Reports Sep 16, 2020 | 10:23 AMby Colin McGourty

STL Rapid & Blitz 1: Aronian & Harikrishna lead as Magnus disconnects

Levon Aronian and Harikrishna lead on 5/6 after Day 1 of the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, while Magnus Carlsen’s chances were hit by a disconnection and loss on time to Ian Nepomniachtchi. That spoilt what had started as a perfect day for Magnus, who surprised his Chess 9LX co-winner Hikaru Nakamura with the Caro-Kann and eventually went on to win in brutal style. It could have gone from bad to worse for Hikaru, who survived a dead lost position against Leinier Dominguez.

Levon Aronian leads with Harikrishna after Day 1 of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz

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

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jennifer Shahade, Maurice Ashley and Yasser Seirawan:

The Carlsen-Nakamura battle continues

If there was a sense of unfinished business after Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura shared first place in Chess 9LX, we soon got some closure thanks to the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz Round 1 pairings. Magnus had Black and managed, after a summer of countless online clashes, to surprise Hikaru on move 1 with the Caro-Kann. What followed was an intense opening battle where Hikaru seemed to get good competition for a sacrificed pawn, until move 19:

After 19.Bxe7 Nxe7 20.Ng5 White’s attacking potential on the kingside looks to be at least enough to force a draw. Instead exchanging a pair of knights with 19.Ng3?! Nxg3 20.fxg3 Rae8 21.Bxe7 Rxe7 22.Ng5 g6 left White with no attack and Magnus able to consolidate. Hikaru allowed the c-pawn to live until it became a monster, and soon it was just a question of choosing a kill.

30…Rxg3! was a clean tactic, and after 31.Kxg3 Qa3+ 32.Kh2 Qxc1 33.Qc4 (33.Qxc2 would have prolonged the game, but White is just two pawns down) 33…Rc7 34.Qb5 Magnus finished in style: 34…Qxg5!

That dream start turned into a nightmare for Magnus. It wasn’t because he’d been surprised by Ian Nepomniachtchi, though Nepo’s opening play certainly made an impression…

By the decisive moment of the game, however, that pawn had gone and it was a simplified position where White, if anyone, was better. But then, with 35 seconds on his clock, Magnus disconnected and didn't manage to get back until he’d lost on time!

It’s not all about the chess when you’re playing online, as Harikrishna highlighted!

In the 3rd round Magnus held a tough defence against the 3.Bb5 Sicilian of Wesley So, who had earlier smoothly outplayed Jeffery Xiong in the same opening, but that defence was only enough to end Day 1 on 50%.

It could have been an even worse day for Hikaru, but Leinier Dominguez was eventually punished for a mammoth 13-minute think on move 26. Leinier’s play afterwards earned him a winning position, but with just a 5-second increment he missed his chance to repeat his victory over Hikaru in Chess 9LX.

47.Nd3?, trying to exchange the c5-knight and queen the b-pawn, threw away all chances on the spot, as it was met by 47…Na4+! and the crucial passed b-pawn was gone. Instead 47.h5! wins easily whatever Black does. 47…Kg5 can be met by pushing the h, e, b and sometimes f-pawns in various combinations, though 48.Ne6+! also works. There are just too many white passed pawns.

Aronian and Harikrishna out in front

Levon Aronian suffered disappointment on the final day of Chess 9LX, but he was right back at his tricky best in the Rapid and Blitz. He had the initiative for most of the game and then outfoxed Alireza Firouzja just when he seemed to have lost control in Round 1. Then Levon joked when asked about his game of the day.

Obviously my second game was a brilliancy, against Grischuk!

Levon played the combative 4.f3 against the Nimzo-Indian, but after 14…Qh4+ things had become a bit more combative than White was hoping for.

I thought for some reason that what I’m doing makes sense, but then once I got this Qh4+ I realised that I’ve missed a simple tactic. At least if I’m going for something that ridiculously dangerous I should at least play 14.b6 instead of 14.bxa6, not open so many lines, so I was very suicidal in that particular game, but then I thought to myself, I will hang on, I will do my best, and since Sasha was also in some sort of time trouble it was my hope, and it worked out, so it was a very lucky break!

Computers suggest 14.b6 is even riskier, while here 15.g3 Nxf3+ 16.Kf2 and forcing the queens off may have been better than what happened in the game after 15.Kd1!?. Levon was soon objectively lost, until 25.Rf1:

Here Grischuk played 25…cxd4, but it was much stronger to play 25.c4!!, cutting off the bishop’s defence of the f1-rook. There’s nothing better for White than 26.Re1 Rxe1+ when either 27.Kxe1 Qg1+ or 27.Qxe1 Qxb2!, hitting three pieces, wins.

In the game Grischuk still had some chances, but instead Aronian took over and even managed to bamboozle a win in what should have been a drawn endgame.

Levon went on to draw a somewhat shaky next game against Nepo, while Harikrishna felt Grischuk was tilted in the final round.

He could have taken a draw anytime he wanted, but I think his loss from the previous game might be the reason why he went all-out.

Hari took full advantage to weave a mating net, and was rewarded with a share of first place after a fine day in the office.

In the first round the Indian star had outcalculated Dominguez in an ending arising from the Caro-Kann:

White would pick up the d3-pawn with a decent position if not for 46…g5! and Hari went on to win easily.

Hari’s preparation hadn’t only been arranging a good internet connection, since he said he’d enjoyed watching the Chess 9LX action.

I was actually following Chess960 and that was sort of my practice, to try to guess the moves!

The standings are as follows, with each win in rapid chess worth 2 points:

Levon Aronian’s hopes of winning the $50,000 top prize may be affected by the fact he’s in Karlsruhe, Germany to play another event as well, the Chess Bundesliga! That 7-round event begins today at 14:00 CEST, and you can watch all the action with live commentary here on chess24.

As well as a very spacious playing hall the Bundesliga is employing the same plexiglass shields used at the Biel Chess Festival | photo: Oliver Koeller, chess24

Of course that's followed by the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz action from 20:00 CEST

See also:

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