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It was double joy for Levon Aronian at the new Grand Chess Tour event, the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL), as the Armenian ace not only won the top prize but also on the same day, he announced he had captured arguably the ‘ultimate prize’, as he would be marrying his long-time Australian fiancé, WIM Arianne Caoili, on 30 September 2017.

The ever-creative Aronian was in majestic form as he took a one-point lead from the rapid into the deciding blitz tournament at the CCSCL – and that lead proved crucial for the affable Armenian, as Sergey Karjakin bested him into second place to win the blitz, though Aronian’s combined score gave him overall victory, three-points clear of the field, as he captured the first prize of $37,500 and picking up in the process a maximum 13 GCT points.

Aronian’s victory means we are now in for an exciting finish to the GCT with the final event of the season, the London Chess Classic, in early December, with leaders Magnus Carlsen (winner of Paris and the Your Next Move Rapid & Blitz), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Sinquefield Cup) and Aronian (Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz) all now involved in a tight three-horse race to capture the 2017 tour title, and with it the tour bonus prize of $100,000 on top of their winnings.

Despite Aronian winning the inaugural Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, the main attraction that had the media and fans buzzing with excitement was the wildcard return to competitive play of  54-year-old chess legend Garry Kasparov. And although the ex-world champion initially struggled in the rapid following his 12-year layoff, he rallied for a strong finish in the final day of the blitz tournament.

But asked afterwards on social media what he would do next, the emphatic answer from Kasparov was “Retire!”, confirming that playing in St. Louis was very much a one-off affair, and he had absolutely no intentions of making a permanent comeback to competitive chess.

Blitz final standings
1. Karjakin 13.5/18; 2. Aronian 12.5; 3. Nakamura 10.5; 4. Nepomniachtchi 10; 5. Kasparov 9; 6. Le Quang Liem 8.5; 7. Dominguez 7.5; 8. Anand 7; 9. Navara 6; 10. Caruana 5.5.

Rapid & Blitz final standings
1. Levon Aronian 24.5; 2-3. Sergey Karjakin, Hikaru Nakamura 21.5; 4. Ian Nepomniachtchi 20; 5-7. Leinier Dominguez, Fabiano Caruana, Le Quang Liem 16.5; 8. Garry Kasparov 16; 9. Viswanathan Anand 14; 10. David Navara 13.

GCT standings
1. Magnus Carlsen ($113,750) 34-points; 2. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ($126,250) 31; 3. Levon Aronian ($76,250) 25; 4. Sergey Karjakin ($60,000) 20.5; 5. Hikaru Nakamura ($35,000) 20; 6. Wesley So ($47,500) 15.5; 7. Viswanathan Anand ($60,000) 14; 8. Ian Nepomniachtchi ($37,500) 12.5; 9. Fabiano Caruana ($32,500) 12.

Photo © Lennart Ootes GCT

GM Garry Kasparov – GM Levon Aronian
Saint Louis Blitz, (7)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Classical
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 The Classical or Capablanca variation was popular in the early days of the Nimzo-Indian, made famous by being adopted by Jose Raul Capablanca. The idea is for White to try and gain the bishop pair without compromising the pawn structure after …Bxc3, and at the same time possibly planning on domineering the center with e4. 4…O-O 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 d5 7.Nf3 dxc4 8.Qxc4 b6 9.h4 In retirement, Kasparov has been ‘liberated’, and in many games in St. Louis during his one-off comeback, he called on the early services of Harry the h-pawn. 9…Bb7 10.Bg5 Qd5! Aronian isn’t unduly worried by the advancing Harry from Garry, and consolidates his position around the d5 square, looking for quick and easy development. 11.Rc1 Nbd7 12.Qxd5 It’s too dangerous for Kasparov to take on c7 – and it is also dangerous for him to stand by and watch Black get in …c5 opening up the game, so he opts instead to exchange queens in an effort to safely complete his development. 12…Bxd5 13.Ne5 There still no time for 13.Rxc7?! as after 13…Rfc8! 14.Rxc8+ Rxc8 Black’s rook is going to easily jump into c2 to recapture the pawn, with added interest to come. 13…c5 Despite it being a blitz game, Aronian keeps up the relentless pressure on Kasparov, whose position is beginning to get just a little difficult. 14.Bxf6 Nxf6 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.f3 The very expressive facial contortions from Kasparov demonstrated he didn’t feel happy here, as he had to think long and hard. And again, there’s no time to capture the c-pawn, as after 16.Rxc5 Ne4 17.Rc2 Rfc8! 18.Rxc8+ Rxc8 19.Nd3 Bc4! and Black again will achieve his goal of getting a rook to c2, winning back the pawn with a better position. 16…Rab8 17.e4 It’s hard to be judgmental in a blitz game, but in fathoming out all the complications involved with hanging on to the pawn, Kasparov falls behind on the clock – and this soon forces a costly error. 17…Ba2 18.Rc2 Bb1 19.Rd2 Rfd8 20.Rxd8+ Better, according to the engines, was 20.Rf2 – but exchanging rooks was simply the more human, instinctive move here, as it helps to ease the pressure a little. 20…Rxd8 21.Bb5 Nh5 22.g4 Kasparov was starting to feel the time pressure by now, and missed the better 22.O-O which gains a vital tempo, as the rook hits the bishop on b1. 22…Nf4 23.Kf2?! Tick-tock! In a little time-trouble, Kasparov missed the better option of 23.Rh2! stopping Aronian’s rook getting to the seventh – and with the idea later of playing Rd2 himself. But it is so difficult having to navigate through all of this with so little time available in blitz chess. 23…f6 24.Nc6?! The easy route was with 24.Rxb1 fxe5 25.b4 and White can claim to be a little better – but such are the vagaries of blitz chess when you’ve convinced yourself that you still stand more than just being a little better here. 24…Rd2+ 25.Ke3 Rxb2 We can assume in the time-trouble, Kasparov had missed that after this simply move, Aronian was not only defending his bishop but also attacking his own bishop! 26.Kxf4 Rxb5 27.Rd1 h6 28.h5? Kasparov’s last chance to stay in the game was with the immediate 28.e5! g5+ 29.Kg3 fxe5 ( If 29…f5 30.Rd8+ Kf7 31.Rd7+ Ke8 32.Rd8+ Kf7 33.Rd7+ is a draw by repetition. ) 30.Nxe5 and White should easily hold this, with the strong knight on e5 and Black’s weak pawns on e6, c5 and a7 all vulnerable to attack. 28…Rb3! (See diagram) The winning plan is simply now to play …Bd3 and …c4 and White’s rook is going to be blocked out of the game – and if 29. Rd8+ Kh7 30. Ne7 (heading for g6 and a Rh8 mate) Black gets in first with 30…e5+ 31.Kg3 Bxe4 winning. 29.e5 Bd3 30.a4 c4 31.Nxa7 Ra3 32.Nb5 Rxa4 33.Ke3 fxe5 34.Nd6 Ra3 35.Kf2 Kf8 36.Nb5 Rb3 0-1

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