The clocks have gone back, the nights are getting longer, and Thanksgiving is also looming large now on the horizon. And this can only mean one thing: we head to the midwest for the internationally renowned chess hub of Rex Sinquefield’s Saint Louis Chess Club, as the United State’s Big Three join forces with the World Champion for the latest edition of the ‘Champions Showdown’ that will run 9-14 November.
Each of the four – Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, and Hikaru Nakamura – will play 30 games, but not against each other. Instead, they have been matched up with their own ‘hand-chosen’ challenger for the Champions Showdown, which will see: Nakamura vs. Veselin Topalov, Caruana vs Alexander Grischuk, So vs Leinier Dominguez, and last but not least Carlsen vs Ding Liren.
The first three matches started on Thursday at 1 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT) and will finish on Sunday, while the last one, the marquee match-up between Carlsen and Ding, starts on Saturday and will keep us all entertained through till Tuesday. The action will come fast and furious, as the time controls will drop as the matches go on: Day 1 saw four g/30s, day 2 six g/20s, day 3 offers eight g/10s, and the final day will have 12 five-minute games – and each match has its own $100,000 prize fund, with a 60-40 split and the winner taking the lion’s share of the purse.
Nothing is ever simple in Saint Louis, and for the first time in recent history of our digital age, there will be no time delay or increment, so we can expect wall-to-wall thrills ’n’ spills with lots of dramatic time trouble mayhem. Not only that, but the scoring system is a bit out of the ordinary on the first segment by being ‘weighted’, with 5-0 for a win and 2.5-2.5 for a draw, and therefore after Day 1, the match scores stand: Grischuk 10-10 Caruana; Nakamura 12.5-7.5 Topalov; Dominguez 12.5-7.5 So.
There’s also live online coverage of all the action with the dedicated Saint Louis top commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade, so why not join the fun by tuning in daily to the show by clicking here?
GM Veselin Topalov – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Champions Showdown G30, (3)
Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Few lines are as assertive and aggressive as the Advance Variation – a byword for double-edged play on both sides. 3…Bf5 4.Nf3 In short, the Short Variation. In the early 1990s, Britain’s Nigel Short, the 1993 World Championship challenger, devised this slower system to great effect – Short’s idea being to treat the position a little like its distant cousin, the Advanced Variation of the French Defence. 4…e6 5.Be2 Ne7 6.c3 h6 7.0-0 Nd7 8.Nbd2 Qc7 9.Nb3 g5 10.Ne1 c5 11.Bh5 Bg6 12.f4 c4 13.Nd2 gxf4 14.Rxf4 Bg7 15.Nf1 0-0 16.Ng3 Kh7 17.Rh4 Qd8 18.Nf3 Bd3 19.Bg4 Rh8 20.Nh5!? [see diagram] With the quick time-control, Topalov takes the pragmatic approach, commenting after the game, “I didn’t believe in my calculations. With simple moves, I could win.” And yes, it does, and it probably also saved valuable time on the clock trying to fathom it all out, but the position was ripe for the Black king to be stripped of its cover with the clinical 20.Ng5+! Kg8 21.Nxe6! fxe6 22.Bxe6+ Kh7 23.Qd2! Hanging in the air now is Rxh6+ leading to mate – and defending h6 isn’t going to be easy for Black. 23…Kg6 (The only move, as defending h6 only falls into a queen sacrifice leading to mate: 23…Ng8?? 24.Qxd3+!! cxd3 25.Bf5#) 24.Nh5 with a crushing attack and Black’s king stranded in No Man’s Land. 20…Kg8 21.Rh3 Ng6 22.Be3 Topalov just piles on the pressure by simply finishing his development by aiming more pieces towards the kingside – but in all honesty, Black’s approach in this opening is all very un-Nakamura-like. It’s not like Nakamura to leave himself with no sort of play whatsoever. 22…Qe7 23.Qd2 Bf8 24.Nf4 Nxf4 25.Bxf4 The h6-pawn is doomed – and when it falls, Black is doomed. 25…Bg7 26.Re1 Be4 27.Bxh6 Bxh6 28.Rxh6 Kg7 29.Rxh8 Rxh8 30.Ng5 Bd3 31.g3 Black is in a bad way, and all Topalov need do is safeguard his own kingside with g3 & h4, and then re-route his pieces for the decisive attack. 31…Nf8 32.h4 Nh7 33.Nh3 Rg8 34.Kh2 Kh8 35.Bh5 Qf8 36.Nf4 Bf5 37.Qe3 f6 38.Rf1 The rest of the game really needs no further comment – Nakamura is plain and simply lost, and has to sit there waiting for Topalov to put him out of his misery. 38…Qh6 39.Be2 Qg7 40.Nxd5! fxe5 41.dxe5 b5 42.Nf4 Qh6 43.Bh5 Rd8 44.Rd1 The rooks coming off only helps White, who has the extra pawn and a big endgame advantage. 44…Rxd1 45.Bxd1 Ng5 46.Qxa7 Ne4 47.Qa8+ Kh7 48.Bf3 Ng5 49.Qa7+ Kh8 50.Qa8+ Kh7 51.Qb7+ Kh8 52.Qb8+ Kh7 Nakamura has seen enough – he resigns as he now has to play 53…Qg7 forcing the exchange of queens, as 53…Kg8 54.Qd8+ will pick-up the knight on g5. 53.Qc7+ 1-0