St. Louis Rapid analysis and highlights

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/14/2019 – IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN reviews the highlights from the St. Louis Rapid in more depth, paired with video interview clips of the players with GM Maurice Ashley (pictured with Vachier-Lagrave) from the official webcast. | Photo: Austin Fuller

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IM Venkatachalam Saravanan offers a more detailed round-by-round review of the important moments from the rapid portion of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament.

Round 1

First, up a move for which GM Jonathan Rowson tweeted his admiration:

His round 1 game was stunning. What's difficult is not to play the subversive and slightly ludicrous 10..Ng8.  What's difficult is to play it, and believe in it, while staying focused and objective.



It is really difficult to judge this novelty! It is clearly disliked by the engines, not to mention the human eye. Aronian agreed after the game that this was a new move, but skipped answering my question whether it was prepared specifically, especially for a rapid game: "We will see!!" was his deflecting answer!

MVL vs Aronian

Levon Aronian – refusing to discuss his opening secrets | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour


This was the position which got everyone excited. To the naked eye, the knight on h8 and the bishop on b8 look miserable. Aronian was visibly uncomfortable too, while Vachier-Lagrave was coolly sipping his tea. But Aronian revealed after the game that “I still feel I was totally fine. I just missed some ideas before that position, that's why I overestimated my position”.



Ding Liren threatens to get active on the kingside, and Carlsen didn't come up with a proper defence here.



Cute! White went on to win. By the way, keep that in mind — there's a follow-up story in round two! 

Ding discusses the game with GM Maurice Ashley

Round 2

Aronian's win over Karjakin followed the latter's memorable victory over Carlsen in the crucial eighth game of the 2016 World Championship match in New York.


A quiet opening has led to a seemingly quiet position, but Aronian spices it up here:

16.xg6!? Nice! Capturing a knight with the bishop is not something you will think up easily, but Aronian played it fairly quickly, taking a mild command of the position.


33.g3! The white king awakens and Aronian got a serious edge here, pressuring the 'Minister of Defence'.



Down to his last minute, Karjakin blunders, handing over the point to Aronian. 39.f3! Winning the pawn and subsequently the game.

Aronian talks about his strong finish against Karjakin


This was a worthy moment of reflection, considering how the game changed after this point. This is a regular middlegame position after a quiet opening, where white enjoys that mild pull. Instead of continuing with constructive plans, Rapport came up with timid moves here:


The proverbial 'Carlsen effect'? A move quite atypical for Rapport, so it's tempting to consider the psychological pressure the world champion's opponents feel while playing him, handing over the initiative. Something like 17.a3 followed by ♖c1-c2 and doubling on the c-file s natural and sound.



What is White doing with his knight?! After this, Magnus slowly tightens the screws. Though White is still fine, Black is on the 'better side of equality', as they say.


We mentioned to watch out for the follow-up story in the annotations to the game Ding vs Carlsen above. Well, here it is!


A simple but beautiful sham sacrifice winning the game instantly, as 36.♗xc7 ♞e4 and White cannot avoid checkmate. Both coming on the same day in the World Champion's games is a rare coincidence!

All eyes on Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen – 'The Effect' | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour



A novelty on the eighth move of the Gruenfeld! Carlsen's play in the opening came for praise from Garry Kasparov, "Not developing his pieces, moves only a beginner or a world champion would make!"



It is tempting to conclude that Dominguez was not in his element in the first day of the tournament. Faced with an unfamiliar position, he doesn't come up with the best of defences for the kingside. Remember the maxim, "freeing moves are generally those which free your emotions, but weaken your position"!?


It almost doesn't look like a game between top players of the planet! Simply, there is an ocean of a difference between both sides' pieces. Carlsen went on to win the game easily.


Richard Rapport  — Someone to delight | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Round 3

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's third round game came in for praise from none other than Garry Kasparov, who tweeted:

MVL-Rapport had a Frenchman playing against the French Defense, in the style of Labourdonnais in a city named for a French king! A fun game that's a good example of the excitement of rapid chess.


This is why you require Richard Rapport to spice up your tournaments! Facing the best of the world elite, he boldly plays dynamic openings, not interested in the current Berlin / Petroff jingo to 'hold with black pieces and press with black pieces'.

Black has played energetically till this position, and deserves his initiative here. After all, he seems to have stopped white's play on the queenside and poised for action on the kingside.


Vachier-Lagrave has to be appreciated, simply for the courage he shows, fighting for counterplay. There is no point in analysing such games on the basis of the computer's cold logic - emotions and spirit occupy a much more important place in faster time controls. The game became a fascinating clash of tactics and nerves.



It is easy to evaluate the move, but very difficult to understand it! Instead of keeping complicated play on the board, Vachier-Lagrave sacrifices his queen! Definitely, the move of the tournament so far.

28...xd7 29.xb3

Strictly speaking, White doesn't have complete compensation for his queen, but who cares when the players are low on time and the position is an absolute tactical mess.



Finally, Vachier-Lagrave crashes through. 43...xc7 44.e6 +-

Aronian was right; advanced pawns are a threat indeed, especially when you don't have your queen with you any more. Vachier-Lagrave won after a few moves.

Aronian watching MVL

Vachier-Lagrave – Praised by his 'buddy' Aronian for the benefits of playing Bughouse | Photo: Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Aronian chats with Maurice Ashley about his own play and that of MVL

Round 4

The star game of the fourth round was undoubtedly Fabiano Caruana's win over World Champion Magnus Carlsen.


9...d6?! 10.exd6 e5 11.b2 g4 12.e2 and Caruana's subsequent play in the centre proved overwhelming.



Bam! Taking advantage of the black bishop on g4 being trapped after a subsequent f2-f3. Carlsen's position went steadily downhill from this point on.


Has anyone ever seen Magnus Carlsen's pawn structure in such tatters?



The most appreciable moment of the game. Caruana is much better, but understands that Black has counterplay too. Somewhere here, he sensed that he to get into specific calculations to win the game — 'general' moves wouldn't be good enough. It takes confidence to take such decisions and stick to them!

This game was naturally one of the topics for IM Lawrence Trent's Weekly show focuson on Carlsens losses.

The Weekly Show, August 13, 2019

Caruana initially thought 23.♘xe5 was winning for White


Here, Karjakin unexpectedly played 42...bxc4 handing the game in a platter to Vachier-Lagrave. The simple 42...b4 would have maintained equality, as the white king will not have an entry into the black position. And the climax was a delightful chess geometry:


It's zugzwang! If black moves his bishop, the g7-pawn falls, and if he moves his king, White's king goes into reach f7-square and win the game.

Round 5

Caruana was in dire straits in the very next round facing Dominguez, however.


Both the players had played rapidly till this point, and it was all theory! Generally, players do not wish to get into theoretical battles in Rapid & Blitz, for fear being 'ambushed', but Caruana did so deliberately.



It is tempting to suggest that white could have kept his queen and 'played around' black's kingside a little with 38.♕f3 f6 39.♘f5 and the h4-pawn as well as black's weak kingside in general means that he is probably lost here.


52.Bd2?? Down to his last seconds, this is where Dominguez lost his way. Instead, 52.f3! ♜g3 53.♗xf4 and white still keeps his advantage. Now Caruana suceeds in simplifying to a draw.


The game ended with 57...xf3! 58.xf3 Ke4 when White loses one of his remaining pieces.

Round 6

Vachier-Lagrave capped off his stellar second day performance with a win over Ding Liren in a queen and pawn ending.


59...d5+ 60.g6 e6+ 61.h5 and White collects the h-pawn.

Vachier-Lagrave after going 3-0 on Day 2

Round 7

Wins from Aronian, Carlsen and Rapport were the highlights of the seventh round, which we'll consider in full.



Carlsen ponders the positions on the other boards | Photo: Crystal Fuller

Round 8

Richard Rapport taking down the leader in an unorthodox Bishop's Opening was one of four wins in the eighth round analysed below, as well as MVL's scaling of the 'Berlin Wall'


Rapport on the live webcast after beating Aronian

Round 9

The standout game of the final rapid round was Vachier-Lagrave's win with black against Fabiano Caruana, a win which cemented the Frenchman's position at the top of the standings.


Vachier-Lagrave followed immediately by Levon Aronian

Final rapid standings


All games



Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.


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