Caruana beats Kasparov with a day to spare

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
9/5/2019 – The third day of the Champions Showdown Chess 9LX almost continued on the same lines of the previous two days. Fabiano Caruana has already defeated Garry Kasparov in their match with a day to go, with a score of 14½:3½, while Wesley So too has almost crossed the threshold against Veselin Topalov at 13:5. Leinier Dominguez showed a fightback against Peter Svidler to narrow the trailing margin to 7:11. Kudos to Hikaru Nakamura who narrowed Aronian's lead to a point before the last day of 8 blitz games. Aronian leads 9½:8½. IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN reports. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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.


Nakamura-Aronian in a close fight

It was a day of suffering for the 13th world champion Garry Kasparov as he scored just a solitary draw in the final blitz game of the day to score ½-5½ on the day. He overstepped the time limit in a winning position in the fifth rapid game, committed tactical blunders in the sixth rapid and fifth blitz games, and finally managed a draw in the topsy-turvy sixth blitz game.

The drama in the fifth rapid game started in the following position:


At this point, Kasparov had five seconds left on his clock against Caruana's one minute and thirteen seconds. Caruana could have gone for 41...♜xd5+ here, which will probably end in a draw after 42.♘xd5+ ♞xd5 43.♗a5. But he decided to rock the boat with 41...a6 42.e3 a3 43.d4 c2+?? 44.e5! And suddenly White is winning, as the connected passers suddenly become monsters. Kasparov got visibly excited, stealing glances at his opponent, vigorously rubbing his hair with hands, muttering to himself and waving both his hands and fingers as in a music conductor's gestures.


44...xc3 45.d6+ f8 46.d7 and White is winning, as one of the passers will reach the queening square. Kasparov played the whole sequence rapidly, not even waiting for the 10-second delay to wind down. But after 46...♜e3+ he suddenly froze, first draining out the 10-second delay and then the 5 seconds remaining on his clock, to move 46.f6 only after his clock ran out of time.


White is winning after something like 47...♜f3+ 48.♔g5 f5+ 49.♔h4! d5 50.♗d8! etc. Note that the careless 49.♔g4 would allow 49...♜d5 50.♗d8 ♞e3+ followed by ...♞e3-f5. But, the point was that Kasparov was already lost on time. As a polite Caruana pointed to the clock, a shocked Kasparov with horror in his eyes uttered a loud “oh!” and got up from his chair, even as other games were still in progress. He walked away from the board aimlessly, came back to his chair, muttered to himself, and was a picture of torment. Caruana too looked embarrassed and pained, and suitably reticent.

Kasparov just discovers that he has lost on time | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

“It wasn't the nicest way to win, ...certainly an ugly way to win on time...But what can I do!?...If these things happen, I will take the win”, said Caruana after the game.

This game probably set the mood for Kasparov, as the heartbreak became too much for him to play with balance in the remaining games, let alone stage a comeback. 


Black simply needs to retreat the bishop to a safe square, as he loses a pawn at the maximum for the discovered check threatened along the b-file. 27...♝g7 would do the trick, as after 28.♘c5+ ♞xc5 29.xd5+ b5 and he survives. Kasparov blundered with 27...♝f6?? 28.c5+ xc5 29.xd5+ Black's bishop on f6 hangs now 29...♚c8 30.♗h3 and he resigned.


24.e4? Allowing the simple tactic ...♞e5xc4 24...♞g2 Caruana wants more! 25.♖d1?? Paving way for a family fork 25...♞g4 and white resigned.

Caruana's 'knightmare' for Kasparov in Chess 9LX | Video: V. Saravanan

When you observe Kasparov in the tournament hall, it is obvious that the passing years have taken a toll on his nerves. He keeps rocking back and forth on the board, grimaces and frowns at the position for no apparent reason, scratches his head and messes up the hair, pouts at the board, mutters to himself, shakes his head often, all in the space of a few minutes!

I ask Caruana if this bothers him. Even forgetting the fact it is Kasparov sitting on the other side, doesn't it distract him? Caruana smiles:

No, this doesn't bother me at all. It is just that he is expressive. So is Hikaru (Nakamura). Anish (Giri) as well! But of course, Kasparov is famous for these things — the hand gestures, the extravagant expression of emotions. I am sure some of them are genuine, and some of them are also probably an act (chuckles). But it doesn't bother me.

He is equally candid when I ask him another question. “You are playing a figure from history, the phenomenon of Garry Kasparov. Does that name have any effect on you?”

It is certainly different from playing someone else. He is the most accomplished player in the history of the game. World champion for 15 years and world number one for even longer than that. But still, when I play, I don't think so much about that.

Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Was that the reason for his being polite in pointing out the clock after Kasparov overstepped the time in the fifth rapid game? “No, I wouldn't be happy for winning a game against anybody like that. I wouldn't be too excited, whoever is playing (against me)”. Very balanced words from world number two.

Nakamura's new lease on life

Another success story of the day was Nakamura's spectacular comeback of the day, with a score of 4½-1½ against Aronian. But it was mainly aided by Aronian's puzzling play in the sixth rapid game.


White is a pawn down, but has adequate compensation due to the vulnerability of Black's queenside pawns and certain square weaknesses in the kingside. Natural seems to be 22.exf5 ♞xf5 23.♘xf5 ♛xf5 24.d4 with a fighting position, where White's chances are as good as Black's. But Aronian played the inexplicable 22.♖cd1? Pawn number two for Black 22...fxe4 23.f5?? Pawn number three!! This doesn't seem to have any justification. After 23...xf5 24.xf5 gxf5 Black had three extra pawns and converted his advantage in about ten moves.

There was one admirable moment in the match, when Aronian played 19 moves without a mistake to salvage a draw in the fifth blitz game when he had less than ten seconds on his clock.

Aronian survives on 1 second and draws with Nakamura | Video: V. Saravanan

Then came the sixth blitz game, and Aronian went for crazy and fancy again.


Aronian is worse, but he still had fighting chances with 22.b3 0-0-0! and he could have survived. But he went for 22.0-0-0?? 


We don't know if he was seduced by the aesthetics of the move, or lost his sense of danger completely. Nakamura finished the game off efficiently with 22...a3 23.f4? xf4! 24.gxf4 axb2+ 25.b1 a8 and Black went on to win easily.

NakamuraA brilliant turnaround by the American, who is an accomplished blitz specialist.

My match, based on the positions I had, should not have been close...Obviously things didn't go well on the first day... I (managed) to chip away (afterwards) and (have) managed to get back into the match...and this is the best I could have hoped for after the first day.

Does he think the momentum is completely on his side now?

In the second blitz game today (blitz game number six) I played a really really good game...all the moves I played, I played them comfortably and I played them quite fast...Pretty much like Nepo (Nepomniachtchi) would do in form and I am pleased with the way I played. There are eight more games to go, hopefully I could keep up the trend and hopefully I would not blow any winning positions!

Coming from a player who is hailed as a blitz specialist, fighting words indeed.

Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Topalov tapped out

Former world champion Veselin Topalov had another forgettable day, and disaster struck in the sixth rapid game in a typical chess 9LX tragedy.


A funny thing happened here. Topalov tried to play 14.0-0 which is an illegal move, as he forgot that he had already moved his king earlier on the seventh move! On black's claim, the arbiter stopped the clock and awarded So an extra 2 minutes on his clock, and let the game continue. Topalov again tried to play 14.Nd2 here, and the arbiter intervened again, as the white king had to make a move due to it being touched for attempting 14.0-0 earlier. Since the only legal move would be to move it to the d-file which would be a disaster, Topalov resigned.

A moment of tragedy for Topalov | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

His loss in the sixth blitz game was also quite curious 


The pin on ♘b3 looks fatal and Topalov resigned here. The point is, it is probably not a lost position: 37.a6! ♜b2+ 38.♔h3.

a) 38...bxa6 39.♘c5! ♜xb4 40.♘xa6+ ♚d6 41.♘xb4 c5 42.♘c2 ♚d5 43.♔h4 with plenty of fight left

b) 38...b5 39.a7 ♜a2 (39...♚b7?? 40.♘c5) 40.♘d4 ♚b6 (40...♜xa7 41.♖xb5!) 41.♘xf5 with a sharp position.

Wesley So pointed to Topalov's time management as the reason for his wins today.

If you are always ahead of time in rapid or blitz, it is extra pressure on your opponent, (with) more chances of him making a mistake...In (chess)960, every position is unfamiliar. It is not necessary to understand every position deeply. So I thought, I (would) make moves fast and hope they work.

They worked very well indeed!

Wesley So - keep them coming fast, even if you don't understand the position deeply | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

The fifth rapid game between Dominguez and Svidler was a curious affair. Svidler kept shaking his head even when he had a clear equality — probably thinking about a lost opportunity earlier as he felt, and finally ended up blundering in a knight ending:


72...e3?? 73.f6 and only now Svidler realized that the intended 73...♞g4 is not a draw, as 74.♘d6+ and 75.f7 wins. After playing 73...♚c7 74.♘e5 he resigned.

In the diagrammed position, 72...♚c7 is a cool move, as after 73.♘e5 ♞f2! is a curious draw after 74.f6 ♞e4 75.f7 ♞g5+

He got his brilliant revenge in the sixth rapid game.


Black could still play for equality with 14...♞c3, but he blundered with 14...♞xa6? 15.xa6 a5 overlooking 16.♘b3 ♚xb4 17.♗e3 and suddenly black king is in trouble faced with the threat of 18.♗c1. 


17...a3 18.c1+ xa2 19.b5! and White picks the piece, as the natural 19...♞b6 loses to 20.♗d2 followed by 21.♗c3 and the black king gets checkmated with a deadly rook check on a1! A picturesque position.

But in return, he suffered a greater tragedy in the fifth blitz game:


In a better position, Svidler got blind-sided with 28...c1+?? 29.xc1 and couldn't help laughing out loud — part of the video Nakamura vs Aronian, blitz game 5 (above).

Without such momentary lapse of concentration, Svidler might have nearly wrapped up the match.

A relieved Dominguez after receiving 'gifts' from Svidler | Photo: V. Saravanan

One of the riveting aspect of the event has been the camaraderie between the players even during the break between games. First of all, you have all of them working in pairs towards their openings

Dominguez and Topalov analysing their openings | Photo: V. Saravanan

Aronian and Caruana analysing their openings | Photo: V. Saravanan

So and Nakamura's analysis being observed by Sunil Weeramantry, Nakamura's step-father | Photo: V. Saravanan

Kasparov and Svidler analysing their openings | Photo: V. Saravanan

And many a time, you see a group forming and analysing a common game without much ado. Probably the lack of Grand Prix points or the threat of playing against each other in a future game helps?

Caruana, Dominguez, Topalov, Aronian and GM Manuel Petrosyan (Aronian's second) having a good time in the tournament hall | Photo: V. Saravanan

Match standings after Day 3

  Rapid 5 Rapid 6 Blitz 5 Blitz 6 Total Score
G. Kasparov 0 0 0 ½ 3½
F. Caruana 2 2 1 ½ 14½
W. So 1 2 ½ 1 13
V. Topalov 1 0 ½ 0 5
L. Dominguez 2 0 1 ½ 7
P. Svidler 0 2 0 ½ 11
H. Nakamura 1 2 ½ 1
L. Aronian 1 0 ½ 0

Commentary webcast

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


Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.


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