Reports Sep 3, 2019 | 11:00 AMby Colin McGourty

Chess 9LX, Day 1: Kasparov suffers heavy blow

Garry Kasparov trails Fabiano Caruana 5:1 in the Chess960 Champions Showdown in St. Louis after admitting he was unable to recover from blundering away a totally won position in Game 2 of the first day. Garry went on to lose the next two games as well, but he was far from alone in his suffering. Hikaru Nakamura was almost whitewashed by Levon Aronian before scraping a draw in the final game for a 5.5:0.5 scoreline, while Peter Svidler leads Leinier Dominguez 4.5:1.5 and So-Topalov is the “closest” match at 4:2 for Wesley.

What have I done? | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

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

And here’s the commentary on the first of the event’s four days:

Fabiano Caruana 5:1 Garry Kasparov

A serious handshake after some pre-match trashtalking from Caruana! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

It all started so well for Garry! After an hour spent with Peter Svidler analysing the day’s Chess960 position the first game began with an unusual “Dutch Defence”:

As so often in Chess960, the players gradually steered towards familiar-looking positions, and by the time 14…d6 was on the board White had a healthy advantage, with Kasparov looking all set to launch a kingside attack:

The computer and commentators were crying out for 15.g4 here, and while that does seem to be a strong move it’s not as simple as it seems. After 15…Rbe8! Black wouldn’t be able to play 16.gxf5 due to the pin on the e-file after 16…exf5. Instead Garry spent three minutes on 15.Nbd2 and after 15…Rbe8 another two and a half on 16.Nf3. It looked like the familiar story of rustiness and hesitation from a once-great warrior, a narrative that was backed up when Fabiano managed to equalise and still retain a healthy edge on the clock.

There was almost a late twist, however, since either due to deciding to play on the clock, or a miscalculation, Caruana went dangerously astray at the very end:

The game ended in a draw by perpetual check after 41.cxd6 R8e2+ 42.Kf3 Re3+ (43.Kg4?? Rg1# would be pretty), but 41.f5! or 41.Rd2! would have stopped that and retained serious winning chances. Garry later commented that he’d seen Rd2, but he looked at his clock and saw he had 50 seconds. “I’m out of practice!” he lamented.

The first Kasparov-Caruana game ends in a draw | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

It was still a solid start for the 13th World Champion, and things were about to get much better before they got worse. Garry’s play in Game 2 looked shaky for only one move, 4…Qxe5?!

Yasser Seirawan was shocked that Garry grabbed material here rather than making it a gambit with 4…c5, and it seems Yasser’s instincts were right. 5.Be2!, with the threat of Bg4+, is almost winning on the spot, but when Fabi took a long think and played 5.Ng3 it was soon all Black. Right up until move 30 we were witnessing vintage Kasparov, but then disaster struck. The tension built as Fabi spent two and a half minutes in a hopeless position before eventually settling on 30.Rc4!?

Garry here played 30…Bxb2?? on autopilot, a killer move against 30.Ka1? and some other white tries, but not here! In fact after 31.Rc5! Qb4 it was White who was winning, and, although at this point Caruana hadn’t quite seen the winning line, the fact that he had the man with the worst poker face in chess opposite him left little doubt that there was something to find.

Eventually he hit on 32.Rxa5+ Kb6 and the only move to win (and not to lose!):

33.Ra4! After 33...Qb3 34.Qxb2 Garry resigned a rook down. It was Kasparov-Navara from the 2017 St. Louis Rapid and Blitz all over again, and Garry was devastated:

The game affected the two blitz games, because I just couldn’t recover. It was a great game, I totally outplayed him, just speaking about his promise [Garry presumably refers to Fabi’s trash-talking, “I think I just want to give Garry an idea of what’s going to happen next week!”], he was not there. If I didn’t make a move it was still winning. The position was so good, and just don’t blunder. He almost touched his king to play Ka1, and it’s just ok, Bxb2, and I’m winning, and when he played Rc4 I couldn’t switch. I had a minute 50 on my clock. As I say, if Black doesn’t make a move I’m winning. I could play h5, I could play Re3, Rd2, any move and he resigns.

Garry kept returning to the game again…

Frankly speaking I just have in my mind this Game 2, it’s just what move doesn’t win? It’s such a pity when you play a great game, totally outplay him.

…and again:

I enjoyed very much myself in Game 2. Everything went well, all the pieces, and it’s a position where I’m completely winning, so I played Rf7 Rf8, I could play Nc7, Na6 take on b4, but it was just a variety of options. It’s like tasting a menu. It’s amazing! He almost played Ka1, almost played Ka1 and I’ll take on b2. Any move was winning, the position was so winning that it’s just hard to find a move that doesn’t win. Ok, I found one!

Or if you prefer body language to words:

Fabiano admitted he’d been busted, but you could also see that he’s a professional currently at the top of his game and used to looking for chances in objectively lost positions:

I had to find a move which didn’t lose on the spot, so I played Rc4, because it blocks the diagonal, so after Rd2, Rc2 he doesn’t win all my material, and he only wins if he takes three pawns for the exchange and wins slowly. Yeah, it was my last trick, and I didn’t expect him to go for it. I didn’t even calculate after Rc5, so after Qb4 it still took me some time to find Ra4. Unexpectedly, it worked!

As we’ve seen, that game devastated Kasparov, while also putting the wind in Caruana’s sails. Garry again built up a big advantage with White in the first blitz game (he called his opponent’s position “lousy”), but when Fabiano got the chance to counterattack the white position fell apart at precipitous speed until mate was about to appear on the board at the end:

In the final game of the day Kasparov called his 7…b5?! “suicidal”, but Black is also essentially lost after his suggested improvement 7…b6. The surprise was actually that the game dragged on as far as move 20, where Fabiano confessed to overlooking a small detail:

The key point to bear in mind when castling in Chess960 is that the king and rook end up exactly where they would end up in normal chess. So after 0-0-0 the king will be on c1 and the queenside rook on d1, while after 20.0-0 here Fabi's king would jump from c1 to g1 while his d1-rook would end up on f1. Black would have little option but to resign. 

Luckily for Fabi, he also got the job done with the much riskier: 20.b3!? Qa2 21.Qc3 Qa3+ 22.Kd2 d4 23.Qf3+! Black resigns

“It’s very clear that it’s not about him outplaying me, it’s about me blundering,” summed up Garry, but the truth is somewhere between that and Fabiano’s comment that, “I thought I was playing well in the blitz”. The former World Champion is definitely capable of getting right back into the match, but it’s not going to be easy.

Is Garry Kasparov a man you want to provoke? | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Levon Aronian 5.5:0.5 Hikaru Nakamura

Surprisingly, the most lopsided score of the day occurred in what on the surface looked like being the most fiercely contested match. Levon and Hikaru are both battle-hardened Chess960 specialists, but again we saw the lingering impact of one painful game. 

Almost everything went Levon Aronian's way | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

In the very first encounter of the day Levon was all but busted with Black by move 18, but after a very long think Hikaru let his prey escape. Then disaster struck at the end as Levon induced the blunder 39.bxc5+? before replying with the clever 39…Ka6! There was nothing better than 40.Qf4:

40…b5+! and Nakamura resigned, as it’s mate next move.

In the next game Nakamura was ground down in what seemed an equal ending, before the most humiliating loss of the day occurred in the first blitz game, when Hikaru went for an unfortunate pawn grab with 11.Qxa7??:

That was immediately hit by 11…c5!, and there’s nothing to stop Black winning the queen with Nc6 (e.g. 12.a6 is simply met by 12…b6).

The game ended 12.Bxc5 Nc6 13.Qxa8 Bxc5 White resigns, with that last move a sadistic touch of superfluous precision!

It could very easily have been a clean sweep, since Levon was quickly better in the final game and was winning as late as move 55 in the ending before it fizzled out into a draw. The Armenian concluded:

I think he just had an off day. I expect it to be much more difficult tomorrow, and the day after. It’s a good start - you know when you’re ahead in a match your opponent will eventually take big risks, so I will just have to be alert.

Nakamura hasn't had an easy summer on the chessboard | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Peter Svidler 4.5:1.5 Leinier Dominguez

On a day when Garry Kasparov lost a gut-wrenching game it’s an impressive achievement that Peter Svidler managed to provide the most visible reaction to a missed opportunity!

Here in the first rapid game against Leinier Dominguez he’s done all the hard work and now only needed to play the simple 87…Ng2! to win – instead he went for 87…Kg3?? 88.Kxe3 and hands were shaken. Of course Peter put it best:

At the very end I decided to not play Ng2, because I’m an idiot! Having gotten to that position, not to play Ng2 is quite spectacular, I have to say, having found all the Nf5, Ne3 manoeuvres, finally settling on the correct setup, and then to play Kg3 and just shake the guy’s hand is a bit ridiculous.

It wasn’t a miss that haunted him, however, since as he explained (though Peter was never clearly busted in the game):

I didn’t feel that bad about that game, because I was in a tremendous amount of trouble out of the opening and I felt, “ok, surviving in general should be perfectly fine”.

It was to prove an isolated moment of shock for Peter Svidler | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

It was a heroic feat by Dominguez to escape that game as he’d been playing with under 10 seconds on his clock for over 60 moves, but overall time management was his downfall, in both a loss on time in the first blitz game and a failure to make more of a good position in the second. It also didn’t help that he was essentially lost by move 5 of the second rapid game!

6.Bh3+! Be6 7.Rxd8+! Kxd8 8.0-0-0! (remembering the castling rules is always worth an exclamation mark!) 8…Bd6 9.Bxe6! Qxe6 10.f4! Ke7 11.fxe5 Bxe5 12.Bxa7! and White had won a pawn with the black king still wandering the middle of the board.

Peter’s preparation for the day’s play? Playing Dota Auto Chess, a game with nothing more to do with chess than that it’s played on a chessboard.

I played some Auto Chess for the first time in my life. I’m disgusted with myself. I promised myself I won’t do that and now I’m joining the hordes.

Why had he done such a thing?

People kept on asking me if I’d played it, and I’m very easily influenceable - if that’s a word.

Would he continue playing the game?

Possibly. As I said, I’m extremely ashamed and I don’t know if I can live with this and maybe now that you’ve called me out on this I might have to go back to my principles, such as they are, and stop playing the devil game.

Wesley So 4:2 Veselin Topalov

Wesley So was living dangerously... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

This was the day’s closest match, but it could have been much closer, or in fact finished with almost any scoreline! Veselin squandered a big advantage in the first game and then lost on time in an equal position, before missing an endgame win and drawing the second rapid game. The first blitz game was the only relatively one-sided game, though Wesley’s conversion of a good position was anything but smooth. Then in the final blitz game Wesley had a chance to win:

The move was 21…Qf1+! first, with the point that 22.Ka2 can be met by 22…Qa6+! and White has to give up material. Instead after 21…Rd1+ 22.Ka2 Qf1 23.Re8+ Kd7 24.Rd3+ Kxe8? (24…Rxd3 and the game should be drawn) Topalov was able to restore some respectability to the scoreline:

25.Qe5+! Be7 26.Qh5+! g6 27.Qxd1 and White was an exchange up and went on to win.

Garry Kasparov will be hoping for better on the remaining three days | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

So none of the matches have been close so far, but we have another two days with exactly the same format as on Day 1 before 8 blitz games on the final day, meaning there’s plenty of time for comebacks. Don’t miss all the action from St. Louis from 12:50 local time, 19:50 CEST live here on chess24.

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