Levon Aronian Wins Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz 2019

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a disappointing second blitz day, taking him out of contention; Yu Yangyi completes an 11.5/18 blitz performance to take Levon Aronian down to the wire. In the end, the Armenian Grandmaster takes it by a half point.

Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz 2019, opening ceremony. | Image © Austin Fuller / Grand Chess Tour.

The second day of Blitz at the 2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament, was also the final day of play. It took place on Wednesday 14th August. Leading the event, was French Grandmaster, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, half a point ahead of Levon Aronian of Armenia.

Unfortunately for Maxime, he did not have the last day that he wanted. He scored only 4-points from the 9 rounds and this left the door open for not only Aronian, but also the Chinese contingent of Yu Yangyi and Ding Liren, who were just a point off the lead at this stage.

And Yu Yangyi came extremely close. The Chinese Grandmaster had been 3 points behind in the standings after the rapid section of the tournament. However, a strong blitz section, saw him come right back into contention in the closing stages. He scored 6/9 on the final day, becoming a major threat for the tournament win.

On his way to this score, Yu would beat World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, who had struggled in this event. And he pretty much fell on his own sword in his game with Yu. The opening was a Petrov’s Defence, Cochrane Gambit. After the characteristic Petrov moves of 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 it sees White sacrifice his knight, with 4.Nxf7, as shown below.

The Cochrane Gambit, is the kind of opening that is a great surprise took for blitz. It appeals to players who like to attack and don’t mind a material deficit. With the Black King dislodged, White aims to develop rapidly and throw everything at it. However, as this is a pure speculative sacrifice, should White not achieve his goal, then he is simply losing.

Things started well enough for Carlsen, he certainly got his minor pieces out well and found some activity. However, there were too many exchanges, which helped Yu as the player with the material advantage. The following diagram shows the problem very well indeed, with Yu having just played 18…Raf8.

Here, Carlsen is now really missing his piece and just does not have enough presence in the position. Yu has managed to develop nicely and find activity. His g-file access is also a nice factor for him. From here, the game went steadily downhill for Carlsen and Yu had the point in 27.

The win over Carlsen came in round 15 and Yu would follow that up with another two wins in the next rounds. His next victim, was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had been top in the standings going into this round. The game was a Grunfeld, with Yu playing White and it arrived at the following position, Yu having played 17.Bh5.

Here, White has actually over-reached himself and is banking on Black falling into a trap. Unfortunately for Vachier-Lagrave, he obliged, with 17…e5(? Qa3!).

Yu pounced with 18.Nxh7(!). Although Black’s bishop on f6 is en prise, the point of this move is really Black’s exposed King and White’s ability to get to it quickly. Yu’s rook is ideally placed along the h-file and his Queen gets into the action with lightening speed also. (For this reason, had Vachier-Lagrave played 17…Qa3(!) instead, Nxh7 would not have been as powerful. In that variation, White would have to sort the threat to his c1-rook before he could activate his Queen. White would actually have nothing.)

The other thing is that the knight on h7 can not safely be taken. Capturing with the King is suicide and 18…Bxh7 leads to a variation that is rather good for White. For this reason, Maxime went for 18…Qa6+, but this only worsened his problems. There followed: 19.Be2 Qd6 20.Nxf6+ Qxf6 21.Bxe5 Qxe5 22.Rxc5.

The diagram, above, shows the superiority of White’s stance. And from here Yu did not look back. Vachier-Lagrave’s efforts at defending were futile and he was surrendering the point on move 32. It was the Frenchman’s third loss in a row and his fourth of the day and this put him out of contention. He would actually finish the tournament in fourth place.

As for Yu Yangyi, the only player who could stop him winning the tournament, as it turned out, was Levon Aronian. And the Armenian Grandmaster did just that — but only just! Levon needed every single point in order to decide things in his favour. His day started badly, too, as he lost the first round of the day to Russia’s Sergey Karjakin.

Levon recovered well, however, beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren in his next games. The game against Ding saw Aronian slightly better as Black, upon his 29…Rb8, which is shown below.

The problem for Ding is his Queenside pawns, which are very vulnerable. 30.a5 is probably obligatory, stopping Aronian from playing …a5 himself, when the white’s a and b pawns crumble. Unfortunately for him, he made a rather fundamental error and played 30.Re7(?) instead. This allowed Levon to play 30…a5, with the added bonus of the pin of Ding’s b-pawn to his deserted rook on b1.

31.b5 Rxa4 32.b6 Rb4 33.Ra1 R8xb6 simplified things a lot for Black, leaving him a pawn up (after 34.Rxa5) and having the nice passed d-pawn. That being said, accurate play should see White holding, but unfortunately time is the real enemy in blitz chess and Ding’s flag fell on move 42.

This result contributed to Levon’s 5/9 score for the day, which gave him a combined score of 22-points. That was enough to give him outright victory for this event, just a half point ahead of Yu. As chess often does, it had come down to the smallest of margins in the end.

Scores, blitz day 2:

Yu — 6.0
Caruana — 5.5
Aronian, Ding, Karjakin — 5.0
Carlsen, Mamedyarov — 4.5
Vachier-Lagrave — 4.0
Dominguez Perez — 3.0
Rapport — 2.5

Final Rapid & Blitz Standings (Rapid + Blitz = Total):

Aronian — 13 + 9 = 22
Yu — 10 + 11.5 = 21.5
Ding — 10 + 11.5 = 21.5
Vachier-Lagrave — 13 + 8.5 = 21.5
Karjakin — 8 + 11.5 = 19.5
Carlsen — 8 + 9 = 17
Rapport — 8 + 8.5 = 16.5
Caruana — 8 + 7 = 15
Dominguez Perez — 7 + 6.5 = 13.5
Mamedyarov — 5 + 7 = 12

Levon Aronian, a happy Champion | Image © Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour.

As winner of the event, Levon Aronian receives 13 Grand Chess Tour points. This gives him 24 points in total so far, which puts him in 3rd place over all. Still leading the tour is Magnus Carlsen, with 38 points. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is in second position, with 33.3 points.

The players now turn their attention to the next event of the tour, the Sinquefield cup. And they wont have to wait at all for it, because it opens as this one closes, also in Saint Louis. I hope you’ll join me for that too!

The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz was held between August 9th and 15th, in Saint Louis, United States of America. Part of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour, it featured a round robin rapid tournament, played over August 10th, 11th and 12th. There followed a double-round-robin blitz event, played over August 13th and 14th. Prize fund: $150,000 (£123,447 / €135,202), 1st prize: $37,500 (£30,861 / €33,800). Official website: https://grandchesstour.org/2019-grand-chess-tour/2019-saint-louis-rapid-blitz

About John Lee Shaw 273 Articles
Total chess nut! I enjoy following the chess world and giving my two-penneth. I don't pretend to be an expert, I'm more a knowledgeable enthusiast. My chess writing can also be seen at www.chessimprover.com.

1 Comment

  1. I like the commentary on the validity of the moves along with what move should have been made. It makes for a more relaxing read than having to pore over each move to find the pivotal points. Especially in the Yangyi/Vachier-Lagrave game. Thank you.

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