing to do so in a field of 2700+ rated players is no small feat!

Famously, Nakamura became the most successful chess streamer in the world in recent years, despite still having chances to fight in the World Championship cycle and other elite events at the professional level. The 5-time US champion explained in an interview after winning the rapid section on Friday that a single result at the 2019 Grand Swiss tournament on the Isle of Man had much to do with his decision:

It would have been nice if [Fabiano Caruana] could have done this in the Isle of Man in 2019, rather than playing it here today — because this is the line I looked at even back then. In the game he played a Petroff. It was a draw, I didn’t qualify for the Candidates and I became a streamer instead.

Nakamura had just beaten Caruana in round 9 of the rapid section. The player born in Hirakata (Japan) was referring to his final-round encounter at the Grand Swiss against the same opponent. Going into that deciding game, Nakamura was one of seven players trailing a half point behind Caruana, and a win would have granted him a spot in the 2020 Candidates Tournament, as he would have shared first place with Wang Hao in that case.

Notwithstanding, his career as a streamer seems to be working well for him, both financially and in terms of his playing strength in quick time controls. After all, he was one of the first elite players to admit that playing online chess was an integral part of his early development as a chess player!

Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz 2021

Final standings (click to enlarge)

Plenty of blunders

Avoiding mistakes was a key factor in Nakamura’s incredible run, as every single other player suffered unexpected blows in an action-packed tournament. Caruana and Richard Rapport finished second and third respectively, but they also blundered games away throughout the weekend.

Facing Leinier Dominguez in round 15 of the blitz, Rapport failed to foresee a double attack.

 

43.Rxc4 was responded by 43...Qd3, attacking the rook and the bishop at the same time. Rapport resigned shortly after.

Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport with his wife, Serbian WGM Jovana Vojinović | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Of course, those finishing near the top of the standings were more often than not the ones on the favoured side of a blunder. After playing an excellent (blitz) game, Sam Shankland gave away his advantage against Caruana, also in round 15.

 

35.Qc3 loses to 35...Rf1+ (35.Qf5 was the way to go). There followed 36.Kg3 Re4 37.Nh3 h5 38.Nf2 h4+

 

The pair of rooks, the bishop and the h-pawn have coordinated perfectly in the attack — 39.Kf3 Re2 and Shankland resigned three moves later.

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Bryan Adams

Nakamura was the top scorer in both sections, showcasing an incredibly stable performance. On the other hand, the player who finished last in the rapid went on to finish in second place in the blitz section of the event — Vietnamese star Le Quang Liem. Le played quickly and confidently to get an 11½/18 score in the blitz.

Le, however, also missed a couple of simple tactics — for his level — along the way. For example, in round 9 against Nakamura.

 

38...Nc5 was Le’s blunder, as now came 39.Qf7, attacking the bishop, and after 39...Be5 White has 40.Qf8+ followed by grabbing the loose knight. Le resigned soon after.

Le Quang Liem

Le Quang Liem climbed to fifth place thanks to his great performance in the blitz | Photo: Lennart Ootes

All games - Rapid

 

Final standings - Rapid

 

All games - Blitz

 

Final standings - Blitz

 

Prize money and GCT points

Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz 2021

Links


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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Masquer Masquer 8/17/2021 08:41
The 14-move Berlin draws leave a lot to be desired. This nonsense could easily be avoided if such short repetition draws were scored as a loss for both sides.
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