Levon Aronian scored a perfect 3/3 to take the sole lead on Day 2 of Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX. Wesley So revived memories of his Chess960 World Championship victory over Magnus Carlsen as he won their Round 5 clash in crushing style to join Magnus and Hikaru Nakamura in second place, half a point behind Levon. Garry Kasparov lamented, “it’s not even I blundered a piece, it’s the machine!” as he suffered a pre-move disaster in a close to winning position against Fabiano Caruana. He struggled to recover afterwards and has now scored 0.5/4 after a great start.
You can replay all the games from Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX using the selector below (click on a game to open it with computer analysis):
And here’s the Day 2 commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley:
13th World Champion Garry Kasparov has had a love/hate relationship with machines. He became the first World Chess Champion to lose a match to a machine, IBM’s Deep Blue, but has lately switched to advocating the potential for good of computers and artificial intelligence.
Days like Saturday might make him rethink that stance!
The chess legend’s opening game was against Fabiano Caruana, the player who had tortured him in their Chess9LX match a year ago. Initially it looked as though the game might follow that pattern, but in a very good position out of the opening Fabiano missed some tricks (e.g. 13…Bxh2+!) and then went badly astray (Garry called 29…h3? “a terrible move – game over”). The position that mattered, however, came after 33…Nd5?!
34.Ng5!, threatening both Nxe6 and Nxf7, is very strong, but Garry’s intended 34.Qc2 was also a good move, if not quite the obvious win he suggested. Garry explained what happened next.
You don’t know understand what’s happened? Probably I just play so poorly that people believe I could hang a piece! It happened in a split second. I played 34.Qc2, I believed I played 34.Qc2, and the queen stayed on d3 (34.Qd3 is the move that appeared on the board), and I tried to push it to c2 and it was a pre-move, and after 34…Bc5 it played 35.Qc2?? automatically.
35…Bxd4+ just picked up a piece:
It had been a quintessentially online chess disaster, which happened as if in slow motion:
Garry, understandably, still hadn’t recovered by the end of the day.
It’s shocking, because this time it’s not me who blundered a piece, it’s the computer. It was a good game, it was a serious game, I made tons of good moves… It’s not even I blundered a piece, it’s the machine! Damn computers!
Still, his play overall had shown that he’s still absolutely worthy of a place on this stage, with a former tennis star chiming in.
The other blockbuster clash in Round 4 was Nakamura-Carlsen, where the World Champion seemed to get into real trouble on the board, while being distracted by events elsewhere. The most likely culprit was Liverpool-Leeds on the first day of the new English Premier League football (soccer) season! A spectacular end saw reigning champions Liverpool win 4:3. Magnus isn't a Liverpool fan, but he had reason to be glued to the match...
His team captain (earning double points) was a certain Mohamed Salah, who not only scored a hat-trick but had been tipped by Magnus before the round.
Magnus finished 10th out of well over 7 million players last season and recently joked (?) that he’d have given up one of his World Chess Championship titles to have finished 1st! So some distraction was understandable, but when Magnus focused again he was able to dig himself out of a difficult position with some tenacious defence.
MVL did the same against Wesley So, holding an ending two pawns down to finally get off the mark in the tournament, while the big move was made by Levon Aronian, who got the better of 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja in a tactical battle.
Alireza’s knight on f6 is immune for now (gxf6 Qxh6), and the computer suggests icily cool moves such as 18.Rce1! or 18.Be4. Instead Firouzja played 18.Ng4?!, when after 18…Rh3! it turns out Black is already clearly better – the immediate issue is that h6 will leave the queen without a square if White does nothing. After 19.Nf2? (19.Nh4!) 19…f6! Levon was well on top, and although Alireza put up a tough fight and at times came close to equalising, the Armenian star eventually crashed through with a mating attack.
The momentum continued for Levon in the next round, when Peter Svidler found that inflicting tripled isolated c-pawns on Aronian may have been a bad idea.
9.Kb2! looks scary, but Levon was already winning a few moves later, with the open b-file in particular spelling doom for Svidler.
After 18.Rb1! Peter resigned two moves later. Levon put his second win in a row down to “passion”, though he didn’t think he was playing particularly well.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave built up a similarly impressive position against Alireza Firouzja, but then saw it come crashing down as the youngster finally picked up a win. Maxime is as puzzled as the rest of us as to why he’s struggled so much in online chess this summer: “It’s a bit strange, of course, I don’t manage to get into a rhythm for some reason.”
Elsewhere the world nos 1 and 2 were really struggling with the white pieces. Fabiano Caruana was worse by move 10 against Hikaru Nakamura, and though he dug in it only prolonged his misery – especially when Hikaru decided to take the slow approach himself.
47…Rf5! and Fabi might well just have resigned, since the threat of Rb5 mate is very tough to meet (48.Qh8+ Rc8 is essentially just one check), with e.g. 48.c3 Rb5+ 49.Kc2 running into 49…Rxb2+!. Instead Hikaru showed his confidence in his endgame play by going for 47…Qb5+ 48.Ka3 Rfc8!? 49.Qd6! when Fabi was able to exchange queens. That didn’t help, however, as he was eventually ground down in 95 moves.
The best that Magnus could say about his game against Wesley So was that it was over much quicker. Wesley felt his opponent’s 5.Bxc6!? already gave up any hope of an opening advantage. Soon Black was well on top, and attempts by Magnus to ease the pressure with exchanges backfired.
The pawns on c4 and f3 are chronically weak and can be attacked by Ne5, while the other pieces are all ready to attack the white king. The game continued 23.Nc3 Ra8! 24.Qc2 Ne5! and resignation came on move 29, after Magnus thought 4 minutes over his move and resigned after playing it. It was a “blunder”, but everything else was losing as well.
So the reigning Chess960 World Champion had once again demonstrated his talent for the game and that it’s one battleground where he doesn’t fear Magnus. The good news for the World Champion in every other form of chess is that he only faces Wesley once!
That leaves Dominguez-Kasparov, which developed into a remarkable battle.
The neat 16.e3!? was possible here, when 16…dxc3 is met by 17.dxc3+ and White regains the queen. Leinier’s 16.Qb3 was a perfectly decent move as well, and although there was some truth to Garry’s claim that he “outplayed [Leinier] completely” in the position after 16…Kd6 17.e4 Rce7 18.Qxb4 cxb4 19.b3 Garry’s suggestion of 19…Nb6!? is less convincing if White responds 20.c3! instead of 20.d3. In the game 19...Na3 led to a draw.
Garry’s mood wasn’t helped by how the day ended against Hikaru Nakamura. Again he played the opening very well, but again things went wrong afterwards.
Garry said that here if he’d played 15.Neg5, ready to pile up on the e6-pawn with Bc4 and Re1 while keeping the black queen stuck on h8, “Black can resign”, but as Magnus had pointed out the day before, that would be a bit dumb! There would still have been every chance of Hikaru navigating a tricky position better, while also in the game after 15.Nxf6 White still had a big edge.
White’s edge faded away, however, and Garry confessed he then went for the risky pawn grab 20.Qxf6!? because he was “depressed” after how the day had gone so far. His original intention had been to “force a draw” with 20.Qe3 (White is better there, but it’s not clear if he could make a quick draw if Hikaru wanted to play on), but instead after 20…Ne4 21.Qh4 e5! 22.Bd3? (22.Bxf7! was essential) 22…Bg6 23.Kb1 it was Hikaru who took over:
23…Nxd2+! 24.Rxd2 e4! and Black went on to win the game.
Black was also dominant elsewhere, with only Wesley So against Fabiano Caruana managing to score half a point with White after finding himself in a lost position. Peter Svidler could simply have taken a draw by perpetual check against MVL on moves 14 or 15, but played on and soon lived to regret it, while in Firouzja-Carlsen it was Alireza who once again surprisingly got completely outplayed in a complex tactical position.
The key win was for Levon Aronian, who made it 3/3 and took the sole lead by beating Leinier Dominguez. All of the Armenian no. 1’s trickery was on display when he went for 19…Nd3+!?
The knight can’t be taken, and after 20.Kb1 Nxb2! it’s also immune (21.Kxb2 Rb6+ wins the white queen), but Leinier had seen this and felt he was doing ok after 21.Rxd8+ Kxd8. He was right, but there was a huge issue with the clock, where Leinier was down a massive 15 minutes, something you rarely see in Chess960, where neither side has opening preparation.
22.Qd4+ may already have been an inaccuracy (22.Qd5+ is the computer move), and although Leinier would usually have had excellent practical chances of holding on a pawn down the clock situation made it all but hopeless. Levon had scored 3/3 on Day 2 to take the sole lead.
As you can see, there’s a big final hurdle for Levon if he’s going to be the champion, but on current form he may be optimistic about his chances with the white pieces against Kasparov and MVL first.
The standings before the final day look as follows:
Magnus has Svidler and Dominguez as well as Aronian, Nakamura faces So, Firouzja and Svidler, while Wesley plays Nakamura, Kasparov and Firouzja. As you can see, although Garry’s hopes of winning the tournament have gone he could still have a big impact on the final results!
Tune in to all the final day action live from 20:00 CEST here at chess24!
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