Champions Showdown: Blunders, mishaps, fun!

by Antonio Pereira
9/15/2018 – There was almost no intrigue regarding the final results, but the 2018 Champions Showdown was filled with curious highlights and enterprising chess. The main attraction was Garry Kasparov's presence — the 13th World Champion lost his match against Topalov, but finished on a high thanks to a pair of wins in the last rounds. In the other matchups, Nakamura, So, Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian emerged victorious. In terms of entertainment value, the Saint Louis Chess Club hit the mark! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Chess News

Master Class Vol.7: Garry Kasparov Master Class Vol.7: Garry Kasparov

On this DVD a team of experts gets to the bottom of Kasparov's play. In over 8 hours of video running time the authors Rogozenko, Marin, Reeh and Müller cast light on four important aspects of Kasparov's play: opening, strategy, tactics and endgame.


Wrong initial position?

If you tune into a Chess960 tournament broadcast without knowing about the format, you might think there was some mistake in the board's initial setup. However, if you are participating in that event and the organisers give you half an hour to prepare the configuration chosen for the day, it would be inadmissible for you to be surprised about the position when the clocks start to run — and that is precisely what happened to Garry Kasparov!

All throughout the week, the participants analysed the given position with a colleague before the day's rounds began, and Peter Svidler was very happy about being able to analyse with none other than his childhood hero — Garry Kasparov. Hence, it is particularly striking that Peter set up the wrong position when he sat down opposite Garry before the final day's action. After 29 minutes of deep analysis, Giri showed up and gave the Russians the bad news — they did not have the right position on the board!

An analysis session nobody wanted to miss | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Kasparov went on to lose the first game of Day 4 and was seen highly agitated about the mishap. He cannot blame — and surely doesn't — his match loss to this error, however. After all, on Thursday he had let Topalov trap his bishop in a rapid game:


Garry just put his knight on e7, allowing his opponent to win a piece with 17.b4. Black fought on for eight more moves, but accepted defeat when a queen trade was inevitable.

In the very next game, Kasparov's bad form cost him another half point, as he did not find one of two decisive continuations in a completely won knight endgame with two advanced connected passed pawns:


Advancing either pawn with 75.e7 or 75.d8Q would have been enough to get a queen and win the game. White chose 75.Nd5+? instead, and Topalov managed to take the game to a theoretically drawn endgame of queen + knight vs. queen.

Two old colleagues going on about their business | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller 

Another position that Garry will try to forget as soon as possible arrived in Friday's second blitz game. Black is a pawn up in a completely closed position, but White can win the game immediately:


Kasparov did not find 30.Bh5!, which would have produced immediate resignation — it is impossible to avoid the g or h-pawn to promote into a queen.

Not everything was ominous for the Russian, however, as he managed to win his last two games. The final position of his penultimate round encounter is particularly pleasing for Kasparov and his fans:


The queen is trapped! The Bulgarian resigned.

Veselin Topalov won the match 14½:11½, and the fact that most of the eyes were put on this encounter was completely justified by the fighting spirit and creative play shown by the veterans. Garry even proved he could have become a musical director if he wished to when figuring out how to castle in the final game:

Nakamura 14:12 Svidler

This was by far the closest match of the tournament — Day 2 finished with the scored tied, while Nakamura only had a one-point advantage before the final day. In fact, if the rapid games and the blitz games would have had the same scoring value, the match would have finished tied — surprisingly, Nakamura did not get match victory due to his blitz prowess, as Svidler got a 8:6 victory in this format.

After trading wins on Thursday (Nakamura won one rapid game and Svidler one blitz game), Peter tied the score despite missing a direct win in the second blitz encounter of the day:


White is clearly winning, but it was not necessary for Svidler to play fourteen more moves. It was a blitz game, but even an amateur would have felt bad after realising there was 44...Rxb8 in the position. The Russian went on to win anyway.

Svidler and Nakamura showed high levels of creativity on the board | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Hikaru clinched match victory with two rounds to spare:


Svidler would have forced the American to show his endgame technique with few seconds on the clock if he had not played 64.Ne5 in the previous move. Nakamura followed with 64...Ne3 and there is no way to avoid the black king from going to b4 after a knight-check from c4.

Like his compatriot Kasparov, Svidler finished the tournament with two wins.

Vachier-Lagrave 17½:8½ Shankland

MVL had a 100+ rating advantage over Shankland, but after the two first days of play it did not seem like this match would end with such a lopsided score. However, Vachier-Lagrave was the first player in the tournament to secure match victory — he did it with six rounds to spare. In fact, the Frenchman won seven games in a row between Thursday and Friday. Credit must be given to Shankland, however, as he did not shy away from going into complicated tactical positions against his elite opponent.

Day 3 started with a rare occurrence: the position drawn by Tony Rich was one of the four positions that Shankland had practised with randomly as preparation for the event! Perhaps, this played against him, as he might have gotten confused by the ideas he had seen previously.

The huge coincidence had nothing to do with Sam's blunder in the following position:


The U.S. champion tried to exchange pieces with 41...Rd1, missing that 42.Qf3+ simply wins a rook for White.

MVL dominated his opponent on the final two days | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios

Vachier-Lagrave's strength in faster time controls should not be underestimated. In the first game of the final day, he sacrificed a piece twice to get one of the most spectacular wins of the event. The first sacrifice was a positional one and came in the early stages of the game:


MVL ignored the attack against his knight and followed with 10.0-0-0, looking to get pressure against Black's king on the d-file. He did gain the initiative and finished the game in style:


With 33.Rc7+, the Frenchman left another knight en prise. Black took the bait and White showed the point of the sacrifice with 34.Kb3 and 34.a4. Shankland resigned with mate-in-five on the board.

So 15½:10½ Giri

This was the most evenly match rating-wise, but Wesley So's start made it look all but impossible for his opponent to recover in the final stages. Curiously, these two players are also known for their solid styles, so it is not surprising that they signed the biggest amount of draws in the Showdown — twelve games finished tied in the match.

Giri had a slight recovery on Day 3, when he won two games after seeing his opponent finish Tuesday and Wednesday's action undefeated. In the last game of that day, Anish finished off his opponent after sacrificing an exchange:


Giri took advantage of White's king weakness with 32...Rxd3! After winning the e-pawns, he forced So's resignation with the threat of a killer discovered check:


White resigns.

"What could I have done?" Anish Giri was overcome by Wesley So | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Out of the eight blitz games of Friday, only one finished with a decisive result — and it was precisely that game the one that gave Wesley match victory. In the final position, White's king is doomed to be mated, as Black's pieces are all lined-up against its claustrophobic post:


Aronian 17½:8½ Dominguez

In this match-up, it was impossible for Dominguez to deal with Aronian's creative play and Chess960 experience. The Armenian showed he can switch between tactical and positional play when needed and achieved a comfortable triumph. The Cuban, however, played one of the most aesthetically pleasant combinations of the tournament. In their final encounter of Thursday, Leinier incorporated multiple tactical ideas to force Aronian's resignation:


Levon's previous move, 34...Ra3, was a big blunder, as it allowed 35.Rxc7+! After Black takes the rook, White has 36.Nf8, when the king cannot go to d7 and the h8-rook obviously cannot avoid the e-pawn from queening. After 36...Ra1 37.Kxe4 (not falling for 37.e8Q Rxf8+ 38.Qxf8 Rf1+), Aronian resigned.

Dominguez and Aronian showing their impromptu opening preparation | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller

A big factor in this match was time management. Dominguez was in time trouble in almost all the games, which provoked him to blunder like he did in the final encounter of the match:


Leinier erred with 41.Nf5, allowing 41...Qxf5, as the e-pawn is pinned. You simply cannot leave your pieces hanging against someone as sharp as Aronian!

Final results

Commentary webcast - Day 4

All games (for download)

You can download and replay Chess960 games in ChessBase, Fritz or on PlayChess

  1. Download Day 1 games
  2. Download Day 2 games
  3. Download Day 3 games
  4. Download Day 4 games


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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