Fabiano Caruana maintained his two-point lead in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz after scoring three draws on a day featuring huge swings in many of the games. Vishy Anand, Wesley So and Levon Aronian all lost winning positions, while you couldn’t take your eyes off Alexander Grischuk’s time trouble adventures. The upwardly mobile players were Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura, who both scored +1 to join MVL and Sergey Karjakin in the chasing pack.
Round 4: The calm before the storm
The big match-up in the first round of the day was Nakamura-Caruana. Could Fabiano Caruana maintain his winning streak after three wins on the first day, or would Hikaru Nakamura maintain his own winning streak after he beat Fabi in all three of their games in the Paris Grand Chess Tour? In the end they balanced each other out.
The only decisive game of the round would in fact be MVL-Grischuk, where the French no. 1 once again demonstrated his endgame prowess to convert a position a pawn up. He was given a helping hand by his opponent’s time management, though, with Alexander Grischuk finding himself with 13 seconds to his opponent’s 11 minutes midway through the game. Hikaru Nakamura would later muse that Grischuk has failed to adapt to the delay rather than increment used in the Grand Chess Tour.
There were relatively quiet draws in Karjakin-So and Dominguez-Anand, while Aronian-Mamedyarov was anything but quiet after Levon was tempted by an exotic queen sacrifice.
Round 5: Mayhem
It was curious that in the very next round Mamedyarov was on the white side of almost exactly the same scenario.
Fabiano Caruana had a relatively uneventful day, but he admitted his clash with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was “pretty wild”. Maxime went for his beloved Najdorf and looked to be taking over with a queenside attack, but while Fabiano admitted “for most of the game I was probably losing” he also got what he called “a slightly accidental” chance to play for a win.
Fabiano finally had things under control around his king and could have gone hunting on the other side of the board with 41.h5! (41…Nxg5 loses more or less on the spot to 42.Qf1 and various other moves), 42.Nxe4 next move and then targeting the black weaknesses on the kingside. Instead Caruana played on the queenside with 41.Nb1?! and the forcing line with Nc3 that followed almost led to disaster. Black is probably winning in the position where the players repeated moves, though Maxime would have needed to find some (more) very tricky moves.
Caruana was correct, though, when he commented that “there weren’t huge blunders in my games”. The same couldn’t be said elsewhere in Round 5.
The loss for Wesley So was even more dramatic. Wesley would have been close to a win, with zero losing chances, if he’d exchanged his bishop for Leinier Dominguez’s knight on move 43, but a missed win only turned into a catastrophe on move 50.
Black’s one threat in the position wasn’t hard to spot, but 50.Kxf5?? fatally ignored it. After 50…c3 a black pawn will queen and Wesley had no choice but to resign. Instead simply 50.e6! and the bishop could deal with the pawns for a simple draw.
Round 6: Black is ok!
A certain Garry Kasparov was impressed by the fact Black managed to win three games in the final round of the day.
Wesley So recovered fastest after his misfortune in the previous round to smoothly outplay Vishy Anand on the black side of an Italian, while the other two wins were more dramatic.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave puzzled everyone by almost blitzing his way to 9.exf6 after Mamedyarov launched a trademark early g5.
There were draws in Dominguez-Grischuk, where White’s seemingly unstoppable attack was eventually stopped…
…and Karjakin-Caruana, where Fabiano admitted he was worried about his dubious opening until his opponent chose to castle and the worst was over.
That meant that at the end of what Caruana described as, “not a great day, but perfectly satisfactory”, the World Championship challenger still had a two-point lead, though the chasing pack had grown to four players: