Champions Showdown: Topalov beats Dominguez in closest match

by Antonio Pereira
2/25/2019 – Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura were dominant in their blitz matches against Pentala Harikrishna and Jan-Krzysztof Duda; Richard Rapport got the better of Sam Shankland; David Navara tied with Wesley So in the blitz but lost the match nonetheless; and Leinier Dominguez actually edged Veselin Topalov in the 3+2 games, but could not surmount the lead Veselin had achieved in the rapid section. Two days of quick-paced fun wrapped up this year's Champions Showdown. | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Blitz heavy hitters

Anybody who has played chess at different time controls knows that the faster the time limits the more likely it is to find oneself in a positive or negative streak. This is a key factor to consider when we replay the games played this weekend at the Saint Louis Chess Club. Notably, Harikrishna and Shankland struggled to find momentum, as their opponents mercilessly took advantage of their good form. Duda also had a hard time in the blitz against Nakamura, probably due to some missed chances from the rapid that might have remained stuck in his mind.

Not everything was one-sided though. After falling 16 to 8 in the rapid (each win was worth two points in the 15+10 encounters), Navara tied with So in the blitz despite losing the final two games. 

It was tense and fun | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

However, the match that kept the spectators' attention until the end was...

Topalov 25½:22½ Dominguez

The first twelve blitz games, played on Saturday, favoured Topalov 6½:5½, and it seemed like the trend set in the rapid section was going to continue throughout the weekend. But Dominguez is a former world blitz champion and a player known for his ability to keep it together even under dire circumstances. He won four out of the first seven games on Sunday closing the gap to a mere three points...but there were only five games left.

Game eight of day two, however, saw Veselin taking advantage of Leinier's overtly optimistic play and getting a crucial win with Black. Dominguez needed 4/4 to tie the match and actually won the next game with the black pieces. 

Topalov only needed a draw. Clinching the match with a mate would have been nice though...


The former world champion missed 46...g1# but signed a draw from a superior position four moves later. The last two encounters also finished drawn — in fact, this blitz match was distinctly the one with the biggest number of draws (13), as the rest of the match-ups only counted between three and six ties on the weekend.


Veselin during day four | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Caruana 35½:12½ Harikrishna

It was painful for Hari. Last year's World Championship challenger was ruthless and clinched the match with no less than seventeen rounds remaining. Caruana's commanding performance propelled him to number eight in the live blitz ratings list, as he joined the 2800-club in this category.

The Indian player kept fighting, however, and even managed to score five wins on Sunday — one of them was rather curious, as Pentala faltered and would have found himself in a losing position...had Caruana not resigned immediately after the blunder:


Fabiano had 62.b4+, getting the initiative against a rather loose king stuck in the centre of the board. Instead, the American considered it impossible to defend against the threat of 62...h1# and resigned the game. The moment was recorded by the Club's excellent media team:


Team Caruana — Rustam Kasidmdzhanov and Cristian Chirila | Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

So 28:20 Navara

The blitz section of this match-up saw the players trading blows continuously, mostly in long games that featured interesting struggles. Perhaps a closer score — nonetheless in favour of So — would have illustrated how evenly matched this encounter actually was, but Navara's consecutive losses in the final games widened the gap. Saturday's sixth game ended with a sharp tactical sequence:


With both kings vulnerable, Navara erred by choosing 30...f6 in the diagrammed position — the knight is pinned and cannot force Black to give up his queen after 31.f7. But now the g6-square is weaker. So found the devastating 31.xg6 and White's attack is simply too strong after 31...hxg6 32.xg6. Navara's position was lost, but he actually gave up the full point when his time ran out, as shown in the video:


A couple of gentlemen | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Nakamura 29½:18½ Duda

Despite having fallen to sixteenth place in the classical ratings list, Nakamura has not lost his touch in rapid and blitz. Last year, he won the Grand Chess Tour mainly due to his great performances in events with faster time controls, while he is currently number two in both rapid and blitz categories — after this tournament, he is only 16 points behind Magnus in the blitz list.

Hikaru simply thinks at lighting speed. He is even capable of giving mate with rook and bishop v. rook with a 3+2 time control:


Naka had a blast on and off the board | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Rapport 31½:16½ Shankland

These two players are not known for their blitz skills — none of them are part of the Top 100 in February's FIDE list — but they offered a great show nonetheless. Richard mainly handled the clock better than his opponent, the highly studious Shankland. 

The final score in the 3+2 section favoured the Hungarian 13½:10½, after Shankland got the better of his opponent on Saturday. Sam started the blitz section with a win, but could not avoid flagging the next game, despite being a queen up!


Richard and Sam | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade

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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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