St. Louis Chess Championship
St. Louis Chess Club is the host to a plethora of chess championships. It organises U.S. Championships, U.S. Women’s Championships and Junior Chess Championships. The former two have taken place every year since the year 2009 and the lattermost has been an annual event since the year 2010. Diving deep into the chess club’s history takes us back to 17th July, 2008 when it was opened. It has previously been named as Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Located in the Central West End, the club contains a tournament hall accompanied by a broadcast studio situated in the basement.
The U.S. Chess Championship is the oldest national tournament which has been held every year since 1845. The organising committees varied in the initial years from the U.S. Chess Federation to the Seattle Chess Foundation. Since the year 2009, it has been organised under the sponsorship of the St. Louis Chess Club. The championship began as a challenge match in the year 1845 wherein Charles Stanley became the champion after defeating Eugène Rousseau who was a French chess master. In the year 1857, Paul Morphy won the American Chess Congress and thereby became the champion. For the years 1871 to 1891, George Henry Mackenzie was the champion after winning the American Chess congress thrice.
When George Henry Mackenzie died in April, 1891, it was proposed by Maxx Judd that a triangular match be played to claim for the championship. This match was won by Jackson Showalter and was declared the champion.
This Championship is one of the famous Grand Chess Tour but in the year 2020, the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz was held in the online mode due to the outbreak of the global pandemic. It took place for five days from 15th to 19th September, 2020. In this championship, world’s top rapid and blitz players were showcased. These included World Champion Magnus Carlsen as well as a number of American favourites namely, Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, Jeffery Xiong and Leinier Dominguez. The players competed in a total of nine rapid games and eighteen blitz games. The overall prize fund was $250,000. For the first three days, rapid games were played in the round robin manner and then on the last two days, Blitz games were played in double round robin fashion. Following captures the highlights of the championship that went over five days:
The first day of the event marked Harikrishna’s first appearance. Despite this, he emerged as the co-leader with Levon Aronian who had previously won the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz in the years 2017 and 2019. The match between Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi resulted in a draw. The conduction of the championship in the online mode came with flaws of its own as there were technical glitches. The server encountered errors during the course of the complex middle game between Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen. There were several other games that concluded in a draw like Nakamura V/s So, Xiong V/s Dominguez and Harikrishna V/s Firouzja.
Magnus Carlsen kick started the second day with winning all the three matches and thereby attaining a fifty per cent score. While the game between Xiong and Aronian ended in a solid draw, Nakamura defeated Firouzja by winning a pawn in the end game. There were two more draws on this day in the games of Grischuk V/s Nakamura and So V/s Firouzja respectively. Despite having good chances against his former co-lead Harikrishna, Aronian could not make anything significant out of them. It was a heartbreaking moment for Firouzja when he fell short of time in a complicated situation against Dominguez.
The third day of the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship proved to be quite dramatic as it shook up the standings. The World Champion, Carlsen had to suffer disappointment as he lost the match against Grischuk. This was yet again due to the loss in connection. Jeffrey Xiong was trapped in the end game by Pentala Harikrishna which made the latter win an instructive knight and pawn game. The matches that resulted in a draw were Firouzja V/s Grischuk and Nakamura V/s Harikrishna. The match between Carlsen and Xiong was a “proper bullet scramble” in the words of the former contestant. Nepomniachtchi faced a hard day again as he lost the match against Leinier Dominguez. Overall, Wesley So managed to stand at the first place leading Magnus carlsen by a score of just 1.
The fourth day of the championship tournament witnessed exhilarating nine rounds of Blitz. Unlike the Rapid games that are worth two pints, a game of Blitz is worth a single point for the winner. Despite being caught in tumult time and again, Carlsen managed to win against Firouzja and performed impressively. The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen became the leader by surpassing Wesley So by a close margin of half a point. This minute difference arose as a result of the game between them that resulted in a draw, thereby fetching 0.5 points to the World Champion. Both of them were then followed by Nepomniachtchi standing at the third place with three points less than the leaders. He defeated Nakamura and Grischuk who also were the competitors in the race for the third position. The latter two, however, shared the fourth place together.
The last day of the tournament proved to be ultimately favourable for the World Champion. Although he was followed closely by Wesley So, he was able to maintain the lead. The latter was finally able to share the first position with Carlsen as he maintained a streak by winning three games on the last day. He also secured a tie for the first place and secured a clutch last-round victory against Pentala Harikrishna. Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So together came up as the winners of the championship.
All in all, as it was anticipated that the cancellation of the tour might reduce the thrill, this surely was not the case. Various chess experts and the players who participated enthusiastically in the championship later spoke in their interviews that they enjoyed the thrill brought by the online chess as well. Except for the time to time glitches caused due to internet connectivity, the championship was overall a grand success.