Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the last game of the day against Levon Aronian to take the sole lead, but it was blunders that dominated Day 4 of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. Magnus Carlsen lost three games with Black and failed to cut the 5-point gap as he commented, “my confidence is long gone and now I just don’t really care anymore”. That was despite scoring 50%, three points more than an unrecognisable Fabiano Caruana. Garry Kasparov put it down to the players being “overworked” because of the jam-packed chess schedule this year.
You can replay all the games from the 2019 St. Louis Rapid and Blitz using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary:
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There was a feeling in Paris, when MVL struggled so hard to maintain his lead in the blitz and there were seemingly random results everywhere, that Magnus Carlsen would return and restore order. He would set the pace, and then the other players would be forced to perform at the top of their game to challenge him.
In St. Louis, however, the leaders have continued to struggle, while Magnus has only accentuated the general malaise. He suffered on the second day of rapid chess and it was only for one round of the blitz that it really looked as though it might be his day. He played “the Grischuk”, 3.h4 against MVL’s kingside fianchetto, accepted an exchange sac from Maxime and then brilliantly went on to convert a queen vs. rook endgame in 90 moves:
After that, though, he lost again to Sergey Karjakin, and the yo-yo performance would continue for most of the day:
For Maxime things would get worse before they got better, when he went for 21…g5? (e.g. 21…Nf4!) against Richard Rapport in the second game of the day:
That ran into 22.Bxg5!, and Maxime compounded the error by attempting the zwischenzug 22…Rxd4? only to get hit by 23.Be3! and Richard went on to win without any difficulty.
It was in the aftermath of that game that Garry Kasparov joined the live show from Croatia, and it was a memorable appearance:
He opened with:
Wow, I don’t know where to start! When I made blunders two years ago I could justify it by being old and rusty, but these guys are making blunders that even I’m getting confused! I think there’s only one explanation - they are overworked, because it’s hard, because there’s so many mistakes, so many blunders.
He pointed out Maxime’s blunder above, and Carlsen losing a rapid game “he could finish off blindfold” against Levon Aronian, commenting of the missed 23…Re4+!:
I could have missed that today, or maybe two years ago, but 25 years ago? I doubt. Again, my only explanation is the guys they just play too much. Somehow they lose the senses just in their fingers - something is dead wrong.
When Maurice pointed out that Magnus had a month to rest before the event Garry reminded us of how many events the World Champion has played this year, and that, “it’s a hell of a lot of pressure” to be expected to win every time. The more general point, however, was about the schedule affecting the players:
I don’t have a solution. I feel sorry about my former colleagues, because seeing them making blunders and looking at the internet, seeing lolololol from a bunch of amateurs, that makes me feel a little sick. People are celebrating when MVL or Magnus are making a blunder. I don’t like it.
The internet responded in the only way it could:
Garry mentioned that it could be humiliating for the players that chess fans can instantly see from the computer evaluation that they’ve blundered:
I’m nostalgic about the times when I played Karpov. We could make a blunder and nobody dared to criticize us!
Garry put the blame for the packed schedule firmly at the feet of FIDE:
These guys are just coming at the last minute with four extra tournaments. When we extended the Grand Chess Tour for the year, having 8 events instead of 5 or 6, we looked at the calendar and it was empty, not empty, but it had many, many holes that we could fill, because there’s no chess Olympiad, there’s no Candidates, no World Championship match, so we thought, “ok, why not extend the Grand Chess Tour?” because as you said, great news, more people would like to host, we can go to Africa, we can go to India, so we could go to Romania, but all of a sudden we have to deal with FIDE installing four qualification tournaments into the calendar. You don’t expect all the players to refuse a FIDE qualifier because they want to have their fair chance to qualify. But that means they have to play almost every week.
On this point you could definitely argue, since it was heavily suspected in advance that a Grand Prix series would be held, and both FIDE and the Grand Chess Tour are guilty of the same failure to make use of a relatively empty February and March this year – the GCT and Grand Prix only kicked off in May. The question was also posed as to why, if fatigue is an issue, there’s only one rest day in the 11-round GCT classical events. Although Garry admitted he’d also like to see one or two more rest days he cited both the calendar and the costs to organisers as preventing that, although the existing schedule in St. Louis looks like one it might be possible to alter to provide an extra rest day.
In any case, it’s perhaps for the best that Garry joined the show early, since things would only get worse when it came to blunders! There’s no way we could cover them all, so let’s focus on just Round 5 of the blitz, which included the blunder of the day. In a tricky position, Levon Aronian decides to offer an exchange of queens with 28.Bc1??!
As Levon realised soon after making the move, 28.Qd1+ is the simplest mate-in-2 in the world, but he kept his poker face and after serious thought Yu Yangyi exchanged off queens instead.
It could have gone from bad to worse for Yu Yangyi, but despite ending up a pawn down he held on for a draw.
While it’s hard to compete with missing something that simple, you could argue Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s blunder in the same round with 13…d5? against Sergey Karjakin was more embarrassing at this level:
14.f4! Qd6 15.e5 and it was almost game-over, though admittedly there were some complications to navigate after 15…Qc6 16.exf6 d4 (the h1-rook is hanging) 17.Ne4 Bxd2, even if 18.Ng5! got the job done smoothly.
The player of the day was arguably Ding Liren, who said he felt good before the start. He didn't lose a single game, and his 6.5/9 was matched only by Sergey Karjakin:
Ding Liren, Karjakin: 6.5/9 (+4)
Rapport: 6 (+3)
Yu Yangyi: 5.5 (+2)
MVL, Carlsen: 4.5 (50%)
Aronian: 4 (-1)
Dominguez: 3.5 (-2)
Mamedyarov: 2.5 (-4)
Caruana: 1.5 (-6)
This was the one shaky round for Ding Liren, however. He commented:
Actually I was nearly lost against Vachier. I think he missed a 3-move tactic. I saw it, during the game, but he missed it. Also he had a large time advantage at that point, so I was very lucky in this game, but I think I played well in the other games.
This was the moment:
Maxime could have played 29.Qxf7+! which wins after either 29…Kh8 30.Ra5! and Black can’t avoid losing material (e.g. 30…Qxa5 31.Qxe8+ Kh7 32.Rf8!), or 29…Kh7 30.Rg4! Rg8 31.Ra8! and it’s the same story.
That wouldn’t be the only miss of the game, since after 29.Ba3?! Maxime was doing ok until move 37:
37.R7f6! and Black has to take a perpetual with 37…Qe7 (or 37…Qd7) 38.Rxh6+ gxh6 39.Qxh6+ Qh7 40.Qf6+. Instead Maxime moved the wrong rook with 37.R1f6?? and was hit by 37…Ra1+! 38.Kf2 (other moves also fail) 38…Qa2+! 39.Kg3 gxf6+ and Maxime resigned with mate inevitable. He later commented:
I feel like compared to Paris my level of play has been generally not as bad, for lack of a better way to put it. I was very unlucky in three of my losses, I think, against Richard, against Leinier – not unlucky, but I’m four minutes up on the clock and I can take a draw whenever I want, but he played very well under time pressure… and against Ding Liren, of course. This one was heartbreak! I’m very lucky in a way not to have gone on tilt after both my losses against Richard and against Ding.
That’s not all for Round 5 of the blitz, since although Dominguez-Rapport was a normal draw, Carlsen-Caruana was anything but.
Normally this is the highlight of a tournament, a game between the two best players on the planet, but this time round they were the walking wounded. With two losses at the start of the blitz Fabiano managed to make it 5 losses in a row, and then later, after 3 draws, he lost the last 4 games. He did at least have some competition, since Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has now lost 5 times in a row twice in this event! What do we call it?
Magnus had just lost his second game of the day, to Ding Liren, and the game was an uneven as such a run of form might suggest. Magnus could have won on move 27:
27.Re4! and, after the queen moves, 28.g4! would politely ask the knight where it sees its future. Instead Magnus exchanged queens with 27.Qxd4? Bxd4, perhaps missing that 28.Re4 doesn’t retain a comfortable edge due to 28…Bf6! and Black was better. The advantage grew until it was winning, but it was perhaps too subtle for a player lacking form or motivation:
Keeping control with the cold-blooded 38…Ke7! was the solution, since the white bishop is going nowhere. Instead after 38…Rxa2? 39.Rxd6+ Fabiano soon found himself having to accept a draw by perpetual check, since the alternative was getting mated.
Both players clearly have their attention on the classical Sinquefield Cup that starts on Saturday, but while Fabi has a history of switching off in rapid and blitz events at times, this is something new – and painful – for Magnus:
Among things you never expected to hear from the World Champion…
Everything’s going wrong. My confidence is long gone and now I just don’t really care anymore.
To be honest, my no. 1 wish now is for the tournament to be over. It cannot come soon enough, so you’re probably going to see more of the same tomorrow. I just cannot really be bothered at this point.
I feel ok in general, but I guess when things start to go wrong it’s easy to start doubting yourself. I’ve tried to play more aggressively, then trying to play a bit safer, but it doesn’t really seem to work out anyway, and when I’m playing I’m constantly doubting myself. At this point I just don’t care anymore and I’m just waiting for the classical to start.
We may get some more moments that cause chess coaches to shudder!
For other players, however, there’s still everything to fight for. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ended on a high by snatching the lead from Levon Aronian in the final game of the day. 26…Nh7? was a final blunder (26…Rg8 or 26…Nd5 and despite Black’s pieces on the rim he seems to be doing ok):
27.Rb4! immediately posed a mating threat that Black couldn’t defend against. The game finished 27…Ng5 28.Rg4 f6 29.h4 Rh7 30.Rb1 Kg7, and although it seemed Levon lost on time, his position is in any case hopeless. He commented:
Being in second position is a miracle with the play that I have shown with the rounds starting from the first. I’m just playing really slowly, so I need to step up if I want to compete. Right now this is not the speed that will give me anything. I think with such speed I will not be in the Top 5.
Maxime had the same recipe for success:
I feel like I’ve been playing faster in the last games, maybe a bit too fast at the moment, but in general I think that’s really, really a positive, because I think this is the way I’m going to win the event – playing faster.
Maxime has won 10 games, lost 6 and drawn only two, but both he and Levon may face a serious challenge from the super-solid Ding Liren, who has lost just once. The standings before the final day of blitz look as follows:
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