Levon Aronian takes a one-point lead into the 18 rounds of blitz after scoring two wins on the final day of the St. Louis Rapid. The only other player who did that is David Navara, who was getting crushed strategically by Garry Kasparov until the chess legend lost the plot and fell for a brilliant trick. Garry’s eventful day then saw him gifted a first win as Le Quang Liem put a rook en prise with 6 minutes left on his clock, before Fabiano Caruana outplayed and beat the champ in the final game. Kasparov has Vishy Anand for company but vowed they’d show that “blitz is for senior citizens!”
It’s 45 games down, 90 to go with two days left of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitzl You can play through all the action with computer analysis using the selector below. Click on a result to open the game with or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:
When the action resumed on Wednesday all eyes were still on Garry Kasparov, and it was as if the other players wanted to make it easier for us to focus on his games. In Round 7 there were three relatively solid draws and although Levon Aronian’s win over Sergey Karjakin was crucial – it saw him join Ian Nepomniachtchi in the lead – the unflashy way he outplayed his rival on the black side of a classical Ruy Lopez was Carlsenesque.
It was clear blood was likely to be spilled in Kasparov-Navara, since a winless Kasparov was simply obliged to go all-out to beat David Navara, who had 1 win, 1 draw and 4 losses in the event so far. Sure enough, it was vintage Kasparov as the former World Champion met the Caro-Kann with a positional pawn sacrifice on move 9 and temporarily allowed his own structure to be smashed in return for fast development and forcing off queens. The position that ensued after 22.Rd1! could find itself in manuals on chess strategy:
The pawn sac gave the white knight the beautiful f4-square, while the black bishop is both locked in and attacked on g6, with e6 a constant threat. For the next 10 moves Garry confidently went about upping his advantage, but then the conversion process began to become one that may make it hard for him to sleep at night. It was death by a thousand inaccuracies, with 34.Nd3? a first serious misstep, though his choice on move 37 was the main culprit in what followed:
Give this position to Garry in any other situation and he’d instantly point out 37.Kc3. White has the simple winning plan of playing c7 and bringing the knight to e7 or b6 to force a new queen onto the board. Instead Garry went for 37.Ke3? allowing Navara to get behind the passed pawn with 37…Rc2 and hugely complicating White’s task, though objectively the position might still be winning.
The watching Magnus Carlsen would later tweet:
After 38.e6?! h3 39.Nb4 another drawback of the Ke3 move became clear:
39…f4+! finally freed the bishop on g6 while the pawn, immune to capture, would go on to decide the game.
David Navara went eyes-wide-open into a line where it seemed he was getting mated, since he’d looked one move further than his fearsome opponent. Garry could still have forced a perpetual, but instead played the fateful “winning” 49.Nc6+?
49…Kd6 50.Qd7# is a pretty mate, but Navara instantly blitzed out something much, much prettier: 49…Qxc6+!!, a queen sacrifice that shook Garry so much that he took his time to play 50.Qxc6. Navara finished things off with 50…Rd6!, winning back the queen. Much more than that, though, Black can easily stop the white e-pawn, while the black f-pawn will win the game. Kasparov resigned.
You can relive the final stages below:
Or in images…
What did David Navara do after one of the most brilliant
moments of his career? He began, as he does every round, to reset the pieces on
the board! He remained just as humble in the post-game press conference when
Maurice Ashley asked if he’d expected such a turn of events:
Ok, I haven’t expected it, of course, but I wanted to fight on, because since my childhood I was weak in the openings so I am used to playing bad positions and I’m trying. Ok, on this level it usually doesn’t work anyway, but sometimes, from time to time, one can save even a very bad position!
How did it feel to beat Kasparov?
It’s very nice, of course, especially after such a poor start, but of course it’s just rapid chess and you cannot overestimate it, because in rapid chess even the very best players make mistakes more often than usually.
You can watch his post-game press conference, and the whole day’s show from St. Louis, below:
The same two players were also involved in the only two decisive games in Round 8. David was brought down to earth with a bump by Leinier Dominguez, who seized an early advantage with Black and, unlike Kasparov, made no mistake converting his advantage. In fact he did it with some real flare:
37…Rxb6! left White a full piece down, since 38.Qxb6 runs into 38…Bd4!, both hitting the queen and threatening mate on f2. After 38.Qxf7 Navara stumbled on to move 45 before resigning. He would bounce back from that result, though, since in the final round his opponent Le Quang Liem rejected a draw by repetition, missed a win and went on to lose with White. That wasn’t, however, his worst moment of the day…
In Round 7 Garry Kasparov was Le Quang Liem’s opponent, and the Vietnamese player seemed to become the emissary of Caissa, who had just had enough of seeing one of the greatest chess players of all time suffer. Le Quang Liem had been slightly better earlier in the game, but while that advantage had gone he had a much more significant six minutes lead on the clock. Garry was almost down to his last ten seconds when, after a leisurely think, Le Quang Liem played the kind of blunder you normally only see in blitz: 40…Re8??
As though dealing with an 8-year-old student Garry proceeded to point out the mistake before making a move. It was almost as if he was going to offer a takeback, but no, he played 41.Bxe8 and finally had a first win in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz.
If there’s no photo it didn’t happen, so…
Levon Aronian has in the past said that underserved wins are the most satisfying, but if that game had given Garry a boost his spirits were dampened again immediately by Fabiano Caruana in the final round of the day.
Aronian gave his verdict on the returning legend:
I think the last game especially he played passively. He’s a bit shy still, chesswise! He’s not yet playing the most obvious moves. He’s trying to control it too much and that normally leads not to the best results, when you’re too concerned about your results. In blitz I think he’ll let go and he’ll win many good games.
Caruana took a leaf from Anand’s playbook when he went for the 3.Bb5 Sicilian:
After that he said the game was “completely fine” for Kasparov until he played 31…a5!?
Fabiano explained, “…suddenly I saw that I could go into the ending”, and after 32.f5! g5 33.Qe6+ Qxe6 34.fxe6+ Kxe6 35.bxa5 it was critical:
The ending looks very dangerous. I’m not sure how he should play this, probably he should try and get his king over very quickly – Kd5-c6 – but it really looks unpleasant, because the b-pawn is very difficult to defend and his kingside pawns... his bishop is tied down to protecting them, so he really has no counterplay. I just bring my king up, and to compound things he was also low on time.
Caruana, who earlier scored two draws and felt he’d played his best chess of the three days, eased to victory:
That took him up to joint second place with Hikaru Nakamura, while Kasparov found himself in joint last with none other than Vishy Anand (and Navara):
Garry wasn’t going to give up just yet, though!
Meanwhile, as we mentioned, the first two rounds of the day were relatively placid, as the top players seemed merely to want to maintain a solid starting position for the blitz. That all changed in Round 9, though:
Sergey Karjakin claimed only his second win of the event by inflicting a heavy loss on Anand:
Despite a well-played game some care was required, since only 37.Qc6! was clearly winning – the knight can no longer move without allowing 38.Rxh6+ and mate to follow.
Levon Aronian repeated his trick of gradually outplaying an opponent on the black side of the Ruy Lopez, grinding down Leinier Dominguez in a rook ending. That meant Ian Nepomniachtchi had to beat Hikaru Nakamura with Black to match his co-leader, and he nearly did it! He sacrificed a piece in a combination that included this picturesque position in the middle after Nakamura played 34.Nd6:
Play continued 34…Nxc4 35.Nxb7 Ne3 36.Rg1 f5 and Black had two pawns and menacing pieces for the sacrificed exchange. The play that followed was complicated and unclear, though what is clear is that Nepomniachtchi could have taken a draw but instead pressed for a win and was gradually undone in the ending. He had no choice but to resign on move 89.
He wasn’t a happy bunny:
Nakamura, meanwhile, had leapfrogged Nepo into second place and was happy with his day’s play. Looking ahead to the blitz he noted it will be tough since some of the wildcards (Le Quang Liem, Dominguez) are former World Blitz Champions, while there’s of course a former overall World Champion in the mix:
Some other guys like Garry might wake up and move quicker. If he moved quicker I think he’d have won some more games in the rapid.
The leader of the pack, though, is Levon Aronian. There was a nice exchange at the start of the post-game interview:
Maurice Ashley: The rapid is over – you’ve won the rapid. You know it’s not the winning of the tournament, but…
Levon Aronian: What, I thought it’s finished!
But no, we now have 9 rounds of blitz on both Thursday and Friday to conclude the marathon of major chess tournaments in St. Louis. Levon is looking forward to it:
I have a terrible rating in blitz, so it’s an opportunity to come back. We had a long, long event, so now it’s the part where fun starts. I’m very excited!
First up for Aronian will be the attempt to retain his lead when he plays Black against Nakamura in the first round. Kasparov starts with White against Karjakin. Don't miss the live show starting at about 19:50 CEST!
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