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Alireza Firouzja takes the early lead at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz 2022

2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz – Day 1 Recap – By WGM Anastasiya Karlovich
Saint Louis rapid and blitz 2022All the information / Live games / Pairings & Schedule

A dream come true

We’re back in the City of Saint Louis, the chess capital of the United States, for the final two legs of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour hosted at the Saint Louis Chess Club. After more than three weeks of top-level action we will learn the name of the new Grand Chess Tour champion.

The nonstop show kicks off with Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, 3 days of rapid followed by 2 days of blitz. The Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz Opening ceremony was held in the spectacular World Chess Hall of Fame, with Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield and Rex Sinquefield. co-founders of the Saint Louis Chess Club, welcoming guests watching from all over the world and declaring the tournament open.

Dr. Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield delivering a speech at the Saint Louis Rapid  & Blitz Opening Ceremony, photo courtesy of GCT/Lennart Ootes

Lots were drawn as players picked their numbers for Rapid event, placed on editions of Mind, Art, Experience: 10 Years of Chess & Culture in Saint Louis and also found their numbers for Blitz on 1972 Fischer/Spassky: The Match, Its Origin, and Influence fridge magnets – courtesy of QBoutique at the World Chess Hall of Fame. 

Celebrating 50 years from the famous 1972 match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, this brand new exhibition is exploring some interesting moments of the Match of the Century. And for the first time ever, we’re opening the Sinquefield Cup Opening Ceremony on September 1 to the public.

The field of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is star-studded, with hometown grandmaster stars Aronian, Caruana, and Dominguez, along with fellow Americans Nakamura, Shankland and Xiong; complemented by French superstars Firoujza and Vachier-Lagrave, Azeri number one Mamedyarov and World Championship challenger Nepomniachtchi. 

Things will heat up even more once the Sinquefield Cup starts and the World Champion Magnus Carlsen joins the field.

Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Opening Ceremony, Photo: GCT/Lennart Ootes

Round 1

The tournament officially began on Friday, August 26th at 1pm Central time. American GM Jeffery Xiong replaced the Hungarian grandmaster Rapport (who had to withdraw due to travel restrictions) at the last minute. Jeffery played confidently against one of the favorites, Ian Nepomniachtchi and the game ended in a draw. 

Neither Levon Aronian nor Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) wanted to push their luck at the start, and their game was resolved in a move repetition a while later. Alireza Firouzja outplayed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a great style and Leinier Dominguez defeated Hikaru Nakamura.

And finally we had a marathon at the start of the day, as Fabiano Caruana was trying to squeeze water out of stone against Sam Shankland. Just when it was about time to claim a draw by the 50 move rule (no pawns moved or pieces captured in the last 50 moves) by the defender, we might’ve had more drama. Caruana overpushed and gave Shankland a chance to play for a win. Suddenly it would be Fabiano having to find only moves to make a draw. But this one stayed behind the curtains, as Shankland claimed a draw after some thought. Most of the players were following the end of the game and spent the break between the rounds discussing the ending of the clash between two Americans. 

Caruana-Shankland, 118 moves right at the start of the tournament! Photo: GCT/Lennart Ootes

Round 2

In terms of decisive results, it seems that we’ll be having a strict schedule. Three draws, two decisive results. Mamedyarov needed to calm down after a tough loss in the first round, and playing with black Aronian made a draw rather comfortably. There was a bit more excitement in the games of  Shankland-Dominguez and Nepomniachtchi-MVL, yet it was soon clear all eyes would be on the two remaining games.

Everything went wrong for white in the middlegame in Nakamura-Firouzja, and it seemed as if there’s no hope for Nakamura. The American would not give up that easily, though, and managed to find a chance to save the game, only to blunder it away on the next one again. Hikaru was fighting until the end but too many unforced errors resulted in another painful loss.

A rough start for Nakamura, photo: GCT/Lennart Ootes

Nevertheless, the man of the round was Jeffery Xiong. He caught  Fabiano Caruana off guard in an English variation sideline and gained a clear edge, with his bishop pair dominating Black’s pieces. He gradually went on to convert the game in a nice technical style. Jeffery possibly gave Fabiano one small chance to escape in mutual time trouble later on, as it sometimes happens in fast time controls, but very much keeping control of the game.

Jeffery Xiong vs Fabiano Caruana, photo: GCT/Lennart Ootes

Round 3

The tension is growing and there was no game we could easily name as “balanced” in the final round of the day. There were ups and downs even in the games that ended in a draw. Caruana-Nepomniachtchi was the closest it got. At first, Nepomniachtchi was walking a very thin line, playing fast and loose in an objectively bad position after the opening. The tables turned later and Nepomniachtchi got chances in the ending but Caruana escaped with a draw.

Jeffery Xiong was extremely close to another upset, this time against Leinier Dominguez, but missed the critical 28…e3! winning move. 

Rex Sinquefield and local spectators follow the games of round 3, photo: GCT/Crystal Fuller

Steady pressure eventually paid off to MVL and it was clearly not Mamedyarov’s day today, who missed a mate in two (albeit in an already desperate position). Lady luck smiled on Hikaru again in the third round of GCT as he scored his first victory in the tournament by winning vs Levon Aronian. Blind spot resulted in Aronian losing to Nakamura in a position that was worse but still solid.

One could not wish for a more dramatic game to end the day than the Firouzja-Shankland clash. Black seemed to be moving towards victory, gradually outplaying the fearless Frenchman, yet Firouzja managed to muddy the waters and equalize. A bizarre position arose, with Firouzja threatening to promote his queen with a check, and Shankland having an extra queen and the move. 

Drama of the day, photo: GCT/Lennart Ootes

It took just one reckless move to spoil White’s position and allow Firouzja’s king to hide from checks, but the fascinating winning line was not easy to find even for our commentary team, let alone for players playing under the ticking clock. Instead, Black blundered horribly and it was Shankland returning the favor, missing a much simpler winning variation, and the game finished in a draw.

White’s king runs to h8 and wins despite being a queen down — this is what both players missed!

Replay the broadcast from day 1

As Alireza Firouzja said at yesterday’s opening ceremony: I grew up watching Saint Louis’s events and I always had the dream to play in this chess club, and the dream is coming true indeed. He’s in the clear first place after the first day, but there’s a pack of three rivals just around the corner. Firouzja is facing one of them tomorrow, the first round of day 2, Jeffery Xiong, in the battle between the two youngest participants of this event by far. 

Follow all the action live with commentators GM Peter Svidler, GM Yasser Seirawan and GM Christian Chirila tomorrow at 1PM CDT. Day 2 LIVE

Standings after Day 1

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