“Today’s a good day”, said Peter Svidler, after getting to analyse for an hour with Garry Kasparov when the Chess960 position for the second day of the Champions Showdown in St. Louis was released. Their fortunes varied - Garry felt he played better than on Day 1, but blundered a piece as he lost two games to Veselin Topalov, while Peter snatched a win to level the match score against Hikaru Nakamura. After MVL managed to lose a rook in 10 moves, Wesley So is now the only unbeaten player, with a 6-point lead over Anish Giri.
You can replay all the Champions Showdown games using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley, including interviews with Peter Svidler, Garry Kasparov, Wesley So, Sam Shankland and Levon Aronian:
Here are the current scores after Day 2’s action (rapid games are worth double the usual points):
Let’s once more take the matches in order:
“I think I played better today than yesterday”, was Garry Kasparov’s verdict, but it wasn’t reflected in the scoreline, since he drew with White and lost both games with Black to fall four points behind Veselin Topalov. The first game of the day was critical, with Garry describing his position as, “one you can dream of with the black pieces”, until he missed a crucial detail when he manoeuvred his knights to attack the white king:
Garry was busy calculating all the attacking combinations, but here Veselin did something only Levon Aronian and Anish Giri had done on Day 1 – he castled queenside! The former World Champion had overlooked that in Chess960 the white king could flee all the way to c1 in a single move.
The game turned into a double-edged thriller, though White was always leading the race and by move 42 Veselin actually had mate-in-2!
42.h8=Q+ is mate next move – e.g. 42…Rxh8 43.Qf7# There was nothing wrong with Topalov’s 42.Rb5 either, but until a recent rule change he might have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! The final move of the game was the winning 48.b8=Q, but in fact Veselin simply put his pawn on b8 and pressed his clock, forgetting he had to place the new queen there first:
Garry thought the illegal move meant that technically his opponent had forfeited the game, but commented, “The game was lost and I just had no interest in claiming whatever it is”. Actually if Garry hadn’t resigned Veselin would now only have received a warning and a time penalty, with the game continuing to its logical conclusion.
Kasparov said that “disaster” from a good position had a “terrible effect” on him, as he gained nothing with the white pieces and then fell to another loss in the first blitz game. This time 37…Rf5?? was the fatal mistake, curtailing the bishop’s otherwise long diagonal:
38.Rd2! Bb1 39.Rb2! and the bishop had run out of squares.
Garry remarked drolly that, “blundering a piece is a bad idea”, but wasn’t going to excuse away the game as a one-move mistake:
The blunders don’t happen all of a sudden - it’s a result of your being uncomfortable, and I think the black position was really uncomfortable.
We can be sure Garry will continue to put up a fight – on Wednesday he almost pushed his opponent out of camera shot as he physically pressed the table in search of good moves!
This is the only match where the scores are level, and the scoreline reflects the neck-and-neck battle so far. Peter Svidler’s account of the day was almost paradoxical, considering Chess960 is famous for avoiding the need for preparation:
I’m very happy with the outcome! I’m not entirely sure if I played particularly well, but I will definitely take +1 at the end of this day. I think - it sounds funny to even say those words - but I think Hikaru thoroughly outprepared me today! He had ideas where I had none, frankly, and I think he got more promising positions with White and had no problems with Black. But the games themselves, there were some dry games, but the two blitz games were very interesting, and I'm happy to have survived that!
Actually the second rapid game saw Svidler get real winning chances, though he confessed he only allowed Nakamura one move because he missed that in his intended line his queen was simple en prise, which “kind of foils my plan of giving mate-in-3 with checks, and I had to scramble to find other ideas!” He managed, until after three draws the day concluded in the most dramatic of fashions.
Svidler had the advantage, then briefly gave Nakamura the chance to turn the tables, before closing in for the kill:
As Peter explained:
In this final game it was a mess and I played this 47…g6 move, which I thought was very, very beautiful. Instead of that, I think I have mate-in-5 with checks, which I didn’t see, which was frankly slightly simpler! I got up from the board and Sam Shankland said, “Just out of curiosity, is there anything wrong with 47…Rh1+ 48.Kg2 Qd2+ 49.Kxh1 Qe1+ and mate?” I said, “No…”. As I said, I’m not sure just how pure this was, but it was a bit of a dog fight and I’m happy to have come out ahead today.
47...g6!! was a beautiful move, though (surprisingly the white pieces can’t coordinate in time before their king gets mated), and perhaps Svidler’s play was inspired by the analysis session he spent with Kasparov when the new Chess960 position was revealed.
He told Maurice:
It was an extremely good day for me, because I got to discuss chess with Garry, and it’s very difficult to describe just how good this makes me feel! It’s been such a long time since I sat down at the board with Garry and just discussed something chess-related with him, and it’s just such a pleasure for me to be able to do that. It feels like we did not get very many things exactly right, but that really is irrelevant, because just sitting there for an hour looking through options and discussing positions and just talking chess with him for the first half of the day – that was… today’s a good day!
Unexpectedly this encounter has looked like a mismatch so far, with Wesley So in imperious form as he’s now the only unbeaten player in the event. Wesley again called Chess960, “much better than regular chess” and showed his judgement of unfamiliar positions in the second game of the day. He felt Giri, “got a little bit ambitious and didn’t realise that his position suddenly became worse”. Computers identify 10.e5?! as the culprit (10.exd5, exchange queens, and the drawing chances are high). White’s structure was soon overextended and the pieces totally overloaded by the time Anish played 19.Rg1:
19…Nc4! 20.Nxc4 20.Re2! and the double attack on the queen and g2 is fatal. The game ended 21.Ne5 Qxb1! White resigns.
The first blitz game was similarly brutal, with the final move emphasising White’s total dominance:
28.Bb6! Black resigns.
Sam Shankland admitted that his opponent Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, “just made me look like a child in the blitz yesterday”, but the shoe was on the other foot in their first rapid game on Day 2, when he unleashed 8…Qb5!:
Sam described the starting position as “sort of funky”, with hidden dangers for both sides, and here the problem is a double attack on the f5-pawn and b2. Sam’s explanation for what followed is that Maxime consciously decided to sacrifice a rook on move 9 with 9.Bf2??!, allowing 9…Qxb2 and the a1-rook is a goner, but the alternative explanation that the French no. 1 simply forgot the knight on d3 is pinned must also be a possibility. In the game White was already totally lost, but Shankland felt Maxime did a good job of whipping up activity and in a blitz game might have been rewarded with 15…Nf7?? and mate-in-3 starting 16.Qxf8+!. With plenty of time, though, he played 15...Bf7 and Black resigned on move 18.
Maxime hit back immediately in the second when Sam misjudged a pawn sacrifice and was close to lost by move 12, but the day would end well for the US Champion. He confessed afterwards:
Going into the match I was not particularly worried about the rapid - most probably he’s a better rapid player than me, but I think I’m clearly showing I can tussle with him. In the first four games I think I played better than him in the rapid. Probably he’s still the better player overall, it’s still a small sample size, but blitz I was worried about! I thought he’s just a much, much better blitz player than me, and to have made 1.5/4 in blitz is good.
Sam had to work hard in the first blitz game, defending Rook vs. Rook + Bishop...
...but in the second he reached close to a winning ending in a dozen moves. Curiously Maxime had Rook + Bishop again, but this time Sam’s Rook was joined by a Knight and an extra pawn. He converted smoothly, and the match remains “too close to call”.
It was also a good day for Levon Aronian, who picked up two wins to open up a 4-point gap in his match against Leinier Dominguez. The blitz win was a technical affair, but the rapid win was a lot of fun!
After Leinier’s 24…Nc6 he had just over 2 minutes on the clock compared to his opponent’s almost 7. Here Levon went for 25.Rxh6, which the live commentary team compared to the “gangster” Rxf7!? sacrifice the Armenian had played against Alexander Grischuk in the last round of the Sinquefield Cup. That was going a bit far, since if Dominguez chose to accept the sacrifice the white queen would go to g6 and we'd likely get an immediate draw by perpetual check. Levon decided to play along:
Once again I was up on time, so I have to try and win whenever I have this advantage. I knew that it’s extremely sharp and might not work for me, but that’s my brand of chess. I have to stay true to myself.
There was an element of risk, though, because Leinier could reject the sacrifice, as he did with 25…Ne5!? 26.Qh7+ Kf8 27.Kg3 before making what at a glance seemed the strong move 27…Nf7??
Alas, after the simple but devastating 28.Rg6! it was essentially game over, with Dominguez resigning on move 35.
Thursday will now be the last day that starts with two rapid games, before on Friday we have eight blitz games to end the matches. Follow all the action live here on chess24 from 13:00 in St. Louis (20:00 CEST)!
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