Saint Louis Rapid/Blitz

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Saint Louis Leg, Grand Chess Tour Saint Louis, USA
Aug. 10-15, 2019

Final Standings, Rapid

1-2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, 6.5/9

3-4 Yu Yangyi, Ding Liren, 5.0/9

5-8 Sergey Karjakin, Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Richard Rapport, 4.0/9

9 Leinier Dominguez-Perez, 3.5/9

10 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov , 2.5/9

Time Control: 25 minutes play-to-finish with a 10 second delay (not increment) starting move 1

Final Standings, Blitz

1-3 Yu Yangyi, Ding Liren, Sergey Karjakin, 11.5/18

4-5 Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, 9.0/18

6-7 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Richard Rapport, 8.5/18

8-9 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Fabiano Caruana, 7.0/18

10 Leinier Dominguez-Perez, 6.5/18

Time Control: 5 minutes play-to-finish with a 3 second delay (not increment) starting move 1

Combined Overall Standings (Rapid results count double)

1 Levon Aronian, 22.0/36

2-4 Yu Yangyi, Ding Liren, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 21.5/36

5 Sergey Karjakin, 19.5/36

6 Magnus Carlsen, 17.0/36

7 Richard Rapport, 16.5/36

8 Fabiano Caruana, 15.0/36

9 Leinier Dominguez, 13.5/36

10 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 12.0/36

Aronian won all of his three games in the first day of the Rapid/Blitz and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave did the same in the second day. From then on it was the two of them fighting for the lead. In the blitz portion the two Chinese GMs Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi came forth to battle for the lead but when the smoke of battle had cleared, Aronian had built enough of a lead in the Rapid portion to finish half a point ahead of the second-placers. The Armenian no. 1 won the USD$13,500 first prize and he did that despite losing the first and last game on the final day.

Here is a game from the first day when Aronian was still looking quite invincible with strong and consistent play from the opening up to the end game.

Aronian, Levon (2756) — Karjakin, Sergey (2748) [D05]
GCT Saint Louis Rapid 2019 Saint Louis (2.5), 10.08.2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 e6 4.Nbd2 c5 5.b3 b6 6.Bb2 Bb7 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.0–0 Bd6 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.c4N dxc4 11.Nxc4 0–0 12.Qe2 Qe7

The same 1st 12 moves as in the 8th game of the Carlsen versus Karjakin world championship match in 2016 which Karjakin won to take a one point lead. Now, that win had nothing to do with the opening, but of course you can be sure that Sergey had taken a long hard look at it!


[13.a3 a5 14.Nd4 Rfd8 15.Rfd1 Rac8 16.Rac1 Nf8 17.Qe1 Ng6 18.Bf1 Ng4! 19.Nb5?! Bc6? (19…Qg5!) 20.a4 Bd5 21.Bd4 Bxc4 22.Rxc4 Bxd4 23.Rdxd4 Rxc4 24.bxc4?! Nf6 position is equal. Carlsen, M. (2853)-Karjakin, S. (2769) New York 2016 0–1 52]

13…Rfd8 14.Rac1 Nf8 15.Nce5 Ng6 16.Bxg6 fxg6 17.Nd3 Bd6 18.Be5 Ba6 19.Qe1 Bb7 20.Bxd6 Rxd6 21.Nde5 Rad8 22.Rxd6 Qxd6 23.h3 g5! 24.Qc3 h6 25.Qc7 Qxc7 26.Rxc7 Rd1+ 27.Kh2 Bxf3 28.Nxf3

Position as of now is equal, but from here till the end Aronian puts up a display of end game wizardry. Watch how he wins this.


[28…Rd7 will negate the white rook on the 7th rank but that is not Karjakin’s style. In the endgame he always goes for active counterplay, that is why he is so dangerous in that phase]

29.Nd4! Rxf2 30.Nxe6 Rxa2?

But this is a mistake. Better is 30…Nd5 going after the e3 pawn.

31.Rxg7+ Kh8 32.Rg6! Ng8

Targeting white’s e3 and g2 pawns won’t work: 32…Nd5 33.Rxh6+ Kg8 34.e4 Ne3 35.Kg3 Nf1+ (not 35…Rxg2+ 36.Kf3 either rook or knight will go) 36.Kg4 Rxg2+ 37.Kf5 White’s king will be fully activated.

33.Kg3 Rc2 34.Nd4 Rc7 35.Kf3! Rf7+ 36.Ke2 Kh7 37.Rd6 Nf6 38.Kd3 h5?

A mistake, weakening his g5–pawn. Perhaps best is for Black to relocate his knight to either c5 or e5, in which case 38…Nd7 is necessary.

39.Nf3 Kg7

[39…Kh6 40.Ne5 Rf8 41.Nd7 wins the black knight]

40.Nxg5 Re7 41.Kd4 Kg6 42.Nf3 Kg7 43.Ne5 Rc7 44.Rc6 Re7 45.g4 hxg4 46.hxg4 Nh7 47.g5 Nf8 48.Kd5 b5 49.b4 Kg8 50.e4 Re8 51.g6 Rd8+ 52.Rd6 Re8 53.Nd7 Ra8 54.Nxf8 Kxf8 55.Ra6 Kg7 56.Kc5 1–0

Aronian also ended Carlsen’s streak winning all the tournaments he has participated in this year.

The last tournament Magnus didn’t win was the 2018 World Rapid Championship held in St. Petersburg last December. Magnus Carlsen tied for 2nd place with Mamedyarov, Nakamura and Artemiev. As a consolation, the winner Daniil Dubov revealed that he had seconded Carlsen during his recent world title match and acknowledged the influence of the world champion, implying that it had a lot to do with his victory.

After the World Rapids Magnus Carlsen won the World Blitz Championship held immediately after and continued winning in all events he took part in — Tata Steel in Wijk aan Zee, Vugar Gashimov Memorial (Shamkir, Azerbaijan), Grenke Chess Classic (Karlsruhe, Germany), Ivory Coast Rapid & Blitz, Lindores Abbey, and then the Norway Blitz tournament in Stavanger. It was not only the wins but the manner in which he achieved them — grinding wins were replaced by direct kingside attacks, endgame technique with tactical mastery.

And then came the Saint Louis Rapid/Blitz tournament.

Magnus Carlsen lost in the opening round to Ding Liren, the first time the Chinese GM had ever defeated him with White in any time control. Carlsen showed his class by immediately winning his next two games, but by the time the Rapid portion of St. Louis Rapid/Blitz had concluded Carlsen had lost three more games and also the no. 1 spot in the rapid live rating list to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Another three losses on the first day of blitz left Magnus in the very unfamiliar position of not being a contender for the top places in the tournament going into the final day.

The following game might have been the one to spoil the tournament for Magnus. He was trying to regain his form and started out this game with powerful play, but then Aronian caught him with a cruel trick which completely turned the tables. Watch!

Carlsen, Magnus (2872) — Aronian, Levon (2756) [D02]
GCT Saint Louis Rapid 2019 Saint Louis (5.1), 11.08.2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bf4 e6 4.e3 Bd6 5.Bg3 0–0 6.Nbd2 b6 7.c3 Bb7 8.Bd3 Nbd7 9.Qc2 Bxg3 10.hxg3 h6 11.Rh4 c5 12.Ne5 Rc8 13.f4 a6 14.a4 cxd4 15.exd4

While there are no immediate threats White’s game is preferable because he has a clear plan of attack on the kingside while it is not clear how Black is to proceed.

15…Nxe5 16.fxe5 Nd7 17.Nf3 f6 18.exf6 Qxf6

Taking with the knight was preferable because of a potential …Ne4, but Aronian had seen something. As he describes it: “I saw this cheapo. Whenever I see the cheapo in a position I sit there and pray! (…) You have to mix bad moves and good moves, that’s what Larsen said, and I manage to do it perfectly! I guess that’s my secret.”

19.Rf4 Qe7 20.Bh7+ Kh8 21.Nh4 <D>


Carlsen thought that he was winning at this point, but he overlooked Aronian’s resource …

21…Rxf4! 22.Ng6+ Kxh7 23.Nxe7+ Re4+!

This is the trick — the knight on e7 is trapped and Black finishes a piece up.


Carlsen decides to give up his queen to go into a R versus B+N ending but it is still lost. 24.Kf1 Rf8+ 25.Kg1 Re8 26.Qb3 Rxe7 27.Qb4 Rf7 28.Qd6 would be even worse.

24…dxe4 25.Nxc8 Bxc8 26.b4 Kg6 27.c4 Kf7 28.b5 e5! 29.dxe5 a5! 30.Rd1

Intending Rd6.

30…Nxe5 31.Rd4 Be6 32.Rxe4 Nxc4 33.Ke2 Nd6

Black is clearly winning.

34.Rf4+ Ke7 35.Kd3 Nb7 0–1

By the way, earlier this month Magnus Carlsen became the highest-rated blitz player without playing a single game when erstwhile leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave lost more than a hundred rating points in the Paris blitz tournament and fell out of the top 5.

Same thing happened now — Carlsen’s 50% score in the Saint Louis Blitz cost him 64 rating points and it is now Hikaru Nakamura at the top spot in the blitz ratings, likewise without playing a single game! Vachier-Lagrave on the other hand, after another sub-50% showing, has now lost a total of 185 (!) points in August and has plunged down to no. 20 in the world list.

Yes, blitz can be cruel.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.