Jack Rodgers

24 days

STL Rapid & Blitz 1: Le leads; So, Nepo, Fabi struggle

Le's 2.5/3 put him in the lead | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Clinical wins over Wesley So and Jeffery Xiong have left Liem Le in the sole lead on 5/6 at the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz after Day 1. The start would have been a perfect 6/6 if not for a mistake that cost him a point against Ray Robson. Second place is currently tied between defending champion Alireza Firouzja and Robson, who both converted wins with the black pieces, against Fabiano Caruana and Sam Sevian, respectively.

Yasser Seirawan, Tania Sachdev and Peter Svidler commentated on the Day 1 action.

Watch all the games with computer analysis on chess24!

After Day 1 the standings look as follows, with two points for a win and one for a draw in rapid chess.

The Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is the precursor to one of the most famous events on the world chess calendar, the Sinquefield Cup, and naturally draws in many of the world's best players.

This year the tournament is headlined by the world's number-one blitz player and defending champion, Alireza Firouzja. A win in St. Louis would see him join Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian as a two-time winner.

Firouzja dominated the 2022 edition and holds the winner's trophy in front of the world's largest chess piece! | photo: Crystal Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri are also among the participants, making this one of the toughest speed chess events to win.

Nepomniachtchi will play in the Sinquefield Cup following the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

With a $40,000 first prize on the line, players will play a round-robin (nine games) of rapid chess (25+10) over three days, followed by an 18-round blitz (5+2) double-round robin to determine the winner. The fewer rapid games are weighted doubly in the standings so that both segments are valued equally.

Play was brimming with energy in the opening round, and dazzling tactics were on the menu for all three winners: Sam Sevian, Liem Le, and Alireza Firouzja. Sevian's first FIDE-rated win over Ian Nepomniachtchi was the highlight. On the white side of an English Opening, the 22-year-old sacrificed a bishop and rook to open Nepomniachtchi's kingside.

Sevian looks to the roof not for inspiration but to try his hand at photography on arrival day | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Our annotations for the Game of the Day, provided by GM Rafael Leitao, will be added shortly.

Wesley So was the next Super-GM to be shellshocked in Round 1 as he was overcome by the 2013 world blitz champion, Liem Le. Having scored 56 draws out of 65 in his FIDE classical games this year makes him 2023's most solid 2700+ player; however, on Tuesday, Le broke fortress-So.

A positional struggle in the Queen's Gambit Declined transpired, and Le was able to take advantage of So's 37...Ng6?, allowing the Vietnamese GM to march his d-pawn up the board.

The 2022 winner Alireza Firouzja also started in style with Black, knocking over Fabiano Caruana, courtesy of a surprise kingside attack in the Berlin. An incisive rook sacrifice on move 29 decided the game in favor of the Iranian-born GM.

Round 2 was in stark contrast to the opening one as all five games ended in draws! Despite the round having little impact on the leaderboard, two of the games involved major misses: MVL-Caruana and Robson-Le.

A little bit of wizardry from Robson allowed him to survive a two-pawn deficit against Le | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana left the evaluation pendulum swinging as both missed golden opportunities to score what would have been the only win of the round.

Fabiano Caruana's luckless day continued into round three as he failed to win against Ian Nepomniachtchi after building a strong advantage. Two brilliant moves still weren't enough to break down the staunch defense of his opponent, though the American superstar can take solace in knowing he has already played the three highest-rated rapid players in the field.

Caruana started with the toughest draw possible and will look to scoot up the standings on Day 2 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Meanwhile, Christmas came early for Liem Le after he was gifted a pawn against Jeffery Xiong that proved to be decisive. Had Xiong traded bishops on move 39, the resulting rook endgame would have been drawable for the 23-year-old.

Ray Robson's win over Sam Sevian is the most instructive of the round, with the Puzzle Battle world champion showing the power of pawns in an ending that resembles a game of Horde Chess.

For Le, holding onto the lead will be difficult with pairings against Sevian, Giri, and Caruana coming up on Wednesday. Hot on his heels, of course, are Robson and Firouzja, the latter of whom led from start to finish in the 2022 event.

Although Firouzja's time away from the board is spent in the fashion industry, you would be wise not to underestimate him! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

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