Kasparov struggles in Chess960 return

by André Schulz
9/13/2018 – After two days of Chess960 in St. Louis, Wesley So established the largest lead in his match against Anish Giri. Perhaps that why So says he prefers the variant over "normal chess". Or is it the other way around — preference breeds success? Garry Kasparov, on the other hand, is well behind in his match against Veselin Topalov. Elsewhere the rating favourites all lead, with the exception of Hikaru Nakamura vs Peter Svidler, which is tied at 6 points apiece. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club/ Lennart Ootes, Austin Fuller

How Bobby Fischer battled the Sicilian How Bobby Fischer battled the Sicilian

Fischer liked to play aggressive but basically sound lines against the Sicilian and many of his variations are still very much alive and a good choice for players of all levels.


Champions Showdown in Chess960

On Tuesday, the "Champions Showdown" for 2018 started at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Ten top players are paired off in five matches. Garry Kasparov famously made a comeback to rated play a year ago as a wildcard in the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz, and this year, he will play a total of 20 games opposite Veselin Topalov. The Bulgarian was his last opponent in a tournament game in February 2005, before Kasparov announced his retirement from tournament chess. After losing their last encounter, there is certainly still "an open bill" from his point of view.

In all, six rapid chess games will be played with 30 minutes per player and a 10-second delay per move, and fourteen blitz games with 5 minutes per player plus 5 seconds delay per move. The rapid games are counted double (two points for a win, one point for a draw). The blitz portion of the matches uses traditional scoring.

The draw of the first starting position | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club/ Lennart Ootes

The starting position for the games are drawn one hour in advance and are used for the whole day. After the draw, players get some time to consider opening strategy and may also consult with their seconds or other players, but they may not leave the tournament area or consult a computer. On the last day, consisting only of blitz games, players will have half an hour to prepare. After every four games, a new starting position is drawn for the following four games.

The total prize fund is a generous USD $250,000 with $30,000 on offer for the winner of each match, $20,000 for the loser or, in the event of a tie, $25,000 each.

Aside from the 13th World Champion, there are four other matches ongoing. Here's where they stand after Day 2:

Standings Day 2

Standings after four rapid and four blitz games (maximum point total: 12)
Click or tap to enlarge

As you can see, Kasparov's woes are not unique, and in fact, Wesley So is leading his opponent Anish Giri by an even wider margin after two days of play. Let's delve into how they got to this point:

Day 1

The first random position had some typical Chess960 strangeness but still offered dynamic chances for rapid development and tension in the centre.

Kasparov vs Topalov

Whenever and wherever Kasparov takes centre stage, he always generates considerable audience interest. That goes for his lectures and other speaking engagements, but especially when he sits down at a chessboard board. His match against Veselin Topalov has not gone well for Kasparov fans. After a draw in the first rapid game, he was the first to taste defeat in game two. A draw followed in the first blitz game. Then the 13th World Champion was finally able to score a full point with some help from his opponent. After amassing a clear advantage on the clock, with two minutes versus just seven seconds for Kasparov, Topalov made a gross mistake and saw his lead cut in half.


After 40.Qxg6 there followed 40...Qe2+ mating. 0-1

Aronian vs Dominguez

Levon Aronian started with a convincing win in the first rapid game. The Armenian was able to build up a significant time advantage — at the end, he had 20 minutes compared to two. After that, the pressure for Leinier Dominguez became too much to bear. Incidentally, that was the only decisive game of the first round. The second rapid game and the first blitz ended in a draw. The Cuban, who is now living in the USA, then managed a victory in the second blitz game, to mirror the Kasparov-Topalov scoreline.

Giri vs So

In this match, Wesley So had Caissa clearly on his side. The first rapid game ended in a draw. Then So won the second rapid game and the first blitz game, before drawing the last game of the day. 

Giri-So | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club/ Austin Fuller

Nakamura vs Svidler

Peter Svidler and Hikaru Nakamura are both veterans of the Chess960 World Championships which used to be held in Mainz, Germany organized by Hans-Walter Schmitt. The St. Petersburg native won in 2003. On the other hand, Hikaru Nakamura is a player who naturally navigates games which look as if they originated from a different starting position than the usual.

The first game ended without a winner. The second game was won by Nakamura with the help of his rampaging rooks which eventually corralled Svidler's queen. Nakamura no-doubt also revelled in the chance to sacrifice his h-pawn on move 1:


Four other players (Giri, Svidler, Dominguez and Topalov) all went after this pawn during the day. For Svidler, the gift was short lived after 2...Ng6 3.Qh3 Rh8 4.Qc3 Rxh2.

In the third game of the day, Svidler grabbed a point back and the fourth game ended in a draw.

Shankland vs Vachier-Lagrave

Sam Shankland is slowly making his way into the elite echelons after a breakthrough year. His opponent is Maxim Vachier-Lagrave. After the two rapid chess games both ended level, the Frenchman won both blitz games. Especially spectacular was the first blitz game in which Vachier-Lagrave sacrificed his queen with 16...exf2!! and forced Shankland to surrender after only 19 moves.


17...Bh4 and ...fxe1Q+ (actually double-check!) falls like an anvil.

Commentary webcast - Day 1

Replay all the action with contemporaneous commentary by GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

Day 2 — Aronian, So and Topalov expand lead

Tony Rich kicked off the beginning of the second day at the Champions Showdown by selecting the day's starting position for the two rapid games and two blitz games. Afterwards, players once again had one hour to come up with a suitable opening strategy. Peter Svidler later described the thrill of being able to discuss chess with the great chess legend Garry Kasparov before and after the rounds.

Kasparov and Svidler

Kasparov and Svidler analyse the starting position | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club/ Austin Fuller

Topalov vs. Kasparov

Topalov went into the second day of his match against Kasparov with a one-point lead, and despite that lead expanding, Kasparov told Maurice Ashley at the conclusion of Wednesday's play that he actually felt he played better chess than he did the day before. Topalov won the third rapid chess game although there was a minor incident when he did not correctly promote a pawn before pressing the clock. However, Kasparov was clearly lost, and did not claim a time penalty, but instead resigned the game.

In the third blitz game, Kasparov blundered badly, allowing his bishop to be trapped:


37.Rd2 Bb1 38.Rb2 forced Kasparov to resign.

Both of Kasparov's white games ended in a draw.


Topalov, so far, has had the better of his old rival | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club/ Lennart Ootes

Aronian vs. Dominguez

In the match between Aronian and Dominguez, the Armenian was also able to extend his lead. He won his two white games on the second day and drew the black games. In the third rapid game Aronian made a somewhat speculative sacrifice 25.Rxh6!?


Dominguez declined the rook but then went down in the ensuing attack.

Dominguez and Aronian

Dominguez and Aronian talk it over | | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club/ Lennart Ootes

So vs Giri

Wesley So vs Anish Giri continues to be very one-sided in favour of the USA player. On the second day, So won the fourth rapid chess game and the third blitz game and now holds a commanding lead. Playing without opening theory certainly seems to agree with So, while Giri has had bigger problems adapting.

Vachier Lagrave vs Shankland

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took the lead against Sam Shankland on Tuesday with two wins, but today the US grandmaster was able to improve his standing. Shankland won the third rapid chess game and the fourth blitz game. MVL took the third rapid game. In the third blitz game, Shankland showed his defensive skills in a rook-and-bishop-against-rook endgame which he handled with relative ease even with no time on the clock.

American players

Team USA discussing strategy | | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club/ Lennart Ootes

Nakamura vs. Peter Svidler

Hikaru Nakamura went into the second matchday with a 3½:2½ lead, but Peter Svidler was able to even the match by the end of the session. The first three games of the day ended in draws, but Svidler got the full point in the fourth blitz game after Nakamura missed a strong winning try.


Here, 43.Qd3+ forces 43...g6 when 44.Bxf7 Ne4 45.Nxe4 Qxe4 46.Qze4 Rxe4 leaves him with a winning endgame. Nakamura instead went for 43.Nd3 but the fork is parried by Rg1+ and the game would be level, but for Nakamura blundering 44.Kh3 and now Black is on top. A few moves later, at first glance it looked like Nakamura was on the verge of mating, but in fact Svidler's king was perfectly safe and it was White's monarch whose prospects were grim.


49.Ne5 Qd1 is mate in eight for Svidler. 0-1

Commentary webcast - Day 2

Replay all the action with contemporaneous commentary by GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

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

Translation from German and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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