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Carlsen Wins His Day One As Caruana, So Make Their Move
GM Hikaru Nakamura has the best chance to clinch tomorrow. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Carlsen Wins His Day One As Caruana, So Make Their Move

Just when it seemed all the matches would be runaways before the final day of the 2017 Champions Showdown, a trio of trailers reinvigorated their battles.

Three matches played eight games of G/10 with plenty of storylines from the 24 games. Meanwhile one match got underway, but their four G/30 bouts also showed some humanness.

GM Veselin Topalov told Chess.com he wasn't keen on his chances as the time control diminished, but he held his own against GM Hikaru Nakamura's celerity. They traded wins as Black in the opening four games then played four draws.

"Today I could put up some resistance, which was surprising for me," Topalov told Chess.com.

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World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen and DNA-contributor Henrik Carlsen chat before the first game. Magnus is here without any of his usual seconds. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

GM Fabiano Caruana dropped the opening game, his third straight loss against GM Alexander Grischuk going back to yesterday. Then he hung mate a little later before righting himself late thanks to a three-game winning streak. Their day was also even, meaning he still remains down four points.

GM Wesley So just couldn't find a way through GM Leinier Dominguez for the first 2.5 days, so that's when he started playing like former teammate GM Varuzhan Akobian -- French and Caro-Kann as Black. It worked -- So also won three straight to end the day, which helped him make up six points of the deficit (today's games were worth three points each).

Where does that leave these six players going into tomorrow's final day (12 games of 5+0 blitz worth two points each)? Here's the scoreboard:

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Images courtesy Spectrum Studious.

The scenarios for comebacks on the the final day:

  • Caruana needs to go +2 to tie the match (7-5), or +3 to win (7.5-4.5). In case of tie, they simply split the money with no playoff ($50,000 each).
  • Topalov needs to go +7 to win the match (9.5-2.5).
  • So needs to go +4 to win the match (8-4).

Just getting going today was GM Magnus Carlsen vs. GM Ding Liren. Missed chances for both sides left the match all square after three games before Ding's resiliency finally broke and Carlsen took the fourth game.

Before we can even get to the games, the hangover from yesterday's clock-induced wildness created some mid-event rule changes. International Arbiter Tony Rich announced before the day's play that the event will be instituting an instant-reply system.

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Similar to athletic sports, a player can now ask for the use of video replay at the exact moment where an arbiter's decision needs to be reviewed (i.e. not after the game, but during). The St. Louis chess club would then "go to the truck" (literally) where the production staff's RV has eight different camera angles that can show what transpired.

"It was a result of games yesterday," Rich said about the additional option. He would not confirm if the So-Dominguez time scramble was the main catalyst, but as noted yesterday, So's manager was not pleased at the arbiter's failure to admonish his opponent. Yesterday, Dominguez used two hands several times in the waning seconds, but arbiters watching the game did not make any call, nor did So. (Rich told Chess.com the penalty for first occurrence would have been one minute added to So's clock.)

Rich said that there's a lot going on in that moment for an arbiter to notice everything. He said he doesn't know of any other chess events that have instant replay, but thought it would be useful for the remainder of this event. No situations occurred today that required the use of the new rule.

Nakamura-Topalov

The two chess players turned into pugilists in the opening two hours as all four games ended with Black wins.

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GM Hikaru Nakamura can sometimes play chess like his hair is on fire, yet he still has a full head of it. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Nakamura stuck to his early ...h5 Najdorf that has been a mainstay all event. Even though Topalov is famous to sacrificing exchanges, Nakamura did it several times today, including in the opening game.


"I played a lot better today," Nakamura told Chess.com. Despite not gaining any more ground on his opponent, he avoided the multitude of losing formations from yesterday. "I didn't get any really bad positions."

He also appreciated that Topalov is "playing along" -- Nakamura picked him as his rival because he wanted to get off-balanced, interesting positions. Nakamura said he's been getting them in spades and he's "absolutely" glad he picked the Bulgarian. "I think every game has been very sharp."

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GM Veselin Topalov: Sometimes you're the egg, sometimes you're eggplant. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Topalov got back to even the next round, only to have Nakamura return the seesaw in game three. Both players briskly entered a sharp variation, with White allowing a discovered attack while Black allowed an h-file attack. While Nakamura wasn't sure if it was a novelty, he was confident in his memory.

"Even if it hasn't been played before, it is known [to me]," he said.


Topalov once again played even-steven the next round to balance the scoring. He looked to be able to win two in a row a round later, but offered a draw when Nakamura had merely two seconds remaining.

While Nakamura had an easy path to a drawn position, Topalov could have squeezed the time advantage for the full point. While everyone on the broadcast thought the Bulgarian was being sportsmanlike, Topalov told Chess.com that wasn't really the guiding factor.

"I didn't know about his time," Topalov said. He simply saw the position was drawn and offered a draw on reflex. It's what you've been trained to do when you've been a chess professional for as long as he has.


"I don't think it's so important," Topalov said about the draw offer. "It is was an equal match, maybe [I would play on the clock]...I don't like to win this way."

"That was the only game that got messy," Nakamura said about his ability to avoid the time scrambles. Overall, he doesn't mind the lack of increment.

"In quicker events there's nothing wrong with it," he told Chess.com, but added that he doesn't want the feature to be the norm in classical events.

Although three more draws ensued, it wasn't for a lack of trying to win. Nakamura botched a chance to win game seven after yet another exchange sac. First he had an easy win, then a much more diabolically harder one (like Topalov, he also didn't try to flag his opponent at the end, but Nakamura said White's 15 seconds was enough to hold anyway).


"It's a bit intense for me," Topalov said about playing Nakamura so many games. "Obviously he's not playing his main openings. It's not easy but it's not surprising I'm getting good positions. I'm older but I'm less experienced in rapid and blitz."

Caruana-Grischuk

When Caruana goes to the well of good memories to get ready psychologically for his next tournament, he won't be replaying the middle block of rounds from the Showdown. After closing out yesterday's G/20 with two losses, including just leaving his queen en prise in a winning position, he played another laugher today.

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GM Fabiano Caruana. Does he consider himself "streaky"? Stay tuned below for a video interview for his answer. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

With an extra pawn in game three and not much else going on, what seemed to be a long conversion attempt turned into another cringe-worthy howler: an elementary mate in two.


Grischuk had already won their opening round, and then won again in game four. Caruana's Pirc, which was similar to Carlsen's ...Nc6, ...Nb8 retreat in a Nimzowitsch Defense in Isle of Man, went down.


Now minus three on the day, Caruana could have been left for dead, but he resurrected his day and his tournament buy running off three straight wins. The first came when Grischuk was ahead a knight and two pawns but flagged. Then Caruana won two more the "conventional" way.

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Not his best day, but still in the lead: GM Alexander Grischuk. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Here his final win, in the day's game seven.


Chess.com spoke with Caruana about the day's events:

So-Dominguez

Like Caruana, So reeled off three straight wins to make things interesting tomorrow.  The first four games ended drawn, but game one had some unusual endgame manuevering.


Dominguez opened the scoring with a win in round five, but just when the match score was about to get out of hand, So began his charge.

"He needed that," GM Yasser Seirawan said after So's first win in game six.


After two more wins So ended the day plus two and cut into the margin by six points.

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GM Wesley So put yesterday's disappointment behind him to battle back today against GM Leinier Dominguez. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"Better than the Berlin," So told Chess.com about his decision to play the French and Caro-Kann. "The Berlin is why I'm losing this match. I can get bored with it."

While he didn't rate his chances highly tomorrow, So promised to fight.

Carlsen-Ding

These two opened their four-day bout with four games of G/30. Both missed chances in the odd-numbered games before Carlsen titled the scales in the day's final event.

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Carlsen didn't over-complicate why he chose GM Ding Liren. The Norwegian said it was because "he's a very good player." | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In round one, Carlsen's "better" bishop seemed to give him decent chances until Ding showed that his kingside expansion meant more. Black could have converted were it not for a wayward king move.


Carlsen then returned the favor with a mysterious slip in game three.


Finally, in the day's final game, Carlsen made it 2.5-1.5 by eking out a win thanks to a passed pawn.

"I thought we were heading for a draw but fortunately he couldn't find a way to clinch it," Carlsen said.


Carlsen and Ding played in the same room as the G/10 schedule, meaning that around move 20, Carlsen could hear time scrambles happening on the other three boards. Then 20 moves later, with Carlsen and Ding still playing their same game, the next round of time scrambles would commence.

"We're thinking, 'Not again!'" Carlsen said. 

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Carlsen said he got plenty of sleep but still felt like he lacked some energy today. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

For a man who's played everything this year fro the PRO Chess League to Titled Tuesday to open tournaments, and everything in between, this offbeat match is another unique format that the world champion relishes.

"I'm really looking forward to those quicker matches myself," he said. "It really adds another dimension, another challenge."

Here's Chess.com's video interview with Carlsen:

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.

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