Ian Nepomniachtchi won a dramatic clash with Garry Kasparov to become the first player to beat the former World Champion in a rated game since Veselin Topalov back on March 10, 2005. As if that wasn’t enough, Ian is also the sole leader and the only unbeaten player remaining after six rounds of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. Garry drew his remaining games and lamented that 20 years ago he might have scored 3/3 for the day. Elsewhere Hikaru Nakamura and Vishy Anand matched Nepo’s 2/3, with four players now within a point of the leader.
The St. Louis Rapid and Blitz continues to be tense and unpredictable, with no player managing to score more than a single win on Day 2. You can play through a game with computer analysis by clicking on a result in the selector below, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:
With no-one else yet setting the world on fire in St. Louis the most compelling storyline remains to follow the adventures of returning chess legend Garry Kasparov.
Garry Kasparov and his inseparable assistant Michael Khodarkovsky have the best entrance music:
Even if Garry denied he’s gone over to the dark side!
Vishy Anand would later describe the familiar way his game against Kasparov began:
He came, he gave me that unfriendly look, no smiles, very serious and so on.
First up for Kasparov, though, was Levon Aronian…
…who began their game 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4:
My preparation was simple – play something that Garry might not be familiar with, because the theory moved ahead and the ridiculous looking Bf4, which I promised on different occasions never to play, is becoming fashionable!
Kasparov’s reaction was that of a man from a different chess era:
He also showed his age by spending 7 minutes on the excellent 10…d4!, time he later admitted was spent calculating the murky consequences of 11.Ne4!? Qd5 and an exchange sacrifice that never happened.
Time management has been Garry’s issue so far, though it might not be entirely down to rustiness. Things have also moved on in that arena. Alexander Grischuk explained in an interview a few years ago:
Many experts say, “Alexander wants to find the very best move in every position”. Does that approach work against you?
In some ways, perhaps, that method has become obsolete. When I learned to play chess it really was thought that there’s a best move in every position and you can find it, but now with the appearance and spread of computers it’s become clear to everyone that in many positions there’s a certain number of moves that are equally strong. However much time you think at the board or analyse afterwards it’s impossible to fathom which move is best.
Aronian said he was “asleep” during the game and he overlooked Kasparov’s 12…Qg6! in the play that followed, but despite being forced to go for a worse ending he later admitted that the clock situation encouraged him to take risks:
Garry was down on time, so I guess this is his usual trick, and I thought, well, I’ve got to try and take advantage of that, although the position didn’t have anything that was suggesting that I should try, and I ended up losing a pawn…
Levon was down a pawn in a knight ending, and with the evaluation of such endings usually considered to be the same as for pure pawn endings, he was very close to defeat. He felt he had just enough compensation with his active king, but Garry was sure 39…Nb3+ instead of 39…Nd7 was just “winning on the spot”. In the game, however, Kasparov soon let all of his advantage slip away with 40…Kg4?
A consummate trickster like Aronian wasn’t going to miss 51.h3+! Kxh3 52.Nxg5+ Kxg3 and a draw was agreed, since Kasparov’s queenside is about to be entirely wiped out.
Round 5 was a bloody round with four decisive games and featured the defining moment of the tournament so far. Garry’s opponent was Ian Nepomniachtchi, who would later say of the game, “the quality of our play was not so high”, but chess fans couldn’t have asked for more. First we got a bold opening, with Garry going for the 5.h4 line against the Grünfeld.
As I promised I played more aggressively - I even played h4 with Nepomniachtchi. I wanted a big fight. I wanted to entertain everybody!
Nepomniachtchi knew he had his work cut out…
…but said later he was lucky he’d analysed the opening for White a few years ago, even if he was still the first to go astray. He admitted that when he played 18...a5? he’d managed to combine moves from two viable plans into a plan that didn’t work:
19.b3! was the fly in the ointment, hitting c4 and preparing the idea of Bxb5 and e6. Nepo had no choice but to continue 19…c3 20.Bxb5 cxd2 21.e6 0-0 until we reached the position that Kasparov regretted most about the day’s play:
The 2nd game was a blackout. When I played 22.exd7 I just couldn’t understand what happened. After 22.Bxd7 I wouldn’t say he has to resign, but it was close. After exd7 it’s equal to the blunders like I did in blitz last year, because basically probably from +2 I moved to -1, and when he played 22…Nc3! I just went, "What’s happened with the pawn on e6? I had a passed pawn on e6!"
The pawn on d7 was soon rounded up, when Black was the one pressing, with Kasparov returning again and again to the theme:
With Nepomniachtchi I hope I can sleep tonight with this d7-square. How could I give up my pawn on e6 – the pawn that would have decided the game otherwise?
Obviously rattled by what had happened Kasparov found a nice idea but mixed up the move order, since 33.Rxe8 34.Bf7 35.Rh1 would have been fine. Instead he played 33.Rh1, 34.Rxe8 and 35.Bf7, which ran into a blockbuster finish:
Nepo reminded us all that he’s a tactical monster with 35…Re3!! and there’s nothing Kasparov could do to save the game. It's always the little guys who suffer:
He resigned after
36.fxe3 Qxg3+ 37.Kf1 f3! and there was no stopping mate on g2 or e1.
Ian Nepomniachtchi was the first man to win a rated game against the Beast from Baku since March 10, 2005, when Veselin Topalov made Garry Kasparov’s announcement of his retirement an even more sombre affair by winning a drawn position in their last-round game in Linares. Ian commented (with his excitement getting the better of his English grammar):
It really feels great to play Garry, so of course it’s even twice as better to win a game against him!
That wasn’t the end of Garry’s day, though at the time he wished it was: “I thought I wouldn’t be able to play the last game”. His opponent made it a special occasion, since he was playing almost his 80th game against a rival he first encountered 26 years ago in 1991: Vishy Anand.
Once upon a time in 1995:
Garry didn’t look quite as fierce as Vishy told us at the start, though the watch was of course an ominous sign – if he puts it back on during the game you're expected to resign!
In the opening Vishy ducked the challenge of a Najdorf by playing the 3.Bb5 Sicilian, bringing a wry smile from Garry. Vishy later explained:
I tried to play something that he might be unfamiliar with - these kinds of schemes with Nc3, Nfd2. I didn’t realise they were quite awkward until much later, so I thought I would go for that. He hung in there quite well…
In fact eventually Kasparov got in the thematic Sicilian d5-break and only Black could be better. Mesmerized by the d7-square in his games so far on the day he pointed out another incident:
Here after 22…Rcd7 23.Qc3! the game was over as a contest, while Garry felt he had more:
At the end again, 22…Rcd7, this cursed square. 22…Rc6 and White is in big trouble!
If the pawn goes to d7 it’s likely it’s days will be numbered, though perhaps Vishy would still be a favourite to hold – once again, he had a significant time advantage over his older opponent.
That wasn’t quite the end of the game, though, since when the players shook hands the arbiter quickly stepped in and insisted they first reached the 30 moves required by the regulations. We’re pleased to report he lived to fight another day
It was great to hear of the camaraderie between the players afterwards, with Vishy responding as follows when asked about Garry’s performance:
I’m very impressed. He’s playing very well. Yesterday I wasn’t even sure I should answer this question because I was the one unable to score, but today, what can I say, I quadrupled my score or something! This was nice. And then in the end we chatted like some World War I veterans or something. It was nice - he still calculates, calculates, calculates, calculates. He’s giving me all these long lines from his game with Aronian and complaining that Aronian escaped, which I enjoyed very much!
In fact Vishy quintupled his score from 1 to 5 after he drew against Nepomniachtchi and got his first win of the event against David Navara. Garry himself was happy with his performance overall, and was hoping to continue in the same vein:
I’m going to have fun and just hopefully if I get a winning position I will not blunder again. Today I wish I could have the same number of moves I made throughout three games in one game. There were many, many good moves, but it was spread equally and it was not enough to make a good performance.
You can watch Kasparov’s interview, and the whole show, below:
He later added on Twitter:
If you can’t wait to see some Kasparov victories check out Lawrence Trent’s video series, where he shares some of his favourite games from the chess legend – as a Premium Member you get unlimited access to this series and many, many more. That starts at $9.99 per month, but if you Go Premium for 1 year or more during the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz we’ll add on an extra 3 months per year for free! (just contact email@example.com after your purchase)
As we already mentioned, Hikaru Nakamura was as solid as Vishy and Nepo, scoring one win against Navara, where he got to win the ending he’d lost to Le Quang Liem the day before…
…and two draws, though he felt he could have had more points if he’d remained consistent during his games:
The first 25 moves I’ve played the best chess, the next 25 moves I’ve probably played the worst.
There were more entertaining events elsewhere, so let’s quickly hand out a few awards:
The hugely likeable Czech no. 1 has been having a very tough time in St. Louis, though that wasn’t unexpected. As he told Maurice Ashley:
Believe it or not, but this year I haven’t played against a single player who would be rated higher than me before St. Louis… I’m never ready to go, the opponents are stronger than me, I understand this, but I can do better than I have done so far. I don’t know, but I hope I will show some better chess.
Well, he may be last on 3/12, but he did demolish Sergey Karjakin in the first game of Day 2. First he sacrificed on h6, then he calmly increased the pressure, e.g. after 33…Re6:
34.Rh4! left Black doomed and the only disappointment was that when resignation came on move 40 Karjakin could also have played on one move to allow mate on the board!
Le Quang Liem came close to winning the prize for how he took down Aronian, but perhaps he missed a few too many even deadlier blows, which brings us too…
Apart from Vishy’s “WWI veterns” quote most of the best lines came, as usual, from Levon Aronian. He described his day as follows:
The first game (vs. Kasparov) I wasn’t awake, the second game (vs. Le Quang Liem) I was too awake – I was trying to create havoc, but it wasn’t a good idea. I should have proceeded cautiously at one moment, because I had a good position, and the third game (vs. Fabiano Caruana) I kind of hibernated – slow, just collecting, something Yasser would do!
It was only that third game that he won. His second best quotes were about Garry’s performance:
All he needs to do is make his opponents believe that he’s very slow – something that I believed as well - and that will work!
When asked about how Garry will perform in the blitz:
Probably he will do better in the blitz because he will be forced to play fast!
Although Nakamura claimed he should have won the game against Caruana he was leaving out a little of that story, since Fabi was a move away from victory in the final stages:
After 90…e1=Q 91.Rxe1 Rxe1 92.Bb6 a draw was agreed, since the extra exchange means nothing, but 90…Rxg1! was a win! White isn’t in time to force Black to give up his rook for the a-pawn.
Fabi made up for that by inflicting the only defeat on Leinier Dominguez in Round 5, from a position where the only question seemed to be whether the Cuban no. 1 would win or draw!
So then, after two days of rapid chess the players remain
tightly bunched together, with Ian Nepomniachtchi a smidgen ahead of the pack:
The final day of rapid chess is another chance for one of the players to make their mark before we go into 18 rounds of blitz on the final two days. Kasparov starts with White against Navara and Le Quang Liem, and there’s no question he’ll be out to score his first wins. You won't want to miss the live show starting at about 19:55 CEST!
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