The sideshow matches in the ‘Champions Showdown‘ at the Saint Louis Chess Club all ended in a trio of victories for the reigning and former U.S. champions – Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura respectively – and now the marquee match-up between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the Chinese No.1, Ding Liren is the centre of attention – and with it, another champion looks set for victory, as Carlsen turned in a true powerhouse performance that dented Ding’s hopes of getting back into the match.
Carlsen and Ding entered the fray on Saturday. They played four 30-minute games, drawing the first three before Carlsen struck first blood with an impressively smooth win in game four to take the lead. But worse was to come on Sunday for the Chinese Candidates’ hopeful, as the world champion kept up the pressure with a further three impressive wins to take a commanding lead in the match, that now moves into Monday and Tuesday.
As predicted in our previous column, with the Champions Showdown going back to the future with no time increment in each match, when Grischuk vs Caruana, Nakamura vs Topalov and Dominguez vs So got down to the nitty-gritty of the final 12 blitz games, mayhem soon ensued with lots of frantic clock-banging – and even some blood spilled in the process!
Although a little one-sided, the Nakamura Veselin Topalov match proved to be the most entertaining with a lot of combative attacking chess – but Topalov was simply no match for speed merchant Nakamura, who proved to be the big runaway winner. The U.S. No.1, Caruana, defied the odds with a heroic final day comeback to beat Alexander Grischuk, who was the big favorite to win the blitz showdown, especially as the Russian speed ace took a two-point lead into the final day.
Despite Caruana’s unlikely victory, the ultimate comeback-king proved to be reigning U.S. champion Wesley So, who remarkably hauled back a huge 16-point deficit on the final day for a stunning victory over Cuba’s Leinier Dominguez. The match was so intense that So’s hand began bleeding from the banging of the clock, so much so that the arbiter had to step in to pause the match just to wipe the blood from the clock! (Chess.com’s Mike Klein caught the “bloodied clock” in his article here.)
There’s live online coverage with the top Saint Louis commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade of the final two-days of the Carlsen vs Ding match, as they now head towards a fast and furious finish. So why not join the fun by tuning in to the always-entertaining St. Louis show by clicking here?
Alexander Grischuk 43 – 49 Fabiano Caruana
Hikaru Nakamura 61.5 – 30.5 Veselin Topalov
Leinier Dominguez 44.5 – 47.5 Wesley So
Magnus Carlsen 30.5 – 13.5 Ding Liren
(Photo) Carlsen dents Ding! | © Lennart Ootes (Official Site)
GM Ding Liren – GM Magnus Carlsen
Champions Showdown G20, (4)
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e3 Bb4 5.Qc2 d6 6.Nd5 Occupying the d5 square in the English Opening is normally a solid option – and a move that at the lower-levels plays into a devilish trick. If 6.a3 Bxc3 7.Qxc3 e4 8.Nd4 Ne5! and Black has an easy game with his active knights and White’s bishops having no scope. 6…Ba5 Prophylactically anticipating a3, and now threatening to capture on d5. Many lower-level players – and even some higher-rated players! – have fallen victim to the trick of capturing on d5, only to discover that it loses on the spot! 6…Nxd5? 7.cxd5 Ne7 8.Qa4+! and the hapless Bb4 is embarrassingly left hanging to the cross-check. 7.a3 Nxd5 8.cxd5 Ne7 9.b4 Now if 9.Qa4+ c6! the bishop is defended and Black is going to emerge with control of the center. 9…Bb6 10.Bc4 0-0 11.Bb2 Bf5 Black’s bishops have greater potential than White’s bishop-pair – and long-term, the d5 pawn could well become a handicap for White. 12.d3 Ng6 Black has “won” the opening skirmish with the better bishop-pair and the better pawn structure. And realising this, Ding attempts to throw a spanner in the works to try and disrupt Carlsen’s rhythm – but it only takes a couple of very accurate moves from the world champion to show how weak White’s plan was. 13.h4?! h6 Crucially stopping the pawn pushing on to h6, as now after h5 it could well become a target. 14.h5 Ne7 15.Nd2 Rc8! With simple developing moves, Carlsen is tightening his grip on the position, and he now threatens …c6 to rip open the game to his advantage. 16.e4 Bg4 This stops Ding castling on either side of the board now – but Carlsen wants to tempt his opponent into playing f3, as after …Bd7 White will not only have a chronic dark-square weakness, he’ll also have to deal with the position being ripe for being ripped open with a timely …f5. Realising he’s in a bad way, Ding opts for desperate measures now. 17.d4?! exd4 18.f3 Bd7 19.Qd3 c6! It’s quite possible Ding could have simply underestimated just how good a move this was from Carlsen, as the world champion emerges with very active pieces and threats to blow the position wide open with the White king left stranded in the middle of the board. 20.dxc6 Bxc6 21.b5 There’s just no time for 21.Bxd4?! as Black strikes quickly with 21…d5! and the “heavy furniture” dominating the middle of the board will rip White apart after 22.Bxb6 Qxb6 23.exd5 Bxd5! 24.Bxd5 Nxd5 25.Qxd5 Rfd8 26.Qa2 Qe3+ 27.Kd1 Re8! 28.Ne4 b5 29.Re1 (Not 29.Qe2? Qd4+! picks up the rook on a1.) 29…Qd3+ 30.Nd2 Rxe1+ 31.Kxe1 Rc2 with a winning attack. 21…Bd7 Positionally, White is quite lost. Castling only hastens the problems, but what else is there for White in this simply horrid position? 22.0-0 Ding realizes that 22.Bxd4 is going to be strongly answered by 22…d5! and the White king is caught in the middle of the board – so instead, he opts to castle, only to discover that …d5 is still a major problem for him. 22…d5! If anything, castling has made White’s position worse, due to the potential threat of Black’s Bb6 suddenly springing a discovered attack or even a pin on the White king. 23.exd5 Bf5! With some simple and timely freeing moves from Carlsen, his bishops now spring to life to dominate the board. 24.Ne4 The only move, as the alternative either losses the queen or the king: 24.Qb3 Bc2! 25.Qb4 (25.Qxc2? d3+ and the discovered check also wins the queen. And if 25.Qa2 Nf5! and apart from having an overwhelming position, with …Qh4 coming, White’s king is also in grave danger.) 25…Ba5 and the queen is lost. 24…Nxd5 25.Bxd5 Qxd5 26.Rad1 Rfd8 27.Rfe1 Rc3! 0-1 [see diagram] Ding resigns, as Carlsen’s stunner finishes the game with more than a touch of élan. The rook cannot be captured – and his queen also can’t move either! So, if: 28.Bxc3 (Alternatively, 28.Qf1 d3+ 29.Nf2 Rc2! and White is going to suffer a heavy loss of material.) 28…dxc3+ 29.Kf1 Qxd3+ 30.Rxd3 Rxd3 is easily winning.