Garry Kasparov admitted “I can fight all opponents, but not age”, though on Day 2 of the Chess960 Champions Showdown in St. Louis he showed glimpses of his best as he finally grabbed a win over Fabiano Caruana. Another painful blunder in a winning position meant he couldn’t stop Fabiano increasing his lead to 9:3, and in fact only Hikaru Nakamura managed to change the momentum in a match by scoring two wins over Levon Aronian despite a disaster in the first game of the day.
You can replay all the games from the Championship Showdown: Chess9LX in St. Louis using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley:
Day 2 of the Chess960 match between Fabiano Caruana and Garry Kasparov began exactly like the first. Garry made strong moves and built up a healthy advantage, this time with Black, but he did it too slowly and was all but forced to take a draw due to the perilous situation on the clock.
Peter Svidler would later comment of his training partner for the event:
If some people still had any doubt that he is kind of good at chess, still, at the age of 56 now, I think those people have been once again conclusively proven wrong, because the thing that this variant of chess lets shine the most is the understanding of where the pieces belong, immediately figuring out the most harmonious way of treating your pieces, putting them on correct squares and just generally the flow of things. You see it in just about every game here, and if he converts half the positions he had the match is even, if he converts three quarters he is way ahead, and yeah, time management and just general rustiness is clearly a very large problem, but that’s not unexpected. We kind of knew that as well.
In the second game of the day, however, Garry’s skills at marshalling his pieces would be tested to the limit and beyond, since he fell into some devious opening prep by Caruana and his training buddy Levon Aronian – 1.c4 b5! 2.cxb5 a6!
Caruana called this, “just the most beautiful Benko ever”, with the rook on b8, the queen coming to a6 and then proving a thorn in White’s side if it gets to munch on the a2-pawn, as it did in the game. Peter Svidler recorded his feelings on looking up at the screen and seeing this had been played by Fabiano:
I saw b5, cxb5, a6 and I thought, damn, that’s not good!
Once again Garry was burning up a lot of time, but he did have a lot to think about when Fabiano played 6…g6!
The point is to follow up with 7…Bh6!, hitting the white queen, an idea Garry called “a phenomenal manoeuvre.” He invested almost 10 minutes in trying to find a way to untangle and never quite managed, but the game still went on to inspire the 13th World Champion. Despite ending up with 2 seconds on his clock by move 18 (so that each move he only had the 10-second delay to work with) Kasparov actually managed to put up stiff resistance and almost save the game. He cracked in the end, however, and that win meant Caruana would at least end the day with a 50% score.
In the first blitz game roles were reversed, as Caruana’s bold 1.e4 b6 2.e5!? almost immediately backfired when after 2…d6 he played 3.Ngf3?!. That knight had moved three times by move 6, and Garry was already scenting blood:
6…g5! was the start of a bold onslaught (7…Nh6, 8…Nhf5, 9…g4) that immediately seized the initiative for Black, with Garry later commenting:
I still can show what I have, and I was very happy with the dynamics of the game, just from scratch, g5, Nh6. I’m sure there will be a few more games like that!
Although Fabiano tried every trick he could find he soon found himself completely busted, with his queen’s sortie to d7 then e6 doing nothing to help:
If you were wondering, as some were during the broadcast chat, why Garry puts himself through this, you just need to watch the relish with which he played 25…Bc8! here!
The haunting thought of whether he would let another win slip away and finish winless in St. Louis must have been somewhere at the back of Garry’s mind. Caruana had said earlier between rounds:
The main thing is I've always kept a big time advantage over him, so even if I get a bad position I can usually wriggle my way out of it.
This time Garry was playing fast and well, however, and there was no amnesty as he went on to win in 61 moves. “I won in crushing style”, he would later comment.
The day nearly ended on a real high for the former World Champion, but a hugely complicated struggle in the final blitz game again came down to one moment after Fabiano played 35…Bxa1!? (35…fxg4! looks stronger):
If it’s blitz and you have little time you take the piece! But I thought I was winning already, so just a total blind spot…
Here instead of 36.Rxa1!, when Garry felt he should win easily (Caruana: “I don’t think the result of the game is decided”), he went for 36.g5?, only to be hit by 36…Rxe6!, after which the bishop survives and Garry found himself not only two pawns down but with the black pieces and pawns besieging his king. The game didn’t last long after that:
So Caruana had ultimately increased his lead by two points to 9:3, but Garry was feeling better after the win and was philosophically inclined when Maurice challenged him on his time management:
Look, I can fight all opponents, but not age. Time is the most powerful opponent none of us can beat, but actually I’m quite happy with what I did today.
The only trailing player who managed to improve his situation on Day 2 was Hikaru Nakamura, although that seemed an unlikely outcome after the first game of the day. Nakamura was pressing with an extra pawn in the endgame, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong. First a missed win:
Hikaru believed Levon here and played 60…Re2?, but after 60…Rxc3! 61.Kxc3 h5! it turns out Black wins the pawn endgame. Then after 61.c6 Kg4 62.c7 Re8 63.Rd3 the game turned again:
The drawing 63...Rc8! was strictly the only move for Black, but seemingly reasoning that his new queen on f1 would give check to the black king Nakamura went for 63…f3? 64.Rd8 f2 65.c8=Q+! and it was the white queen giving check first and winning the game!
Here's a video of that sequence:
And the official photographer was on hand to capture the agony:
Levon, meanwhile, has never been shy about accepting his opponents' gifts!
Hikaru was now trailing by a humiliating 7.5:0.5 scoreline in what we expected to be the closest match of the event, but suddenly things started to click as he smoothly (for a change) went on to win the next rapid game. Then in the first blitz game Levon, unhappy with how the opening had gone, sacrificed a piece for two pawns but only dramatically worsened his position, until his king met a painful end:
There are various ways to win by this stage, but 16…0-0-0+! (the king goes to c8, the rook to d8), was the prettiest, with the game ending 17.Kc4 a6! and White resigned, since Qf7+ will deliver mate. Levon’s tough end to the day continued as he failed to squeeze out a win in the last blitz game, so that Nakamura had restored some respectability to the scoreline at 8:4.
The best move and best game of the day were arguably played by Wesley So, who won two and drew two games against Veselin Topalov. The star move was 14.Nce1!!
Veselin is famous for his own exchange sacs, but it was a bad idea to accept this one with 14…Bxb1?!, with Wesley commenting, “he should never give up his light-squared bishop in that position”. Just 7 moves later it was a massacre:
22.Nxc5! Qxc5 23.d4 Qa3 24.c5! and White’s attack was smooth and completely unstoppable.
The scoreline is the same in Svidler-Dominguez, with Peter yet to lose a game in the tournament. Why was he doing so well?
Leinier playing below his normal standards, I would say. It should not be happening, I did not expect to be ahead by this much by Day 2 and honestly the positions I’m having don’t warrant me being +5, but I will obviously take it - I’m happy about it and all that! - but it’s not what I expected to be happening.
Even Peter thought he’d played his two blitz games “to a decent standard” however, as he won the first by advancing pawns on the queenside and claimed the second with a direct mating attack:
25…Bxg3! 26.hxg3 Qe3+! (the one trap was to play 26…Qxe2?? and White gives perpetual with Qf6/d4+ and Qd8+) 27.Rf2 Rxg3+ 28.Kf1 Qc1+ and Dominguez resigned as it’s mate next move.
Here are the full standings at the end of Day 2:
The big question on Wednesday’s third day of the event will be whether the players playing catch-up can get within striking distance for the 8 games of blitz on the final day, or whether some matches will simply be a foregone conclusion. Garry Kasparov in particular has already stated that he doesn’t want to end the match without scoring a win in rapid chess!
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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