The Summer of Saint Louis - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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For many Americans, Labor Day weekend is looming large now on the horizon, and with it comes the symbolic end of summer. But chess-wise, we can’t let go of summer without ever remembering that Saint Louis staged not one, not two, but three impressive back-to-back tournaments that featured a galaxy of former, future and current chess stars that only served to reinforce its unabashed credentials as the world’s leading chess hub.

All three events were unique in their own way, and all three were staged – where else, I hear you all ask? – at Rex Sinquefield’s Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of Saint Louis (CCSCSL), which has now become the very beating heart of the thriving Central West End neighborhood of the Midwest city.

First up was the ‘Match of the Millennials’ that ran 26-29 July – a new initiative between the CCSCSL, in cooperation with the Kasparov Chess Foundation, U.S. Chess Federation, World Chess Federation (FIDE) and FIDE Trainers’ Commission – that pitted the first-of-its-kind match-up between the young talents of the USA and the Rest of the World.

On paper, the US were the big favorites to win, especially having the big guns of GMs Sam Sevian, Jeffrey Xiong and Awonder Liang on the top boards. But in a shock result, the RoW, largely a team of unknowns, save for pre-teen sensations IM Praggnanandhaa Babu of India and Uzbekistan wunderkind IM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, proved to be the runaway winners, thrashing the USA 30½-17½ in a lopsided match.

But this was merely a curtain-raiser for the main event at the CCSCSL, as they also staged the latest two legs of the Grand Chess Tour: the 5th Sinquefield Cup headed by World Champion and tour leader Magnus Carlsen, then followed by the inaugural Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz that witnessed the return to competitive play of  the legendary ex-world champion, Garry Kasparov.

In the Sinquefield Cup, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave dramatically pipped Carlsen to the title after the Norwegian squandered a solid winning chance against the rising French star. And in the new Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz event, Levon Aronian overshadowed Kasparov’s return, as the affable Armenian turned on the style to take the title and maximum tour points.

And while that was the ‘Summer of Saint Louis’, Labour Day weekend will see Carlsen, MVL & Aronian et al back in action again, as the top trio join a full supporting cast for what will surely be a fiercely-contested 128-player FIDE World Cup that starts next week in Tbilisi, Georgia, particularly as it will qualify two players into next year’s Candidates’ tournament.

Carlsen-Aronian opposite | © Lennart Ootes GCT

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Levon Aronian
5th Sinquefield Cup, (9)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 The Anti-Marshall; and a wise call from Magnus, as Aronian is – along with Peter Svidler – one of the world’s leading authorities on Frank J. Marshall’s eponymous Marshall Attack with 8.c3 d5. 8…b4 9.a5 d6 10.d3 Be6 11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.Nbd2 Rb8 13.c3 Qe8 Alternatively, 13…bxc3 14.bxc3 Rb5 15.Nf1 Qd7 16.Bg5 Rxa5 17.Rxa5 Nxa5 18.d4 exd4 19.cxd4 h6 20.Bh4 Nc6 easily equalised for Black in MVL-Wojtaszek,R at this year’s Dortmund Chess-Meeting. 14.Nc4N Apparently this – admittedly, somewhat natural move – is a novelty, and seen previously has been 14.d4 bxc3 15.bxc3 exd4 16.cxd4 Rb5! with equality. Rather than that, Carlsen opts to keep the tension in the position a little longer. 14…Qg6 15.h3 Nd7?! I’m somewhat puzzled by this knight retreat, as the most obvious and natural move is 15…Nh5! followed by …Nf4 – otherwise why did Black play his queen to g6? I just can’t fathom Aronian’s thinking here at all, as he has conflicting plans. The only rationale I can come up with is that Aronian didn’t want to play the standard knight hop …Nh5-f4 because he thought Carlsen would immediately play Bxf4 – but after the logical …Rxf4, Black is doing OK with prospects of a promising kingside attack. 16.Be3 d5 17.Ncd2 According to Carlsen’s post mortem interview, the world champion thought Aronian had overestimated his chances here as he looked to open the game up, believing his active pieces will give him the edge. 17…bxc3 18.bxc3 Nc5 It looks as if Aronian is going to get a lot of active play – but Carlsen has it all in hand, and hits back with his counter-attack. 19.Bxc5! Bxc5 20.Qa4 Carlsen’s queen cuts in right behind Aronian’s lines; and the only thing the Armenian can do now, is to go ‘all-in’ with his attack and hope it works. 20…Rb2 21.Rf1! Carlsen just calmly defends his weak point on f2, avoiding the pitfalls of 21.Qxc6? Bxf2+! and now leaves Aronian wondering just how is he going to hold his position together with the Nc6 under attack? 21…Na7 It’s just not in Aronian’s style to retreat with 21…Qe8 and having to defend against 22.Rab1! Rxb1 23.Rxb1 Qd7 24.d4! with an easy advantage for White. 22.Nxe5 Qh6 23.Ndf3 Nb5 24.Rae1! Carlsen simply gets on with the job of centralising his pieces, knowing that everything is protected, and when the game does open, his pieces are more of a cohesive unit than Aronian’s. 24…Nxc3 25.Qc6! (See diagram) The White queen moves right in behind Black’s lines, and in its wake, it uncovers serious pawn weaknesses that ultimately proves decisive. 25…Bb4 26.Kh1 Carlsen is being somewhat over-cautious here, as good and strong was 26.Nd7! Rc8 27.Nd4 and Black’s position is beginning to show signs of collapsing. 26…dxe4 27.dxe4 Ne2 28.Rb1 Rxb1 29.Rxb1 Bd6 30.Qxa6 Watching the game unfold in St. Louis, I was somewhat surprised Carlsen rejected the very tempting 30.Ng4!? Qg6 31.Nfe5 with a clear advantage. As it is, Carlsen’s option is winning, though not so clinical. 30…Nf4 31.Qb5 c5? Aronian had to do something quickly, otherwise Carlsen’s a-pawn just rushes up the board unhindered. His best chance of trying to stay in the game was with 31…c6!? 32.Qc4! (Not 32.Qxc6 Bxe5 33.Nxe5 Qg5! 34.Ng4 h5 35.Ne3 Nd3 with complications.) 32…Bxe5 33.Nxe5 Qg5 34.Ng4 h5 35.Ne3 and White has everything under control, and Black can’t take the dangerous a-pawn, as after 35…Qxa5 36.g3 Ng6 37.Qxe6+ Kh7 38.Nf5! Qa7 39.Kg2 Black’s position is teetering on the brink of collapse. 32.a6 There’s no way to stop the a-pawn without a loss of material. 32…Bxe5 33.Nxe5 Qg5 34.Ng4 h5 35.Ne3 Nxg2!?! Aronian is plain and simply lost here, but kudos to him for doing his creative best to give himself an outside chance of possibly saving the game. 36.Nxg2 Rxf2 37.Rg1 Kh7 Aronian must first avoid Qe8+ followed by Qxh5+ if he’s going to go for the ‘Hail Mary’ save. 38.Qd3 Putting the kibosh on Aronian getting in the awkward …Qg3, which if he succeeds in doing so, could well save the game. 38…Qe5 39.Qe3 Ra2 40.Qf4 Qc3 41.Ne3 Carlsen has all the bases covered, and Aronian now has to find a way to stop the world champion playing Qf7 winning with ease. 41…Qf6 42.Qxf6 gxf6 If Aronian can somehow find a way to liquidate White’s pawns, then the position is a likely draw – but the big thing in Carlsen’s favour here is that it not so easy for Black to liquidate White’s h-pawn. 43.Rc1 Rxa6 44.Kg2 Ra2+ If 44…Rc6 45.Kf3! Kg6 46.Ng2 (stopping …h4) 46…Kf7 47.Rc4! and there’s no way to stop White from playing Nf4-d3 winning either the h- or the c-pawn, as …e5 will leave holes on f5 and d5. 45.Rc2 Ra5 46.Kf3 Kg6 47.h4 Rb5 48.Ra2 Rb1 49.Rc2 Rb5 50.Rc3 f5 What a bind for Aronian to be in! For any slim hope of saving the game, his best chance is to exchange off the pawns – but in doing so with this move, in its wake, it creates a loosening of Black’s position that Carlsen quickly moves in to exploit. 51.exf5+ exf5 52.Rd3 1-0 Aronian resigns, faced with the choice of 52…Rb6 (or 52…Kf6 53.Rd6+) 53.Rd5 both winning easily.

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