“I was quite pleased with my performance as my plan was to survive day one!” That was Garry Kasparov’s verdict after his first three rated games in 12 years ended in draws, with Nakamura-Kasparov in particular a thrilling battle. The 54-year-old chess legend is only a point off the lead, with three of the four leaders - Levon Aronian, Le Quang Liem and Fabiano Caruana – combining some great games with defeats. Only Ian Nepomniachtchi’s fortunes have turned in St. Louis, as he remains unbeaten in the joint lead.
You can play through all the games from the Grand Chess Tour St. Louis Rapid and Blitz using the selector below. Click on a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:
The choice to focus on the games of Garry Kasparov was perhaps the easiest the Spectrum Studios production crew in St. Louis will ever have to take. Every moment of his brief return to professional chess was watched with huge anticipation, from his arrival…
…to his entrance...
…to the first move – made by retired American football player John Urschel (with special mention to Ian Nepomniachtchi for photobombing the moment in style)…
…to his legendary facial expressions and body language:
Also, of course, we had some chess, with his return starting with a potential grudge match against Sergey Karjakin. Garry had no intention of going in all guns blazing, but despite feeling he walked into some preparation left over from the Carlsen-Karjakin match he had a very comfortable position. As Nakamura would comment:
Garry can pretend he’s not preparing but clearly he’s been preparing very seriously.
Alarm bells rang, however, on move 18:
There were sound chess reasons why Garry Kasparov rejected the move that’s crying out to be made, 18.e4, since with Nb6 and Bg6 Black can quickly target White’s centre, and Garry’s 18.e3 was a good move. The problem was that he only took that decision after a 10-minute think, an eternity for a 25-minute rapid game. Was Garry’s rustiness going to cost him?
The answer was no, though after quickly equalising Karjakin went on to reject a repetition and pose some problems. Kasparov kept things under control, though, and showed his tactical alertness has gone nowhere:
Karjakin didn’t bite (42…Rxd4?? 43.Rxe4 Rxe4 44.Bf5+) and Garry had drawn the first of his 27 games in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz.
Up next was perhaps the most anticipated clash of the whole event. In the absence of guys like Carlsen, MVL and So the favourite has to be Hikaru Nakamura, and he’d spent the previous week talking down Kasparov’s chances. Cue a highly-motivated chess legend playing the Grünfeld…
Svidler was inspired to play the Grünfeld by Kasparov - has Garry now been studying Svidler?
…and getting just the kind of position that used to be his bread and butter:
18…Bc8! was the kind of simple but lethal regrouping with which Kasparov so memorably crushed Nigel Short in 2015. The bishop threatens to come to a6 while the e7-pawn is freed to lurch forward to e5. From this moment on, though, Nakamura dug in to find some tricky defensive resources, while Kasparov mismanaged the e5-break, ending up recapturing on e5 with his queen rather than his bishop (Yasser Seirawan was lobbying for the latter in the commentary).
In the position that ensued Kasparov admitted that he overestimated his chances, and in particular the power of the two bishops. Things came to a head after 39…g5:
40.f4+! was a fine pawn sacrifice from Nakamura, and after 40…gxf4+ 41.Kd3 Be7 42.N2f3+ Kd6 43.Nf5+ Garry was forced to give up one of his bishops and switch to a grim defensive task. Nakamura was winning, but there were choices to make and one of them proved critical:
52.Kc4! and racing to support the a-pawn would have won the game, but after 52.Ke4 Ke6 Kasparov was able to hold, though not without a real battle.
That display of street fighting impressed Fabiano Caruana, who commented:
That shows that he has the practical skills that are necessary to play at this level, but he’s not really dictating events so far.
Levon Aronian would say something similar, with a nod to Nakamura’s suggestion that the players in last year’s Ultimate Blitz had shown Garry too much respect:
He’s trying to play very solidly. I guess he set himself the goal just to make sure he’s in the safe spot. He’s not messing with the guys – respecting the guys too much!
Kasparov admitted that before the last game of the day against Leinier Dominguez he was tired and wanted “to play not safe, but solid”. He hoped to get a slightly better endgame with the white pieces, but soon realised he’d fallen into some “very precise, computer-like preparation”. The Cuban no. 1 played a well-timed d4-break that he justified with 21…Rc1!
Garry summed up his day:
He’d just about defended his shiny new 2812 live rapid rating (the classical rating is taken as a starting point) against some of the world’s best rapid players:
You can also watch his full interview with Maurice Ashley, where he talks about how he’s “trying to adjust myself to this new reality” and aiming to play more aggressively in the coming days (keep watching for the whole of the Day 1 show):
Some stars of the future, including 12-year-old 2500-rated Pragnannandhaa, are getting a chance to witness one of the all time greats:
To some extent the other games were overshadowed by the Kasparov show, but a few of the games simply demanded our attention, right from the start. Levon Aronian won a fabulous duel in Round 1 against David Navara, getting to do everything you could wish for on a chessboard:
First he sacrificed a piece with 19.Rde1!!, saying afterwards:
I had this gut feeling… it’s clear that if I remove the knight Black is totally fine, so I was searching for a way to sacrifice it!
Then it was time to sacrifice an exchange!
22.Rxf6!! It was completely sound, but computers suggest the moment the game was gone for Navara was only when he played 23…Qd8:
24.Re4! and swinging the rook to g4 and later h4, to pile up on h7, was the final piece of the puzzle. It was also played stylishly!
David Navara knows a beautiful attack when he sees it, and allowed mate on the board before taking his customary approach of briefly rising from his chair to resign:
That glorious start for Aronian was somewhat derailed in Round 2 when he repeated the 8.h5 line he’d used to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi (and draw with Peter Svidler) in the Sinquefield Cup:
It very nearly worked again, with the following position reached:
The same manoeuvre as against Navara, 30.Re4, intending Reh4, Ne4, Rh7 and hopefully Qh6 should have led to another crushing win for Levon, but instead he played 30.Ne4 and after 30…b5! Nepomniachtchi managed to rustle up enough counterplay to actually go on to win. Nepo drew his other two games against Dominguez and Navara to end the day in the leading pack.
Aronian, meanwhile, would go on to pull off the reverse trick in Round 3, winning a losing position against Vishy Anand. “Trick” is an apt word, since Vishy could have simply been up material if he’d taken first with a bishop and not a knight on e5:
Here 24…f4! turned the tables, and when Vishy chose 25.Bb5?! rather than the miserable 25.Nf1 the writing was on the wall. Levon commented on the games and his general approach to fast chess:
I think I deserved to lose the third game and didn’t deserve to lose the second game, so it’s strange… You shouldn’t get discouraged, because you’re going to blunder! It’s difficult not to get discouraged - I’d love to play precise moves - but I just accept it as an inevitable thing and move on.
The final two leaders, Le Quang Liem and Fabiano Caruana, met in Round 1 in a very memorable encounter. The Vietnamese no. 1 started well, then Fabiano seized the initiative and then, in an overwhelming position, he made what he called “the terrible practical decision” to sacrifice the g6- knight to speed up the promotion of the b-pawn.
Objectively it was still winning, but LQL’s rooks became menacing and suddenly we reached an all-or-nothing moment:
50…Rf2! would still be winning for Black, but everything else loses. Caruana commented, “I saw the Rf2 idea but then played 50…Ke8? in a panic”. Liem didn’t wield the executioner’s blade with surgical precision, but it didn’t matter – as he put it, “suddenly I found a mate”.
Fabiano commented, “the first game kind of brought back bad memories from Paris, where I managed to get winning positions but ruined everything”, but he needn’t have worried. He outplayed Navara in Round 2 and then gave Aronian some competition for the most convincing win of the day by crashing through against Sergey Karjakin. He’d already won an exchange with a tricky knight jump when he got to sacrifice a piece:
27.Bxg6! fxg6 28.Qe6+! The d6-knight was soon eliminated and when the white rook landed on f7 it was just a question of time until Black was mated.
Le Quang Liem was ground down by Karjakin in Round 2 but stormed back to beat Hikaru Nakamura, ending the day having defeated both US stars. He fully merited the win, though Nakamura had chances of holding a very tough bishop and pawns ending. His disappointment was there for all to see when he resigned, leaving his hand for his opponent after already starting to move away from the board:
We have no runaway leader after Day 1, therefore, with the first eight players within a game of taking the lead. Only Vishy Anand and David Navara are adrift at this point, but there are still 30 points to play for!
We’re going to be treated once again, with Garry Kasparov facing some more big tests. He has Black against Levon Aronian and his great rival Vishy Anand as well as White against co-leader Ian Nepomniachtchi. Don't miss the live show from 20:00 CEST!
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