Dominant Firouzja Clinches Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz With 4 Rounds To Spare

Dominant Firouzja Clinches Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz With 4 Rounds To Spare


The 2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz came to a close on Tuesday with a historic victory from GM Alireza Firouzja. The blitz superstar accrued 26 points out of a possible 36, marking a 22-game undefeated streak that saw him soar 107 rating points to eclipse the 2900-mark in the FIDE blitz ratings. 

Breaking the 2900 threshold was not enough to take the number one spot from GM Hikaru Nakamura, who gained 58 points in a blitz section that he would’ve topped on any other day.

Nakamura’s total of 21 points were enough to finish second overall ahead of GMs Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who both scored 19 points.


Nakamura launched himself into the final day with a win over Caruana with the black pieces. The streamer was the sole winner in round 10 of the blitz and managed to take advantage of a poor pawn structure that arose out of the English Four Knights. Caruana was able to find defensive resources to bring the position back to within the realm of a draw but succumbed under time pressure on move 71.

Firouzja had a relatively uneventful draw against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and the remainder of the field followed suit, splitting the points. GM Levon Aronian was fortunate to hold on to an ending where he was down by a knight for two pawns against GM Jeffery Xiong

Aronian pulled out all the stops to draw with Xiong. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

Round 11 saw Firouzja return to the cold-blooded chess that he had played consistently throughout the event with a powerful display of tactics against Xiong. In a Symmetrical English, Xiong was likely hoping for a quieter game against the barnstorming Firouzja but was met with shot after shot that quickly saw the Iranian-born French GM garner a three-pawn advantage.

Round 11 was also important for the leaderboard as Firouzja’s two closest chasers, Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave, both lost their games, allowing Firouzja to extend his lead to four points! Nakamura very nearly drew with Aronian in a queen and pawn ending but misstepped on move 58, allowing Aronian to promote to a second queen.

The pineapple shirt returned on the final day but Nakamura but was “florally” outplayed by Aronian. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Vachier-Lagrave was soundly punished for complacency involving a rogue passed d-pawn against Caruana. Taking on Caruana’s Petroff, the position transposed into a French Exchange where the American was able to equalize. Vachier-Lagrave looked to have things under control until he allowed Caruana to push his passed pawn beyond the point of no return.

Nepomniachtchi also scored a full point against GM Samuel Shankland who was brave to test the world champion challenger’s knowledge of the flip side of the Catalan. By move 24, Nepomniachtchi still had two minutes and 30 seconds on the clock while Shankland had dropped below 20 seconds. The deficit eventually lead to Shankland’s demise.

Nepomniachtchi thinking about how to tackle his own opening. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

The focal point of round 12 was undoubtedly the clash between first-placed Firouzja and Nakamura, the latter playing White. Nakamura was on the hunt for a victory that would be critical in slowing down the surging tournament leader but was met with ample preparation that gave him no chances. 

By move 20, Firouzja was slightly better and Nakamura grew impatient, feeling compelled to spice up the position with 21.f4?. The attempt backfired and soon the hero of the first day of the blitz was left with little chance to catch the leader.

Fans who were hoping to see a blanket finish could take solace in the fact that Vachier-Lagrave had in the meantime knocked over GM Leinier Dominguez in the only other victory of the round. The Caro-Kann was the poison of choice against the Havana-born Dominguez. The opening was ironically used by another player of old who was born in the same city, GM Jose Raul Capablanca.

Capablanca famously went eight years without losing a single tournament game (1916-1924). Photo: Wikipedia.

GM Cristian Chirila, “The Count” on, dubbed round 13 as “a round of howlers” with several inexplicable blunders plaguing several of the players. The most notable was Aronian’s full piece blunder against Firouzja where Aronian touched his d7-bishop on move 16, the revelation hitting him immediately that any move by the piece would leave his c6-knight en prise.

As Black ended up choosing 16…Bf5, Firouzja was able to liquidate with ease and force Aronian’s resignation. Meanwhile, Dominguez had played a nearly identical move against Caruana with even worse consequences. In a slightly better position, Dominguez touched his d2-bishop and was forced to move it, leaving his queen ripe for the picking!

Not to be outdone by the outrageous blunders, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov decided to join the party and blundered a full bishop after dodgily sacrificing it on g5 with no counterplay. Nakamura’s win over Shankland with the black pieces was the only victory of the round that required finesse and the Modern Defense allowed him to do this where he squeezed his compatriot in much the same fashion as their previous game on Monday.

Nakamura in fine form for the blitz section. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The Firouzja freight train did not end in round 13 and in the following game he backed up with yet another win, this time in an endgame over Caruana. The result meant that Firouzja had won the tournament with four rounds to spare! Dominguez was the only other victor in the round which had little bearing on the standings.

With the battle for first being over, there was a four-horse race for second between Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, and Xiong. Two of these players, Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura, were due to face in the next round.

Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura before their critical encounter. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

Leading Nakamura by half a point, the Frenchman took a cautious approach to the game, opting for a slow build-up against Nakamura’s Modern Defense. Vachier-Lagrave paid the price though for allowing Nakamura to break through the center and was eventually ground down, the game culminating in a pretty discovered check tactic.

Firouzja brought up five straight wins in round 24 with a convincing game against Shankland, clearly not content with just winning the tournament, while Dominguez and Mamedyarov won their respective games, fighting to get off the bottom of the leaderboard.

Mamedyarov had some flashes of brilliance but overall was not consistent enough to contest the podium. Photo: Bryan Adams/Grand Chess Tour.

The following round felt like a repeat of the previous with Firouzja and Nakamura continuing their annihilation of the field. Nakamura showed that not all rook endgames are drawn and clinically swept aside Dominguez whereas Firouzja did not even let Mamedyarov get to an endgame, seizing the center and temporarily sacrificing a knight, prompting the Azeri’s surrender.

Caruana also stealthily crept up the standings on the final day and had a particularly good spell at the back end, winning his final three games. He was joined by Nakamura in this feat. Firouzja would have joined the hat-trick party at the end of the event but was finally held to a draw by Vachier-Lagrave after six straight wins. Out in front by five points, Firouzja was far and away the best player in St. Louis.

Firouzja was never in doubt. A career-best performance from the Iranian-born GM. Photo:
Firouzja was never in doubt. A career-best performance from the Iranian-born GM. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

A final victory by Firouzja against Dominguez to go with the crown was our game of the day on Tuesday, which GM Rafael Leitao has analyzed below.

After nine rounds of rapid and 18 of blitz, to have an undefeated Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz champion in Firouzja was a treat for chess viewers around the world. Nakamura was deserving of the second spot while Caruana rounded out the podium. The world number one rank in blitz was the talk of the town and Nakamura ended up winning that race by six points despite Firouzja claiming first in St. Louis.

Firouzja earned $40,000 for first place, Nakamura took in $30,000 for second place, and Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave each made $22,500 after splitting third-fourth.

All Games Day 5

Final Standings

# Fed Player Rating Rapid Blitz Total
1 Alireza Firouzja 2778 11 15 26
2 Hikaru Nakamura 2690 7 14 21
3 Fabiano Caruana 2754 8 11 19
4 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2757 11 8 19

Ian Nepomniachtchi 2720 9 9 18
6 Levon Aronian 2792 8 9 17
7 Jeffery Xiong 2776 9 8 17
8 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2775 9 8 17
9 Sam Shankland 2768 10 3.5 13.5
10 Leinier Dominguez 2758 8 3.5 12.5

The 2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz was the fourth leg of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour and the last of its speed chess events. The players competed 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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