Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Day 2: Caruana Increases Lead, Shankland Surges
GM Fabiano Caruana is in sole first place after day 2. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Day 2: Caruana Increases Lead, Shankland Surges

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Fabiano Caruana grabbed sole first place after a topsy-turvy day, after answering a round four loss with two consecutive wins. GM Hikaru Nakamura showed his defensive skills to stay within striking distance in second place, while GM Sam Shankland had an impressive 2.5/3 score on Thursday to move into third place.

GMs Wesley So and GM Leinier Dominguez Perez fell back to an even score and are joined by GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Richard Rapport with six points. GM Peter Svidler bounced back after a difficult first day and scored a win and two draws. GMs Le Quang Liem and Jeffery Xiong are behind the pack.

How to watch?
The games of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz can be found here as part of our live events platform. Daily commentary is available on starting at 1:00 p.m. Pacific / 22:00 Central Europe.

Saint Louis Rapid | Day 2 Standings

2021 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz standings day 2

The top game of Round 4 was the battle between the leaders. Dominguez and So repeated 15 moves of theory of the Giuoco Piano, and then Leinier made a new move, moving his knight along the usual Spanish route to a great outpost on f5. Wesley reacted by trading queens, but it left his queenside in trouble.

Things looked good for Dominguez, but he mistimed his c3-c4 break and gave Black counterplay due to a strong c3-pawn. At some moment Leinier was trying to repeat moves, but Wesley wouldn't have it. A tactical skirmish led to a balanced endgame, and further simplifications ensured a peaceful outcome.

Xiong-Mamedyarov featured the topical h4 line against the Grunfeld, but it didn't follow the usual routes of sharp play. Instead, it went into a variant of the Schlechter Defense with the open c-file.  Commentator GM Ben Finegold was wondering what the white pawn was doing on h4, but it played the role of bait, which Shakh couldn't resist.

Soon Black parted with his dark-squared bishop and gave up his entire queenside in order to win that h4-pawn and get his queen close to Xiong's king. It was hardly a sound strategy, according to our commentators, but Shakh is a master of creating chaos on the board, and perhaps Xiong missed a thing or two. In the end, Jeffery could do no better than repeat moves.

2021 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz
Xiong and Mamedyarov had a lively draw in the first round. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Liem challenged Nakamura in the same line Mamedyarov and Rapport went for, but he had a new idea prepared. Hikaru reacted in a principled way, forcing White to sacrifice a bishop. A critical position was reached on move 17. Black had choices, but Nakamura's move looked more like a bailout attempt, which led him to a difficult endgame. One thing about Hikaru is that he's a great defender, who never loses his head. Despite a shortage of time he conducted his active defense perfectly and forced Liem to deliver a perpetual check.

Rapport-Svidler was a lively affair from the get-go, as Richard opened with 1.b3. Most of the middlegame saw White trying hard to generate chances on the kingside, but Svidler's defenses held without any glitches.

Now to the game that upset the apple cart... Shankland upset the tournament leader Caruana in the first round of the day.

Round 5 started with a bang. How does White lose in 25 moves in a slow-moving Anti-Meran? Shankland's will show us how.

This is how Sam Shankland turned his luck around: consecutive wins over two of the world's top 10 players.

2021 Saint louis shankland
Shankland defeated Caruana and Mamedyarov in the first two rounds of the day—a great start. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Svidler did his best to follow the suit by defeating Liem, who missed a big chance right here.

Rapport took a big gamble by sacrificing the exchange in a tough position against a very tough opponent, Wesley So. Finegold had one of his finest moments, explaining why Wesley went the wrong way with his bishop.

A quiet symmetrical opening in the important game between Caruana and Dominguez led to a closed position with long pawn chains and only one set of minor pieces left on the board. Danny and Ben assumed it would end in a draw, and only returned to that game after Fabiano was completely winning. How did such a change come about? Our heroes were flabbergasted, and, honestly so was I. Perhaps, a deeper look would reveal the truth, but I will leave it to the reader.

Another difficult-to-understand game was played between Nakamura and Xiong. In the early middlegame, Hikaru started to push his kingside pawns forward. We didn't get to find out whether it was a slowly developing menacing plan or just a harmless demonstration, because the tempo of the game rapidly increased after Jeffery struck in the center.

Again, Nakamura dealt with the extremely adverse situation like the real pro he is. With his king wide open and no time left on the clock, he played a series of best defensive moves in another game-saving effort.

2021 Saint Louis Nakamura
Nakamura is in striking distance of Caruana in second place. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

After such intense two rounds of play, I wondered if the players would take it easy for the last round of day 2. Not so much, there was plenty of drama.

The first game to finish was the battle between America's #1 and #2 players. Wesley So had White against Fabiano Caruana. Another Giuoco Piano, but Fabi answered it with retreating his bishop to e7 and knight to b8, something that Finegold called "an ice cream treatment," in reference to the Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

Wesley did OK for a while, but how could he let Black's d-pawn move forward? 18.d5 was screaming to be played. After a few moves that showed surprising indifference to the fate of the h3-pawn, So committed a horrible blunder and immediately resigned the game.

Another former leader fell back to a 50% score, as Dominguez lost to Mamedyarov. Shakh didn't have a good event up to that point, but even a bad Mamedyarov is always good for tactical wizardry. I'm sure, Dejan's notes will explain it all.

Sam Shankland was shooting for his third win in a row, but Nakamura seems unbeatable with the Nimzo in this event—four times his Nimzo has been tested, resulting in four draws! Sam tried a different line, transposing to a Ragozin Defense, but once again, Nakamura was ready. A quick tactical flurry vacuumed off all the minor pieces, and in the resulting position it was the passers for both sides that evened out the chances.

Richard Rapport seems to be getting chances in nearly every game but lets his opponents off the hook. Against Le, he built a promising position after 24 moves and then ruined it in a series of questionable moves. Liem had the game won, had he spotted 29...gxh3!

The last player yet to win a game is Jeffery Xiong. I thought he was doing great in a semi-closed position with a better bishop against Svidler, but Peter is an old hand who has seen worse. A few accurate moves and the game petered put to a draw.

2021 Saint Louis Rapid
Svidler held a slightly worse endgame against Xiong to end a nice day at the office with a 2/3 score. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

I think it's time to look at the standings: Fabi leads, two points ahead of Hikaru, and there's a group of five players farther back at 50%. Of course, things can change rather quickly as we move on to the final day of Rapid.

All Games Day 2

The 2021 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is the last rapid and blitz tournament of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour. Games started on August 10 with 10 of the best chess players in the world competing for a piece of the $150,000 prize fund.

You can read more information about the event here.

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