Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Day 5: Nakamura Clinches First Place Early
Nakamura is all smiles after winning the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Day 5: Nakamura Clinches First Place Early

| 36 | Chess Event Coverage

Without suffering a single defeat in 27 games of rapid and blitz, GM Hikaru Nakamura won the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz leg of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour. GM Fabiano Caruana played several stunning games and deservedly took second place, which keeps him in contention in the Tour. GM Richard Rapport finished third to establish his place among the elite.

How to watch?
The games of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz can be found here as part of our live events platform

Saint Louis Blitz | Day 5 Standings

Day 5 Standings

The final and decisive day of the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz has concluded. This commentary reflects round-by-round results and highlights.

Round 19

Nakamura-Rapport was the game to watch for two reasons. Of course, Richard was in third place, 3.5 points behind HIkaru, so he retained some theoretical chances to catch up, but also it was interesting to see how Hikaru would approach this game with the white pieces. Was he somewhat irritated by Richard's decision to force a theoretical draw in two identical games earlier in the tournament? Would he seek to punish his younger opponent?

It was the Nimzo again, and true to his style, Rapport stepped off theoretical lines with 4...d6. The questions posed above were answered by move 24, as Hikaru offered a repetition of moves. A very professional decision to secure a path to tournament victory. There will be other occasions for these two to match their wits.

GM Richard Rapport
Rapport stepped off theoretical lines with 4...d6 when he faced Nakamura. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The game between Caruana and GM Peter Svidler went into a Ruy Lopez with an early move d2-d3. Never mind that, soon Fabiano moved that pawn forward to where it belongs. What followed deserves the game of the day honors.

On the other side of the spectrum, the dubious honor of the blunder of the day belongs to GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who in a slightly better position inexplicably let his rook be captured. There was nothing GM Sam Shankland could do but take it, accept the resignation, and whisper a few words of apology. Something similar happened at the end of the game between GM Jeffery Xiong and Le Quang Liem, when Jeffery in a lost ending put his queen en prise. I don't suspect any evil intent of trying to induce a reflex reaction of touching the king in response to check, if only for the reason that the black queen was protected. I think Jeffery simply blundered.

GM Wesley So defeated GM Leinier Dominguez Perez in the modern line of the symmetrical English. Once Black played the logical 10...d5, some trades exposed the weakness of his c5-pawn. Only the energetic 13...Nf5! or later 18...d3! would have helped Black to generate the much-needed counterplay. As the game went, the outcome was pretty much decided by move 22.

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 18.5, 2. Caruana 16.5, 3-4. Rapport and So 15, 5-6. Le and Mamedyarov 13

Round 20

Nakamura wins again! He defeated Caruana in a game that is a perfect illustration of Hikaru's edge over the present opposition in fast time control games. He just reacts quicker to ever-changing situations on the board.

Three more wins for White—in Mamedyrov-So, Le-Shankland and Dominguez-Svidler—were all logical results of an advantage obtained in the opening, although Sam might regret not accepting a piece offered by Liem on move 13. A wild one between Rapport and Xiong ended in a draw by perpetual in the game where both players had winning positions at one stage or another.

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 19.5, 2. Caruana 16.5, 3. Rapport 15.5, 4. So 15, 5-6. Le and Mamedyarov 14

Round 21

Nakamura's magic continued to fly high as he won an equal-looking endgame against Xiong. I think Hikaru was not in the mood to surrender the top spot in the blitz rating list.

Rapport did what he does best by gobbling up all Shankland's pawns on the queenside, and again Richard did it with Black. The Sicilian affair between Svidler and Mamedyarov went Peter's way after Shakh missed the correct continuation of his attack, 26...Rb5!! So-Le was a correct draw, but Caruana suffered a setback at the hands of the tail-ender Dominguez, who demonstrated why a rook is better than a knight in the endgame.

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 20.5, 2. Caruana and Rapport 16.5, 4. So 15.5, 5. Le 14.5 (and that after finishing dead last in the Rapid!)

Round 22

Rapport took a quick draw rather than test So's Berlin. It seems that we see exactly the same games in every tournament these days. I'm far from blaming players for wanting to take a rest, considering the breakneck pace of today's chess. Nakamura took every pawn offered to him by Shankland, and at one moment was three up.

Sam had his chances, but the inaccurate move 24...Bd4 (better is 24...Rb6) turned the tide in White's favor. Again, Hikaru had a large advantage on the clock. Yet, Sam persevered and even managed to obtain winning chances he couldn't take advantage of because of his desperate time situation. Draw.

GMs Nakamura and Shankland
Shankland (right) drew after being unable to take advantage of winning chances against Nakamura. Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Mamedyarov's win over Dominguez was analyzed by our commentator duo of Danny and Krikor. I'd like to offer their analysis to your attention.

Le just keeps on winning. His skills in blitz were never in doubt; after all he won a Blitz World Championship when he was still young. There wasn't much Svidler could do after losing a pawn (26...Bh4 is better). Xiong was running out of time and had to repeat moves in an objectively winning position against Caruana.

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 21, 2. Caruana and Rapport 17, 4. So 16, 5. Le 15.5 (look out!)

Round 23

So-Nakamura copied the same Anti-Berlin draw. I guess that Wesley was already looking ahead to the final stage of the Grand Chess Tour and wanted a better pole position when the Sinquefield Cup begins. To counterbalance that short affair, we had Caruana-Mamedyarov lasting 170(!) moves before the draw was agreed (or was the 50-move rule claimed? I'm confused).

Dominguez seems to be very handy in R versus N endgames. His task in breaking down Le's defenses was significantly more difficult than two rounds earlier against Caruana, and the game deserves more in-depth analysis. Rapport won against Svidler to take sole possession of second place, thanks to a neat endgame trick.

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 21.5, 2. Rapport 18, 3. Caruana 17.5, 4. So 16.5, 5. Le and Mamedyarov 15.5

Round 24

It's official: Nakamura wins the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz with three rounds to spare. He was probably winning against Svidler, but Peter defended stoically and saved the game in a rook endgame. The draw turned out to be enough, as Hikaru's distant rivals flipped the script in their own races for second place.

Caruana overcame Shankland by using his rooks against Sam's queen—an improvement over Fabi's games with Rapport, but in this case the presence of minor pieces helped Black's attack. Rapport lost to Dominguez in a game that again proved the importance of advancing the rook pawn.

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 22, 2. Caruana 18.5, 3. Rapport 18, 4. So 17, 5-6. Le and Mamedyarov 16, 7. Dominguez 15.5 (four out of six run by Leinier)

Round 25

Dominguez put forward his best effort to break Nakamura's non-losing streak. Leinier sacrificed the exchange and pushed his passed pawn to d7. Hikaru avoided immediate dangers and took the game into an endgame, but he was still worse after losing his a-pawn. Again, if Leinier had more time, he could have pushed further, but as is, he took a draw by repetition.

GMs Dominguez and Nakamura
Dominguez (left) put forward his best effort to break Nakamura's non-losing streak but took a draw by repetition. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Caruana inflicted a painful defeat on Le by completely suffocating the black pieces. Fabiano's wins in blitz aren't flukes; at his best, he plays the same way as if he had two hours. However, his lead over Rapport did not increase, as the game below had the most incredible finish.

So kept the pace by beating Shankland, as Sam got his bishop trapped. Svidler-Xiong was drawn after some lively tactical play.

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 22.5, 2. Caruana 19.5, 3. Rapport 19, 4. So 18 (the others are two points back and more)

Round 26

Xiong-Dominguez finished in a quiet draw, as neither player had much left in the tank. The same can be said about Mamedyarov who went down against Nakamura without putting up much of a fight. Shankland had a good attack going against Svidler's king stuck in the center, but he mistimed his exchange sacrifice. The win disappeared one move later, and the downward spiral of bad luck caused Sam to miss a draw as well. Rapport-Le was decided in a rook endgame, which Richard badly misplayed.

This development helped Fabiano Caruana to secure second place in the tournament because he beat So in another brilliant game, which GM Dejan Bojkov analyzes for you.

GM Dejan Bojkov

Scoreboard: 1. Nakamura 23.5, 2. Caruana 20.5, 3. Rapport 19, 4. So 18, Le 17

Round 27 (and the final one at last!)

Svidler and So left the building early, which provoked an interesting discussion of how to motivate players to play every game at the best of their ability. I reserve my opinion on that subject. At any rate, Mamedyarov won a nice game from Xiong without any extra incentives.

Caruana-Rapport didn't have much significance anymore, and it was drawn after some interesting play, and so was Dominguez-Shankland, where White missed his chances. Le-Nakamura had the best score in blitz at stake. Le needed a win to overtake Hikaru, and, guess what, he did not get it.

An amazing performance by Nakamura, who didn't lose a single game in 27 contests! I don't think Hikaru is too upset by donating a few rating points that dropped him behind Carlsen in the blitz rating list. Congratulations, Hikaru. Well done!

All Games Day 5

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.

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