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On Chess: Garry Kasparov comes out of retirement; Armenian hero Levon Aronian clinches title

Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz champion, Levon Aronian with Chess Club and Scholastic Center founders Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, as well as County Executive Steve Stenger in August, 2017
Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

The newest addition to the Grand Chess Tour, the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz, became the most anticipated event when the announcement was made that Garry Kasparov would come out of retirement to join the field.

The tournament did not disappoint. It broke records for online viewership, crossing the 1 million mark. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, where the event was held, was packed and there was a line of fans stretching outside the building. Everyone came to watch the legendary world champion play once again. There was a certain energy unique to Kasparov that accompanies him every time he plays. His stare downs were as intense as they’ve ever been. It felt just like the good old days.

The schedule of the tournament was quite hectic: nine games of rapid play over three days, followed with nine rounds of blitz in two days. Very quickly, it became obvious that it wasn’t the old Kasparov playing. Even in the rapid, where the players had 25 minutes on the clock, the former world champion struggled with his time management. It felt as though his natural instincts weren’t quite there as he finished the rapid, tied for last place. His most heartbreaking loss was against David Navara from the Czech Republic, when Kasparov was dominating the entire game but missed a tactic that his younger self would have spotted immediately.

The first day of the blitz wasn’t any kinder to him. This time he ended the day in ninth place, which was hardly an improvement. He found his form in the last day and scored 5.5/9, one of the better results of the day. It was too late, however, and the tournament was over. Kasparov broke hearts when he announced that he has “no plans to come out of retirement and no plans to make such plans.” At the closing ceremony he did leave the fans with a ray of hope by declaring that if he ever plays again, it will be in St. Louis.

As Kasparov was struggling to hit his stride in the tournament, one man cruised through the event unscathed all the way to the top. LevonAronian has had an incredible year so far, already winning two super tournaments. During the Sinquefield Cup in July, he was tied for first place up until the last round, but his final loss to Magnus Carlsen put him in fourth place. This time around, the Armenian superstar took charge early on and never let go of his lead. He finished the rapid portion clearly in first place, two points ahead of his closest rivals, HikaruNakamura and FabianoCaruana.

The first day of blitz was all about the brilliance of Sergey Karjakin, who scored an astonishing 8/9. Unfortunately for him, his poor performance in the rapid, made him unable to catch, let alone surpass, the leader. Aronian had a strong showing and scored 6.5 points, losing only one game to Caruana and defeating Kasparov. Karjakin was not able to keep up his performance in the second day of blitz, whereas Aronian had yet another strong showing, winning the tournament with two rounds to spare. He earned $37,500 and 13 tour points for his efforts.

The last stop of the tour will once again be the London Chess Classic, which will take place from Dec. 1-11. It promises to be a nail biter as Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are neck-and-neck for the overall Grand Chess Tour title, separated by three points. The London Chess Classic will determine the winner of the entire tour and is not an event to be missed.

Tatev Abrahamyan is the Grand Chess Tour journalist, providing live commentary of the rounds through the Grand Chess Tour Twitter account and writing daily recaps. She is the third highest rated female in the U.S. and has represented the United States in four Olympiads and two World Team Championships since 2008.