Reports Aug 14, 2018 | 10:35 AMby Colin McGourty

St. Louis R&B, Day 3: Shak & Naka lead after rapid

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura are tied for first after the rapid section of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. They took advantage of a Fabiano Caruana meltdown in the first game of the day against Leinier Dominguez to catch the leader, and then won their final games as well to move a point clear going into 18 rounds of blitz. Grand Chess Tour high flyers such as Wesley So, MVL and Sergey Karjakin have a lot to do if they want to boost their chances of reaching the season finale in London.

The tone for the day was set in the 1st round, as Nakamura and Mamedyarov both won while Caruana lost a won position to Dominguez | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

You can replay all the games from the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz using the selector below:

You can also replay the day’s live commentary:

Caruana suffers blackout

The start of a fateful game | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour 

For some to succeed, others must fail, and it was Fabiano Caruana’s spectacular demise against Leinier Dominguez that opened the door for his rivals. Fabi made it clear he was out for blood early on:

Cuba’s no. 1 later responded in kind with a bold piece sacrifice, but it looked in the end as though it was going to be pieces not pawns that would decide the game:


Caruana, playing White, is totally winning, but would later lament that with 10 seconds on his clock he couldn’t find the correct mechanism. Here, for instance, the pendulum 48.Rg3! Qf2+ (you have to stop Rh8 mate somehow) 49.Kd3 Kh7 50.R3g7+ Kh6 51.Rg2!, hitting the queen and threatening mate, is an easy win.  

White was still winning in the position where the game reached its tragi-comic conclusion, but Dominguez had already glimpsed an unlikely chance of salvation:


Leinier commented, “I saw it very fast, but then I thought that he’d realise it’s a pin”. But no, Fabiano went for 54.Re7??, only for Dominguez instantly to pounce with 54…Qxe7. Fabiano just as quickly realised that his planned Nf5+ was an illegal move and it was game over:

Dominguez had swindled Caruana in an even more shocking fashion than he’d beaten Fabi’s US teammate Wesley So earlier in the tournament. Caruana would later describe the experience as “pretty horrible”, calling what he’d done, “just a blackout”. He would go on to draw against Anand and So, meaning that he’d had a very decent +2 performance in rapid, but had failed to win another game after his 3/3 on the first day.

“Shak steamrolls everybody”

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had never been invited to St. Louis before this year - on current form, it won't be long before he's back | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

That was a phrase Wesley So had uttered to Maurice Ashley off camera, while Peter Svidler in the Russian broadcast paraphrased Voltaire:

If Mamedyarov did not exist it would be necessary to invent him!

Mamedyarov has been a revelation in classical chess in the last couple of years, with Wesley So dating the Azeri no. 1’s rise back to the 2017 Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir. Wesley started that tournament exactly 50 points ahead (2822 to Shak’s 2772), but in Round 1 Mamedyarov won with Black to end So’s 64-game unbeaten streak and would eventually go on to win the tournament. A year and a half later and the gap is 42 points in Mamedyarov’s favour (2817 to 2780).

That improvement for Mamedyarov has been built on reining in his natural aggression, but that hasn’t served him well in speed chess. Shak finished a disappointing 7th in Leuven and 8th in Paris, putting him in 2nd last place in the Grand Chess Tour standings. He felt himself that something had to change, and has been playing enterprising chess all tournament in St. Louis, while on the final day of rapid he treated us to a display of sheer unadulterated aggression.

Against Sergey Karjakin in the first game it took him all of 9 moves to play h4, offering a piece sac, and his opponent’s overly optimistic 15…d5 was the signal for all-out war:


16.Bg6! hxg5 17.hxg5 Ng8:

It was aggression backed up by precise calculation, though, and afterwards Shak revealed he hadn’t missed 18.Nxd5! here (“Of course I see it – tactical moves I see not bad!”), but didn’t want to allow Karjakin any activity with 18…Nd4! in reply. Instead he maintained the tension with the computer’s second move, 18.Bh7!, and was rewarded almost immediately with the sub-par 18…Nf6? The rest of the game was a massacre:

Mamedyarov continued in that vein all day, playing 6…g5 against Dominguez and then following up with 11…g4 and 12…h5 shortly aftewards. Dominguez gave as good as he got to produce the wild position that inspired Svidler’s memorable phrase:

As sometimes happens, however, the mayhem ultimately led only to a technical ending and draw.

Mamedyarov’s spirits weren’t dampened, though, and he continued the route-one approach with the white pieces against Vishy Anand. By move 14 he had pawns on h4 and g4 again, and although for a third game running the cold-blooded computer preferred his opponent’s position in the early opening, his flesh-and-blood opponent couldn’t find the precise response in time. By move 25 Shak was winning an exchange:


If the king goes to the h-file 26.Qh2+ leads to a quick mate, so Vishy had no choice but to play 25…Rxe7. He fought on, but Shak confidently converted his advantage to finish on +3:


It was a result that could have been even better, since Mamedyarov’s one loss had come in a position where he was dominating Caruana. The move that threw away his advantage, 32…Bxd1?, was one that Shak couldn’t explain a day later when he talked to Peter Svidler. He said he hadn’t wanted to make it but somehow just did, and then wanted to resign on the spot.

Nakamura closes on London

Hikaru Nakamura, meanwhile, hasn’t had to make any adjustments to his game. He came into the tournament on the back of winning in Paris to leave him just 1 point and $5,000 in prize money behind Wesley So in the Grand Chess Tour standings. The way his nearest rivals So, Karjakin and MVL have played so far in St. Louis means a halfway decent performance for Hikaru in the blitz should wrap up qualification for the 4-player final in London whatever happens in the Sinquefield Cup.

Nakamura has made it look easy | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

In the first game of the day Nakamura did what few have managed and tamed MVL’s Sicilian. He played the 3.Bb5 line, established a Maroczy bind with pawns on c4 and e4, and then went on to build up a winning position with startling ease. If there was one criticism it would be that he allowed Maxime’s desperate counterplay to be more successful than it deserved:


37.Ba5! simply wins on the spot (if the rook moves off the 7th rank 38.Rf7+ wins a piece), while after 37.Bf5+?! Kg7 the same move was still winning, but with a little more trickery – 38.Ba5! Rc6 39.Bc3+! Bf6 40.Bxf6+ Kxf6 41.Bc8+ picks up a piece. Instead 38.Bxd3?! gave Maxime real chances of survival, but it just wasn’t the Frenchman's day. As Nakamura commented (as you’ll see, mainly about another game), “Maxime self-destructed today, for want of a better word!”

Nakamura then drew Karjakin and ground out a win from very little against Leinier Dominguez in the final game (succeeding where his compatriots So and Caruana had failed): “You just keep plugging away and good things happen”. He’d had a fantastic rapid section, at least after getting put to the sword by Anand in the very first game:


The also-rans

Vishy Anand’s results since that first game have been the exact opposite of Nakamura’s (4 losses and no wins), making you wonder how you can play so well in one game and then plummet afterwards. The answer is probably simply that the margins are so fine in top-level chess that any hint of weakness will be punished.

Can Vishy turn things around in the blitz, or will he save his energy for the classical Sinquefield Cup? | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour 

Vishy finds himself in last place on 6/18, alongside Alexander Grischuk, who arrived late in St. Louis and is yet to make an impact on the event. 

A tough start to the St. Louis summer | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

No-one respects rapid and blitz chess more than Grischuk, but the Russian is yet to win a game, and suffered a painful loss to Wesley So in Round 8:


Here Grischuk went for 26…Be7?, with turned out to be the losing move: 27.Bf2! Qd8 28.Bxh4 Bxh4 29.Nxd6 Qe7 30.Qxb7 and there was no recovering from the loss of those crucial pawns. When Svidler noted that Grischuk seemed to have been doing ok in the game Alexander responded by quoting Korchnoi:

“Yes, it’s winning, but to win it you need to know at least a little about how to play the endgame.” It's the same here - the position is good, but you need to be able to play.

Alexander pointed out the nice line, 26…Nxf3 27.Qxf3 Bxb5 28.Bxb5 Qxb5 29.Ng5 Qd7 30.Qg4!


And after 30…Qxg4 31.Nf7+ Kg8 32.Nh6+ Kh8 White could win back the queen, but it’s better simply to give perpetual check with the knight. Svidler tried to encourage his friend at the end of their interview by noting that, “perhaps the blitz will be more cheerful,” but was met by the silence of the grave.

That result was a second win in three games for Wesley So, who described his first day disaster as “a wake-up call” and managed to fight his way back to respectability. In fact, as he mentioned, if he’d won his won position against Dominguez he’d be on a plus score by now.

Levon Aronian lost a Najdorf he should have won against Nakamura then won one he should have lost against MVL, thus restoring balance to the universe | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Sergey Karjakin has kept a low profile, but at 3 points back on 50% he should still be within striking distance for the blitz. We’ve talked a lot about Leinier Dominguez, who’s on the same score, while Levon Aronian can also be satisfied with 50% given what happened in the most exciting game of the day.

Aronian-MVL saw Levon repeat his play in the Najdorf that had seen him get (and lose) a winning position against Nakamura on Day 2. Maxime was the first to vary by capturing with the knight rather than bishop on d5 on move 15, but again Levon was doing well until a very curious position arose:

Levon noted that it’s almost zugzwang, since Black can’t take the h3-pawn, and it might be good simply to do nothing with a move like 27.Ka1. Actually 27.Ka1 Rxh3 28.Qf5 would only have been the day’s 2nd amusing queen fork of two rooks! Check out this Wei Yi-Inarkiev game if you haven’t seen it yet:


Instead Levon provoked Maxime with 27.Qe2!?, which was a decent move, but not for the reason the Armenian no. 1 had in mind. 27…Rxh3 28.Rg4 Rc4 (28…Rh2 was already an option) 29.Nc5?:

White has prepared b3 if the knight is taken by a pawn, but Levon admitted blundering 29…Rh2!, when it turns out that all that’s left is to play for tricks. That’s Levon’s speciality, though, and his optimism was rewarded after 30.Qd3 dxc5 31.d6 Bxd6 32.Qd5+:


32…Kh8! and Black has the tempo he needs to consolidate and finish the job, but 32…Kh7? ran into 33.g6+! Nxg6 and the key move 34.Rg5!, threatening mate-in-1. There was a defence, but after 34…Qc2+ 35.Ka1 Black made an extraordinary decision:


35...Kh6, allowing White to move his rook with discovered check.

In fact rather than 36.Rg2+ Qxc1+ 37.Rxc1 Rxg2 38.Qxg2 in the game, when the queen eventually proved too much for two minor pieces and three pawns, there was no stopping mate after 36.Qf3! It would be harsh to criticise MVL too much for missing the saving move 35…Nf4!, though, since that relied on meeting 36.Qf7 with 36…Bf8!! 37.Qxf8 Ne6!, and even then it’s only equal since 38.Qf3 can be met by 38…Rf4!!.

You got me! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

That drama left Aronian ahead of MVL in the standings, with both players relying on some help from the players above them if they’re going to challenge for first place:


Mamedyarov was talking up Nakamura’s chances on the final two days – “he’s a machine in blitz!” – but there’s a lot that can happen in the 18 rounds that will now follow. Be sure to tune into the live action here on chess24 from 13:00 local time (20:00 CEST)!

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