Vachier-Lagrave cuts a relaxed pose for someone whose rating performance on day four was 2971 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave rose to the top of the leaderboard at the 2023 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz after scoring 7/9 on the first day of blitz chess, with a 2971 rating performance. A loss against Ian Nepomniachtchi was the only blight on his scorecard and the result left him on 17/27, two points ahead of Fabiano Caruana and Nepomniachtchi. Following a lackluster performance in the rapid segment, Wesley So recovered well on day four and scored 6/9, moving him into 7th place.
Yasser Seirawan, Tania Sachdev and Peter Svidler commentated on the Day 4 action.
The standings were transformed by one day of blitz chess.
One of the unique aspects of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz is that the time control changes mid-tournament, which can have huge ramifications on each participant based on their skill set. For Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the swap to blitz chess was a positive one and, besides a loss to Nepomniachtchi in the second round, the Frenchman was unbeatable.
Vachier-Lagrave knocked over opponent after opponent on Friday | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
The reason for many of MVL's early wins came down to his ability to outplay his opponents from equal endgame positions. After Alireza Firouzja, Anish Giri and Ray Robson all fell in this fashion, it became clear that the 2021 world blitz chess champion was going to be tough to defeat.
A draw in round six with Jeffery Xiong slowed Vachier-Lagrave slightly and even in this game, on the black side of the Grunfeld Defense, a middlegame queen sacrifice would have landed him in a winning position.
Vachier-Lagrave's most spectacular chess was played during his round-seven matchup with Wesley So. Entering the late middlegame with a worse position, Vachier-Lagrave decided to counterattack rather than grovel and used his knight pair to shred So's kingside.
Our Game of the Day has been annotated by GM Rafael Leitao.
Ian Nepomniachtchi joined Vachier-Lagrave as one of the players to benefit from playing fighting chess on Friday and all nine of his games were decisive.
Nepomniachtchi had no interest in draws on day four | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
Starting with 6/7, the two-time world championship challenger looked as though he would amass the highest score on day two, but consecutive losses to Firouzja and Giri in rounds eight and nine forced him to settle for =2nd on both the day and overall tournament standings.
Wesley So didn't let his disappointing 3.5/9 in the rapid segment hold him back in the blitz and the American's 6/9 score has seen him climb to seventh place, just four points off the lead. Should his form tick over to Saturday, So may be able to make a play for the podium.
Suited up and ready for blitz... So always dresses for the occasion | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
So's games were perhaps not as clean as he generally prefers, but the determination to climb the leaderboard seemed to trump his need to stay true to his usually-solid style.
Fabiano Caruana, who finished day three in =2nd, was visibly disappointed by his 5/9 score on Friday, stating, "I did some very silly things," and also noting that Vachier-Lagrave's two-point lead gives him excellent chances of winning the tournament.
With nine rounds remaining in the tournament, it appears to be a three-horse race for the title between MVL, Caruana, and Nepomniachtchi, with a fourth player in Firouzja possessing an outside chance of a comeback. If Vachier-Lagrave is able to keep the momentum rolling, he will surely take the title... though anything can happen in blitz!