Fabiano Caruana ended Day 2 of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz as the sole leader, despite beginning the day by suffering a heavy loss to an inspired Sam Shankland, who then went on to crush Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Fabiano beat and leapfrogged leader Leinier Dominguez in the second round of the day, before becoming the beneficiary of a huge blunder by Wesley So in Round 6. It was a strange day when even relative outsiders such as Jeffery Xiong and Liem Quang Le missed great chances to pick up wins.
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Sam Shankland strikes
2018 US Champion Sam Shankland scored 0.5/3 on Day 1 of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz after getting off to the toughest possible start by blundering on move 14 against Richard Rapport. As he explained:
After yesterday it was just tough. I had this game with Rapport in Round 1 where I’m just slightly better and I make one move and, before I hit the clock, ok, this game’s over! There’s just no ifs, ands and buts about it, I can resign on the spot, and I probably should have, and it’s sort of hard to lose in one move from a pleasant, easy advantage like that, but I managed!
Then Wesley played a great game, so it was a tough day, but one thing I’ve noticed is I might suffer a little bit from tilt if I have to play a couple of hours later, just right afterwards, but if I have overnight then I’m ready to come back firing, and that’s what I did today.
Sam started Day 2 with the white pieces against world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana and, although he got a better position out of the opening, he wasn’t getting excited given their past record:
He’s just a very good defender, so getting a good position was the easy part, but actually putting it away had until now eluded me.
Fabi, meanwhile, said he could have swapped down into a better ending, but decided to keep things complicated given his opponent was low on time. That decision completely backfired, with 41…g5?! already an admission that things had gone badly awry, while 44…Be4? was objectively the point of no return.
45.Qe3! exploited that last move, with the switch of the queen to h6 lethal. A few more precise moves and it was game over.
Things only got better for Sam as he then got the chance to play out analysis he’d done for Chessable, against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. He explained:
I actually just wrote a course on this for Chessable, and one thing I told myself was once I had published this analysis I should play it occasionally. If I play it all the time then people will just buy my course and be ready for me, but if I never play it then it will not tax their preparation time to have to look into, so I decided I’m going to play my Chessable analysis not wildly often, but it will happen, so it should force people to spend some of their preparation time looking at my stuff.
He noted that Shakhriyar’s 12.e4!? was already premature, allowing him to play c5 and f5 in a good version, while on move 18 Shakh made essentially the losing mistake.
Mamedyarov here needed to play the tricky 18.Bd3! and if 18…e4 then 19.c5!, with 20.Bc4+ to follow. Instead after the more natural 18.Nb5? Bc5! 19.Qg3 f4 20.Qh3 Nf6 21.Nc3 it was time for Sam to strike.
21…Bxf2+! took Sam five minutes, but only because of his doubts about the position after 22.Kxf2 Bc8 23.Rxd8 Rxd8.
At first he couldn’t see a win after 24.Qf3 Ng4+ 25.Kg1 and 25…Qc5+, when Black has at least a draw, but maybe no more now there’s no rook to capture on d1. Finally, however, he realised 25…Qh4! instead was crushing, and “once I found that there wasn’t much else to it”.
Instead Shakhriyar went for 24.g4, but after 24…Rd2 25.Rd1 Bxg4! he resigned — a real crush, though one that Sam didn’t feel as proud about as he might have done.
It’s a really weird feeling when you just sort of crush a really strong player without them having a chance of any kind of resistance, because they made one mistake early on. It’s certainly good to win like that, but I would feel a bit more proud if I’d beaten Shakh when he was really on good form and played a better game.
Shakh’s first game of the day against Jeffery Xiong had also been shaky, but he picked up an important win for the tournament against Leinier Dominguez in the last round of the day. There was a very unusual tactical situation.
Leinier’s 25.Kf1? was the most natural move in the world, solving the back-rank issues and renewing the attack on the f4-bishop, but in fact it was the losing move. 25.b4!, covering the c5-square, was essential. In the game after 25…Nc5! 26.Nxf4 Nb3 27.Ra2 Rc1+ 28.Ke2 Rxb1 material was level, but the hopelessly out of play white rook on a2 made it an easy win for Black with the powerful passed d-pawn.
The day wasn’t all about Sam Shankland, however, with Fabiano Caruana getting to bounce back. First in Round 5 he defeated the new sole leader, Leinier Dominguez, commenting, “it wasn’t necessary for him to lose that position”.
A completely locked position suddenly turned in Fabi’s favour after Leinier’s rook was lured to a5.
35.hxg5! hxg5 36.Qh2! now worked, with the lack of a rook on a8 preventing Black from defending with Rh8. Fabi went on to win impressively with play on both sides of the board.
Then the final round was a shocker, with Wesley So self-destructing with 24.Nf5?? against Fabi.
It wasn’t even the only winning move (24…Qb4 is an alternative), but Fabiano here quickly played the simple 24…gxf5 and Wesley resigned. The problem? 25.Qxh5 doesn’t win back the piece, since Black picks up another one with 25…Rxc2.
Fabiano struggled to explain it:
I don’t know exactly what happened in his calculations. I assume he just didn’t realise I could play gxf5, he just didn’t even think about the move. That’s the only explanation I can come up with, that he was maybe looking at Bxf5, or Qc7, or some other move. It’s definitely a pleasant gift to get.
He had an interesting, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, explanation for the number of blunders and tactical oversights we’d seen:
I think it’s really because nobody can see the pieces! Most of the players wear glasses and also wear masks, and I saw Wesley trying desperately not to get his glasses to fog up, so maybe that’s why.
It had been a shaky day overall for Wesley, who was worse against Leinier Dominguez and Richard Rapport, and he wasn’t alone in struggling. Hikaru Nakamura had been completely lost against Jeffery Xiong and also suffered in the first game of the day after Liem Quang Le blitzed out his first 23 moves.
Liem could have scored 3/3, since he was winning for one move against Richard Rapport, and also in the game he lost to Peter Svidler.
36…Qf2! here would have left White defenceless, with Liem’s most immediate threat to play Rxh3+ and then not win the rook on a7, but give checkmate on h4! It turns out there’s no good defence.
Instead Liem played 36…Qf5? and after 37.Qd4 an exchange of queens was forced, with Peter going on to win a tricky endgame.
That left the standings as follows, with one day of rapid chess and then 18 rounds of blitz to go. It’s early days, but Fabiano Caruana is yet to win a Grand Chess Tour rapid and blitz event, despite countless tries.
You can watch the games each day from 15:00 in Saint Louis, which is 22:00 CEST, right here on chess24.