By IM Eric Rosen
After another exciting day of chess, Fabiano Caruana has emerged as the sole leader. Despite losing his round 4 game to Sam Shankland, Caruana came roaring back. He defeated compatriots Leinier Dominguez and Wesley So and now sits atop the leaderboard with 9 points. Hikaru Nakamura claims clear second place with 7 points. The best performance of the day came from Sam Shankland who scored dazzling victories over Caruana and Mamedyarov, and drew Nakamura. Although Shankland started the day at the bottom of the standings due to a rough result on day 1, he now sits in a tie for third place with So, Rapport, Mamedyarov, and Dominguez.
Standings after Day 2
45 minutes into the first round of the day, GM Maurice Ashley jubilantly exclaimed, “All the games are on FIRE!” This wasn’t far from an exaggeration. Every single board featured extremely intense struggles with the clock times dwindling for many of the players. It wasn’t clear how any game would end or even which game the commentators should focus on. Remarkably, the round produced just one decisive game with Shankland taking down Fabiano Caruana in a fiery tactical finale. In other games, opportunities were missed. Dominguez achieved a dominating position against Wesley So, but let his advantage slip in time pressure. Xiong achieved a clearly better position against Mamedyarov, but settled for a draw when he could have pushed for more. Perhaps the youngster gave his veteran opponent a little bit too much respect. Liem Le demonstrated incredibly strong and deep preparation in the Classical Variation of the Nimzo Indian against Hikaru Nakamura. This put Hikaru on the back foot from early on, but he defended valiantly to equalize in the endgame and secure a draw. The intriguing battle between Rapport and Svidler featured an incredibly obscure opening and that resulted in a complex tactical slugfest. Rapport pushed for a kingside attack, but after a series of trades, the fire of the position died down and perpetual check was given.
GM Sam Shankland
The excitement of the day certainly continued into the 5th round. In the marquee matchup, Caruana defeated co-leader Dominguez in a one-sided positional squeeze to claim the sole lead. Peter Svidler managed to win his first game of the event by taking down Liem Le in an incredibly messy debacle. For any brave soul that wants to check the Stockfish analysis of this game, you’ll see a computer graph that’s more volatile than Bitcoin. Meanwhile, Sam Shankland unleashed his Semislav Chessable course preparation against Mamedyarov, who clearly didn’t do his homework. The American dark horse won with the black pieces in just 25 moves. The commentators praised Shankland’s play and dubbed his victory one of the best games of the competition thus far. In another fascinating game, Xiong brilliantly outplayed Nakamura from the black side of a Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation. Clearly, Xiong was seeking revenge for falling victim to Hikaru’s Bongcloud in last year’s online STL Rapid & Blitz Event. However, Nakamura displayed his masterful survival skills once again and managed to fight his way to draw from a completely losing position.
GM Fabiano Caruana vs GM Leinier Dominguez
The final round of the day also produced some notable highlights. Wesley So committed a one move blunder that was more characteristic of an amateur rather than a super-grandmaster. Caruana snagged a free knight, prompting So to immediately resign. In the post game interview, Caruana half-joked that many of the players were having a hard time seeing the pieces because the masks were causing their glasses to fog up. In the only other decisive game of the round, Dominguez stumbled against Mamedyarov. Yasser Seirawan was deeply disgusted by the placement of Dominguez’s rook, calling it the worst rook he had ever seen. The final position featured complete paralysis of the white pieces, allowing Mamedyarov to score a key victory and catch up to Dominguez in the standings.