Nakamura Wins St. Louis Rapid And Blitz, Holding Off Vachier-Lagrave, Mamedyarov
Nakamura beat Mamedyarov to end the back-and-forth claim to the lead. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Nakamura Wins St. Louis Rapid And Blitz, Holding Off Vachier-Lagrave, Mamedyarov

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Aug 15, 2018, 4:16 PM |
42 | Chess Event Coverage

Hikaru Nakamura thought he needed 5.5/9 in today's second blitz session to clinch his first Grand Chess Tour win on home soil. He scored exactly that, winning the 2018 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz over a still-surging Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and a pesky Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

The win is his second of the season. He also won the 2018 Paris event.

Chess.com conducted a video interview with Nakamura on his success.

Watch Hikaru Nakamura On Winning The Saint Louis Rapid And Blitz from Chess on www.twitch.tv

The accompanying 13 GCT points also vaulted the American into the lead in the overall standings, and virtually guarantee him a ticket to London in December (he said he's played the London Chess Classic every year it has been held and is now used to spending his birthday there).

Nakamura

No, Hikaru Nakamura isn't religious, but he did want to clear his head before the opening round. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"I felt that today, for the most part, with the exception of the first game, I played quite well," Nakamura said. He said he was much more pleased than after yesterday's session.

Although he lost to Sergey Karjakin to open the day, just like yesterday, he then rallied to find his form.

Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, France's top player, almost made Maryland Ave. his own Champs-Élysées today, but it wasn't quite enough. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Nakamura's prognostication was pretty much spot on. Even a resurgent Vachier-Lagrave didn't have enough games to close the gap fully.

"He had a lot of ground to make up, and in the end, it was too much," Nakamura said of the second-place finisher.

"I wish there was more games today!" Vachier-Lagrave said.

Mamedyarov

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov didn't get elbowed off the lead until late in the day. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

It's hard to think of another GCT event where the lead changed so often. At the beginning of the blitz portion, Nakamura and Mamedyarov were tied for first place. After that, the lead changed hands a remarkable 14 out of the first 16 blitz rounds! Only at the every end of today did the American stop the seesaw.

The title was sewn up in the eighth round today, the 17th blitz round overall, when the Azeri trailed by a point and thus went for glory against Nakamura. It didn't quite work, and Nakamura's win sealed the trophy as it left him up two points with one round to go.

Before that, Nakamura began his rebound by beating Fabiano Caruana in today's third round, which helped put some distance between him and at least one of his chasers.

Caruana

Fabiano Caruana couldn't build up the lead in the rapid that he needed to be able to fend off the blitz mavens. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Nakamura then made it two in a row with a win over Alexander Grischuk, before winning again in today's seventh round over Levon Aronian.

Mamedyarov continued to fulfill his vow to play aggressively in St. Louis. No g-pawn of his was safe, it seemed.

One of his nicest moves came vs. Karjakin. No arranged draws here; instead the Azeri continued to pressure for the lead with brilliancies like 22. Nh6+!, which was played instantly:

Vachier-Lagrave had another outstanding day (there's no money in it, but his 13.5/18 was the best blitz score). Despite suffering a loss for the first time in the blitz, he scored 6.5/9 on the day including a final-round win over Nakamura to move into second place and garner much-needed tour points.

His day got going in earnest in the second contest when his two knights overtook Grischuk's two bishops.

In the next round, all five games were decisive, with the trio of leaders being among the winners.

The only blemish on the day for Vachier-Lagrave proved costly in hindsight. In a better position his sacrifice on a2 wasn't called for, and this loss ultimately made the gap with the leaders insurmountable.

He did make it interesting by coming back with a win a few minutes later. The victory also hampered Mamedyarov's chances greatly.

The Frenchman told Chess.com that he didn't really feel that he had too much of a chance today. After going undefeated Tuesday, he still began two points back, but was chasing a pair of players.

"It was not realistic," he said. 

Mamedyarov

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov just completed his first-ever tournament on American soil. We're guessing he won a lot of fans with his style. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Although he gained nearly 60  blitz rating points to pull within two points of Magnus Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave said that was more of quirk of the system than a sign that he'd equaled the Norwegian's skills.

"Basically one good event, and you are where I am now, and one bad event, and you are nowhere," he told Chess.com.

One of the secrets to his success was the relatively poor showing in rapid. He was so far back that he said there was no expectation anymore. 

"I was definitely feeling much less pressure than in Leuven," he said. "I always prefer to be the chaser."

Nakamura

It's not a nice, round number, but sometimes crooked numbers can be fun too. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Next up for Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura, and the others: a nine-round classical event, the 2018 Sinquefield Cup, where Carlsen will drop in to compete (world-championship forecasters: the Caruana-Carlsen matchup is round seven!).

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Viswanathan Anand and Wesley So finished at the bottom, but both joked around during the awards ceremony. They'll be back for classical chess coming up next. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

But even beyond that, Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave are slated to play in the second round of Chess.com's Speed Chess Championship. The Frenchman said that a day like today takes more out of him than even playing Nakamura for three hours in online blitz.

"When you're at home you are just chilling, listening to some music," he said.

Next up for all of the players: tomorrow's "Ultimate Moves" team event at 1 p.m. local time. Garry Kasparov won't be making his usual appearance, but Carlsen will, so Peter Svidler will be tagged in to even out the teams.

"If there's no Garry it will be more relaxed," Nakamura said (the 13th world champion has been known to take the games and errors fairly seriously).

The final standings:

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The GCT points and winnings earned:

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And here's how the GCT rankings look, with only the Sinquefield Cup to come before the top four qualify for London. Note that Nakamura has almost qualified already mathematically:


nullGraphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz was 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).

The Sinquefield Cup's first round is Saturday, August 18 at 1 p.m. Central U.S. time (8 p.m. Central Europe).


Earlier reports:

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