So, Carlsen Tie in Saint Louis Speed Event; Nakamura Third

American GM Wesley So finished tied for first place along with World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen in the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament, which wrapped up last weekend. The five-day event, hosted online by the Saint Louis Chess Club, featured a $250,000 prize fund and ten of the world’s top players battling through several round robins of both Rapid and Blitz chess. The event was salvaged as a traditional highlight of the Grand Chess Tour, otherwise canceled this year because of COVID-19. 

“I’ve had a lot of experience in these events from the Grand Chess Tour, and I tend to lose one game after another,” So said in his post-tournament interview. “If I lose one game, it can snowball to a second or third loss, so I was trying to avoid that at all costs. It is often hard to compete against Magnus for first place, and generally in these blitz games, a lot of things can happen very quickly. So I’m grateful for today’s win.” 

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Saint Louis Rapid Blitz Final Standings
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courtesy SLCC / uschesschamps.com

So had led the tournament standings after going undefeated through the Rapid portion of the event: Nine G/25+5 games played over the first three days, with each victory worth double in the overall standings. But the world champion put on a show during the first round of Blitz games on Friday, regaining a half-point lead over So in the standings while the two ran away with the tournament. Carlsen and So held a three-point margin over the rest of the field entering the final day of blitz. 

On Saturday, So was forced into late aggressive action after otherwise turning in a relatively calm tournament. Where the American’s play throughout had been critiqued as extraordinarily safe – several times was he criticized for offering friendly draws in otherwise playable positions, though he did only lose twice across 27 total games -- his second loss of the event came against Carlsen in the third round of Saturday’s Blitz. 

[pgn][Event "Saint Louis Blitz 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.09.19"] [Round "12.1"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2863"] [BlackElo "2770"] [ECO "D37"] [Opening "QGD"] [Variation "classical variation (5.Bf4)"] [WhiteFideId "1503014"] [BlackFideId "5202213"] [EventDate "2020.09.18"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 Nbd7 7. Be2 dxc4 8. O-O c5 9. dxc5 Nxc5 10. Bxc4 Qxd1 11. Rfxd1 b6 12. Ne5 Bb7 13. f3 Nh5 14. b4 Na6 15. a3 Bf6 16. Bxa6 Bxa6 17. Ne4 Rfd8 18. Rxd8+ Rxd8 19. Rc1 Bb5 20. g4 Nxf4 21. exf4 Bh4 22. Kg2 f5 23. Ng5 fxg4 24. fxg4 Rd2+ 25. Kh3 Bxg5 26. fxg5 Kf8 27. Rc7 Re2 28. g6 h5 29. Nd7+ Ke7 30. Nxb6+ Kf6 31. Rxa7 Re3+ 32. Kh4 hxg4 33. Kxg4 Kxg6 34. a4 Re4+ 35. Kg3 Rxb4 36. axb5 Rxb5 37. Nc4 Rb3+ 38. Kg2 Rc3 39. Ne5+ Kf6 40. Ra5 Kf5 41. Nf3+ Kf4 42. Ra4+ Kf5 43. Ra7 Kf6 44. Ra6 Rc4 45. Kg3 Rb4 46. h4 Rb3 47. Kg4 Rb4+ 48. Kg3 Rb3 49. Ra4 e5 50. Kg4 Rb6 51. Ng5 Rc6 52. h5 Rb6 53. Ne4+ Ke6 54. Ra7 Kd5 55. Ng5 e4 56. Rxg7 e3 57. Re7 Kd4 58. Ne6+ Kc3 59. Nf4 Kd2 60. Kf3 Rb3 61. Rd7+ Ke1 62. Ng2+ 1-0 [/pgn]

Carlsen enjoyed a full-point lead with only three games remaining when So’s aggression finally came to life. The American closed out the event with three consecutive victories -- twice with the black pieces -- over Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, Armenian GM Levon Aronian and Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna. The late streak caught him up with Carlsen, who finished the day 2/3. 

[pgn][Event "Saint Louis Blitz 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.09.19"] [Round "17.3"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2770"] [BlackElo "2773"] [ECO "A13"] [Opening "English"] [Variation "Wimpey system"] [WhiteFideId "5202213"] [BlackFideId "13300474"] [EventDate "2020.09.18"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. c4 e6 4. b3 c5 5. Bb2 Nc6 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Bb5 Bd6 8. O-O O-O 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Bc7 11. Nd2 Qd6 12. N4f3 Bg4 13. Rc1 Rfe8 14. h3 Bh5 15. Re1 Rac8 16. Nf1 Ba5 17. Re2 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Nh5 19. Rec2 Qg6+ 20. Kh1 Qf5 21. Kg2 Re6 22. f4 Rg6+ 23. Kh2 Qe4 24. Ng3 Nxg3 25. Bd3 Qe6 26. Bxg6 hxg6 27. Kxg3 Re8 28. Rc5 d4 29. Rxc6 bxc6 30. Qxd4 f6 31. Qxa7 Bd2 32. Rd1 Bb4 33. Qd7 Qxd7 34. Rxd7 Ra8 35. a4 Rb8 36. Rc7 c5 37. Rd7 Ba5 38. Rd5 Rxb3 39. Rxc5 Bb6 40. Rb5 Rxb5 41. axb5 Kf7 42. e4 Ke6 43. Ba3 f5 44. f3 Bd4 45. Bb4 Kd7 46. exf5 gxf5 47. Kh4 Kc7 48. Kg5 Kb6 49. Bd6 Kxb5 50. Be5 1-0 [/pgn]

“Obviously, I am happy to win anything that I play,” Carlsen said. “I thought the overall rapid portion was successful with many good moments, and I congratulate Wesley So on a fantastic tournament. He played solidly throughout, especially with his three consecutive wins. It was an overall amazing performance that you can only tip your hat to.” 

There were no tiebreaks intended for the event, and Carlsen and So’s efforts earned them each $45,000 in a split of the top prizes. American GM Hikaru Nakamura, despite a rough cycle through the rapid games that left him in the middle of the pack, dazzled during the blitz portion to finish in clear third. Nakamura collected $35,000. 

The overall tournament displayed several moments of respect and sportsmanship -- even levity, as shown in Nakamura’s final game against fellow American GM Jeffrey Xiong. With the white pieces, Nakamura pulled out the famed “Bongcloud Attack,” known as a joke opening that goes against many chess principles, beginning with 2. Ke2! as Nakamura played on Saturday. All jokes aside, the offbeat opening earned a victory in 52 moves and generated discussion from Carlsen in his post-game interview. The world champion said he was under the impression the “Bongcloud” began with 1. f3 followed by 2. Kf2, and went on to show a defensive line he had prepared for Nakamura. Analysis was a bit hazy. 

[pgn][Event "Saint Louis Blitz 2020"] [Site "lichess.org INT"] [Date "2020.09.19"] [Round "18.5"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "GM"] [WhiteElo "2736"] [BlackElo "2709"] [ECO "C20"] [Opening "King's pawn game"] [WhiteFideId "2016192"] [BlackFideId "2047640"] [EventDate "2020.09.18"] 1. e4 e5 2. Ke2 Nf6 3. d3 d5 4. Nd2 Nc6 5. c3 b6 6. Qc2 Bb7 7. Ngf3 Qd7 8. b4 O-O-O 9. a3 Kb8 10. Bb2 g6 11. Ke1 Bh6 12. Rd1 Rhe8 13. Be2 Nh5 14. b5 Na5 15. c4 Nf4 16. Bf1 dxc4 17. dxc4 f5 18. c5 fxe4 19. c6 Nxc6 20. bxc6 Bxc6 21. Nxe5 Nd3+ 22. Bxd3 exd3 23. Qc4 Bxg2 24. Rg1 Bb7 25. Qh4 Qf5 26. Qxh6 Rxe5+ 27. Bxe5 Qxe5+ 28. Qe3 Qxh2 29. Kf1 Qh5 30. f3 Bc6 31. Qg5 Qh3+ 32. Kf2 Qh2+ 33. Rg2 Qd6 34. Re1 Rf8 35. Kg1 Rf5 36. Qe7 Qf4 37. Qd8+ Kb7 38. Qxd3 Rd5 39. Qe3 Qh4 40. Qf2 Qa4 41. Re3 Qd1+ 42. Qe1 Qa4 43. Rc3 Rh5 44. Rg4 Qa5 45. Qc1 Qe5 46. Nf1 Qe6 47. Rgc4 Bb5 48. Rxc7+ Ka6 49. a4 Be2 50. Re3 Rg5+ 51. Kf2 Qh3 52. Kxe2 1-0 [/pgn]

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