Aronian Wins Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz

Levon Aronian won the 2019 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz with a combined score of 22 points, a half-point ahead of Yu Yangyi, Ding Liren, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, all of whom had 21.5 points.

Levon Aronian (photo Justin Kellar)

Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave tied for first place in the Rapid portion with 6.5/9. (Rapid results were doubled for the overall point count.) This gave Aronian enough of a cushion to survive a muted performance in the Blitz portion, where Sergey Karjakin joined Yu and Ding at the top of the table with 11.5/18.

courtesy STLCC

Wednesday’s 18th and final Blitz round was critical in determining the ultimate standings. Entering the round, Aronian led the overall tournament with 22 points, while Yu had 21. Right behind them were Ding and Vachier-Lagrave with 20.5 points each. Aronian could therefore clinch uncontested first with a draw, while Yu had to win to hope to catch the leader.

Aronian ran into tactics in a worse position, and lost to Vachier-Lagrave in 45 moves.

This opened the door for Yu, but he could only draw a very tricky same-colored bishop ending against Mamedyarov.

courtesy STLCC

The tournament win earned Aronian $37,500 for his efforts, along with 13 Grand Chess Tour Points. Yu, Ding, and Vachier-Lagrave took home $20,000 and 8.33 GCT Points for shared second place.

Carlsen Crashes to Earth

One of the curiosities of the Carlsen era is the tremendous expectations placed upon the World Champion. Carlsen is expected to win every tournament he enters; when he doesn’t, that fact becomes the headline, while the play of the deserving winner is undermined, explained away as Carlsen’s failure.

With all due respect to Aronian, and with the above firmly in mind, no story on the STL Rapid and Blitz would be complete without something on the “collapse” of Magnus Carlsen.

Carlsen started the Rapid well enough, winning two games on Day 1, but he lost twice on Day 2 and once more on Day 3, putting him in the middle of the pack as the Blitz approached. Carlsen could only manage 4.5/9 on Day 4, and his mediocre (by his standards) results palpably affected the World Champion.

Perhaps as a way of hiding preparation for the Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen responded to his difficult tournament position by expanding his opening repertoire dramatically in the Blitz. Some of his openings were normal enough – the Schilemann against Caruana, for instance – but others….

Carlsen ended the event with 17 points in sixth place. He will need to reboot his confidence quickly, as the Sinquefield Cup begins in just two days on August 17th.

The Americans

America’s Fabiano Caruana and Leinier Dominguez endured difficult events, finishing in eighth and ninth places, respectively. But both had their moments. Caruana took 2.5/3 in his mini-match with Carlsen, while Dominguez wrapped his Rapid event with this gem of a game against Karjakin.

Back to Work

Many of the players will be back to work on Saturday with the first round of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. The field includes seven Rapid & Blitz participants – Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana, Mamedyarov, Aronian, Ding, and Karjakin – along with Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Anish Giri, Viswanathan Anand, and Wesley So.

The opening ceremony for the Sinquefield Cup is tonight (August 15th) at 6:30pm CDT, and it will be livestreamed on the STLCC YouTube Channel. This is preceded by an autograph session at the Club from 5-6pm.

Round 1 kicks off Saturday, August 17th, at 1pm CDT, with live coverage daily from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, Cristian Chrilia and Maurice Ashley. A Russian stream will also be broadcast from Saint Louis featuring Evegny Miroshnichenko and Almira Skripchenko. Rounds will be played daily through August 28th, with August 22nd as a rest day.

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