Garry Kasparov’s horror when he realised he’d lost on time to Fabiano Caruana in a winning position was the defining moment of Day 3 of the Chess960 Champions Showdown in Saint Louis. The 13th World Champion was unable to recover and slumped to a 3.5:14.5 score, meaning the match is over before the remaining 8 blitz games. Wesley So also needs only a draw to complete match victory over Veselin Topalov, while the hopes for an exciting last day lie in Aronian-Nakamura, which is now finely balanced after another good day for Hikaru.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary from Saint Louis:
It was déjà vu on Day 3 of the Caruana-Kasparov match, only with a whole new level of pain for the 13th World Champion. It was all about the first game, which once again offered glimpses of Garry Kasparov at his absolute best. After a deep think in the middlegame he showed he’d lost none of his ability to sniff out combinations and assess the ensuing positions:
15.Rxf4! Rxf4 16.cxd6+ Kxd6 17.Bxa7 Ra8 18.Be3 Rff8 left White with a powerful bishop pair.
One or two more precise moves and Black’s position might have fallen apart, but Fabiano again exploited his time advantage to get back into the game and even seize the initiative. After that, however, he admitted that he was guilty of rushing. He said later, “I was probably tactically winning at some point”, and in fact he had an easy knockout blow after 39.e5?
You don’t need to be the world no. 2 to see that 39…Rxc3! wins on the spot because of 40.Kxc3 Nxd5+, picking up the f4-bishop, but with 1 minute 41 to Kasparov’s 5 seconds Fabi played the second best move 39…Ra5. Then he went on to blunder a nice resource for Garry when playing 43…Nc2+?
44.Ke5! was a piece sacrifice, but after 44…Rxc3 45.d6+! the white pawns were monsters, with the game continuing 45…Kf8 46.d7 Re3+ 47.Kf6:
This, however, is where tragedy struck, since while hunting the final killer blow Garry had forgotten about the clock. Or rather, the one glance he made in that direction was at just the wrong time, a moment before the 10-second delay ended and the last 5 seconds began to count down. “I kind of understand he just got lost in the moment”, said Caruana, and it was his awkward duty to inform the former World Champion that he’d lost on time. At the age of 56, in an exhibition match, Kasparov’s reaction was still as if the bottom had fallen out of his world:
Or in slow motion:
It wasn’t the nicest way to win. It’s sort of an ugly win, winning on time, especially since I had misplayed it, but what can I do? I’d rather play better games, but if these things happen I’ll take the win!
His composure at the end was partly down to the fact that he hadn’t realised he was losing in the last position, since it was only after the game that he spotted the follow-up to 47…Rf3+ 48.Ke5 Re3+ 49.Kf4 Rd3:
50.Bd8! is an only move, but if you find it the pawns are unstoppable.
There was no coming back from that blow, and the next two games would also end bitterly for the former World Champion. 27…Bf6? (27…Bg7!) was an unfortunate choice of square, since the bishop would now hang at the end of a combination:
28.Nc5+! Nxc5 29.Nxd5+ Kc8 30.Bh3+! Kasparov resigned, though you wonder if he would have done so if not for the previous game, since after 30...Be6 Black would eventually emerge “only” an exchange down.
Garry now faced the mission impossible of winning all the blitz games merely to tie the match, but there was to be no prolonging the agony, as he collapsed in the following position:
24.Ne4? allowed both 24…Nxc4!, as well as the move Caruana played in the game, 24…Ng2!. Then 25.Rd1? was a second bad move in a row, walking into a mass fork on e3 after 25…Ng4! Again, Garry could have played on an exchange down, but by this point self-disgust levels must have been going through the roof.
The match was officially decided, with Fabiano taking $30,000 and Garry $20,000, but neither player seemed in the mood to take things easy in the last game of the day. It swung from side to side, and came closest to ending decisively after a bold but flawed decision by Kasparov:
28…Nxb3!?? White can’t recapture on b3 immediately, for obvious reasons, but 29.Ka2!! turns out to be winning, since the knight has nowhere to go (29…Na5? 30.Rb1!). Instead 29.Qb5?! by Fabi left him worse after an exchange of queens, but the draw that followed was a logical outcome, and some relief for a wounded champion.
The only consolation for Garry was that he had a lot of competition for the blunder of the day prize!
Veselin Topalov missed some winning chances in the first game of the day and resigned prematurely in the last (37.a6!! and the game goes on), but nothing could compare to the second rapid game, which all but sealed his match fate:
Here he tried to play 14.0-0, evacuating the king from c1 to g1, which would have been a wonderful move (14…Bc4! keeps only a slight edge for Black). There was just one slight issue: the king started the game on d1, and Veselin had already played 7.Kc1! That was a bit embarrassing, but it was worse than that – as the king had been touched it had to be moved, but then 14…Bxf3+ would win the house. Topalov instead resigned, though at least he saw the funny side.
Wesley So now needs just one draw on the final day to win his match, and explained his main strategy had been to play fast, since in chess960, “even if I start thinking I’ll make bad moves anyway!”
Leinier Dominguez also explained that his strategy for the day had been, “basically just play faster”, but once again, blunders by your opponent help. The first came on move 72 of the first rapid game, when Peter Svidler let a draw slip in a knight ending where Leinier had an extra pawn. That was understandable in a tricky position after a tough game, but it was harder to explain what happened in the first blitz game!
Here Peter simply dropped a rook with 28…Rc1+?? and resigned after 29.Nxc1. Such blunders don’t happen often, though Peter did also blunder a whole rook in the penultimate game of the 2015 Karjakin-Svidler World Cup final in Baku – he’ll be hoping he’s got that out of his system before the Khanty-Mansiysk World Cup starts on Tuesday!
Not too much harm was done, however, since Peter scored a nice win in the second rapid game, where Leinier’s king was lured all the way from b8 to a1. By move 17 it was clear it wasn’t going to end well for the US player:
17.Be3! threatened Bc1 and then a3 mate. Leinier stopped that by snacking on the a2-pawn, but his king could only escape at the cost of a piece and later the game. Peter takes a healthy 4-point lead into the final 8 games of blitz.
When Levon Aronian took a 7.5:0.5 lead after the first game of Day 2 it would have been hard to predict this match becoming by far the closest contest, though Hikaru pointed out that he could have been the one winning by a country mile!
I think the fans should be happy because my match, based on the positions that I’ve had, really shouldn’t be close either, but I found a way to lose at least two, if not more than that, positions in the rapid where I lost from completely winning positions. So I think the fans should be very happy that it’s this close.
That wasn’t the full story, since in both games where Levon had the black pieces on Day 3 he ended up pressing hard in a position a pawn up. In the other two games, however, it was Hikaru who crashed through with the black pieces. In the first Levon missed the chance to play Bg2 near the end and struggle on two pawns down. Instead he was put to the sword with the familiar queen-winning tactic 33…Rf1+!
The small curiosity there is that the quickest mate was actually 33…Qxe3+ 34.Rxe3 Rf1+ 35.Kg2 R8f2#
It was a similar story in the second game with White, where Levon castled into trouble with 22.0-0-0?
22…a3! was the drawback of that decision, and after 23.Nf4 Rxf4 24.gxf4 axb2+ 25.Kb1 Nakamura had mate-in-6 with 25…Na3+! Instead after 25…Ra8 the game lasted another 23 moves, but the outcome was never in doubt.
So the standings before the final day are as follows:
If Svidler starts well we may quickly be down to only one match with money at stake, but 1) Aronian-Nakamura should be a great contest, and 2) even if the match is over as a contest don’t expect Kasparov-Caruana to be anything less than intense!
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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