Top-flight chess returned to one of America’s premier chess venues on Friday with the commencement of the 2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, the penultimate event of the Grand Chess Tour, with the day’s proceedings going the way of French GM Alireza Firouzja, who started with five points in three games. The scoring system in this event awards two points for a win and one point for a draw.
Trailing just behind Firouzja on four points is an illustrious lineup of GMs, including surprise packet Jeffery Xiong, Leinier Dominguez, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who each scored a win and two draws.
Several finalists of the recent Chess.com Rapid Chess Championship struggled on the first day of this tournament, with GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana becoming the two most notable casualties at the hands of their younger compatriots.
The event continues with rounds four-six of the rapid portion on August 27 at 11 a.m. PT/20:00 Central European.
The opening day of play was marked by some astounding fighting spirit from Firouzja, who was the first to strike in round one. Normally known for playing e4 or d4 on the first move, Firouzja carved up GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on the white side of the King’s English, an opening that would have come as a surprise to his opponent.
Firouzja-Mamedyarov, by move six, has already reached a position with fewer than 20 games in the database.#GrandChessTour #STLChessClub pic.twitter.com/hb6rvQ4FnD
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) August 26, 2022
The Azerbaijani grandmaster showed his experience and managed to equalize early. However, stellar play from Firouzja reminded viewers why he is the world’s fourth-best player. After creating activity of out thin air, the Frenchman took the point.
Dominguez was the only other winner in round one, managing to knock over Nakamura after lodging a knight on f5 early. Displeased with the well-placed steed, Nakamura snapped off the knight and was left with a positionally lost ending. Dominguez forced further liquidation and converted the resulting rook and pawn ending up a pawn.
Off the back of a dominant victory in the 2022 Chess.com Rapid Chess Championship, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi seemed to be on the hunt for imbalance against the tournament’s lowest seed, Xiong, but the American youngster showed he was ready to compete with the best. Despite losing the initiative in the middlegame, resolute defense shone through and the game was drawn in 87 moves!
In the second round, Firouzja proved that lightning can in fact strike twice, this time rubbing salt in the wounds of one of the pre-tournament favorites, Nakamura, to keep his score perfect. The seven-time Brazilian chess champion GM Rafael Leitao has unpacked the action below in our Game of the Day.
After returning to the turf of his legendary run in the Sinquefield Cup of 2014, Caruana entered with high hopes for the event but was stunned in round two by an inspired Xiong. Looking to make his mark as a wildcard entrant, Xiong employed the English Opening: Carls-Bremen, Symslov System and garnered an early advantage.
Unable to deal with a rampant bishop pair, Caruana clung for dear life to the endgame and hoped to exert some rating pressure but was eventually brought to his knees by the 21-year-old.
Tame draws were agreed to by Shankland and Dominguez, as well as Nepomniachtchi and Vachier-Lagrave, who were cautious not to jeopardize their tournament early amidst several early upsets. Mamedyarov selected the Trompowsky Attack as a surprise opening against Aronian, which he used to rout GM Viswanathan Anand in 2019 in Paris, but was met with adequate preparation and agreed to a draw after 34 moves.
The final round of the day fittingly featured the most chaotic chess as players looked to finish on a high. Nakamura found his feet and trumped Aronian with the black pieces in a fine display of positional prowess. Curiously, by the 23rd move. Aronian was strapped with a pair of doubled, isolated pawns which ended up contributing to his undoing, capping off only a second win for the black pieces across all of the day’s games, and the first for Nakamura.
Vachier-Lagrave was the other player to pick up his first full point after overcoming Mamedyarov. The game looked by all counts to be heading for a draw as the two fell into time trouble before the Azerbaijani GM blundered a checkmate in two, playing 56. …Kh6?? and immediately resigning.
Xiong and Dominguez duked it out to see if either player could finish the day with two wins, but good form met good form and neither player could be outdone, leaving both on solid 2/3 scores. Caruana was not in the mood to press against Nepomniachtchi after a rough first day and traded into a bishop versus bishop and knight ending that he easily drew.
The Berlin Defense is not exactly known for its venom from either side, though the game between Firouzja and Shankland turned into a tactical slugfest around move 20 and never returned to normality. Firouzja put all of his faith in a pair of connected passed pawns, even allowing Shankland to promote. With a draw by repetition becoming the most likely result, a trio of blunders swung the evaluation bar like a pendulum, eventually settling at dead center with perpetual checks.
An exciting first day that left Firouzja as the sole leader on 2.5/3 leaves a hungry chasing pack with work to do on day two. Tune in on Saturday to see which players ascend as they vie for the trophy and share of the $175,000 prize fund.
All Games Day 1
The 2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is the fourth leg of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour and the last of its speed chess events. Players compete in a 10-player rapid (25+10) round-robin and a 10-player blitz (5+2) double round-robin for their share of a $175,000 prize fund.