Fabiano Caruana maintained his two-point lead in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz after scoring three draws on a day featuring huge swings in many of the games. Vishy Anand, Wesley So and Levon Aronian all lost winning positions, while you couldn’t take your eyes off Alexander Grischuk’s time trouble adventures. The upwardly mobile players were Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura, who both scored +1 to join MVL and Sergey Karjakin in the chasing pack.
You can replay all the action from the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz using the selector below – simply click on a result to open that game with computer analysis:
You can also replay the day’s live commentary with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley:
The big match-up in the first round of the day was Nakamura-Caruana. Could Fabiano Caruana maintain his winning streak after three wins on the first day, or would Hikaru Nakamura maintain his own winning streak after he beat Fabi in all three of their games in the Paris Grand Chess Tour? In the end they balanced each other out:
The only decisive game of the round would in fact be MVL-Grischuk, where the French no. 1 once again demonstrated his endgame prowess to convert a position a pawn up. He was given a helping hand by his opponent’s time management, though, with Alexander Grischuk finding himself with 13 seconds to his opponent’s 11 minutes midway through the game. Hikaru Nakamura would later muse that Grischuk has failed to adapt to the delay rather than increment used in the Grand Chess Tour.
A difficult position for Grischuk became untenable after 47…Nc3? was met by 48.Rd6!
48…Rxe5 would allow White to skewer all the black pieces with 49.Bd4, while after 48…Rxd6 49.exd6 in the game it soon turned out the passed d-pawn wouldn’t be so easy to round up. Play continued 49…Kf8 50.Bd4 Ne4 and Maxime’s next move wasn’t the only winning option, but was certainly the most elegant – 51.Bg7+!
If the bishop is taken the d-pawn can’t be stopped after 52.d7.
There were relatively quiet draws in Karjakin-So and Dominguez-Anand, while Aronian-Mamedyarov was anything but quiet after Levon was tempted by an exotic queen sacrifice:
14.Bxb5!? a6 15.Bxc6 Rxb3 16.axb3 The position soon became almost impossible to assess…
…and Levon looked shell-shocked afterwards as he wandered around the St. Louis Chess Club:
He admitted things had got a bit out of hand, though the game ended in a draw by repetition.
It was curious that in the very next round Mamedyarov was on the white side of almost exactly the same scenario. Nakamura has just played 18…Bg5:
Now it was Mamedyarov who gave up his queen: 19.Qxe8+!? Rxe8 20.dxc6!? Bxc1 21.Be5 Rxe5 22.Nxe5 Ba6 23.Rd7! and after an intricate series of only moves the game ended in a draw by repetition:
It says a lot that that was the quietest game of the round!
Fabiano Caruana had a relatively uneventful day, but he admitted his clash with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was “pretty wild”. Maxime went for his beloved Najdorf and looked to be taking over with a queenside attack, but while Fabiano admitted “for most of the game I was probably losing” he also got what he called “a slightly accidental” chance to play for a win:
Fabiano finally had things under control around his king and could have gone hunting on the other side of the board with 41.h5! (41…Nxg5 loses more or less on the spot to 42.Qf1 and various other moves), 42.Nxe4 next move and then targeting the black weaknesses on the kingside. Instead Caruana played on the queenside with 41.Nb1?! and the forcing line with Nc3 that followed almost led to disaster. Black is probably winning in the position where the players repeated moves, though Maxime would have needed to find some (more) very tricky moves.
Caruana was correct, though, when he commented that “there weren’t huge blunders in my games”. The same couldn’t be said elsewhere in Round 5.
Grischuk had already spent over 15 minutes by the time he played 18.Qd2?! against Karjakin, the move that deviated from 18.h5 in a Giri-Harikrishna draw in China last year:
Although Svidler noted at this point that the fact Grischuk was down to 10 minutes on his clock in no way implied that he wasn’t familiar with the line, it looks like this was just a mistake, since Sergey went on to play a strong knight manoeuvre that 18.h5 would have prevented: 18…Ng6! 19.h5 Nf4. A few moves later, though, and it was Karjakin who went astray, first losing his edge and then lurching into a lost position by grabbing a poisoned pawn. The game could have ended abruptly on move 26:
26.Qd8!! was mate-in-7 (there’s no defence against both the threat of Qxf8+ and Qxf6+), but, strange as it seems, Grischuk was probably right when he noted that his having under a minute on the clock to his opponent’s 10 wasn’t crucial at this moment. Svidler only learned of the move when Grischuk pointed it out to him, and Levon Aronian disproved the common wisdom that if you’re told there’s a tactic in a position you’ll find it, since he failed to spot it even when prompted by Maurice Ashley (“beautiful - wow!” was Levon’s reaction). As Grischuk put it, you either see it or you don’t.
During the game it seemed that Karjakin was committing the sin of playing too fast in his opponent’s time trouble, but that may have been unfair on him, since if there was a path to an advantage it was a very narrow one, and it was difficult even to draw. In the end the speed with which Karjakin played helped him escape a second brush with death:
30.h6!, introducing the threat of back rank mate, is again winning. Aronian commented that it’s “much easier than Qd8” and Grischuk agreed, since he’d seen it! The problem was he had only two seconds remaining by this stage, and had also seen the draw he went for with 30.Rd8. If he’d missed something in the 30.h6 line it would be fatal, since White is, after all, a rook and two pawns down.
The mistakes proved more costly in the remaining two games of the round. Aronian himself was heading towards defeat with the black pieces against Vishy Anand:
I think I was getting outplayed, gradually. Vishy plays this line against me and I know I have an option to go for a slightly passive but drawish position, but every time I chose something else and get into huge trouble!
The proximity of victory can be dangerous, though, with Levon adding, “Vishy saw that he’s winning and maybe he lost concentration”. This is the position after 36…Qh4:
Vishy had already let some of his edge slip, but 37.Bxg6! gives decent winning chances. Instead the game ended, 37.Rxg6+?! Kh8 38.g5? (the losing move) 38…Qh2+ 39.Kf1 Qh1+ and Vishy resigned as he’s going to lose the e1-rook to a check from e8 in the very near future.
The loss for Wesley So was even more dramatic. Wesley would have been close to a win, with zero losing chances, if he’d exchanged his bishop for Leinier Dominguez’s knight on move 43, but a missed win only turned into a catastrophe on move 50:
Black’s one threat in the position wasn’t hard to spot, but 50.Kxf5?? fatally ignored it. After 50…c3 a black pawn will queen and Wesley had no choice but to resign. Instead simply 50.e6! and the bishop could deal with the pawns for a simple draw.
A certain Garry Kasparov was impressed by the fact Black managed to win three games in the final round of the day:
Wesley So recovered fastest after his misfortune in the previous round to smoothly outplay Vishy Anand on the black side of an Italian, while the other two wins were more dramatic.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave puzzled everyone by almost blitzing his way to 9.exf6 after Mamedyarov launched a trademark early g5:
Mamedyarov’s guess afterwards was that Maxime had simply blundered the strong 9…Ne5! here, after which White is short of options. Shak said he’d looked at this while preparing for the Candidates and concluded Black’s position was good enough to need no more analysis.
Maxime continued to play relatively fast and at times even looked as though he might escape, but Black’s natural advantages in the position eventually proved too much, especially when combined with some fine calculation:
Here Shak went for 25…Bd5!, having spotted that after 26.Nxd5 he could play 26…Rxd5!! and give up a piece, with check, to 27.Rxf8+. Black’s mating threats were going nowhere, and essentially all White had left were spite checks.
Aronian-Nakamura was another Najdorf thriller, with Hikaru feeling comfortable with his position:
It’s much more thematic and easier to play. If White does anything wrong he’s going to end up in trouble.
On the other hand, he admitted he’d got “a little bit lucky”, since after 29…Rc4 Black was busted:
Levon just had to prevent one idea with 30.c3! and there would have been no stopping his d-pawn. Instead he played 30.d7? immediately, allowing 30…Rb4!, when the threats against the white king swing the game in Black’s favour. 31.Rd3? (31.Nd2 was the best of the bad options) 31…Bf6+! 32.Kc1 Rxe4! was essentially game over, though Levon only finally threw in the towel on move 48 after an attempt to give perpetual check failed.
There were draws in Dominguez-Grischuk, where White’s seemingly unstoppable attack was eventually stopped…
…and Karjakin-Caruana, where Fabiano admitted he was worried about his dubious opening until his opponent chose to castle and the worst was over.
That meant that at the end of what Caruana described as, “not a great day, but perfectly satisfactory”, the World Championship challenger still had a two-point lead, though the chasing pack had grown to four players:
Caruana will face Dominguez, Anand and So on the final day of rapid chess on Monday, before we go into 18 rounds of blitz on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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