2020 Champions Showdown:Chess 9LX - Day 1 Recap


The 2020 Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX set the stage for a long anticipated event in the chess world. For the first time since their only encounter in 2004, World Champions Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen were set to face off again, this time in Fischer Random. Fans weren’t left waiting, as the two were paired in the second round of the Champions Showdown. The epic battle drew the attention of the entire chess world, who were delighted to see two of the best chess players in history square off. 

Day one included many other exciting players and matchups, including the young phenom Alireza Firouzja, reigning Fischer Random World Champion Wesley So, current U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura and World No. 2 player Fabiano Caruana. After three tense rounds, Magnus Carlsen and Leinier Dominguez are joint leaders with 2.5/3.

Standings after day 1

Round 1

The first position of the day was #490, with the two knights on the edge of the board in the starting position. 

Position #490

The big match up of the round was Alireza Firouzja vs. Garry Kasparov. The 40-year age gap should have favored the young player in speed, but it was Firouzja who fell behind on the clock throughout the game. Kasparov showed his tactical prowess as he spotted a pawn break on move 34, giving him an unstoppable passed pawn. His young opponent resigned 12 moves later. 

The game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen was extremely complex, but MVL never caught his footing. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, round one was the beginning of his troubles. He overextended in the middlegame against the World Champion and suffered for it in the endgame as he couldn’t defend all his weak pawns. He was forced to resign in a rook endgame down two pawns. 

It was smooth sailing for reigning Fischer Random World Champion Wesley So; he collected a couple of Peter Svidler’s pawns and forced a resignation by threatening an unstoppable checkmate. 

After 15 moves, the position in the game between Leinier Dominguez and Hikaru Nakamura resembled more of a classical chess game. Dominguez outplayed his opponent, reaching an endgame where his knight proved to be superior to his foe’s bishop. 

The draw between Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana must have been a frustrating result for the American, who held the advantage throughout the game only to blunder and allow his opponent’s pawn to queen. Caruana held a draw by building a fortress with his two minor pieces and two pawns.

Alireza Firouzja vs Garry Kasparov

Round 2

The starting position of the round was #90, where the rooks and the knights were in their initial position and only the bishops, the king and the queen were shuffled. 

Position #90

The game of the round, and of the day for that matter, was the match between Kasparov and Carlsen. Uncharacteristically, Kasparov opted for an early endgame, leaving the commentators in shock. While Carlsen called this the “least interesting” position of the day, he outplayed his legendary opponent, culminating in a large advantage in the endgame. While the commentators were expecting a victory for the current World Champion, the Norwegian played an incorrect rook move, leading to simplifications and ultimately allowing Kasparov to escape unscathed. After the game, Kasparov joined the show and seemed to be in a good mood, citing variation after variation, including one that would have forced him to resign. Carlsen, on the other hand, was seemingly upset during the game, shaking his head in disbelief. The World Champion called the game “really, really bad” explaining that he tried to be “hyper accurate” when there was no need for it. 

The only decisive game of the round was between Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave. The American bounced back quickly after his disappointing round-one result with a quick win. The rest of the matches ended in draws.

Magnus Carlsen was seemingly distressed after his blunder

Round 3

The final position of the day was #909, where the queens were on the edge of the board in the starting position. 

Position #909

Kasparov remarked that the trickiest part of Fischer Random is the positioning of the queen, which made the queen in the corner less than ideal. This was the bloodiest round with four decisive games and only one draw between Aronian and So. 

Kasparov suffered his first loss of the day against Svidler. "I’m happy to have won a game, but probably not my choice of who I would have wanted to have beaten”, Svidler commented after the game. The two players were training before the tournament together and it is no secret that Kasparov is Svidler's biggest chess hero.

Vachier-Lagrave didn’t catch any breaks today, losing his third game in a row, this time to Nakamura. 

Carlsen defeated his main rival in classical chess, Fabiano Caruana, with an instructive positional exchange sacrifice. 

Leinier Dominguez joined Carlsen for the lead with a win over 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja in a rook endgame where Dominguez’ passed pawn proved unstoppable. 

Peter Svidler in the postgame interview 

Tune in September 11-13 at 1 PM CDT (-5GM) to follow the expert commentary with Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Women’s Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade at www.uschesschamps.com