Over the last decade, thanks to the ever-enterprising Rex Sinquefield and his dedicated backroom team at the Saint Louis Chess Club, we’ve seen some remarkable chess events and exhibits staged in St. Louis, now hailed as the capital of chess in the United States – and we’re set for yet another summer sizzler in St. Louis, as the Missouri city now hosts the final two legs of the regular Grand Chess Tour season.
The highlight of the double-header is unquestionably the Sinquefield Cup that runs August 17-28, featuring World Champion Magnus Carlsen making his one and only appearance in the GCT this year as the tournament wildcard – and with considerable interest from the media and fans on this canny pick, as this will be his last possible meeting with US title-challenger Fabiano Caruana, ahead of their eagerly-anticipated World Championship Match, that runs November 9-28 in The College, London.
But first up is the curtain-raiser for the Sinquefield Cup, the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, which also features Caruana, who heads the field in the ten-player speed tournament running August 10-16, that also sees the in-form Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, fresh from his big Biel Masters victory ahead of Carlsen, making his first-ever appearance in St. Louis; while the wildcard spot is taken by Cuba’s Leinier Dominguez.
And after the first day of the rapid tournament on Saturday, Caruana sent out a big statement of intent to Carlsen, as the US title-challenger rediscovered the scintillating form that led him to his candidates victory earlier in the year, as he quite simply dominated the opening day’s play with a sublime trifecta of impressive wins over Alexander Grischuk, Levon Aronian and Mamedyarov respectively, to be the only player with a perfect score.
Rapid standings (Day 1):
1. F. Caruana (USA) 6/6; 2-3. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), S. Karjakin (Russia) 4; 4-6. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), V. Anand (India), H. Nakamura (USA) 3; 7-9. L. Aronian (Armenia), L. Dominguez (Cuba), A. Grischuk (Russia) 2; 10. W. So (USA) 1.
(The rapid scores two points for a win and one for a draw)
Photo: Before the tournament started, US title-challenger Fabiano Caruana was presented with his USCF “Grandmaster of the Year” Award | © Lennart Ootes / GCT
GM Levon Aronian – GM Fabiano Caruana
St. Louis Rapid & Blitz GCT, (2)
Caro-Kann Defence, Exchange Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 The Exchange Variation against the Caro-Kann all but became an overnight popular choice with the masses through the early 1970s, after this simple line was successfully adopted by Bobby Fischer, who, en route to winning the world crown, used it very effectively to beat former World Champion Tigran Petrosian in the USSR vs Rest of the World Match in Belgrade in 1970. But Black soon found the most accurate way to play against it – and the line Caruana plays is one of them. 4…Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qd7 8.Nd2 e6 9.Ngf3 Bd6 10.Bxd6 Qxd6 11.Qxb7?! This is a risky pawn snatch, as Black has easy and rapid development of his pieces. And for this reason, White has tended to instead prefer a more positional approach with 11.0-0 0-0 12.Rfe1 Qc7 13.Ne5 with the idea of keeping a firm grip of the e5-square, following up with the likes of Ndf3, Re3 and Rae1 and a little grip on the game, but nothing that can’t be neutralised by careful play by Black. 11…Rb8 12.Qa6 0-0 13.Bb5 Rb6 14.Qa4 Ne7 15.Ne5 White has the safer option of 15.0-0 Rfb8 16.Bd3 but after 16…Qc7! it is clear Black will win back his pawn and is now a little better – but this is clearly easier for White to handle than the mess he now gets into in the game. 15…Ng6! Caruana has his king safely castled and all his pieces now well-placed and ready to strike, looking to bust the game open. 16.Nxg4? This is wrong, plain and simple – and Aronian now has to waste valuable time before he can even think of getting his king to safety. I don’t know what possessed him here, as it is clear he had to play 16.Nxg6!? that’s answered not with 16…hxg6 but 16…fxg6! opening the f-file for the other rook – and White now has to watch out for …a6 and …Rxb2. I can only imagine Aronian was ‘spooked’ by the likes of 17.f3 Qf4! 18.fxg4 a6! but even here, after 19.0-0-0!? axb5 20.Qb4 Qxg4 21.g3 this position at least looks as if it can be defended against – which is more than we can say for the mess Aronian now finds himself having to defend. 16…Nxg4 17.h3 Nf6 18.Nb3 e5 Even stronger was 18…Rfb8! asking White the big question: how is he going to get his king to safety, as 19.Bd3 or 19.Be2 is answered by 19…Nf4 and Black is quickly closing in for the kill? 19.0-0 e4 20.Rfe1 Nh5 The f4 square is an ideal launchpad for a knight to inflict a brutal attack on White’s hapless king from. 21.Bf1 Nh4! Certainly pleasing from an aesthetic point of view, as, at this level of chess, it is not every day you see not one but two knights on the rim – and this pair is anything but dim! 22.Qa5 Qg6 23.Qxd5 Aronian has decided he may as well hang for a sheep than a lamb now, as there’s no defence. If 23.Re3 Nf3+ 24.Kh1 Qg5! there’s no way to stop killing moves like …Nf4, …Rh6 (or even …Rg6) and …Rxh3+ mating. 23…Nf3+ 24.Kh1 Ng3+! [see diagram] A very picturesque and obvious ‘diagram moment’, as Aronian’s ‘Knightmare’ continues, with Caruana ruthlessly finding the crowd-pleasing way to finish the game. 25.fxg3 Qxg3 26.Qe5 What else is there? If 26.gxf3 Rg6 and mate with …Qg1, …Qg2 or even …Qh3 can’t be stopped. All Aronian can do is try to exploit Caruana’s mild time trouble – but, in reality, Caruana has an eternity to win this. 26…Nxe5 27.dxe5 Qxe5 28.Rad1 f5 29.Rd7 Rd6 30.Rxa7 Qg3! Getting ready to quickly crash through to Aronian’s king with …f4-f3 etc. 31.Rb1 f4 32.Nc5 Qe3 33.b4 f3 34.Re7 fxg2+ 35.Bxg2 Rh6 0-1 A game with a touch of élan from Caruana – and coming this early in the tournament, it will be hard to find any better candidate for the best game prize.