St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: Firouzja leads, Naka climbs to third place

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/30/2022 – Alireza Firouzja has a 3-point lead over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave going into the final nine rounds of blitz at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament. A half point behind MVL stands Hikaru Nakamura, who finished the rapid section in last place and climbed to sole third place by scoring 7½/9 points on Monday. | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

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From last to third

With online chess events gaining prevalence among elite players, official ratings for rapid and blitz chess are not updated as often as it had probably been predicted when the lists were presented by the International Chess Federation.

Moreover, Hikaru Nakamura, who now works full time as a streamer, plays less frequently than some of his colleagues. The last time he played a rated blitz game was in December 2021, while he played a total of six rapid games this year, at the FIDE Grand Prix series. Before the start of the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament, Naka was the highest-rated rapid player in the world and was ranked second in the blitz ratings list.

The rapid-play specialist had a subpar performance in the rapid, losing four games and winning two for a 3½/9 score. Naka’s result prompted him to fall to fourth place in the live ratings list for rapid, but he has more than made up for it by scoring a massive 7½/9 in the first half of the blitz section. He now has a 40-point advantage over Levon Aronian in the daily updated world blitz ranking.

Of course, nine more games are left to play in Saint Louis and anything can happen in blitz but, for now, momentum is on the side of Naka, who noted in his latest YouTube recap:

One thing I like to do in blitz is that you want to play for the ‘flow’. And what I mean by flow is that the moves flow very naturally, and you can make moves without spending much time thinking, and therefore it helps you develop a rhythm and some tempo for the first 15 to 20 moves of the game.

Certainly great advice by the world number one in blitz, who flowed his way to an excellent performance on Monday, which allowed him to climb from tenth to third place in the tournament standings.

Naka’s first win came after Fabiano Caruana blundered in a minor-piece endgame.


45...Ke5 loses on the spot to 46.Nxg4+. Caruana resigned instead of going through the motions after 46...Bxg4 47.Kxg4 Kf6 48.h3, and the black king must move, allowing White to grab the all-important g-pawn.

Fabiano Caruana, Chris Bird, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave sharing a laugh with arbiter Chris Bird | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

Gaining an early advantage on the clock is critical in blitz, as explained by Nakamura, since it allows you to find good moves in crucial positions.

In his game against Ian Nepomniachtchi, the US grandmaster had almost a half minute advantage over his opponent (Nepo had 15 seconds to Naka’s 43, an eternity in blitz), and he had a winning position to boot. However, instead of simply ‘going with the flow’, he spent thirty seconds thinking and ended up blundering.


Nepo’s 24...c5 is a typical move that attempts to muddy the waters in a losing position. Probably 9 out of 10 times Naka, even while low on time, would respond to this provocation with 25.Ng3, forcing a queen swap after 25...Qh6 26.Qxh6, and White only needs to show good technique to convert the ensuing position into a win.

Instead, the American went for 25.Nxc5, taking the bait by allowing Black to play 25...Rac8 with an annoying pin along the c-file. Nepo went on to get a winning position, but failed to find a killer blow in zeitnot. A draw by repetition was reached on move 43.

This was one of two games that saw Naka surviving a losing position (the other was against Leinier Dominguez). The fact that he got lucky a couple of times, however, does not take away from his outstanding performance on the first day of blitz in Saint Louis.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Levon Aronian

Taking a look at the computer evaluations?! | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

All blitz games played by Hikaru Nakamura


Firouzja keeps it up

While Naka’s recovery was certainly commendable, the player who has consistently impressed throughout the event has been 19-year-old French GM Alireza Firouzja. The youngster has a 3-point lead over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave going into the last day of action after scoring 7/9 points on Monday.

Firouzja kicked off the day with a win over Nepomniachtchi, drew four games in a row and finished the day with four consecutive wins to keep the sole lead in the tournament table.

His secret? To be in a good mood! As he told Cristian Chirila at the end of the day.

Colourful shirts worked wonders for Naka and Firouzja. The former used his well-known pineapple design, while the latter went for flowers with yellow, white and purple tones. 

For those wondering, Levon Aronian wore a comparatively sober pink shirt. Perhaps, after seeing the strong performances by Naka and Firouzja, he will opt for one of his trademark vibrant garments on the final day of action.

Alireza Firouzja

In a good mood — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

All blitz games played by Alireza Firouzja


Overall standings

Grand Chess Tour 2022

All games



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.