Reports Aug 18, 2017 | 4:12 PMby Colin McGourty

STL Rapid & Blitz 4: Karjakin stars, Aronian leads

Garry Kasparov started the first day of blitz in St. Louis with the King’s Gambit, but romance was soon dead. He went on to score one win and three losses, with any lingering dreams of fighting for the top places gone. The man of the day was another Russian, Sergey Karjakin, who showed us all why he’s the World Blitz Champion with a phenomenal 8/9, but he had one problem – Levon Aronian started 4 points ahead of him and scored a brilliant 6.5/9. He ended the day having doubled his lead over 2nd-placed Hikaru Nakamura to two points.

Garry Kasparov was one of Levon Aronian's victims on a very smooth day of chess for the Armenian no. 1 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

It’s impossible to follow five blitz games played simultaneously, but you can play through all 45 games from Day 1 of the blitz in St. Louis at your leisure using the selector below. Click on a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:

You can, of course, relive the action with the 4.5-hour show from St. Louis, where Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Cristian Chirila were our guides:

Rather than trying to take the day one round at a time let’s award some prizes for some of the highlights!

1. Player of the day: Sergey Karjakin

Sergey finished on a minus score in the rapid segment of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz, but he was transformed in blitz:

He conceded only two draws and did leader Levon Aronian a big favour by scoring a point against all his rivals, including inflicting the only defeat on Hikaru Nakamura. Sergey rode his luck at times, as you'll see, but more often than not he made things look easy. If called to play sharply he could, though, ending one of the most entertaining games of the day in crushing style against Fabiano Caruana:

It was far from an only move, but 25…Rxf3! was a cute finish, with  26.Kxf3 running into 26…Ne5+. Caruana played 26.Raf1 and resigned after 26…Ref8. It wasn’t Fabi’s day, as despite scoring three wins he suffered no less than 5 defeats.

Karjakin commented, “It is a great day, almost a perfect result for me”, though he had one regret:

I was actually very angry that I didn’t win my first game against Garry!

Which brings us to…

2. Moment of the day: Garry plays the King’s Gambit

Garry Kasparov and the King's Gambit is perhaps not what you want to see opposite you when you've barely woken up! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You couldn’t ask for much more as a chess fan. Not only were we witnessing Garry Kasparov playing his first rated blitz games since his retirement, but in the very first round he unleashed the most famous of all chess openings, the King’s Gambit – 1.e4 e5 2.f4!? The way to refute a gambit is to accept it, and Sergey Karjakin did his part by playing 2…exf4, until after 3.Nc3 Qh4+ 4.Ke2 we’d reached a wild position:

Here, though, Sergey got to demonstrate the pragmatism of modern chess players. Rather than going for any sharp lines that his opponent would have checked before the game, he decided to retreat his one active piece with the novelty (on move 4, of a famous opening!) 4…Qd8?!. Black was completely solid and it was up to Garry to justify what his king was doing on e2 with all the pieces remaining on the board.

We soon saw that Kasparov hadn’t come to the blitz ready to play on instinct and was instead again burning up time on his clock. He went on to blunder (it seems) a central pawn and would have been dead lost if not for the fact that Sergey had also burnt up too much time dealing with the surprise opening. That came to a head after 43.Qxg3:

White is suddenly threatening discovered checks, but Sergey needn’t have panicked. 43…Qc6+! simply prepares to capture the knight on g6 next move. If White blocks the check with 44.d5 then Black can take that pawn and give checks until the queen is on the a1-h8 diagonal - again, the knight can then safely be taken. Instead Sergey went for 43…Qd2+? If he’d been playing on increments rather than the delay he could have built up some time and started looking for a tricky win, but as it was he found nothing better than to keep checking until a draw was reached on move 60.

3. Finish of the day: Caruana vs. Kasparov

Garry Kasparov went on to draw his next game against Ian Nepomniachtchi with Black, before Fabiano Caruana cunningly avoided the King’s Gambit by playing the French Defence in Round 3 of the blitz! Garry pushed his h-pawn and generated a fierce kingside attack, but Caruana fought back on the queenside and seized the initiative. With three extra pawns it was unlikely Fabiano would let things slip, but he still found the neatest finish:

40…Rc1! White resigns. The f-pawn can queen, but Rxf1 would of course eliminate it straight away. Things weren't going smoothly for Garry, but who could have expected them to?

Still, only Fabiano retains a chance of scoring 100% against perhaps the greatest chess player of all time:

That’s not quite all for that game, though…         

4. Controversy of the day: the 30-move rule

In the midst of that great fighting game Garry Kasparov was distracted by noise elsewhere, and, as you can imagine, he wasn’t shy about showing his anger!

What had happened? Well, the least interesting game of the round, Anand-Nakamura, suddenly became the most controversial:

The players were repeating moves – the white knight going from g5 to f3, the black knight from f6 to d7, but they hadn’t done it three times yet. They agreed a draw anyway and, it turned out, they also hadn’t reached the required 30 moves. As Mike Klein explained, Nakamura thought the 30-move rule wasn’t applied to the blitz, where it made little sense, both because you don’t really need to encourage fighting chess and because there’s no easy way for the players to know when they’ve reached that 30 moves.

It turns out it did apply, though, and the arbiters were just doing their job when they insisted some pointless additional moves were made - perhaps another one of a few cases where the Grand Chess Tour regulations seem to lack common sense. Hopefully everyone saw the funny side, in the end...

Just to add to the fun Hikaru played Garry in the very next round | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

5. Turnaround of the day:  Caruana-Nakamura

There’s some real competition here. For instance, in the penultimate round of the day Le Quang Liem had mate-in-21 against the day’s golden boy, Sergey Karjakin:

Ok, only a computer would execute that to perfection, but it was perfectly human to start a king hunt with 44.Re8+! Kg7 45.Qxa7+. Instead he probably thought 44.Re3? was simpler, but after 44…Rxg2+! the win had gone. When the Vietnamese player again played his rook to e3 six moves later it was the losing move.

Le Quang Liem missed a chance to end on a plus score, but kept on smiling | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

The tragedy of blitz, however, was perhaps better captured in the final round, when Fabiano Caruana had completely outplayed Hikaru Nakamura to dominate Black’s two bishops with his two knights. He’s also won a pawn, had a better pawn structure and could have grabbed another pawn at will here:

Instead, though, he went for one knight manoeuvre too many with 58.Nd2 Bg5 59.Nb1 and after 59…Qh8! he suddenly had to be accurate. Of course we wouldn’t be looking at this game if he had been and just a handful of moves later Fabiano had to resign or get mated:

He chose the former and finds himself in 5th place while Nakamura is in sole 2nd.

6. Fight of the day: Aronian-Navara

This game featured far from flawless chess, but was a wonderful contest. First Levon Aronian went for a sacrificial kingside attack that wasn’t entirely sound, or at least not how he played it. David Navara had a big edge, but then Levon tricked his way out of trouble and found himself an exchange up in the ending. It was hard to convert, though at times he was clearly winning, but the main thing was that both players were forced to play on the 3-second delay with no hope of ever increasing the time on their clocks. They did a fine job of it, managing to reach 147 moves! 

In fact it could have gone longer, since David seemed too polite to claim a draw for 50 moves without a pawn push or capture. Instead it required the arbiter Chris Bird to throw in the towel, or at least stop the clocks, since arbiters are able to declare games drawn if 75 moves have passed.

A close 2nd was Nakamura-Kasparov, which featured an early h5... sacs left, right and centre and a final position in which Garry Kasparov was two pawns down but had set up an impenetrable fortress. If anyone suggests the return of Kasparov has been a disappointment it should be enough to point to such battles, which it’s been a privilege to witness.

7. Worst opening of the day: Ian Nepomniachtchi

Some of Nepomniachtchi's opening experiments definitely shouldn't be tried at home, or anywhere, for that matter | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

Ian Nepomniachtchi scored a disappointing minus 1 and could put some of the blame on his openings. He played one of his pet lines (1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Nf6 3.e5 Nh5) against Karjakin, but while it can't be all bad,  since Peter Svidler has also tried it a few times, things then went downhill fast. This is the position reached on move 12:

After a bitter almost two-minute think Nepo “defended the pawn” with 12…Qe8. Sergey immediately took it anyway with 13.Nxg6 Qxg6 14.Bxh5, though it might have been even stronger to delay. It made no difference, since Karjakin went on to win in 61 moves – one of the longest miniatures you’ll witness 

Ian actually had some competition in this category from himself, since with Black against Levon Aronian he was facing this position on move 12:

He had to exchange the knight and allow the bishop to stop him from castling any time soon. He did manage eventually, but only at the cost of entering a lost endgame by force.

8. Drawmeister of the day: Vishy Anand

A quiet moment with Vishy Anand and his second Grzegorz Gajewski | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

You probably wouldn’t have guessed who would have the most draws on the first day of the blitz, with Nakamura and Kasparov in joint second place with five, while top was Vishy Anand with seven. 

Vishy said that was no reflection on the kind of chess he was playing and although his 3.5/9 was the same as Kasparov and more than Dominguez (3) or Navara (2.5) scored, he wasn’t impressed:

It's a catastrophe, but there's not much you can do about it. You have to play tomorrow... 

What made it worse was that he should have scored eight draws, if not for a comedy of errors in the final game against Sergey Karjakin. First he’d found some very nice tricks to equalise a tough position and just needed to play one move:

Here 33…Rf2! gets the job done. If 34.Qg1 then 34…Rxg2! and after 35.Qxa7 Black can force a perpetual in multiple ways – starting 35…Rxh2+ may be the most satisfying. Instead play continued after 33…Qe3 until White was better, but then the players began repeating moves. Sometimes repetitions can be hard to spot, but this wasn’t such a case. 57.Kb2 was clearly the 3rd time this position had been seen:

Alas, Vishy forgot that he shouldn’t have played his move here, 57…Ra4, but instead called over the arbiter and explained he was about to make the move. So it wasn’t a valid claim for a draw, but it was about to get worse… Vishy could have claimed correctly on the next move after 58.Kb3, but instead in a rush of blood to the head he varied with 58…Rxh4 and after 59.a6! he was lost. What a way to lose a game of chess!

9. Blunder of the day: Aronian’s 34...Rc3

Aronian's shirt almost won blunder of the day itself | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Of course with most blitz games being decided by blunders large or small there’s a lot of competition, but let’s give Levon Aronian’s one blemish the prize. He’d let a good position against Fabiano Caruana get slightly out of hand and was low on the clock, but that was no reason to forget his d8-rook was under attack when he played 34.Rc3??

That of course just lost a rook to 34…Rxc3.

Levon got to be on the right end of such a blunder in Round 5. Vishy had let a good position slip but it got much worse when he grabbed a pawn on a3:

33…Nc4! was a pretty fork from Levon, but not so pretty if you’re sitting behind the white pieces…

10. Trap of the day: Karjakin vs. Navara

David Navara, raring to go | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

We left out one blunder there, since we decided to call it a trap! Karjakin had just given 8 checks in a row in a drawn position against Navara, but on the 9th move he shuffled his king to b7:

The move wasn’t as harmless as it looked, since after Navara’s 55.Qb5?? there was 55…Qe6# Oops! 

We can expect more of the same on the final day, when there are still 9 rounds to play. Aronian’s 2-point lead looks imposing, but it could vanish in the space of two rounds - not that that would stop him being a winner!

One big question will be how Garry Kasparov approaches what is likely to be his last official chess for a long time, even conceivably forever. Will he set out to have some fun? Or is ensuring he doesn’t finish in last place a more pressing concern? 

They're coming to get you... | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

Don't miss the live show starting at about 19:50 CEST! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps:


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