Aronian & MVL top GCT STL Rapid, Carlsen -1
The final day of the rapid portion of the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz brought some big changes to the standings. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian are now tied for first place and will enter the blitz portion with 13 points each, 3 full points ahead of the rest of the field. Aronian was the sole leader in the first two days but wasn’t able to keep the momentum going allowing Vachier-Lagrave to join him at the top. Magnus Carlsen finds himself in fifth position in the standings after scoring 50% today, while Fabiano Caruana lost all his games today after having successful first two days. The tournament is still wide open with 18 more blitz games left to play in the next two days.
Aronian extended his lead in the tournament to three points by defeating Caruana in the first game. The Armenian was in an unpleasant position but slowly outplayed his opponent, winning two pawns and consequently the game. Aronian’s closest competitor, Vachier-Lagrave, lost to Carlsen in a Grunfeld Defense, the same opening that the two essayed in Croatia Grand Chess Tour. The commentators were impressed by Carlsen’s fine play, predicting a comeback by the World Champion. Mamedyarov suffered his fifth loss in a row after taking too many liberties in the opening. In the final position when he resigned, the material was equal and there were no direct winning lines, but Rapport’s pieces were so dominant that Mamedyarov no longer wanted to continue the battle. The game between Leinier Dominguez and Yu Yangyi started off as a sharp Classical Sicilian but as the game progressed the pawn structures resembled more of a French. Dominguez was unable to unleash an attack and his position crumbled in the endgame. Ding Liren put a lot of pressure on Karjakin in the Catalan but chose to trade down to a pawn up rook endgame instead of playing against his opponent’s weakened king. This decision allowed Karjakin to finally free his rooks and after suffering for a long time, he managed to save the endgame.Fabiano Caruana vs Levon Aronian
Rapport blew the tournament open by defeating Aronian in an 89-move game. Aronian exhausted every trick he had in a two pawn down rook endgame but eventually had to come to terms with the inevitable result. Aronian’s loss allowed Vachier-Lagrave to narrow the gap between the two of them to only one point by securing a win over Dominguez. The Frenchman entered a rook against two minor pieces endgame, but the activity of his rook and the extra pawn were too overwhelming for his opponent. Caruana suffered his second loss of the day, after his superior position slipped to a losing one in a matter of three moves. The American then changed his pawn structure on the kingside to such that allowed his opponent an easy attack. Yu Yangyi played every precise move necessary to punish his opponent’s recklessness. Carlsen’s opening choices allowed Karjakin to grab the center and a lot of extra space, an advantage he never let go off. As the game progressed, Karjakin kept building up his position while it became more and more difficult for Carlsen to find squares for his pieces. The Russian’s excellent technique secured him the full point. The only peaceful result of the round was between Mamedyarov and Ding Liren, after Mamedyarov decided not to test his opponent’s defensive skills in a 3 vs 2 rook endgame.Richard Rapport vs Levon Aronian
Vachier-Lagrave moved up in the standings with another win against the already vulnerable Caruana. With a quiet draw against Yu Yangyi, Aronian ended the rapid portion tied for first place with the Frenchman. Dominguez recovered from his previous loss of the day by finding a tactical sequence which left him with two pawns against a piece and in a situation where his opponent couldn’t move his pieces. Karjakin resigned in a losing rook ending. Carlsen was on the verge of losing against Mamedyarov after his strange decision of trading his dark squared bishop for a knight and grabbing a pawn. The World Champion gave up the exchange for a pawn and successfully held the endgame. The game between Ding Liren and Richard Rapport didn’t see many adventures as the players exchanged their pieces and ultimately agreed to a draw in a knight endgame with a symmetrical pawn structure.Maxime Vachier-Lagrave being interviewed by Maurice Ashley