St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: MVL catches Firouzja

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/29/2022 – An action-packed third day of action at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament left French representatives Alireza Firouzja and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the shared lead going into the blitz section of the event. Sam Shankland beat Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura to climb to sole third place, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov scored three wins in a row to return to a fifty-percent score after a subpar performance in the first six rounds. | Photos: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

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Mamedyarov wins three in a row

The first six rounds of the Saint Louis Rapid saw nine games ending decisively, with only three of these encounters taking place on a somewhat underwhelming Saturday. On the third day of action, though, that number doubled, with nine encounters having decisive results between rounds 7 and 9.

After kicking off the tournament with three consecutive losses in his games with black, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov bounced back to a fifty-percent score by collecting three wins in a row on Sunday. All three of the Azerbaijani’s wins featured rather long endgames, which is not something we are used to seeing in his games.

Commentator Cristian Chirila pointed this out, to which a smiling Shakh responded:

I absolutely don’t want to play endgames, I’m not very happy when I play endgames. [...] I just like to play better endgames. If I have to defend, I don’t like it [smiles].

Indeed, Shakh defeated Jeffery Xiong, Fabiano Caruana and Leinier Dominguez from superior queenless positions. However, both Caruana and Dominguez missed chances to escape with draws against the Azerbaijani.

Caruana chose the wrong rook to give the first check in round 8.

 

This position is winning for Black, but instead of 85...d1Q — the move played by Mamedyarov — either 85...Kg7, 85...Kh7 or 85...d1N+ are necessary (the latter, albeit spectacular, is not as effective as the king moves) to force victory.

The problem with promoting to a queen is that after 86.Rxf8+ White can achieve a draw by perpetually giving checks with his rook...

...but it must be the correct rook! After 86...Kg7 87.Rg8+ Kf6 Caruana faltered with 88.Rbf8+

 

By giving check with this rook, White allows the black king to escape to the queenside and eventually win with his extra queen.

Of course, giving check with 88.Rgf8+ does not allow this plan, since that same rook (the one that started the sequence on the ‘right side’) will keep checking the king, while the other one will create a permanent barrier along the b-file.

Caruana surely saw that, but what he miscalculated was the sequence in which the black king tries to escape the checks by going to g3 — i.e. 88.Rgf8+ Kg5 89.Rg8+ Kh4 90.Rh8+ Kg3 91.Rbg8+ and now there is only one move that prevents mate.

 

This is where Caruana went wrong in his calculation, as he must have evaluated this position as winning for Black, when in fact after 91...Qg4 92.Rxg4+ Kxg4 93.Rc8, the position is drawn despite Black having an extra pawn one square away from promotion.

 

A deep endgame, indeed, and one that is especially tough to deal with in a rapid game!

 

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

‘Was that a draw?’ — Shakhriyar Mamedyarov after beating Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

Shankland beats Nepo and Naka, with black!

Plenty of the most exciting games from the first two days of action were played by Sam Shankland, but that did not help him to get a positive score, as he surprisingly drew all six of his encounters between Friday and Saturday.

The Californian more than made up for it, though, by scoring back-to-back wins with the black pieces over two tournament favourites — Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi. Shankland then went on to lose against Jeffery Xiong, but his overall performance in the rapid nonetheless left him a point behind co-leaders Alireza Firouzja and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave going into the blitz section of the event.

Shankland did not falter in an endgame with queen and knight against two rooks in his game against Nepo. The World Championship challenger resigned in the following position.

 

The queen and knight tandem is known for its effectiveness in attack — and Nepo’s pair of rooks was not as sneaky as Caruana’s in the game shown above!

Talking to Anastasiya Karlovich after beating Nepo, Shankland pointed out that he does not feel as confident in blitz as he does in rapid against such strong opponents, since the focus of his training and preparation is on classical chess.

Regarding the French co-leaders, Firouzja drew all three of his games on Sunday, while MVL drew twice and beat Caruana to catch up with his young colleague on a +2 score.

Shankland’s games from rounds 7-9

 

Sam Shankland

In good form — Sam Shankland | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

Final standings - Rapid

 

All games

 

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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