Reports Aug 15, 2018 | 11:26 AMby Colin McGourty

St. Louis R&B, Day 4: MVL closes the gap

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov banged the table in frustration after a blunder in a winning position gifted Hikaru Nakamura a win that meant the players go into the final day of blitz still locked together in first place. Fabiano Caruana also remained in third, since Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had started so far back that even a brilliant 7/9 3000+ performance could only cut the gap to the leaders to two points.

MVL said he was trying to "get the maximum out of [his] games" | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

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

And here’s the live commentary on a spectacular day of blitz action:

It’s impossible to cover 45 blitz games comprehensively (never mind watch them all live!), so let’s just pick a few of the day’s stories:

1. Mamedyarov and Nakamura remain neck and neck

A tough start for Nakamura | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura were tied for first place after the rapid section, but we had a sole leader after the first round of the day. Nakamura was ground down by Sergey Karjakin (“I kind of didn’t feel the danger soon enough and it got away from me”), while Mamedyarov drew against Grischuk, though that could have been more:

It should be noted that although 46…Re1+! is indeed winning, it’s not trivial in this case. After 47.Rxe1 Qxd5 White gets to queen with 48.c8=Q, and after 48…Qxd6 the reason Black is winning is his pair of unstoppable queenside passed pawns.

How long would Shak’s sole lead last? Just one round, it turned out, since he drew with Dominguez in the next game while Nakamura bounced back to beat So. That was to set the pattern for the whole day, with the side-by-side results telling the story:

Only in Round 6 did the players score the same result, so in every other round one of them took or rejoined the lead. As you can also see, they both had dramatic and bruising days. Nakamura admitted it hadn’t been easy:

I’m tied for the lead on a day when I feel I didn’t play my best chess, so that’s the best you can ask for.

Mamedyarov, meanwhile, seemed to be close to top form, combining aggression with the technical mastery Peter Svidler noted the world no. 3 had added to his game in the last couple of years. Svidler was commenting during Shak’s impressive win over Fabiano Caruana:

Mamedyarov could even feel some regret at not ending the day with a 6-game winning streak, since he’d been on top against MVL before a sudden rush of blood to the head:

32.f5? converted a stable advantage into a mess where Black soon won a pawn and went on to win.

That was nothing compared to what happened in the key game of the whole tournament so far, Nakamura-Mamedyarov:

The fast version misses all the fun, though! Nakamura went into the game trailing by half a point, and clearly in the mood for a fight. Shak isn’t one to turn down such an invitation, and what followed was an immensely complicated middlegame where the advantage swung from side to side but Mamedyarov eventually emerged on top. He was a couple of accurate consolidating moves away from a simple conversion, when his concentration slipped for a moment:

37…e4?? was met by a move you don’t need to be Hikaru Nakamura to find: 38.Qxd3! Mamedyarov slammed the table in disgust, before recovering his composure to apologise, stop the clock and resign:

You’ll want to watch the video version:

What Nakamura later called a “ridiculous gift” meant that rather than trailing by 1.5 points he went into the last round of the day with a half-point lead. Once again it didn’t last, though. Hikaru had a significant advantage against MVL but felt he should play safe against such a dangerous opponent and took a draw, while Mamedyarov bounced back in truly spectacular style to take down Vishy Anand in 20 moves:

20.Nxd5! and Black resigned, since he’s losing a lot more than a pawn due to the weakness of the black king, with the white knight and queen both eyeing f6. Once again, Mamedyarov and Nakamura were tied for first.

Nakamura had chances to beat MVL and retain the sole lead | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

2. MVL makes up for lost points

The leaders both scored +1, but the star of the day, by a wide margin, was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who scored +5 with a 3005 rating performance that included four wins with the black pieces:

It was the typical display of a blitz master – few flashy effects, but fast, accurate play in which chances were exploited with few sudden lurches in evaluation and almost no blunders. The final position of MVL-Karjakin, Maxime’s third win in a row, summed up the play of a man “in the flow”:

As Maxime put it:

I felt from the very start that my hands were doing the right moves, and that helps!

The one moment he noted of living dangerously was against Leinier Dominguez:

He played 17…0-0?!, a move “for which I should probably be banned from chess… I castled into a four-piece attack against zero”. 

Focus & a funky t-shirt - the keys to blitz success? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

He went on to win that game, though, and his only problem with the day was that a sequence of three losses in a row on the final day of rapid chess had left him a full four points behind the leaders. He’s now cut that to two points, but if either Nakamura or Mamedyarov has a good final day Maxime will need another out-of-this-world performance to fight for first place.

3. Aronian and Caruana keep pace

Caption contest... | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

The only other two players with a realistic chance of challenging for first are Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian. Their individual encounter was arguably the game with the most swings of the day, while otherwise they went about their business differently. Fabiano was all-action, starting with another knight attack, this time against Wesley So in the first round:

He would go on to lose three games in four in the middle of the tournament, but he ended with two wins to score 50% for the day and remain in third place, 1.5 points off the leaders.

Levon, meanwhile, was unbeaten in the first eight rounds of blitz and picked some impressive players to beat – leaders Mamedyarov and Nakamura. In both games he got a big advantage early on and smoothly converted it into a full point… with one minor slip! Nakamura later talked about “the agony of having to play the rest of the game” after going wrong early against Aronian, but the agony might have turned to ecstasy if he’d spotted the minor flaw with 67.exf6?? (both players were in time trouble):

That’s right, for one move only Nakamura had the chance to pick up a free knight with 67…Qxf5+, when the game should end in a draw. Instead after 67…Qc7+?? 68.Nfd6 normal service was resumed and Nakamura resigned three moves later. 

The only blot on Levon’s day came in the final round, when he lost to Grischuk. Which brings us to…  

4. Grischuk’s luck finally turns

At the current rate of improvement Grischuk will be a player to fear in the Sinquefield Cup | photo: Spectrum Studios, Grand Chess Tour 

Alexander Grischuk is a 3-time World Blitz Champion and a player who believes in speed chess so much that, unlike all his colleagues, he’s said he’s sometimes more willing to use a novelty in a rapid event than in a classical tournament. It’s a shock, therefore, that he managed to go 15 rapid and blitz games in St. Louis without picking up a single win. That 15th game was almost comical, as he was facing Vishy Anand, who hadn’t won since Round 1 – a movable object meets a stoppable force.

On move 18 of a Najdorf Grischuk finally seemed to be on the path to victory as he found a winning blow:

18…Bxe4! The point is that 19.fxe4? is met by 19…Nxe4 and the knight on c3 can’t move as it needs to stop Qa2+ and a quick mate. Vishy replied 19.Kb2, and an in-form Grischuk would surely have continued the assault by capturing on c2 (with either minor pieces is winning). Instead he “consolidated” the win of a pawn with 19…Bb7?!, after which Vishy deserves huge credit for the way in which he went on to win with a kingside pawn storm. The final position:

In the very next game, though, fortune finally smiled on Grischuk. He’d done most of the hard work himself, but just when he was about to beat Caruana he allowed his opponent a beautiful win:

It’s pure chess geometry why Grischuk's rook can no longer stop the g-pawn. Of course the knight directly covers d5 and d1, but it also covers d6 (a Nb5+ fork) and d2 (a Nb1+ fork). Alas, Fabi didn’t manage to make the move 49...Nc3! in time. He explained that he'd seen it quickly, but, “subconsciously I wanted to check all his moves”. Sometimes good habits can be fatal!

That was the one win in a row Grischuk needed, and although at one stage in the next game he was worse against Dominguez he eventually went on to win a game featuring an equally beautiful final position – just look at that rook!

He saved the best for last by outplaying and beating Aronian, who had gone into that game on an 11-game unbeaten streak. Grischuk’s revival won’t be troubling the leaders, but at least it allowed him to climb to the dizzy heights of 8th place.

5. A day to forget

The remaining players had little to celebrate. Sergey Karjakin flattered to deceive. He followed beating co-leader Hikaru Nakamura in the first round with a win over Vishy Anand in the second, and for a moment it seemed he might pull off something like the phenomenal 10/11 start he showed in the same blitz event last year. Three draws followed, though, and then disaster (again we turn to our strangely prolific 19th Century English Master...):

50...Rh4+ was a blow from which he never recovered, going on to lose the last three games as well. The final one summed up his day, as he lost on time in a drawn position.

When you haven't won all day and win on time... | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Wesley So was the beneficiary, but that was the only win of the day for the Grand Chess Tour leader, who is soon to lose that status. He started the day with losses to his US teammates Caruana and Nakamura and then also went on to lose to Dominguez and Mamedyarov to drop to second last place.

That was also the only win of the day for Leinier Dominguez, who also lost four games, while Vishy Anand stabilised after losing his first two games with a sequence of five draws and a win. It was all about energy preservation and damage limitation, but most of the damage had already been done. The crushing final game loss to Mamedyarov mentioned above left the 5-time World Champion and reigning World Rapid Champion 1.5 points adrift in last place:

Who will you be supporting? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

The players agreed afterwards that 9 rounds of blitz are far more emotionally-draining than one classical game or three rounds of rapid chess, but now they have to do it all over again. Get the popcorn ready, since the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz must end on Wednesday. Tune into the live action here on chess24 from 13:00 local time (20:00 CEST)!

See also:

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