By IM Eric Rosen
At the end of a dramatic final day of rapid chess, Hikaru Nakamura has emerged as the new tournament leader. With excellent opening preparation, tactical precision, and clever resourcefulness, the American grandmaster remains the only competitor to have not lost a single game thus far. Grandmasters Fabiano Caruana and Richard Rapport trail close behind in 2nd place. With 18 blitz games to come over the next two days, anything can happen. However, Hikaru has proven that he is the man to beat.
Standings after 9 rounds of rapid
The first round of the day kicked off with fireworks. Jeffery Xiong scored his first win of the event by absolutely pummeling GM Liem Le from the black side of a Caro Kann. Xiong seized initiative early with a strong central pawn break and did not stop making threats until he was winning material. The game ended in just 20 moves. Meanwhile, Hikaru Nakamura convincingly defeated Leinier Dominguez from the white side of a Queen’s Gambit Accepted. After misplaying the opening, Dominguez found himself in a horrendous position with his pieces lacking coordination and his king stuck in the center. Although Dominguez managed to survive longer than expected, it was not enough to escape the powerful claws of Hikaru. The most shocking result of the round took place between Fabiano Caruana and Richard Rapport. The game began with Caruana completely eviscerating Richard Rapport’s Sicilian Defense with a kingside pawn storm that looked almost as sinister as the thunderstorm that hit St. Louis yesterday evening. When it looked like the American would cruise his way to victory, Rapport resisted. He used Caruana’s g7-pawn as an umbrella for his king and defended valiantly in severe time pressure. It was then Caruana who stumbled and found his own king in a mating net. In an unexpected twist, Caruana got mated on the board and lost what should have been an easily winning game.
Fabiano Caruana and Richard Rapport
The second round of the day produced even more drama. The first decisive game to finish was Richard Rapport’s convincing victory over Jeffery Xiong. The Hungarian grandmaster achieved a clear advantage from a King’s Indian Attack and maintained full control through the entire game. His winning technique was nearly as colorful as his vibrant shirt. Many of the other decisive games were decided deep in time pressure situations. Peter Svidler demonstrated a brilliant tactical endgame sequence with less than a minute left to take down Leinier Dominguez. Caruana rebounded from his disappointing loss in round 7 by beautifully outplaying Mamedyarov. He showed how truly overpowering the bishop pair can be in the endgame and Mamedyarov could not tame the diagonal-moving beasts. Sam Shankland gave Liem Le his second loss of the day in a long endgame grind-down. After losing a pawn in the early middlegame, the Vietnamese grandmaster showed great resilience and reached a drawn rook endgame. However, one tragic blunder was enough to let the draw slip away and give Shankland the victory. The only draw of the round was seen in Wesley So versus Hikaru Nakamura. Although Hikaru was under pressure for much of the game, he demonstrated computer-like precision to fend off Wesley’s attack and maintain his no-loss streak.
GM Sam Shankland
In the final round of rapid chess, all attention was on the marquee matchup between Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. The American superstars entered a deep theoretical variation of the Ruy Lopez with Nakamura showing superior opening preparation. Consequently, Nakamura received a massive advantage as the position transitioned into an endgame. Caruana’s position was highly unpleasant to defend and quickly crumbled as a result. Nakamura demonstrated stellar technique to cruise his way to victory and leapfrog Caruana in the standings. The only other decisive game of the round was seen in Jeffery Xiong versus Sam Shankland. In what should have been a drawn position, Shankland made an atrocious blunder in time pressure allowing Jeffery a simple and aesthetic winning tactic. Xiong pounced on the opportunity and Shankland immediately resigned. If this foreshadows anything, it’s that we can expect a lot more blunders and decisive games as the time control will shorten to 5+2 for the remaining two days.
GM Hikaru Nakamura