Reports Sep 13, 2020 | 11:19 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen and Nakamura share Chess 9LX title

Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura shared first place and both earned $31,250 after finishing locked on 6/9 at the end of the Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX organised by the Saint Louis Chess Club. Magnus came closest to clinching sole first place by almost beating Levon Aronian at the very end, but threw it away in one move, while earlier Hikaru had also been disgusted to squander an opening advantage against Peter Svidler. Garry Kasparov didn’t manage to win Rook + Bishop vs. Rook against MVL in the final game, but finished in a respectable 8th place.

Nakamura and Carlsen were again all but inseparable

You can replay all the games from the Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX using the selector below.

And here’s the live commentary on the final day, featuring interviews with Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Alireza Firouzja and Garry Kasparov.

You can use the voucher code GOKASPAROV to get 30% off chess24 Premium

For this final report on Chess 9LX let’s take a look at how the players did:

The winners: Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, 6/9, $31,250 each

It’s somehow fitting that a summer of online chess dominated by Magnus and Hikaru ends with the two stars sharing first place after a tumultuous final round. There was nothing to divide them:

Both players lost one game and won four, with both of them also beating MVL, Caruana and Firouzja. The only difference was that Hikaru beat Kasparov, while Magnus beat Garry’s training partner Svidler.

The mutual respect built up over the summer continued in the players’ post-game comments. Kasparov, who coached both players for a year at one point, played down Hikaru’s success.

I have to say Nakamura was very lucky. He was lost against me, lost against Svidler in the last round and lost against Alireza, completely lost. [Alireza] outplayed him extremely well, but outplaying is not the end of the game.

Such judgments, especially of rapid games, usually neglect to point out the other times when a player might have scored more, and in this case Magnus noted it was Hikaru pushing in their individual game!    

I’m very impressed by what he did. He lost the first game to Dominguez, and then to come back. Obviously he had me kind of on the ropes as well, so if he’d won that game he would have won outright, but he keeps finding ways to beat these guys, and the way he’s playing is very impressive.

Hikaru returned the compliment.

I was wondering where the Armageddon was in 960! I was waiting for the Armageddon there too. We’ve obviously had great summers. We’ve played each other in the finals of all these major events and I think it speaks to the consistency of both of us throughout the events.

Magnus had no problem with no tiebreak.

Anything could, however, have happened in the final round, which the players went into locked on 5.5/8. In the long break after the penultimate round, Hikaru had time to work on his serve!

Initially Hikaru looked a heavy favourite to pick up a full point after Peter Svidler’s 2nd move shocked both computers and his opponent.

Hikaru’s edge soon looked overwhelming, but only until Peter's 8…f5:

Hikaru spent over two minutes trying to find a clear win, failed, and played 9.exf6?, which he described as “terrible”.

I should have just put any knight on f4 and it’s probably much better for White. Then I just lost my mind and drifted because I was so unhappy with what had transpired and then I was very lucky not to lose somewhere in the middlegame.

Peter took complete control, won a pawn and was close to victory, but Hikaru managed to hold on for a vital draw. It was a great achievement, given the middlegame position, but you wouldn’t know it from the final reaction when a draw was agreed!

Meanwhile Magnus was playing an almost perfect final day, despite some distractions! He confessed he had been watching football the day before, and now it had been NBA and tennis.

On Day 1 Magnus had brilliantly beaten Caruana with an exchange sac, and in the first game of the day against Peter Svidler he unleashed another one.

The game ended with a mouse-slip, but in this case it felt like almost a merciful end. Peter was in a tough, tough position with 1 minute to 15 when instead of 31…Rxb6 he stopped short with 31…Rb7?? and had to resign on the spot.

The final game against Levon Aronian was potentially tricky, since Levon knew that a win would give him good chances of tying for first place or even taking outright first. Magnus did almost everything perfectly, however, later commenting.

It was definitely a pity because I feel like I played a pretty decent positional game up to a certain point, and then it got a little bit out of hand, and right at the end there was just a simple oversight. Those things happen, of course.

42.Nxc6+! was winning, or close, while 42.g6? Nxe7! 43.gxf7 Nxf7 forced Magnus to play carefully to hold a draw. He explained what went wrong.

The thing is I thought 42.Nxc6+ Nxc6 43.g6 Bd5 and then 44.Ng3 - I also thought just 44.Ke3 might be even easier actually, because if he takes on b4 then I think Ng3 and he cannot even get to that pawn - but I thought I might as well be hyper-accurate and go for g6 first, not to allow Bd5, and then of course that was a blunder. I just didn’t see that his knight on e5 defended f7 - that was just a total blackout!

But although clear first place was little more than a move away, Magnus didn’t miss out on shared first place.

My disgust with the last game was obviously quite a bit less when I saw that he hadn’t won, so that helped the mood!

Magnus and Hikaru were once again top of the pack.

But let’s look at the other players.

Joint 3rd: Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana, 5.5/9, $17,500

Levon Aronian had been the sole leader after scoring 3/3 on Day 2, but his single loss, to a resurgent Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, in the second game of the final day left him needing to beat Magnus with Black in the final game. That was always unlikely, but the draw meant it had been a successful outing for the 2-time Chess960 World Champion.

Fabiano Caruana was only about 7,500 km from where Maurice thought!

Fabiano Caruana’s tournament was altogether rockier, but he finished in style with wins with White over Firouzja and Dominguez on the final day. The latter game had a hint of sorcery about it, as Fabi ground out a win from what should have been an almost hopeless position. 

Fabiano revealed during the broadcast that he’s currently in Germany, and the reason he’s not playing in the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz starting Wednesday is that he’s in action in the Chess Bundesliga. That starts Thursday, with 8 teams competing for the title in actual over-the-board chess.

With Norway Chess to follow for Fabi, he feels he may be best prepared, practically speaking, if the Candidates Tournament does resume on schedule.

For me it’s ideal if it does indeed start on November 1st, because I think I’ll be the only player coming off a classical tournament, and pretty much every player in the world is out of practice in classical chess. I think playing over the board does feel a bit different, and it’ll be nice to at least have some practice in a top event in Norway, playing against some of the best players in the world, including Magnus. So I feel like that’s a nice warm-up for the Candidates. Of course that doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t guarantee success or mean that I’ll play better than the other players, but from my point of view it makes me feel a bit better about playing them.

5th place: Wesley So, 5/9, $12,500

Wesley So came close to winning the tournament in his unique, hyper-solid style. He made six draws, two of them rare quick ones in Chess960 (14 and 20 moves), but would have tied for first if he’d won the final game against the struggling Firouzja. Instead Alireza was on top from move 2 and went on to beat the reigning Chess960 World Champion.

If Wesley had won that game, however, you certainly wouldn't have begrudged him the title, since his two wins were against Peter Svidler and a certain Magnus Carlsen, who was barely given a chance!  

Joint 6th: MVL and Dominguez, 4/9, $8,750

These players had similar tournaments… in reverse! Leinier Dominguez started with 2.5/3, matched only by Magnus Carlsen, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored 0/3, a first day result so bad no-one could match it! Admittedly Maxime had played Carlsen, Caruana and Nakamura on Day 1, but the puzzle remained of why he’s been struggling so much online. We never really got an answer, and ultimately perhaps didn’t need one, as the French no. 1 ended with 3.5/4. Leinier, as you might have guessed, ended with 0.5/4.

The game that summed that all up was their encounter at the start of the final day, when the previous super-solid Dominguez found himself all but lost in 7 moves.

The c7-pawn can’t be defended, with Ne7# an amusing early threat. The game lasted 73 moves, with Leinier putting up serious resistance, but in the end his efforts were in vain.

8th place: Garry Kasparov, 3.5/9, $7,500

The 13th World Champion was again one of the most compelling reasons to watch the event, and despite now being 57 years old his first day alone ensured there was no question of his being out of place – a fine counterattack to defeat 40 years younger Alireza Firouzja and tenacious defence to draw a first tournament game against Magnus Carlsen in 16 years.

A happy Garry Kasparov at the end of these events is good news for chess fans!

Then came the kind of blow that Garry always seems to suffer in St. Louis (even if this year only virtually), in this case a pre-move disaster in a close to winning position against Fabiano Caruana. He was able to steady the ship for the final day, but he couldn’t get the moment out of his head.

I had to recover from the disaster yesterday and that’s why I wanted to play very solid chess. I did, so it’s hard just to recover from the game with Caruana… Yesterday, three winning positions, and that mouse… as someone joked on Twitter, computers hate me, and that was one of the punishments!

Garry ended with draws against Aronian (denying his opponent a share of 1st), So (denying his opponent a share of 3rd) and MVL, with that 123-move marathon the longest game of the final round. It would have been a sweet end if Garry could have won the theoretically drawn but difficult to defend Rook + Bishop vs. Rook ending, but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, 8th place, and potentially 6th if not for the pre-move loss, was very respectable for a “non-professional” veteran in this field.

The good news is that Garry’s appetite hasn’t been dimmed.

I have fun and as long as I’m having some fun and people are happy I will keep doing that.

9th place: Peter Svidler, 3/9, $7,500

Peter had mouse-slip woes of his own on the final day but, as we’ve seen, came very close to defeating Hikaru Nakamura and having a huge impact on the event. In that case he’d have caught Kasparov, but perhaps not doing so made up for Peter’s feelings of guilt at defeating Garry in the tournament despite having struggled in their 16 (!) training games before the event. The win over Garry ended up being Peter’s only win in what overall was a disappointing outing for the 3-time Chess960 World Champion.

Spoiler alert! (almost)

10th place: Alireza Firouzja, 2.5/9, $7,500

One suspects that Alireza Firouzja finishing rock bottom is something we’re not going to see often in the next few decades! The 17-year-old was experiencing a St. Louis event for the first time and suffered 6 losses while picking up 2 wins and a draw. He ended on a high, however, with the 2nd of the wins coming in the final round, just when Wesley So needed to win to tie for 1st place.

Alireza came close to spoiling Hikaru’s day as well, commenting:

I was thinking about this. I had this role today from the start that every win was going to destroy somebody’s tournament and it was not going to change my tournament!

Alireza lamented the number of winning positions he’d messed up, but the watching Kasparov was still impressed.

He’s a great talent, absolutely. I think it was a little bit tough for him because it’s the first time he played in this top tournament. He was not lucky in Round 1, because it was a very sharp game… I was completely lost, absolutely lost, he could win in a few ways, but he was in big time trouble and I think this game affected him. He was not feeling well after losing this game, he probably didn’t think he deserved to lose…

I’m sure we’ll see more of Alireza and I think he’s a great addition to these kind of events.

The St. Louis Rapid & Blitz field is a case of spot the differences!

Alireza has the chance to bounce back immediately in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz that starts Wednesday and employs the familiar schedule of three days of rapid chess followed by two days of blitz – with the regular starting position of the pieces! The field features just four changes, with Caruana, MVL, Kasparov and Svidler replaced by Nepomniachtchi, Grischuk, Harikrishna and Xiong. The games will again start at 20:00 CEST and you can watch here on chess24.

Meanwhile we also have the over-the-board action of the Chess Bundesliga, with the 7 rounds of classical chess beginning at 14:00 CEST on Thursday

See also:

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