Reports Sep 19, 2020 | 11:41 AMby Colin McGourty

STL Rapid & Blitz 4: Carlsen regains lead with “somewhat chesslike fun and nonsense”

Magnus Carlsen scored 6.5/9 on the first day of blitz as he overtook Wesley So to regain the sole lead in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. The World Champion was richly rewarded for going all-out at almost every moment of every game, with 6 wins and 2 losses, though he could easily have lost another 3 games. Wesley is just half a point off the pace and it’s set to be a two-horse race on the final day. Hikaru Nakamura was the second top scorer in blitz with 5.5 points, but losses in his first (Carlsen) and last (Nepomniachtchi) games left him out of contention.

19...d4! and Magnus scored a draw that ensured he goes into the final day in the lead, but his previous 8 decisive blitz games were much more fun!

You can replay all the games from the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis).

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

Magnus’ day of mayhem

A day of 9 rounds of blitz is always packed with incident, but Day 1 of the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz was all about Magnus, whose approach was in the spirit of Vladimir Kramnik at the end of his career – a “drunk machine-gunner”, as Nigel Short put it!

Magnus wasn’t interviewed afterwards, but one tweet summed things up.

Magnus was referring to his appearance on Samay Raina’s show earlier in the day, when Vishy Anand and Vidit had also joined to play some Hand and Brain and Card Chess (you draw cards and have to move the pawn/piece that corresponds to the card, if you can).

It was certainly a lot of fun!

Magnus began the “serious business” of the St. Louis blitz by playing Hikaru Nakamura, who had once achieved notoriety for breaking one of those beginner rules (“don’t bring your queen out early”) by playing 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5. This time Magnus got to give Hikaru some of his own medicine, though he did wait until move 5.

This had been played by Magnus’ second Daniil Dubov against 2550-rated Urii Eliseev in the 2013 Moscow Blitz Championship. Urii tried to punish the opening but only left himself with no better option than resigning on move 9! Hikaru made a similar mistake with 5…Nc6 6.Bb5 Nb4?!, threatening Nc2+, but after 7.Qxe5+ Be6 8.Qe4 the black knight was soon driven back and Magnus was simply a pawn up.

He switched to technical mode, though not without some flourishes.

42.Rxg7! Kxg7 43.f6+ and the rook ending was a very easy win that proved enough for Magnus to catch Wesley. 

From that point onwards, Hikaru got back to playing at his usual blitz strength, scoring an impressive 5.5 in the next 7 games, but a loss to Nepo in the final round of the day extinguished any outside hopes of fighting for the title.

Magnus would go on to win all five of his games with White, though often he got a helping hand. 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong was close to a draw in Round 2, but instead of playing 34…Rxe5! he played 34…Rf3?

Suddenly it’s over! 35.g5! Rh3 36.Rcc8! and Black can’t stop mate on h8.

There was a back-story to Magnus’ first game of the day with Black, since he tweeted:

That was trolling, but not of Harikrishna but of world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, who had played 4…h6!? earlier in the day in the Bundesliga and gone on to get crushed in style by Erwin l’Ami.

For a glimpse of how the over-the-board action is going in Germany, where the likes of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov are also in action, check out this video.

Back online, however, Harikrishna sidestepped whatever was awaiting him by playing 1.e4… and going on to win two pawns and, more or less smoothly, the game! As we’ll see, Magnus would suffer with the black pieces all day.

First, however, Magnus had White against Levon Aronian. He refuted a pawn grab by the Armenian no. 1 and won a piece, but just when it looked as though he would go on to win easily he completely lost control of the situation.

After 56…Rg8! here the computer tells us Levon has a crushing advantage, but after 56…Re8!? 57.Bxh4 g2? (57…Rg8!) 58.Kg1 e3 59.Rd1+, and taking on d6, the once proud black pawns began to fall. Having flirted with disaster, Magnus went on to win in 80 moves!

It was a tough day for Levon, who won his first game against Alireza Firouzja then lost three, including a bizarre blunder against Nakamura, where he simply put his queen on a square attacked by Hikaru’s knight and resigned on move 20.

Ian Nepomniachtchi became the only player to beat Magnus twice so far in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. His win in rapid was mainly down to the World Champion’s internet connection failing, but in blitz it was all about 1.b3. Nepo played that move in all five of his games with White, also beating Leinier Dominguez and mating Hikaru Nakamura in the final game of the day:

“Even if I didn’t equalise, 1.b3 works!” said Hikaru, which could also sum up his game against Magnus. Black was doing well in the opening, but one inaccurate move allowed Nepo to win a pawn and take over. Magnus still managed to rustle up chances, but ultimately Ian got to execute a rook trap he’d seen in advance.

Nepo would end the day in sole 3rd place, but at 3 points behind Wesley and 3.5 behind Magnus he can’t realistically hope to fight the leaders. What motivations are left? “I should stand my ground and prove that b3 is worthy!”

Magnus needed to bounce back again, and he got the perfect opportunity against Alexander Grischuk, even if the way he was slouched back in his chair might have lulled his opponent into a false sense of security...

The Russian had punished Magnus’ ambitious opening play in the last round of rapid chess, but this time Magnus repeating a risky line he’d championed in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational worked like a dream. Back then Magnus had beaten Firouzja but then lost to Giri. Grischuk didn’t follow Giri’s 12…Bd6 improvement, and Magnus instead got to improve on his play vs. Firouzja with the visually appealing 13.f4!

A brutal attack soon followed.

Grischuk also lost to Nakamura, but scored 50% in blitz with wins over Dominguez and Harikrishna, both of which featured nice tactics.

Next up for Magnus was Alireza Firouzja, a match-up that of course has some extra significance due to Alireza’s victory in the Banter Blitz Cup and also the potential narrative of Alireza being a serious contender for the World Championship title. The opening battle seemed to go Magnus’ way, but 29…Bb4 allowed Alireza to cement his positional advantages.

30.d5! offered an exchange sac, when after 30…Bxd2 31.dxe6 Qxe6 32.Rxd2 the powerful white knights and the holes around the black king make it a very dangerous position to play. It was no less dangerous in the game when Magnus retreated with 30…Ng7!? and soon Alireza was winning. He missed some chances and found others until the game turned on move 51.

52.Qxf7! Rxf7 was completely winning for White, but Alireza confessed, “the thing I calculated was just embarrassing!” He simply missed 53.Kxh3! and the pawns can’t be stopped (53…Rxf5 54.d7), saw other moves there were losing, and played 52.Qd8? with just 1 second left on his clock. After 52…Bxf5 the black rooks and bishop were more than a match for the queen and Magnus went on to win in 70 moves. It had been emotional!

Alireza would remain in last place at the end of the day, but he finally scored two wins and felt his play was a big improvement.

Today in the blitz I was happy with my play but I don’t know why I didn’t get results… I had so many winning positions today, but what to do?

He ended on a high with what he called, “a very beautiful game” against Harikrishna, who he caught out in the opening.

16.e6! (sacrificing the bishop) 16…cxd2 17.exf7+ Kd7 18.Qe4! (offering the knight as well) 18…Nc6 19.Bxd2 and he eventually went on to hunt down the black king on a3!

The drama still wasn’t over for Magnus who, as against Aronian, built up a big attack with the white pieces against Leinier Dominguez but then failed to find a killer blow. Leinier fought back, equalised and was a move away from winning the game when Magnus played 43.Re2?

43…Rf8! simply wins the f5-bishop, since it can’t be defended and can’t move without allowing back rank mate on f1 (Samay Raina might suddenly have felt better about his day!).

Instead Leinier played 43.Bf4? in 1 second and missed a few more chances until, to no-one’s great surprise, Carlsen managed to eke out another win.

His final round of the day was against Wesley So, who Magnus led by half a point. If Wesley could win with the white pieces he could snatch back the lead, or if Magnus won his advantage would grow to a significant 1.5 points, but, once again to no-one’s great surprise, this was the World Champion’s only uneventful game of the day.  

Wesley had lost to Xiong in the first round of the day, then beaten Harikrishna and Nepomniachtchi, then drawn his remaining 5 games. It may not be the most exciting stategy to watch, but it leaves Wesley firmly in contention for overall victory.

The tournament ends Saturday with another 9 rounds of blitz, and if it’s anything like Friday you don’t want to miss it. Tune in here on chess24 from 20:00 CEST

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