So, Carlsen Set for Saturday Race

American GM Wesley So is poised for a photo finish with World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen on Saturday afternoon.  

As the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz online blockbuster enters its final day of play, the pair of super-GMs appear to have run away with the lead: Carlsen holds just a half-point edge over So, though the two have sprinted way out in front of the pack, leading Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in third place by a commanding three-point cushion. 

Saturday’s games, beginning at 1:00 p.m. Central, mark the second and final day of Blitz chess (G/5+3) in the five-day event put on by the Saint Louis Chess Club. The tournament collected ten of the world’s elite, including So and the World Champion, and several more U.S. stars in GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Leinier Dominguez and Jeffrey Xiong; and has run the players through two round-robin matchups of both Rapid (G/25+5) and Blitz games. Saturday’s final cycle of Blitz will decide shares from the $250,000 total prize fund, with first place netting $50,000. 

Carlsen and So are paired in today’s third round, scheduled for 1:50 p.m. according to the SLCC. 

 

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Saint Louis Chess Club Rapid and Blitz Standings R4

 

So had stayed undefeated and held sole possession of first after the tournament’s first three days, which featured nine Rapid games worth two-points each in the standings. The unbeaten streak came to an end in the first round of Friday blitz, however, at the hands of fellow statesmen Xiong. It stands as So’s only defeat of the tournament; he went on to score 5/9 for the day. 

Xiong looked comfortable in So’s Classical Nimzo, first wrecking black’s castle with 14. Bxf6 gxf6 but then accepting his own ruined castling chances with 16. Kxf1. Xiong spent four moves freeing his rook from the corner, time well spent after swinging into play to help tackle So’s queenside pawns. Xiong’s resulting outside passer proved to be decisive, displayed in an instructive rook endgame. 

[pgn][Event "Saint Louis Blitz 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.09.18"] [Round "1.2"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E32"] [WhiteElo "2709"] [BlackElo "2770"] [PlyCount "131"] [EventDate "2020.09.18"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 d5 7. Nf3 dxc4 8. Qxc4 b6 9. Bg5 Ba6 10. Qa4 h6 11. Bh4 c5 12. dxc5 bxc5 13. Rd1 Qb6 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. e3 Bxf1 16. Kxf1 Nc6 17. h4 Rfd8 18. Rb1 Rd5 19. Rh3 Rad8 20. Kg1 Kf8 21. Rg3 Ke7 22. Rg4 h5 23. Rc4 Ne5 24. Nxe5 Rxe5 25. b4 Red5 26. Rbc1 cxb4 27. Rxb4 Qd6 28. Rb7+ Rd7 29. Qxa7 Rxb7 30. Qxb7+ Kf8 31. Qb4 Qxb4 32. axb4 Rb5 33. Rc4 Ke7 34. g4 hxg4 35. Rxg4 f5 36. Rc4 Rb8 37. Kg2 Kf6 38. Kf3 Kg6 39. Ke2 Kh5 40. Kd3 e5 41. Kc3 e4 42. Rc7 Kxh4 43. Rxf7 Kg4 44. Kb3 Rb6 45. Rf8 Rb7 46. Rd8 Kf3 47. Rd2 f4 48. exf4 Kxf4 49. Rd5 Rf7 50. b5 Kf3 51. Rd2 Kg2 52. Re2 Kf3 53. Re3+ Kf4 54. Kb4 Rf6 55. Ka5 Rf5 56. Ka6 Rc5 57. b6 Rc2 58. b7 Ra2+ 59. Kb6 Rb2+ 60. Kc7 Rc2+ 61. Kd7 Rb2 62. Kc6 Rc2+ 63. Kd5 Rd2+ 64. Kc4 Rxf2 65. Rb3 Rc2+ 66. Kb5 1-0 [/pgn]

While So’s play for much of the tournament has been calm and quiet, including six draws on Friday, Carlsen put on a fireworks show in the first day of blitz. Flamboyant, exciting chess, rife with rich and often dangerous positions led to a decisive day for the world champion: He finished with Friday’s best 6.5/9, and only one draw coming in the final round. 

While the score speaks for itself, Carlsen’s day was anything but easy. In round 5, he seemed to struggle through Nepomniachtchi surprise 1. b3! game, finally finding equality just moments before slipping to a neat rook-and-knight combination by the Russian. And while Carlsen closed the day 2.5/3, both wins were nothing short of swindled: 17-year-old phenom GM Alireza Firouzja had the Norway GM dead-to-rights before nerves appeared to overtake the youngster, and Dominguez fought back from near early death only to overlook a winning shot that would have netted him an extra piece in the endgame. 

Early pawn action by Dominquez led to questionable safety for the black king, castling nearly naked on the kingside and inviting early pressure by Carlsen. 27. Qg6+ seemed to sound the drum, but Dominguez defended admirably, as Carlsen couldn’t seem to find his way through black’s rooks and bishop pair. Carlsen lost tempo with 35. Qg5, leading to a quick liquidation. The game appeared to be winding down to a draw, until Carlsen blundered in time trouble with 43. Re2 -- though Dominquez missed the mistake, overlooking 43. … Rf8 which would have won white’s bishop. The world champion went on to squeeze blood from stone in a bishop-and-pawn endgame. 

[pgn][Event "Saint Louis Blitz 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.09.18"] [Round "8.2"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Dominguez Perez, Leinier"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2863"] [BlackElo "2758"] [ECO "D02"] [Opening "Queen's bishop game"] [WhiteFideId "1503014"] [BlackFideId "3503240"] [EventDate "2020.09.18"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Bf4 e6 4. Nbd2 Bd6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bxf6 Qxf6 7. e4 Qd8 8. e5 Be7 9. c3 c5 10. Bd3 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Nc6 12. N2f3 Qb6 13. Qe2 Bd7 14. O-O g5 15. Nxc6 bxc6 16. b3 g4 17. Nd2 h5 18. Kh1 f5 19. exf6 Bxf6 20. Rac1 Qc7 21. f4 O-O 22. Bg6 Be8 23. Qxe6+ Kg7 24. Bb1 Bd7 25. Qe3 Rae8 26. Qd3 Rf7 27. Qg6+ Kf8 28. Qxh5 Re2 29. Bg6 Rg7 30. Rce1 Re6 31. Qh8+ Rg8 32. Qh6+ Bg7 33. Qh5 Rh8 34. Qf5+ Rf6 35. Qg5 Qd6 36. Bd3 Bh6 37. Qe5 Qxe5 38. fxe5 Rxf1+ 39. Nxf1 Be6 40. Ne3 Ke7 41. Nf5+ Bxf5 42. Bxf5 g3 43. Re2 Bf4 44. h3 Rh5 45. Bg4 Rxe5 46. c4 dxc4 47. bxc4 c5 48. Rxe5+ Bxe5 49. Kg1 Kf6 50. Kf1 Kg5 51. Ke2 Kf4 52. Bf3 Bf6 53. Kd3 Ke5 54. Kc3 Kd6+ 55. Kb3 Kc7 56. Bd5 Bg5 57. Kc3 Kd6 58. Ba8 Bf6+ 59. Kd3 Ke5 60. Ke3 Kf5 61. Kf3 Be5 62. h4 Bd6 63. Be4+ Kf6 64. Kg4 Be5 65. h5 Bd6 66. h6 Bc7 67. h7 Kg7 68. Kf3 a5 69. Bc2 Be5 70. Ke4 Bc3 71. Kf4 Be1 72. Ke5 Kh8 73. Kd5 Bb4 74. Kc6 Kg7 75. Kb5 Kh8 76. Ka4 Kg7 77. a3 Bd2 78. Kb5 Bc1 79. a4 1-0 [/pgn]

The final day of the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz begins Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Viewers can watch the games along with expert commentary by GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley, along with WGM Jennifer Shahade on uschesschamps.com or on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and TwitchTV channels. 


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