Champions Showdown: Lopsided results in the rapid

by Antonio Pereira
2/23/2019 – The Saint Louis Chess Club organised yet another compelling event, as five rapid and blitz matches between top-notch competitors are being played from Wednesday to Sunday. With the exception of Jan-Krzysztof Duda v. Hikaru Nakamura, all the matches finished the rapid section with a clear winner. On the final two days of action, however, no less than 24 blitz games will be played, and anything can still happen in the 3+2 encounters! | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Resilience needed

To play twelve rapid games in three days against a top-level opponent must be an arduous task. After each fight, the players need to recover physically and emotionally — getting too happy with a win might result in an overestimation of the position in the next game, while it is easy to be discouraged by a loss. And then it is time to go back and face the same adversary...

At this year's Champions Showdown, entitled 'The Kings', some players are handling the pressure markedly better than their opponents, with Fabiano Caruana and Richard Rapport allowing Pentala Harikrishna and Sam Shankland only a win in twelve rounds. Meanwhile, Wesley So and Veselin Topalov have also showed superiority over David Navara and Leinier Dominguez, although not as convincingly.

The playing hall | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

On the other hand, the one match that has shown a neck and neck race is...

Nakamura 14:10 Duda

After nine games, the score was actually tied — Nakamura had finished day two with the slimmest of advantages, but Duda started Friday's action with a win to equalise. In game ten, Hikaru handled better an open position with queens, rooks and knights during time pressure and got the upper hand. Immediately afterwards, however, it seemed like Duda would strike back — the game was full of ups and downs, but the biggest swing in the computer evaluation came on move 46:


Duda needed to threaten mate on h7 with 46.d7 instead of 46.e7, as it would have allowed him to give a check from d4 after 46...f5 — in the game, he cannot check from e5 on move 47, as the black queen is overseeing that square.

Curiously, this insane 75-move game was the only one of the match that finished in a draw during Friday's rounds. And…in the last game of the rapid section Duda allowed Nakamura to give mate, and resigned himself to try to surmount his four-point disadvantage in the blitz.


Both look worried | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Topalov 15:9 Dominguez

Veselin Topalov's relaxed attitude towards chess in the last few years resulted in rather unstable results, with some touches of brilliance and some particularly bad performances (especially in faster time controls). On the other side of the board, the recently-transferred US player Leinier Dominguez is best known for his skills in rapid and blitz. But it is never a good idea to disregard the Bulgarian!

In game twelve, Veselin gave up a piece with Black out of a Ruy Lopez, and then took advantage of Leinier's miscalculation:


Dominguez allowed a forcing continuation that corrected Black's pawn structure on the queenside after 26.c5? — the struggle continued 26...xc5 27.xb7 b4 28.d1 c6 and White was forced to play 29.xb4 axb4. Afterwards, Black's connected pawns on the a, b and c-files decided the game. (Feel free to move the pieces on the diagram above).


Concentration pose | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

So 16:8 Navara

The biggest factor in this match-up has been the clock management, as Wesley So has been playing quickly in structures that he clearly knows deeply. If we add to that Navara's propensity to get nervous, we cannot be surprised by the current score of the match. Nonetheless, David has managed to win a game in all three days of play so far, which proves he does not feel totally disheartened by this situation.

After losing the last two games on Thursday, Navara could not reach the clock in time and flagged in an inferior — albeit not completely lost — position. In typical style, the Czech gentleman promptly offered his hand and set up the pieces on the board.


They simply love chess | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Caruana 18:6 Harikrishna

This is the first time Pentala Harikrishna is playing at the Saint Louis Chess Club...and what a challenge he has to face! India's number two was paired against the last World Championship challenger, Fabiano Caruana, who, as was pointed out in our first report, has been showing great endgame technique throughout the match. Hari, however, has time to bounce back in the blitz, a format in which Fabiano is not as strong...

The shortest game of the match so far favoured Caruana, after Harikrishna missed a basic tactic that gave up a piece at once:


Hari hurried to look for the exchange of queens with 22.e3, missing that 22...c5 simply loses either the bishop or the rook on d1 — which would be attacked twice even after the queen trade.

Despite the big difference in the score, it might be helpful for Harikrishna to remember that day three finished tied, after the Indian scored his first win in Saint Louis.


A tough debut for Hari | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Rapport 18:6 Shankland

Much like Harikrishna, Shankland scored his first win of the match on day three. However, his opponent hit back with three straight wins — Rapport had also won the first three games of the match. This did not break Sam, however, as he proved once again that keeping a fighting attitude is one of his strongest assets. He told Cristian Chirila:

I'm not gonna go cry in the corner because I had a bad day. You just have to keep on fighting. You know I've taken punches before, I'll take punches again. Even the greatest players ever had horrible hiccups and what separates them from the rest is having the ability to fight back.


First-rate kibitzers | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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


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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macauley macauley 2/23/2019 01:47
Yes, 3 days of rapid, 2 days of blitz.
ICCF Grandmaster ICCF Grandmaster 2/23/2019 12:35
12 rapid games in 3 (not in 2) days.