Caruana timed his run perfectly in the 2023 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz | photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour
Fabiano Caruana won the 2023 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz by half a point after securing a draw with 2nd-placed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final round. Caruana's 6/9 score on Saturday allowed him to overtake MVL, whose 3.5/9, while in stark contrast to his day-four performance, was still enough to capture second place and $30,000.
Yasser Seirawan, Tania Sachdev and Peter Svidler commentated on the Day 5 action.
The final standings of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz looked as follows.
Fabiano Caruana was the first to admit that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave "had a very strong position to win the tournament" following the Frenchman's dominant performance over the first nine rounds of blitz, though he did refrain from assigning any certainty to this in his day-four interview.
Caruana kept things candid in the interview room at the Saint Louis Chess Club over the course of the event | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
Little did Caruana know, but by the final round of the event, he would hold a half-point lead over Vachier-Lagrave AND receive the white pieces against his adversary to determine the 2023 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz champion.
The standings heading into round 18 | Image: Saint Louis Chess Club, YouTube
While drawing odds with the white pieces would be considered an immense advantage in classical chess, time management and nerves level the playing field somewhat in blitz. With clear convictions, Vachier-Lagrave's weapon of choice was the Semi-Slav Defense: Main Line, Semi-Meran Variation and despite the queens being exchanged, enough imbalance remained to leave all three results possible.
As the players worked towards the endgame it suddenly felt that Vachier-Lagrave was pressing. Seconds left on the clock meant the players had very little time to calculate deeply and desperation kicked in for Caruana after his opponent won a pawn.
Scramble alert! This photo was taken moments after the dust settled | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
Hanging on for a miracle, Caruana's prayers were answered as Vachier-Lagrave misplayed with 57...Re2??, allowing his rook to get trapped! The game was still drawn when all was said and done, but for the world number-two, a draw couldn't get any sweeter.
Our Game of the Day has been annotated by GM Rafael Leitao.
Losses in rounds 10 and 11 to Liem Le and Ian Nepomniachtchi were the start of Vachier-Lagrave's downfall and the results reduced his lead to just half a point. The fault barely lay with the former world blitz champion though as he was subjected to several dazzling tactical shots, seen especially in his game with Nepomniachtchi.
A win over Alireza Firouzja in round 12 was the last win that Vachier-Lagrave would end up scoring and this slump allowed Caruana to take control.
Winning isn't everything. Vachier-Lagrave's second-place finish still made this an excellent event for him | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
Although Caruana's 11/18 doesn't have the same ring as 7/9 or 15/18 scores (the latter of which was Firouzja's astonishing result in the blitz in the 2022 edition), it shows the importance of consistency over the entire event.
Despite having a disappointing tournament by his lofty standards, Firouzja was consistent enough to come fifth and earn $15,000 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour
No winning performance is complete without a few outstanding games, though, and Caruana's 50-move endurance test against Anish Giri was one of these. In the Sicilian Defense: Canal Variation, Caruana borrowed an idea from Antipov-Kevlishvili that we covered several weeks ago during the 2023 Collegiate Chess League.
The top-scoring player on the final day with 6.5/9 was Liem Le, and his 11/18 performance in the blitz ended up netting him third place overall and a $25,000 sum. Though the middle section of the tournament was grueling for the Vietnamese GM, having the best score on day one and day five brought his tournament full circle.
With the speed chess coming to a halt in St. Louis, eyes turn to the 2023 Sinquefield Cup, which will start on November 21. Six of the players from the rapid and blitz event will be back up while Levon Aronian, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Leinier Dominguez and Richard Rapport will join to vie for a piece of the $350,000 prize fund.