Alireza Firouzja has opened up a gap to his competitors after an impressive display on the first day of blitz in Saint Louis. Meanwhile, Hikaru Nakamura is playing catch up, showing off his brilliant speed chess skills that were lacking on Day 3.
Firouzja seems unstoppable and is on the verge of winning his first event in the Grand Chess Tour, the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz. On Day 4, with the first nine of a total of 18 blitz games, the Iranian-born Frenchman scored 7/9, taking him to 18 out of 27 points. His countryman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is three full points behind on 15.
A good result on the last day and Firouzja could make it onto this list.
It started well for the teenager, who convincingly beat Ian Nepomniachtchi after just 33 moves in Round 1. After four draws in a row, he geared up and won the remaining four games.
His win in Round 8 against MVL was particularly important for the standings.
18...Kh7? 19.Bxe6! Qxe6 20.b5! Black now becomes stuck while White can slowly improve his position. Na5 21.e4! Qd7 22.Nd5 Nxd5 23.cxd5 c4 24.dxc4 Nb7 Black is almost helpless against the threat of Bc3 followed by Bxa5, and needs to go for drastic measures that don't work. 25.Qxa7! White eventually converted the advantage 1-0
If Shakhriyar Mamedyarov grabbed the "Player of the Day" award on Day 3, it would go to Hikaru Nakamura on the first day of blitz.
"I am mightily impressed with what he is showing," Grandmaster Christian Chirila said on the official broadcast.
Nakamura remained undefeated during the nine blitz games, only conceding three draws and scoring 7.5/9.
He did get a couple of gifts along the way, such as this one against Caruana in Round 1:
45...Ke5?? This loses on the spot, while any other king move draws. 46.Nxg4+ 1-0
He followed up with a win against Aronian, who got into trouble after giving up the queen for two rooks.
11...Qxa1? It turns out Black gets into serious trouble after this greedy move. 12.Bxc6! bxc6 13.Qh5+ Kd8 14.Nc3 Qxf1 15.Kxf1 Bg4 16.Qh4 Bf5 17.Kg1 Bg6 18.f4! Nakamura converted the position into a win after 33 moves. 1-0
Nakamura was dangerously close to losing his game against Nepomniachtchi in Round 8, but showed off his incredible tenacity to pull off a miraculous escape in a lost position.
Black is completely winning, but White is fighting with the king in serious danger in the middle of the board. 34.b4 Stopping the b4-threat. 34...axb4 Still winning, but 34...Qa2, with the idea of Rc8 or Qf2 followed by Re3, was the key idea that Black missed. 35.axb4 The Qa2 idea is now shown as mate in 11 by the computer. Ra8 36.Qxf6 Ra3+?? Now White survives through perpetual. 36...Re3+ was still winning. 37.Kd2 Ra2+ 38.Kd1 and the game soon ended in perpetual. 1/2-1/2
The results earned the duo a nice jump on the blitz rankings, with Nakamura now edging closer to 2900 while Firouzja climbed to 3rd on the rankings.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had a perfect Day 3, winning his three games. He continued his streak by winning his first two blitz games, against MVL and Dominguez.
The streak came to an end in Round 3 when he lost against Nepomniachtchi after making two illegal moves, although the last one was in a lost position.
"That was one of the moments of the day for me!" Peter Svidler joked.
Nepomniachtchi talked about the incident afterwards.
Mamedyarov is a brilliant player, but sometimes his creativity in the opening backfires. His Round 4 game against Xiong is one example, as he lost in just 17 moves after dropping a full piece.
It was already a difficult position, but the next move loses on the spot. 10...d5?? 11.e5 c5 12.Qf4 and Mamedyarov resigned on move 17. 1-0
Levon Aronian scored the third best result in the blitz with 5.5 points, and along with Nepomniachtchi, Xiong and Caruana he remains in contention for a top 3 result.
The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is the penultimate event in the Grand Chess Tour and doesn't feature the leader, Wesley So, who's already played his two rapid and blitz events.
Richard Rapport had to withdraw from Saint Louis due to not meeting US travel restrictions related to Covid-19, and was replaced by Xiong and Hans Niemann in the Sinquefield Cup.
That event, which begins September 2nd, will also feature none other than Magnus Carlsen, who will try to win the event for a record 3rd time.
The event continues with the final nine blitz games today.
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