2018 Champions Showdown Recap – Day 1

by Eric Rosen

The first day of the Champions Showdown kicked off with intrigue and excitement as ten of the world’s top players faced off in Chess 960. The day began at 12 PM as Chess Club Executive Director, Tony Rich used the random position generator from chessgames.com to determine the starting position for the day. For those who are unfamiliar with Chess960, all of the rules of traditional chess apply, with the exception of the initial position. With exactly 960 different possible starting positions, player cannot benefit from extensive opening theory or computer analysis.

Once the position was drawn, the players had one hour prior to the first game to ponder their opening strategy amongst themselves or their seconds. The players were not allowed to leave the playing area or have access to any computer so they had to solely rely on their own understanding and ingenuity.


The initial position for day 1; For every day of the event, a new position in drawn. Photo by Lennart Ootes.

With two rapid games and two blitz games played in each of the 5 mini-matches, there was a plethora of sharp and creative chess which captivated the spectators and commentators.

Kasparov vs Topalov

The king returns! A large number of eyes were focused on this matchup, as the legendary Garry Kasparov returned to the Saint Louis Chess Club yet again to show what skill he still possesses. After a draw in round 1, Topalov was the first to score a victory in the  second game, after Kasparov’s opening pawn sacrifice did not lead to enough compensation. After another draw in game 3, Kasparov struck back in round 4 with a little bit of what he called “luck.” With Topalov having over 2 minutes against Kasparov’s 7 seconds, he committed a terrible blunder with 40.Qxg6?? This allowed the a simple forced mate sequence starting 40...Qe2+ which Kasparov found easily, despite his time deficit.

Kasparov wins game 4 after a careless blunder by Topalov

In his post-game interview with Maurice Ashley, Kasparov said he’s optimistic going into the next day and is hoping have a good sleep as he doesn’t need to worry about opening preparation.

Game 1 (Rapid): Draw

Game 2 (Rapid): Topalov wins

Game 3 (Blitz): Draw

Game 4 (Blitz): Kasparov wins

Overall Score: Topalov (3.5) - Kasparov (2.5)

Aronian vs Dominguez

Levon Aronian came out with guns blazing in the first game with a highly convincing win. Although Dominguez is a former World Blitz Champion, he could have used some more speed. After falling below 2 minutes with Aronian still having over 20 minutes, Dominguez was unable to defend such a vicious attack. Games 2 and 3, featured less bloodshed as both ended in draws.

In game 4 however, Dominguez struck back. It seemed his queen walked into an all-you-can-eat buffet, as it grabbed pawns all over the board. This led to a simple endgame conversion to give him the point and tighten the match.

Out of the 5 matches, Levon Aronian was the only victor in game 1

Game 1 (Rapid): Aronian wins

Game 2 (Rapid): Draw

Game 3 (Blitz): Draw

Game 4 (Blitz): Dominguez Wins

Overall Score: Aronian (3.5) - Dominguez (2.5)

Giri vs So

In the most lopsided matchup of the of the day, Wesley So capitalized on suboptimal form displayed by his world-class counterpart. With 2 wins and 2 draws, So has everything to be happy about with the start. On the other hand, Giri still has three days of many more games to launch a comeback. In his post-game interview with Maurice Ashley, Wesley said that he prefers Chess 960 over regular chess, as it’s possible to get a fresh position from move one. As Giri is known to have such a solid opening repertoire in traditional chess, it’s no question that Wesley is happy to play him in Chess 960.

Photo by Austin Fuller

Game 1: Draw

Game 2: Wesley wins

Game 3: Wesley wins

Game 4: Draw

Overall Score: Wesley So (4.5) - Anish Giri (1.5)

Nakamura vs Svidler

Having recently won the Saint Louis Blitz and Rapid Tournament last month, and one of the most dangerous speed chess players on the planet, it’s hard not to call Nakamura a favorite in this matchup. Svidler on the other hand, is a former Chess 960 World Champion (having won in 2003) and the two played some fascinating games to start the event. One of the most notable games occurred in round 2 in which Nakamura maneuvered his rooks for the majority of the opening! This is something rarely seen and rather quite dubious in traditional chess. It was a different story in Chess 960 though. Nakamura’s creativity paid off, earning him a 1-point lead in the overall match score.

Game 1 (Rapid): Draw

Game 2 (Rapid): Nakamura wins

Game 3 (Blitz): Svidler Wins

Game 4 (Blitz): Draw

Overall Score: Nakamura (3.5) - Peter Svidler (1.5)

Shankland vs Vachier-Lagrave

Sam Shankland is back in Saint Louis since winning the US Championships hoping to make yet another splash! Unfortunately for Sam, it was his French counterpart who took the early lead. MVL uncorked some overpowering attacks to win both blitz games in stellar fashion. Game 2 featured a fascinating queen sacrifice by MVL with 16...exf2!! Despite being up a full queen in the final position, Shankland was forced to resign after just 18 moves due to the unstoppable threat of pawn promotion.

MVL unleashed some of the sharpest and most creative play of the day

Game 1 (Rapid): Draw

Game 2 (Rapid): Draw

Game 3 (Blitz): MVL wins

Game 4 (Blitz): MVL wins

Overall Score: MVL (4) - Shankland (2)

Another full day of chess 960 will be played tomorrow starting at 1pm central time. Review games and catch all the action live online.