Scoring two draws and a win on Sunday, Levon Aronian maintained his lead at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Grand Chess Tour in St. Louis. Magnus Carlsen got just one draw out of three games. 

Both his fans and colleagues agree that so far the world champ’s play in 2019 has been very impressive. As a result, breaking the 2900 Elo mark in classical chess is not impossible for Carlsen, for example, at the upcoming Sinquefield Cup.

But right now and for the first time this year, he’s struggling.

Having suffered his first rapid loss of the year in the first round, Carlsen lost two more the next day and drew his third.

Magnus Carlsen 2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz
Magnus Carlsen is struggling to find his top form. | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

The first to beat him was Fabiano Caruana, who had lost three straight rapid games in the tiebreak of the 2018 world championship to Carlsen.

“These are quite different circumstances but regardless of where the win is, a win against Magnus is quite special,” Caruana said.

He didn’t think it was a smooth win from start to finish: “I thought I had a tremendous position out of the opening, but at some point it became unclear.”

Caruana believed 17.Nxe5 was winning and “expected a wipeout,” but Black still had lots of activity. He also thought Carlsen started to play quite well: “And then he made this horrible move 26…c4.”

Caruana-Carlsen 2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.
Caruana: “Regardless of where the win is, a win against Magnus is quite special.” | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

Tournament leader Aronian started with a draw against Ding Liren and then became the third player in the tournament to beat Carlsen. It must be said that Aronian mostly profited from a calculation error by his opponent.

“I thought I made some in inaccuracies. I missed this 11.Rh4 idea, which is very strong. Then I thought I might be slightly worse, maybe not objectively, but it’s difficult to play such positions,“ Aronian explained.

Black didn’t fully equalize, as Aronian admitted: “I didn’t solve all my problems, but then I found this cheapo. Whenever I see the cheapo in the position, I sit there and pray.”

Carlsen-Aronian 2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.
Carlsen was better after finding 11.Rh4. | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

A win like this is usually good for one or two fine quotes from Aronian such as this one: “You have to make some good moves and some bad moves. That’s what [Bent] Larsen said. I managed to do it perfectly. I guess that’s my secret.”

Aronian’s explanation for Carlsen’s three losses was more chess technical than psychological of nature: “He’s trying to play aggressively.”

Carlsen-Aronian 2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz | Photo: Justin Kellar/Grand Chess Tour.
Aronian: “Whenever I see the cheapo in the position, I sit there and pray.” | Photo: Justin Kellar/Grand Chess Tour.

Aronian still tops the standings, but his lead got smaller on the second day. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won all three games and is now trailing by just one point. That equals one rapid game because there a win yields two points (a draw just one) so the rapid counts double compared to the blitz.

Asked how he felt after such a fine second day, MVL replied: “Both very happy and just as lucky as Levon! I got very very lucky in the first two games. But in general I definitely played well, especially in this game with Ding Liren.”

Interestingly, it was probably a good choice from a practical point of view to go into the queen endgame, but the tablebase didn’t approve:

Carlsen-Aronian 2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.
Three wins for MVL on day two. | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

The day ended with a wild game between Richard Rapport and Caruana. The American GM thought he was completely winning (and he was), but his opponent found many only moves and got back in the game. After more ups and downs, the Hungarian player suddenly committed a big blunder.

2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Round 6 Standings
The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Round 6 Standings.

The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz Grand Chess Tour takes place August 10-14 at the Saint Louis Chess Club. After three days of rapid (nine rounds), two days of blitz follow with nine rounds on each day. Chess.com provides daily coverage on Twitch.tv/Chess and Chess.com/TV.

Day 2 coverage:

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All games of rapid rounds 4-6 for replay/download:

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You can find all games here as part of our live portal. More photos from the event can be found here. The official site is here.


Previous report:

https://www.chess.com/news/view/2019-saint-louis-rapid-blitz-grand-chess-tour-day-2