2020 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz - Day 1 Recap

 The Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz has been one of the stops of the Grand Chess Tour since 2017. This year, it’s a stand-alone online tournament with 9 rapid and 18 blitz games over five days and a $250,000 prize fund, attracting some of the top players of the world, including World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the two previous winners, Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian. After three rapid games, Levon Aronian and Pentala Harikrishna emerged as the co-leaders. While Aronian has won the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz in  2017 and 2019, this marks Harikrishna’s first appearance in the event.

Rapid standings after day 1. In the rapid a win is worth 2 points, a draw is 1 point and a loss is 0

Round 1

The tournament kicked off with an epic matchup between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen; these two players tied for first in Champions Showdown: Chess9LX tournament which concluded less than 2 days ago. Nakamura sacrificed a pawn for the initiative in the middlegame but his follow up lacked flair leaving his opponent up a healthy pawn. The World Champion had no difficulties capitalizing on his material advantage.

The game between Alireza Firouzja and Levon Aronian was a total rollercoaster with a long sequence of zwischenzugs, or in between moves, starting on move 16. Ultimately, Aronian got the upper hand in the pawn race in the endgame, when his opponent blundered, allowing a promotion with a check. Harikrishna also scooped up the full point in an endgame, but first picking up a pawn, then destroying his opponent’s pawn structure and picking up the rest of the pawns. 

Wesley So was the only player to win with the white pieces, delivering a defeat to his countryman Jeffery Xiong. So won an intrusive rook endgame just by one tempo. 

The draw between Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi was the only peaceful result of the round.

Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen face off once again

Round 2

The second round of the day saw the pitfalls of online chess: the World Champion lost due to disconnection in an equal position. The dust had finally settled after a complex middlegame when the server suddenly showed that Nepomniachtchi had won. The commentators assumed it was some kind of a glitch but it was later confirmed that with only 35 seconds left on the clock Carlsen had suddenly disconnected and lost on time. 

The only other decisive result of the round was the game between Aronian and Grischuk. The Armenian star found himself in trouble right out of the opening, with his king stranded after losing the castling right. Grischuk played a remarkable dynamic game, until he let the advantage slip away due to being low on time. The players entered a bishop endgame which should have ended in a draw, but with a few more inaccuracies, the Russian player found himself in a theoretically lost position. 

The rest of the games ended in relatively quiet draws: Nakamura vs So, Xiong vs Dominguez and Harikrishna vs Firouzja.

Levon Aronian Analyzes His Game Against Alexander Grischuk

Round 3

The day concluded with a peaceful round that only saw one decisive result. In a time scramble, a check cost Grischuk the games, as it tangled his pieces, overworking his knight. He was forced to lose his bishop and found himself in a mating net. 

Nepomniachtchi and Aronian played an enterprising opening which resulted in a dynamic middlegame. After losing the thread of the game a bit, Aronian opted out for an opposite colored bishops endgame which resulted in a draw.This result was enough to guarantee him a tie for first. 

Carlsen did not manage to bounce back from the misfortune of the previous round; So was very solid with the white pieces and the game ended with lone kings left on the board. 

Nakamura almost had a disastrous day as his position was completely lost in a knight endgame, but a one move blunder by Dominguez allowed the reigning U.S. Champion to escape unscathed. 

The battle between the two teenagers, Firouzja and Xiong, saw a lot of tactical elements but eventually ended in a draw in a position with a material imbalance of queen against a rook and a bishop.

Pentala Harikrishna was all smiles in the postgame Interview 

Tune again tomorrow to watch live with GM's Maurice Ashley and Yasser Seirawan along with WGM Jennifer Shahade starting at 12:50 PM CDT at uschesschamps.com  or on the Saint Louis Chess Club's YouTube and Twitch.tv channels.