Magnus Carlsen scored 6.5/9 on the first day of blitz as he
overtook Wesley So to regain the sole lead in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz.
The World Champion was richly rewarded for going all-out at almost every moment
of every game, with 6 wins and 2 losses, though he could easily have lost another
3 games. Wesley is just half a point off the pace and it’s set to be a
two-horse race on the final day. Hikaru Nakamura was the second top scorer in
blitz with 5.5 points, but losses in his first (Carlsen) and last (Nepomniachtchi) games left
him out of contention.

You can replay all the games from the St. Louis Rapid and
Blitz using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis).

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Yasser Seirawan,
Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley.

Magnus’ day of mayhem

A day of 9 rounds of blitz is always packed with incident,
but Day 1 of the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz was all about Magnus, whose
approach was in the spirit of Vladimir Kramnik at the end of his career – a “drunk machine-gunner”, as Nigel Short put it!

Magnus wasn’t interviewed afterwards, but one tweet summed
things up.

Magnus was referring to his appearance on Samay Raina’s show
earlier in the day, when Vishy Anand and Vidit had also joined to play some
Hand and Brain and Card Chess (you draw cards and have to move the pawn/piece
that corresponds to the card, if you can).

It was certainly a lot of fun!

Magnus began the “serious business” of the St. Louis blitz
by playing Hikaru Nakamura, who had
once achieved notoriety for breaking one of those beginner rules (“don’t bring
your queen out early”) by playing 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5. This time Magnus got to give
Hikaru some of his own medicine, though he did wait until move 5.

This had been played by Magnus’ second Daniil Dubov
against 2550-rated Urii Eliseev in the 2013 Moscow Blitz Championship. Urii
tried to punish the opening but only left himself with no better option than
resigning on move 9! Hikaru made a similar mistake with 5…Nc6 6.Bb5 Nb4?!, threatening
Nc2+, but after 7.Qxe5+ Be6 8.Qe4 the black knight was soon driven back and Magnus was simply a pawn up.

He switched to technical mode, though not without some
flourishes.

42.Rxg7! Kxg7 43.f6+ and the rook ending was a very easy
win that proved enough for Magnus to catch Wesley. 

From that point onwards,
Hikaru got back to playing at his usual blitz strength, scoring an impressive
5.5 in the next 7 games, but a loss to Nepo in the final round of the day
extinguished any outside hopes of fighting for the title.

Magnus would go on to win all five of his games with White,
though often he got a helping hand. 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong was close to a draw in Round 2, but instead of
playing 34…Rxe5! he played 34…Rf3?

Suddenly it’s over! 35.g5! Rh3 36.Rcc8! and Black can’t stop
mate on h8.

There was a back-story to Magnus’ first game of the day
with Black, since he tweeted:

That was trolling, but not of Harikrishna but of world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, who had played 4…h6!?
earlier in the day in the Bundesliga and gone on to get crushed in style by
Erwin l’Ami.

For a glimpse of how the over-the-board action is going in
Germany, where the likes of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov are also in action, check out this video.

Back online, however, Harikrishna sidestepped whatever was
awaiting him by playing 1.e4… and going on to win two pawns and, more or less smoothly,
the game! As we’ll see, Magnus would suffer with the black pieces all day.

First, however, Magnus had White against Levon Aronian. He refuted a pawn grab
by the Armenian no. 1 and won a piece, but just when it looked as though he
would go on to win easily he completely lost control of the situation.

After 56…Rg8! here the computer tells us Levon has a crushing
advantage, but after 56…Re8!? 57.Bxh4 g2? (57…Rg8!) 58.Kg1 e3 59.Rd1+, and
taking on d6, the once proud black pawns began to fall. Having flirted with
disaster, Magnus went on to win in 80 moves!

It was a tough day for Levon, who won his first game against
Alireza Firouzja then lost three, including a
bizarre blunder against Nakamura
, where he simply put his queen on a square
attacked by Hikaru’s knight and resigned on move 20.

Ian Nepomniachtchi
became the only player to beat Magnus twice so far in the St. Louis Rapid and
Blitz. His win in rapid was mainly down to the World Champion’s internet
connection failing, but in blitz it was all about 1.b3. Nepo played that move
in all five of his games with White, also beating Leinier Dominguez and mating
Hikaru Nakamura in the final game of the day:

“Even if I didn’t equalise, 1.b3 works!” said Hikaru, which
could also sum up his game against Magnus. Black was doing well in the opening,
but one inaccurate move allowed Nepo to win a pawn and take over. Magnus still
managed to rustle up chances, but ultimately Ian got to execute a rook trap
he’d seen in advance.

Nepo would end the day in sole 3rd place, but at 3 points
behind Wesley and 3.5 behind Magnus he can’t realistically hope to fight the
leaders. What motivations are left? “I should stand my ground and prove that b3
is worthy!”

Magnus needed to bounce back again, and he got the perfect
opportunity against Alexander Grischuk,
even if the way he was slouched back in his chair might have lulled his opponent
into a false sense of security…

The Russian had punished Magnus’ ambitious opening play in
the last round of rapid chess, but this time Magnus repeating a risky line he’d
championed in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational worked like a dream. Back then
Magnus had beaten
Firouzja
but then lost
to Giri
. Grischuk didn’t follow Giri’s 12…Bd6 improvement, and Magnus instead
got to improve on his play vs. Firouzja with the visually appealing 13.f4!

A brutal attack soon followed.

Grischuk also lost to Nakamura, but scored 50% in blitz with
wins over Dominguez and Harikrishna, both of which featured nice tactics.

Next up for Magnus was Alireza
Firouzja
, a match-up that of course has some extra significance due to Alireza’s
victory in the Banter Blitz Cup and also the potential narrative of Alireza
being a serious contender for the World Championship title. The opening battle
seemed to go Magnus’ way, but 29…Bb4 allowed Alireza to cement his positional
advantages.

30.d5! offered an exchange sac, when after 30…Bxd2 31.dxe6
Qxe6 32.Rxd2 the powerful white knights and the holes around the black king
make it a very dangerous position to play. It was no less dangerous in the game
when Magnus retreated with 30…Ng7!? and soon Alireza was winning. He missed
some chances and found others until the game turned on move 51.

52.Qxf7! Rxf7 was completely winning for White, but Alireza
confessed, “the thing I calculated was just embarrassing!” He simply missed
53.Kxh3! and the pawns can’t be stopped (53…Rxf5 54.d7), saw other moves there were losing, and played 52.Qd8?
with just 1 second left on his clock. After 52…Bxf5 the black rooks and bishop were more than a match for the queen and Magnus went on to win in 70 moves. It had
been emotional!

Alireza would remain in last place at the end of the day, but he
finally scored two wins and felt his play was a big improvement.

Today in the blitz I was happy with my play but I don’t know
why I didn’t get results… I had so many winning positions today, but what to
do?

He ended on a high with what he called, “a very beautiful
game” against Harikrishna, who he caught out in the opening.

16.e6! (sacrificing the bishop) 16…cxd2 17.exf7+ Kd7 18.Qe4!
(offering the knight as well) 18…Nc6 19.Bxd2 and he eventually went on to hunt
down the black king on a3!

The drama still wasn’t over for Magnus who, as against
Aronian, built up a big attack with the white pieces against Leinier Dominguez but then failed to
find a killer blow. Leinier fought back, equalised and was a move away from
winning the game when Magnus played 43.Re2?

43…Rf8! simply wins the f5-bishop, since it can’t be
defended and can’t move without allowing back rank mate on f1 (Samay Raina might suddenly
have felt better about his day!).

Instead Leinier played 43.Bf4? in 1 second and missed a few
more chances until, to no-one’s great surprise, Carlsen managed to eke out
another win.

His final round of the day was against Wesley So, who Magnus led by half a point. If Wesley could win with
the white pieces he could snatch back the lead, or if Magnus won his advantage
would grow to a significant 1.5 points, but, once again to no-one’s great surprise, this was
the World Champion’s only uneventful game of the day.  

Wesley had lost to Xiong in the first round of the day, then
beaten Harikrishna and Nepomniachtchi, then drawn his remaining 5 games. It may not be the most exciting stategy to watch, but it leaves Wesley
firmly in contention for overall victory.

The tournament ends Saturday with another 9 rounds of blitz,
and if it’s anything like Friday you don’t want to miss it. Tune in here on chess24 from 20:00 CEST

See also:


Chess Mentor

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