Undefeated MVL Moves Into Tied First With Firouzja In Rapid

Undefeated MVL Moves Into Tied First With Firouzja In Rapid


The halfway point of the 2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz came to a close on Sunday with GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alireza Firouzja perched atop the leaderboard. An undefeated run with two wins was requisite for Vachier-Lagrave to join his compatriot, who drew his final three games in order to hold onto the top spot.

The day was hallmarked by a complete flip from the draw-fest yesterday in favor of decisive results with nine of 15 games ending in this way. GM Shakriyar Mamedyarov was the main beneficiary, winning each of his three games and recovering from a dismal start to the tournament.

GM Samuel Shankland very nearly did the same, scoring 2/3 in rounds seven and eight, including the game of the day against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. The well-prepared GM fell just short and lost to GM Jeffery Xiong in round nine.

The event will continue with rounds 1-9 of the blitz portion on August 29 at 11 a.m. PT/20:00 Central European.


The final day of rapid games kicked off with a bang and by the end of round seven, it was clear that all 10 players had showed up to fight. Mamedyarov cracked Xiong’s run of good form using an approach to the Semi-Tarrasch that the American himself had used to split the point with Nepomniachtchi in round one.

Xiong’s stellar run came to an end at the hands of the Azeri dynamo. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The pawn break 20.f4 was the source of Xiong’s discomfort. He soon lost a pawn and traded into an ending where Mamedyarov made no mistakes and captured his first full point of the event.

Meanwhile, Shankland employed a challenging line in the Berlin Defense that caused problems for GM Hikaru Nakamura. Already struggling to find his best form, Nakamura was ground down as his focus undoubtedly turned toward the time control where he is considered one of the heavy favorites.

Until round seven, the Berlin Defense had proven near-infallible, but GM Fabiano Caruana‘s wall came crumbling down in 40 moves at the hands of Vachier-Lagrave, whose active rooks played the roles of battering rams. The result allowed the unbeaten Frenchman to join Firouzja in first place. 

A move-eight novelty in the Semi-Tarrasch Defense featured in Firouzja’s game and allowed the Iranian-born GM to win the exchange early with enterprising play. Nepomniachtchi was resilient and used his healthy bishop pair to stabilize in the endgame. The game was quite unique as neither king was able to find shelter in the opening.

The field’s most experienced players, GMs Levon Aronian and Leinier Dominguez, played out a short draw in the London System. Aronian did castle queenside in an attempt to put Dominguez’s kingside under pressure, although the two pawns he had to sacrifice for the initiative left him with little choice but to repeat moves.

Dominguez came armed with a solid defensive setup for his round-seven game. Photo: Bryan Adams/Grand Chess Tour.

Round eight was equally if not more entertaining than the previous round and featured three wins for the black pieces and two exciting draws. The game of the day and likely the tournament thus far went to Shankland whose exquisite preparation fueled his fortunes against Nepomniachtchi’s Catalan Opening. GM Rafael Leitao has provided his expert commentary on the game that included a rook exchange and pawn sacrifice en route to a victory for the American.

Honing the momentum gained from his first win of the event, Mamedyarov notched a second win in round eight with the black pieces, this time dispatching Caruana. The Azeri claimed that he sought to “just play interesting chess” on the final day, and the strategy paid off. Caruana was clutching at straws after 19 moves, coming off worse in the Italian Opening: Two Knights Defense, eventually succumbing after 91 mammoth turns.

Mamedyarov checks his clock moments before Caruana resigns. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Xiong dared to dream up against a downtrodden Nakamura but lost his second consecutive game as Nakamura concocted a model game in his legendary King’s Indian Defense that ended with an unstoppable attack on Xiong’s king that was discussed in depth on Nakamura’s stream.

The remaining games of the round between Firouzja and Aronian as well as Dominguez and Vachier-Lagrave ended in draws after lengthy theoretical battles in the Ruy Lopez Opening: Berlin Defense and Sicilian Defense: Open, Najdorf. The results in the penultimate round left the leaders with a new adversary in Shankland although interestingly, Firouzja and Vachier-Lagrave were due to face in the final round.

Firouzja in the box seat in the penultimate round. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

Round nine followed the theme of three decisive results and two draws, although this time, the three winners were all players who did not have mathematical possibilities to finish atop the leaderboard. Xiong’s victory with the black pieces against Shankland immediately quashed his countryman’s hopes of a first-place finish and capped a respectable fourth-placed finish for the 21-year-old.

Trivia time! Which stylish player sported chess socks to the final rapid games today? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In the Nimzo-Indian Defense, Xiong castled queenside early, attacked Shankland’s stranded king, and finished the job with a dangerous passed d-pawn. It would have been difficult for Shankland to adopt a more defensive style after the brutal, combative display against Nepomniachtchi less than an hour earlier.

Vachier-Lagrave and Firouzja clarified the pole position quickly with a 14-move Berlin draw, heading home early to prepare for the blitz segment. Both players are tipped to do well in the blitz games after having tied for first in the world blitz chess championships in 2021, a tournament that Vachier-Lagrave won in a playoff with GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

After a stellar 2021, including first place in the Sinquefield Cup and World Blitz Championship, the sky is the limit for MVL. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Mamedyarov won his third game straight and recovered to post a mid-table placing after a disastrous start, this time demonstrating great technique in a rook-and-pawn ending to dismantle Dominguez. 

After showing positive signs in round eight, Nakamura with the white pieces hoped to take down Caruana in the English Opening, but the tables were turned on him, and Caruana clamped down on his kingside. After a -2 score overall in the rapid segment, it would not be shocking to see Nakamura channel his frustration into a strong blitz performance over the next two days.

Nakamura is known for showing emotions, both positive and negative, at the board. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Two players who were expected to finish toward the top end of the leaderboard, Aronian and Nepomniachtchi, finished round nine with a quiet draw that ended a disappointing start for both players. Aronian, who drew eight out of nine of his games (with one loss), will no doubt aim to be more assertive in the time control where he is the current world number-one.

One win, one loss, and seven draws have left a lot of room for the 2022 Chess.com Rapid Chess Champion to improve. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Six points separate the top from the bottom of the field heading into 18 blitz games, meaning that any player has the potential to compete for the trophy. Tune in tomorrow to see the first nine blitz games unfold!

All Games Day 3


# Fed Player Rating Pts
1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2757 11
2 Alireza Firouzja 2778 11
3 Sam Shankland 2720 10
4 Jeffery Xiong 2690 9

Ian Nepomniachtchi 2792 9
6 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2758 9
7 Levon Aronian 2775 8
8 Fabiano Caruana 2776 8
9 Leinier Dominguez 2754 8
10 Hikaru Nakamura 2768 7

The 2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is the fourth leg of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour and the last of its speed chess events. Players compete in a 10-player rapid (25+10) round-robin and a 10-player blitz (5+2) double round-robin for their share of a $175,000 prize fund. 

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