Maxime Vachier-Lagrave lost to Magnus Carlsen at the start of Day 3 of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz, but by the end of the day he’d snatched the world no. 1 spot from Magnus and caught Levon Aronian in the lead. Magnus lost a 4th game of the event, to Sergey Karjakin, but it could have been worse, since he was also on the ropes against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Fabiano Caruana lost all three games and Richard Rapport and Yu Yangyi were the top scorers on a crazy day in St. Louis!
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And here’s the day’s live commentary:
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Maxime Vachier-Lagrave went into the first game of the day against Magnus Carlsen on a 4-game winning streak, knowing that a win or draw would take him above Magnus on the rapid live rating list. It would instead be a familiar story for 2019, however, as just as in the final rounds of the GRENKE Chess Classic and the Croatia Grand Chess Tour Maxime failed to get out of the opening against the World Champion.
He would later lament:
Of course in this game against Magnus I should probably have remembered better what to do. I knew what was the right move, but then I couldn’t remember the follow-up, so I decided to go for something else. I got into early trouble.
By the end Magnus could choose his finish:
33.Bxf7+! Kxf7 34.Qxb7+ and capturing the knight on b2 was perhaps the most visually appealing, but delaying the blow with 33.Rb1 Qf6 34.Bxf7+! worked just as well.
When Levon Aronian comfortably outplayed Fabiano Caruana in the same round that left MVL trailing by 3 points, making the turnaround that followed almost impossible to predict!
Maxime got back on track in the next round with what he called a “really fine” game in which demolished the Berlin Wall of Leinier Dominguez. We got the thematic e6 pawn sacrifice:
Then some little tactics:
26.Bxb6! Bxb5 (26…axb6 runs into 27.Nc7+) 27.Nxb5 Rb8 28.Nc7+ Kd7 29.Bxa7 Kxc7 30.Bxb8+ Kxb8 31.Rf7! Bd6 32.Rxg7 and Black was utterly dominated:
The black knight doesn’t have a single square it can jump to, and although 32…e5 gave it a square, 33.Kf2! emphasised that if the knight went to e6 then Rg6 would pick up a piece, while the king can’t approach to help out as the a-pawn will queen. Leinier kept trying to free his pieces, but by the time they were back in the game White had unstoppable g and h-pawns.
That win saw Maxime close the gap to Levon Aronian to just a point again, since Levon was put to the sword by Richard Rapport. The Hungarian had arrived late in St. Louis after a cancelled flight and struggled with jetlag on the first two days, but on the third he blew Mamedyarov away in 23 moves with the black pieces and then outplayed Levon in the opening. There was still a good chance for the Armenian to force a draw, but he delayed too long with 32…e3:
Here 33.Ra3!, played after 2 minutes’ thought, was strong, and after 33…Qxf2+ 34.Qxf2 exf2 35.Kg2! the ending was tricky for Black. Levon soon went astray and found himself in a lost rook ending, and although Rapport said it was “quite ridiculous it took so long” he got there in the end:
In the final round of the day Levon drew quickly against Yu
Yangyi (who beat Dominguez and Caruana to match the day’s best 2.5/3 of
Rapport), allowing Maxime to join him in the lead with a convincing win over
Fabiano Caruana. It was an unexpected collapse from the US star, who had been
unbeaten on the first two days but scored 0/3 on the third!
For Maxime, meanwhile, that meant he'd scored 6 wins in 7 games:
Before the rapid and blitz began Magnus Carlsen recorded a video in which he pointed out how a bad day in rapid is difficult to recover from in these events:
Of course logically we know such things can happen to anyone, but the way 2019 had gone it was hard to imagine it happening to Magnus. He lost the first game of the tournament and two games on Day 2, but the win over Maxime at the start of Day 3 looked like normal service being restored. It wouldn’t last.
In the second game of the day he played an offbeat system against Sergey Karjakin that made it very clear he was interested only in playing for a win, regardless of having the black pieces. It was a provocation too far, however, since Sergey skilfully thwarted the World Champion’s attacking hopes on the kingside and seized complete control on the queenside and in the centre. The final position makes a good summary of the game:
It could have got worse in the final game. After a streak of five losses in a row Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had stemmed the bleeding with a draw against Ding Liren in Round 8 and then played one of his pet systems against Magnus in Round 9: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c5!?
It proved to be a clever choice, as by move 15 White was in trouble, with 17…a3! the point:
18.bxa3 runs into 18…Bc3!, winning a piece, so Magnus had to struggle on with 18.Ke2!, allowing 18…axb2. There was a relatively happy ending, however, as Mamedyarov got very low on time and allowed Magnus to give up the exchange to set up an impenetrable fortress.
That wasn’t enough to save the no. 1 spot on the rapid live rating list:
That result left Carlsen - and also Caruana, Karjakin and Rapport – trailing the leaders by a full 5 points going into the 18 rounds of blitz on Tuesday and Wednesday:
Normally that would be an impossible margin to make up, but we all know how good Magnus can be in blitz, and as we saw in Paris, it’s possible for even the world’s best players to stumble. What makes it tougher for the chasing pack this time is that there are two blitz specialists to try and catch. Although Maxime seized the no. 1 spot in rapid, he still claimed:
No. 1 in rapid is not really a testimony to my general strength. I’ve always thought that rapid was my worst, and I’m coming back from two very good performances. With this rating, this k=20, I can lose 100 points in blitz so I can win 30 points in rapid, but in general of course I have much more confidence in my blitz skills, even after the Paris mishap.
Maxime isn’t planning to lose 8 games again as he did in Paris, but we’re guaranteed to see some exciting action. It kicks off with Carlsen-MVL, where Magnus will be out for revenge for losing both blitz games to Maxime in Abidjan and also a game in the Norway Chess blitz.
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