2019 Champions Showdown Recap – Day 1


by Tatev Abrahamyan

Day one of the 2019 edition of the Champions Showdown kicked off with fireworks and excitement. What’s unique about this particular event is the number of fresh faces who made their debut in Saint Louis, who otherwise don’t get many opportunities to share the stage with the very best in the world. Both the newcomers and the veterans showed their mettle and determination to outplay their opponents.

Standings after Day 1. In the rapid a win is worth 2 points, a draw is 1 point and a loss is 0

Fabiano Caruana vs Pentala Harikrishna 7-1

America’s number one is off to a good start in his first event of the year, winning three games and drawing the remaining one. Caruana once again relied on his trusted Petroff, which continues to serve him well; two of his wins were with the black pieces in this opening. The most interesting game of the match was the Najdorf in round four, where Harikrishna had good chances to score a point. As the clocks started running low, Fabiano changed the dynamic of the position with a piece sacrifice, managing to restrict his opponent’s extra piece with his pawns and went on to win in the endgame due to his active king and passed pawns.

Wesley So vs David Navara 5-3

In game one, the players followed a game that was played between Sergey Karjakin and Judit Polgar in 2011. The American deviated on move 26 and had to resign the move after, giving his opponent an early lead. Wesley went on to win both of his game with the white pieces by playing the same line in the Spanish and drew the remaining game with the black pieces, thus putting himself in the lead.

Hikaru Nakamura vs Jan-Krzysztof Duda 4-4

On paper, the Grand Chess Tour winner is the clear favorite both by rating and experience, but in reality the games of the match were very close. The first game ended with only two kings left on the board in 107 moves, the longest game of the day! Nakamura did not have trouble converting his extra pawn in game two and delivered the first blow in the match. Duda bounced back quickly in game 3, where his attack allowed him to pick up two extra pawns. The final games were also played out until the end, when the players agreed to a draw in a position with insufficient mating material.

Leinier Dominguez vs Veselin Topalov 3-5

Dominguez makes his debut under the American flag against the former World Champion to return to Saint Louis for another Champions Showdown. Both players have been quite inactive lately, thus making it hard to predict the form they would be in coming into the round. Time trouble played a key role in this match, as Dominguez almost flagged several times, making a move with a second left on his clock. After the 106 move draw in game one, the Bulgarian scored a full point in the following game in 93 moves. The rest of the games were drawn, leaving him with a two point advantage in the standings.

Richard Rapport vs Sam Shankland 7-1

The Hungarian superstar was on track to win all the games today but stumbled in a rook endgame in the final game. This was the most lopsided matchup of the day, as the American was suffering in every game, miraculously saving the rook endgame in game four. Game three of the match was particularly instructive as Rapport masterfully demonstrated the power of opposite colored bishops when one of the sides has a weak king. Shankland is one of the hardest working players and will undoubtedly be in better form tomorrow.