Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz 2019: Vachier Lagrave Dominates Day 2 With 3/3

Vachier-Lagrave has a perfect day in Saint Louis, Carlsen suffers back-to-back losses, Aronian remains in the lead, but only just!

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

Day two of play at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz 2019, took place on August 11th. It saw Levon Aronian, (who had dominated play on day one, with a 3/3 score), consolidating his position at the top of the standings. The Armenian drew his first and last games of the day, winning his second.

And the second would be against none other than Magnus Carlsen. The World Champion is not having a great time of things in this tournament so far. He lost his opening game of the tournament on day one, and would lose his first two on day two. After first going down to Fabiano Caruana with Black in a Sicilian, Magnus would make a misjudgement most unlike him with White against Aronian.

The game was a London System, with Carlsen wasting no time to open things up on the Kingside, which is a well known feature in the London System. Usually, though, this goes hand in hand with Queenside castling by White and, as you can see by the diagram, below, this is the part that Magnus neglected.

Here, Black has just wisely moved his Queen from f6 to e7. White would be wanting to castle long as soon as possible, either before exchanging rooks on f8 or after. Unfortunately for Magnus, he decided to skip his King safety and opt for immediate aggression. This began with 20.Bh7+, forcing the King to h8. After 20…Kh8, the prospect of getting a knight to g6, with King, rook and queen currently forkable, proved too strong and 21.Nh4(??) followed.

In some circumstances, this would be extremely strong, but here it is flawed, in no small part due to White’s King. Aronian pounced: 21…Rxf4(!) 22.Ng6+ Kxh7 23.Re4+(!). This is the move that refutes White’s play. Should White play Kf1 or Kf2, Black plays …Re8 and the knight is trapped. Due to White already having given his bishop and rook, he would actually be getting the raw end of the deal for Black’s queen. He would only have his Queen and rook left to fight with and that is nothing against Black’s knight, bishop and rook pair.

Therefore, Carlsen decided to give the Queen back with 24.Qxe4+ dxe4 but after 25.Nxc8 Bxc8, Aronian was still holding the material superiority. The point never really looked in doubt, mainly because Carlsen had nothing to get active with. He was resigning in 35.

After this result, Magnus would stop the rot, holding Yu Yangyi to a draw in the last game of the day. This put him on 2.5/6 (5-points) — not what we would expect at all, especially in a rapid event. Three games remain before we move on to the blitz section, can he win them and give himself a glimmer of hope? We will see.

Levon Aronian would hold onto his lead at the top of the standings, with 10-points, but hot on his heels would be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman had a stonking day two, dominating as Aronian had done on the previous day and scoring 3/3!

Maxime had to work in every game, starting with a 66-mover against Sergey Karjakin. Then came the 55-move Neo-Grunfeld as Black against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The game saw Vachier-Lagrave on the back foot for the vast majority of it, but his opponent would make a catastrophic blunder.

In the diagram position, above, Vachier-Lagrave has just played 51…Rg2+. Either Ke1 or Kc1 would have been good for White, who despite Black’s pair of rooks and advanced passed pawn, is actually better due to the quality and activity of his pieces. The passed pawn is under control for now, so Black actually has little he can do. However, in a rapid game, when time is short, one can not often take the time to check things over and make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.

This cost Mamedyarov dearly and he erred with 52.Ke3(??). This is a completely understandable move, of course, White does not want to put the King on the back rank. However, the King going to e3 is much more serious, because it imposes a nasty pin on White’s Bd3. Black would like to play …Rg3+, here, looking to win the bishop after the King moves. However, he can’t do that due to Ra8+ and then Rh8 mate. It seems, though, that Shakh put too much faith in this.

After Vachier-Lagrave’s 52…f5(!), the mate threat is gone and this puts White in big trouble. How does he solve his self-inflicted pin and prevent …Rg3+, while at the same time, preventing Black’s a-pawn from queening? In truth, it was just not viable, there followed 53.Be5 (trying to cover the g3-square) 53…Kf7(! targetting the Be5) 54.Bf4 (Inadequate. Not only does this fail to Black’s next, but it takes the bishop off of the a1-square. However, nothing here was good.) 54…g5(!) 55.Bd6 (the bishop’s guard of g3 is over, but even worse is its desertion of a1.) 55…a2. White resigns.

This result put Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on 2/2 and a win over Ding Liren in game 6 would put him on 3/3 for the day. By contrast, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov would finish the day on 0/3.

Standings (6 of 9 games played):

Aronian — 10
Vachier-Lagrave — 9
Caruana — 8
Ding — 7
Carlsen, Karjakin, Dominguez Perez, Yu — 5
Mamedyarov, Rapport — 3

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 275 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.

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