There’s a good chance you can name a world elite sprinter, and there’s some chance you can even name a marathoner. But when it comes to middle-distance runners, not many are illustrious.
Ditto for chess.
Classical chess ratings are scrutinized to the decimal point, and blitz videos and streams are consumed in Netflix-type binges. But where’s the love for the middle discipline, rapid chess?
In the latest event to attempt to establish the Steve Prefontaine of chess, the 2018 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz concluded the rapid portion today, with GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov drafting and then passing GM Fabiano Caruana. The Usain Bolt section follows Tuesday and Wednesday with two full days of blitz.
Is the topsy-turvy event more stressful for the players, or for their seconds? | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
As for Mamedyarov, he’s already about to anoint Nakamura the winner of the event.
“He’s a machine in blitz; no one can stop him!” the Azeri said about the American. Chess.com asked Nakamura about the comment, and you can watch the video interview below for his response.
The two men overtook Caruana by virtue of grabbing five points today (two wins and a draw each) while the leader could only muster two points (a loss followed by two draws).
GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov would win the “golden brain” trophy if chess followed the ways of football and awarded marks for creativity. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
GM Leinier Dominguez could have figured into the mix as well. He had another all-world save in round seven when Caruana simply put a rook in take, but then he and his dwindling time became Nakamura’s second victim today in the later round.
Even though his game seems perfectly tuned to the format, this was the first time Nakamura leads a Grand Chess Tour event after the rapid since Paris 2016.
“Feels like a lifetime ago,” the American said.
GM Alexander Grischuk came in freshly shaved, but all eyes remained on Caruana to see if he could go wire-to-wire (according to GM Maurice Ashley’s research, five of the seven rapid winners in Grand Chess Tour history went on to win the overall event).
GM Alexander Grischuk looked several years younger today, but he still got his usual time pressure. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
In the game that may do the most to upend the tournament, a common theme recurred: Dominguez saved a hopeless position against an American. Caruana’s two rooks and knight had trouble organizing against Dominguez’s queen, but when they did, surely things would be simple? Well, both players had only 13 seconds left, so nothing comes easy.
“I really had a golden opportunity to go to plus-four,” Caruana lamented to Chess.com.
Not so fast. Caruana just moved his rook where it could be taken, banking on a fork. But the knight tasked with the would-be fork was pinned. It’s not every day five points are lost just like that.
Dominguez saw that his opponent’s blunder might happen, but talked himself out of the possibility. This was the world-championship challenger after all.
GM Fabiano Caruana relinquished his lead today for the first time, mostly because of the opening game. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
“I saw that he was going to make the move, but then I thought he would see [the knight was pinned],” Dominguez said.
Caruana was more laconic: “The first game was pretty horrible.”
How to describe such a move? This writer will defer to the 2800. “Re7 was just a blackout,” said Caruana.
“You can’t really hope to win a game when you blunder a rook,” Caruana said. “If I had won the first game, which was entirely within my hands, it would have been a great rapid portion.”
So with Caruana stuck on eight points, two of the four in the second-place chase group took full advantage. Both Mamedyarov and Nakamura won to come even.
Nakamura said he wasn’t expectig Caruana to lose a game, but then added, “It seems like every event so far Fabiano found a way to turn a completely winning position into a loss. I know in Leuven and Paris it happened quite a few times. Unfortunately for Fabiano it happened today.”
After round eight, Dominguez and Mamedyarov discuss their game. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Mamedyarov had an especially fun game, even for his standards. For those not familiar by now with his rapid style this week, you can think of it this way: It’s like the Ginger GM Simon Williams’ impulses inside the body of a 2800. He said that after the first two GCT events, he decided he needed to “change something” and to play more aggressive chess.
The lunge 9. h4 portended the rest of the game. Shak was there to dunk. GM Sergey Karjakin spent several minutes on his reply, but the fusillade was just getting started.
More buildup ensued, then 16. Bg6! lit up Black’s composure. What might have really brought the house down was his chance two moves later. Can you spot the dramatic idea?
Before you go thinking you might be a better player than Mamedyarov, rest assured that he did see the move (Mamedyarov: “Tactical moves I see not bad!”). But there’s a rejoinder that he didn’t like that gave Black too much activity, as explained below in the game of the day analysis by GM Robert Hess. And besides, it’s not like he let the Russian off the hook.
Nakamura also took advantage, even though he didn’t care much for his play in his win over GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The Frenchman had an especially rough day, dropping two games and temporarily becoming an outsider in the race to qualify for London.
Nakamura: “Maxime self-destructed today.”
Every day so far has had one somnambulant round to temper the frenetic pace of rapid. Today the middle round served that purpose, although there have not been any rounds in which all five games ended drawn.
GM Wesley So beat Grischuk in a mostly-normal King’s Indian Defense where Black lost in the manner that the second player often does. Grischuk threw his entire lunchbox at the White king but failed to mate and thus lost on the queenside.
The game of the round was clearly GM Levon Aronian against Vachier-Lagrave. The Armenian showed some versatility by going to 1. e4 but that meant a Najdorf, the Frenchman’s specialty, and which Aronian said he played as a kid. Aronian didn’t shy away and the expected double-edged game commenced.
GM Levon Aronian was truly the joker today. He gave some of Brand X to Vachier-Lagrave. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
It looked for one ply that the bolt 29. Nc5 would give White the upper hand, but MVL simply left his queen en prise with the precise and unexpected 29…Rh2!, which also put his rook en prise! What can we say? He clearly has some fealty toward French expressions in chess.
It all came apart however with a subtle king move. Instead of 32…Kh7, he would have preferred to say j’adoube and switch to h8. Aronian’s petite combination trapped the king on the h-file, but should have only been good enough to hold. Instead, it produced the full point after a further error.
Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave discuss what just transpired. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Interestingly, the word for “nightmare” in French, cauchemar, is a cognate in Russian: кошмар.
The loss was a double whammy for Vachier-Lagrave (15 points, fourth place) in that he is trying to hold off Aronian (13 points, fifth place) in the Grand Chess Tour standings, and only the top four advance to London.
Dominguez could have made it two wins in a row, but as he whispered to Mamedyarov afterward, “I completely missed …Qe8.”
The hold by Black meant the final round began with the same three leaders: Nakamura, Mamedyarov, and Caruana.
Despite getting White twice today for the first time, Caruana didn’t get anything against So and drew in only 19 moves. He would then wait downstairs, giving some interviews while keeping an eye on the scoreboard.
It seemed for a while that he could still have a piece of the lead going into blitz, but then Mamedyarov finished off Anand.
Nakamura then won as well, taking advantage of Dominguez’s lack of time. At one point the clocks read 12 minutes to 13 seconds. The Cuban would not go 3-0 against the American trio.
Dominguez was so close to joining the top half of the tables today. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
“The last game was a little bit weird because I probably shouldn’t have won but you just keep plugging away,” Nakamura said.
Due to a transmission error upstairs, Nakamura came downstairs and thought for a moment he might be the sole leader, but then recognized that Mamedyarov winning that position made more sense in the end.
Chess.com caught up with Nakamura after the day ended. Here’s his thoughts on the rest of the tournament:
Watch Hikaru Nakamura On Grabbing The Lead In Saint Louis from Chess on www.twitch.tv
Going into the blitz, this is where the tournament stands. All 18 blitz games (5+3) will be worth one point.
All graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.
The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is a five-day event from August 11-15. The first three days are a rapid round robin and the final two days are a blitz double round robin. The games begin at 1 p.m. Central U.S. time daily (8 p.m. Central Europe).