John Brezina's St. Louis Rapid & Blitz Report

3:26pm Saturday, December 9th, 2023

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"Chess is tough and blitz chess is brutal."

Quoting John Brezina:  "St. Louis Rapid & Blitz November 18, 2023. I returned to St. Louis for the last day of blitz action as part of the Grand Chess Tour’s Rapid & Blitz tournament. The first three days were rapid games while the final two days were eighteen rounds of blitz. A feast for fans watching online as the action was nonstop. Five boards with ten of the best players in the world blitzing made it difficult to choose which to watch. Once again the World Chess Hall of Fame’s third floor played host to the event while renovations continue across the street at the chess club."

The classy playing room. Rex and Jeane Sinquefield really know how to do it up right.

"The playing hall and conditions are wonderful but lack the space for spectators. All the action could be watched online though with the fantastic commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Tania Sachdev, and Peter Svidler in their new broadcast studio. The hall was also prepared for the Sinquefield Cup which followed the blitz tournament. Renovations are to resume on the chess club's expansion soon and should be quite a spectacle for chess fans from around the world once completed."

FIDE Arbiter, Chris Bird, keeping an eye on things. 

"A week before Thanksgiving, the Central West End already began to show signs of Christmas. Decorations started to appear including the chess club and hall of fame. I made my way up to the third floor before the action began. The arbiters were making final preparations along with Lennart Ootes who has been a long time photographer and DGT board expert."

David Llada, on the job.

"More special this year was that another world renowned photographer was in St. Louis for the first time, David Llada. He is most well known for his book "The Thinkers" which contains many of his world class photos of chess players. This book inspired my own photo book of chess players, "Faces Across the Board". It was an honor to photograph this tournament alongside these two gentlemen."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with a question for the Arbiter. See video 

"The players began to slowly show up as the 1:00pm start time approached. After day one of the blitz, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave led with a score of 7 out of 9 points without a single loss. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So were a point behind and the defending 2022 champion Alireza Firouzja sat behind at 5.5 points. In round one, MVL was paired up against Webster University chess team coach and 2013 world blitz champion Le Quang Liem." 

Le Quang Liem, not taking his eyes off the board. 

"MVL was in great form on day one of the blitz but managed to lose with the white pieces for the start of day two. He was not the only one to lose round one with the white pieces, as all five games were decisive and won on the black side. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana also won their games and would go on to keep jockeying for first all day."

Ian Nepomniachtchi with a what kind of move is that expression :-)

"The second round paired up MVL with Ian Nepomniachtchi who trailed just a point behind the leader. On move 30 Nepo started a King rout with a tactical shot that forced MVL to lose his queen several moves later. A tough start for the tournament leader." 

Alireza Firouzja is amused by something Anish Giri said.

"The defending 2022 champion Alireza Firouzja won his first two games of the day and remained a contender. Alireza and MVL were paired up in round three where MVL finally bounced back with a win after an unexpected clock failure with just seconds left. The stunned players looked on until arbiters could determine the situation. But Alireza graciously resigned before a decision could be made since he was in a losing position. This would be MVL's last win of the tournament."

Sam Savian arrives for his game against Jeffery Xiong

"Alireza stabilized in round four with a draw against Wesley So. Fabiano Caruana lost to Le Quang Liem but the leaders drew their games which kept the horse race going. A stunned Ray Robson lost his game to Jeffrey Xiong and sat slumped at the board afterwards contemplating what had gone wrong. While Xiong won this game he would end the overall tournament in last place in a very tough field."

Fabiano Caruana getting his pieces set just right. 

"The big match in round five was between Fabiano and Nepo where half a point separated them. Fabi put the pressure on in the endgame and Ian with very little time on the clock was mated on the board with a simple pawn push. Players then began to gather around the game of tournament leader MVL and Ray Robson. A crazy queen and rook endgame ensued but somehow fizzled into a draw."

Ray Robson was not pleased with his game in this tournament. 

"In round six, Fabiano Caruana was paired up with Alireza Firouzja who trailed behind by a point. An important breakthrough game as we headed into the final games. Both players went all out and with both kings exposed and heavy pieces still on the board, anything was possible. But Fabiano was able to regroup his two knights along with his queen and forced a resignation. This win finally put Fabiano tied for first place after MVL drew his game with Xiong."

Alireza Firouzja (w) and Wesley So (b) are apparently happy with a draw.

"Round seven was intense as five players were still mathematically in the running for first. And knowing this there was an absolute bloodbath on the boards as all games ended decisively. First was Caruana to win his game over Anish Giri and keep his lead by a full point. Ian Nepomniachtchi also won his game against the young Xiong to stay just a point behind. Liem Quang dashed Alireza's chances with a victory while Wesley So delivered MVL a blow with a victory as well."

Alireza Firouzja vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi. The interesting tattoo on Nepo's arm reads "rise and rise - again and again - like the phoenix - from the ashes - until the lambs -become lions." ...

...and after the game, they do some head scratching analysis :-)

"The penultimate round pitted tournament leader Fabiano Caruana against the formidable Ray Robson. Ian Nepomniachtchi and MVL trailed just a point behind Fabiano and their games provided some fireworks. Firouzja pressed his passed pawn to an unstoppable promotion and forced Ian's resignation. Sam Sevian pushed hard against MVL but all material was traded down to the lone two kings on the board."

Wesley So (w) vs. Fabiano Caruana (b)

"Robson and Caruana reached an endgame where Ray was up a bishop and rook against Fabi's lone rook. Fabiano, having to fight to hold the draw with mere seconds on the clock, somehow flagged and put first place up for grabs once again with one round to go."

"Going into the final round, the top board to take home first prize was fought between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana. Points scored in the rapid portion and blitz are combined for an overall winner after a grueling 27 games. Fabi led by half a point and needed just a draw to secure first place while MVL needed a victory to finish first. Either result would still keep Ian Nepomniachtchi out of the running since he was a full point behind Caruana." 


 Anish Giri vs. Jeffrey Xiong, who is making a move. 

"Nepo and Anish Giri ended their game in a quiet draw while a struggling Jeffrey Xiong pulled out a last round victory over the very strong Alireza Firouzja. All eyes then turned to the finale where MVL headed into a winning endgame ahead two pawns after a long back and forth struggle. But with each player having just seconds on the clock, MVL trapped his rook by briefly letting go and then realizing his mistake. He was then forced to trade his rook for Fabiano's bishop and the game quickly ended in a draw after the final pieces were exchanged. Chess is tough and blitz chess is brutal."

Fabiano Caruana hoists the championship trophy.

"Fabiano Caruana becomes the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz champion and continued his success with another victory in the 2023 Sinquefield Cup. With these back to back wins he also won the overall Grand Chess Tour capping off a very impressive year. He also qualified for a seat in next year's candidates tournament. Fabiano also finds time to record a podcast with Cristian Chirila called "C-Squared Podcast", well worth checking out. I have included the many photos and short video clips I was able to capture during this incredible last day of blitz action. Thank you to the St. Louis chess club staff for the opportunity to attend this incredible tournament.

Please enjoy..." Yes, along with all the great pictures, I especially enjoyed these John Brezina photos of a chess player in a thinking pose...

Fabiano Caruana...

... Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and...

... Wesley So. 

Photo's link:  

Video's link: 

Regards, John Brezina Colorado Chess Informant Editor

As always, I am pleased to have had the pleasure of selecting and adding a caption to John Brezina's terrific photographs. Thank you kindly for these reports, Mr. Brezina.

J.C. MacNeil

Last Modified: 12/10/2023 at 10:54am Views: 238