American Trio, One Bleeding, Sweeps Champions Showdown
Thanks to two blitz comebacks, one large and one small, the three U.S. players successfully defended their home turf at the 2017 Champions Showdown. The world champion had a pretty good day too in his rapid games.
For the Americans, the "Miracle on Ice" this was not, although the chess today did resemble hockey in one regard: actual blood was spilled.
GM Wesley So had a callous on the middle finger of his clock-hitting hand. During his 28th game in four days, it re-opened during a time-trouble frenzy. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
When the disinfectant dried, GM Wesley So completed an improbably comeback against GM Leinier Dominguez.
"You gotta do what you gotta do!" So said about the spilled blood (if baseball has a "Bloody Sock" game then chess now has a "Bloody Clock" game). So told Chess.com later that in the melee of moving rapidly, he wasn't even aware it was his blood until he checked his hand after the game. After a quick bandage, he went back out and clinched the match the next game.
GM Wesley So vs. GM Leinier Dominguez. So mentioned the possibility that Dominguez becomes his American teammate someday, but they were most certainly not teammates on this day. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
At one point down 16 points yesterday in the mixed-scoring event (which So didn't care for), So charged out of the gate today in the G/5 portion. He won 4.5/5 to take the lead. So held a draw in the blood game despite Dominguez having two queens against one, then the American player finally clinched with a win in the 29th match game.
GM Fabiano Caruana's task wasn't quite as daunting. Were it not for a few gaffes in winning positions earlier in the weekend, he might not have had a deficit at all.
GM Fabiano Caruana, ready for battle. | Photo: Spectrum Studios.
Still, he needed +3 to beat GM Alexander Grischuk today, and Caruana cruised past that in winning six and only dropping one of the dozen games.
"I was counting myself out at some point," he said.
GM Hikaru Nakamura, likely the biggest favorite on paper due to his blitz skills, had zero drama today against GM Veselin Topalov. Already ahead 11-2 career in decisive games in fast time controls, the American padded that stat, and then some. Today he won nine, lost none, and drew three. He only needed three wins to clinch, and got there in the first three games.
Images courtesy Spectrum Studios.
All three U.S. players added to their blitz rating, with Caruana and So both enjoying nearly triple-digits gains. They also both joined Nakamura in the top 10, although none of the three have plans to compete in the World Blitz and Rapid Championships.
Despite appearances, Nakamura joked that he needed his big score today just as much as the players trying to make comebacks.
"A couple people on Facebook reminded me I was losing a ton of points, so I felt the need to do something!" Nakamura said.
The world's top 10 in blitz. Screenshot: 2700Chess.com.
In the final match, which is now only halfway over, GM Magnus Carlsen played more consistent chess today. He won three and drew three against GM Ding Liren to take a commanding lead. If Ding can make a So-sized comeback, it will have to be even greater, as he is now down 17 points thanks to the weighted scoring.
Just how good today were the three overall winners + the daily winner Carlsen?
This stat tells all about #ChampionsShowdown day four: @GMHikaru Wesley So @FabianoCaruana @MagnusCarlsen won 25 games and only lost 3 as a group today.— Mike Klein ( @ChessMike) November 13, 2017
Unofficial cumulative performance rating: one zillion.
Let's take a look at how each winner became $60,000 richer.
So began his resurrection a day earlier, winning the final three games Saturday to give himself a chance. The phoenix continued to fly today when he opened with four wins and a draw in five games, meaning he'd scored 18 out of a possible 19 points in that stretch. The lead had been completely wiped out.
GM Wesley So and GM Leinier Dominguez would shake hands fraternally at the day's end, but before then, they produced quite a battle. | Photo: Austin Fuller/official site.
The second game (match game 19) could have had the mother-of-all Arabian mates. How often do you see the mate coming on either h2 or g1?
After So's game five win, he took the lead by one point. Since they were separated by an odd number going into the day, no ties in their Showdown were possible.
Dominguez could have grabbed the lead back, but couldn't quite finish off his king hunt in game six. So also found an incredible resource where his king, forced into battle, was his last fighting piece remaining. He borrowed a Cuban cultural icon by playing dominos with his monarch, single-handedly toppling all of White's kingside pawns.
So told Chess.com that after the wild scrambles of day two, he resolved to play faster today. In most games, he had a significant advantage on the clock of one minute or more as they approached the endgame transition.
"Wesley is playing extremely well this part of the match," Dominguez said midway through the day. "I’m also a bit slow."
So won game seven to increase his lead to three points, but Dominguez fought back with his most aggressive effort. A quick h4/g4 combo got him back in the match.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then so too in chess. In the very next game, So volleyed his pawns with h4/g4 also! Just as it did for Dominguez, the Ginger-GM-dream led to winning tactics.
But the players were just warming up to the creation of the round of the day. With So up three tournament points and three games remaining, if he won game ten the lead would be insurmountable since each win was only worth two points.
Just as they'd done all day, the two combatants whipped their pieces so fast that the clock thudded with every move. Earlier in the day, the tournament staff actually moved the pair as far away from Carlsen-Ding as they could, in an attempt to buffer the noise.
Carlsen, playing G/20, mentioned the distraction early in the day but explained that he did not request the change of seating. Carlsen: "I’m still happy they made that decision obviously." Nakamura: "Wesley and Leinier were playing this [game] 'Who can hit the clock harder?' Whenever there was a game with a loud noise, you knew it was going to be that one."
That game 10 would be so riotous that So's piece-and-clock-hitting hand opened up a cut in the time scramble.
He may be an international arbiter and manager of the St. Louis chess club, but that doesn't mean Tony Rich is above disinfecting the clock. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
While the loss of blood was minimal, it's not often you survive when your opponent has two queens against one, or when you are down a rook.
After the game, GM Wesley So and IA Tony Rich share a laugh as So checks out the damage. | Photo: IM Eric Rosen.
GM Veselin Topalov, center, and GM Fabiano Caruana, right, chuckle as yours truly shows evidence that the chess clock's red housing isn't its only sanguine part. | Photo: Spectrum Studios.
So went on to win the next game to seal the match.
For more on So's improbably comeback, bloody finger, and being moved across the room, check the video interview:
The highest-rated American didn't face the long odds of his Olympiad teammate, but Caruana did "borrow" So's Sunday strategy in one meaningful way: start the comeback on Saturday. Caruana's 3.5/4 to close the action yesterday portended his beginnings today, as he won 2.5/3 to tie Grischuk.
"When he didn’t put me away, the tide had turned," Caruana said. "Yesterday I was just lucky not to get clobbered."
GM Fabiano Caruana: "I had a few shaky days. It was a pretty all-around good day." | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
It could have been worse but the Russian former world blitz champion found an intricate "only" move to earn his lone draw from those opening games.
Caruana, no stranger to streaks in St. Louis, clawed back to even with this crush in game three.
With all of the momentum going his way, Caruana made his two largest blunders the next game. First, he touched his c-pawn before trading knights. He had to sheepishly put the pawn back on c7 and debate whether moving it one or two squares was more defensible.
Then later he formed a fortress but allowed his bishop to get trapped.
During a mid-day break following the halfway point, Caruana said he wasn't getting too down on himself for the errors in that game.
"[I] actually didn’t feel too bad about it because even after I had dropped a pawn, I could have made a draw," he said.
Just like So-Dominguez, the match between GM Fabiano Caruana (left) and GM Alexander Grischuk hung in the balance until the penultimate game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.
Caruana's confidence led to his strong finish. After that break he didn't lose, scoring three wins and three draws at the close.
His game eight win put him into the lead for good.
A solid draw in game 11 made the win official. Grischuk arrived at the board for the meaningless game 12 with his faced buried in his right hand.
Always a great feeling to play a strong day of chess to clinch a close match against a phenomenal player!— Fabiano Caruana ( @FabianoCaruana) November 13, 2017
"When I picked him I didn’t rate my chances so well," Caruana said, forgetting that he undervalued himself a few minutes later (wait for the video to be posted below). "Maybe he wasn’t in the best shape today. He probably didn’t feel good after missing a huge chance yesterday."
For more on Caruana's day, check the video interview:
Nakamura told Chess.com that when he picked Topalov as his opponent, he knew this wouldn't be the most competitive day. Most of the public thought the same, and that was confirmed resoundingly when Nakamura trounced his opponent with an undefeated 10.5/12 today.
GM Hikaru Nakamura said he didn't want to let his foot off the gas today. Besides, he didn't want to lose rating points despite winning the match. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Nakamura said that in his recent Speed Chess Championship win over Caruana, he had a lull after taking a big lead, and he wanted to avoid that today.
The match was mathematically over after only three games. Although he said he didn't do it on purpose, the clinching game was Nakamura's first usage of an old friend, the King's Indian Defense.
From there he just kept on winning, mostly on the board but occasionally simply due to his speed. Topalov had a better position in game eight but only 10 seconds to Nakamura's 60. That wasn't nearly enough as the Bulgarian proceeded to hang literally all of his pieces.
And we do mean "literally" literally.
GM Veselin Topalov was still in good spirits despite the humbling day. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Nakamura trotted out the King's Indian again in game 9. The game wasn't clean, but in typical "kitchen sink" style, he asked Topalov to clean his dirty dishes.
At day's end, Nakamura had more than doubled Topalov, 61.5-30.5. Don't be too surprised -- had had done this before against world-class opposition, beating GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the 2016 Blitz Battle, 21.5-10.5. Nakamura said that match was more impressive.
For more thoughts by Nakamura, check the video interview:
It's not often the highest-rated player of all time is in the shadows, but it seems the attention faster time controls get is inversely proportional to the time allotment. These two contested six G/20 games (their G/10 and G/5 games will follow the next two days), with Carlsen not really having a worse position in any of them.
GM Magnus Carlsen has not lost a game yet at the Champions Showdown. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/official site.
"I’m trying to play solidly and trying to play decently," Carlsen said. "Not too many escapades in the opening."
Carlsen's first win came in his second game of the day, a technical endgame conversion of knight+two vs. bishop.
Carlsen played the role of chess psychologist at day's end.
"I think losing his first White game today was a blow," Carlsen said. "He couldn’t quite settle down. That’s the way it is sometimes. An unfortunate loss can make you lose [more].
"You start to second-guess your intuition. At some point you cannot do anything anymore. You start to miss everything. You try to do too much. That’s often the problem."
GM Ding Liren mostly had his back to the blood and noise today, but that didn't help much. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Carlsen's round four win came earlier in the game. Already winning, the Norwegian played a pretty finishing move.
A game later, Carlsen pounced on the chance to force a winning breakthrough.
Live coverage of the Champions Showdown continues tomorrow at 1 p.m. Central time daily (except the final day on November 14 when there is an 11 a.m. start). You can see all of the commentary and games at the official site or (when available) on Chess.com's Twitch channel and Chess.com/TV.
Games from TWIC.