Caruana Wins Champions Showdown Match With Day To Spare
Fabiano Caruana won his match against Pentala Harikrishna. | Graphics: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Caruana Wins Champions Showdown Match With Day To Spare

| 20 | Chess Event Coverage

Fabiano Caruana is the first contestant to be crowned king of the Champions Showdown in St. Louis. His triumph over Pentala Harikrishna in the first day of blitz (10.5-1.5) topped the American’s clear lead in the rapid to a crushing total score of 28.5-7.5.

The other four matchups are close to decided: Hikaru Nakamura-Jan Krzysztof Duda 23-13, Wesley So-David Navara 21.5-14.5, Veselin Topalov-Leinier Dominguez 21.5-14.5, Richard Rapport-Sam Shankland 23.5-12.5. With a total of 48 points to be scored in the rapid and blitz, 24.5 is the score required to win.

Hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club, the Champions Showdown confronts the five strongest players from the U.S. to veteran GMs and rising stars from the rest of the world in five separate matches. The time control of the blitz section is 3 minutes + 2 seconds increment.

Spectators at the St. Louis Chess Club. | Photo: Spectrum Studios/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The results of the blitz were surely affected by the highly uneven scores at the end of the rapid phase. As expected, players had to adopt an “all or nothing” attitude which ended up increasing the margins. It did, however, spice up the competition causing sharp positions and an exchange of tactical blows which is hardly seen in top classical games.

“Small tactics” do the trick for Fabiano Caruana

Pentala Harikrishna didn't enjoy the first day of blitz. | Photo: Spectrum Studios/Saint Louis Chess Club.

It didn’t take Caruana much of an effort to just wipe out Harikrishna’s every last hope to get even in blitz. In fact, all he had to do was to avoid risks and seize tactical opportunities: “Overall the quality today wasn't too great, a lot of games were decided by crude blunders near the end,” he commented. “I think the main difference today was that I could see these small tactics when we had a few seconds left a bit faster than he was.”

On the aftermath of the world championship defeat, Caruana decisively imposed himself on a worthy 2700+ opponent in the time control that cost him the title against Carlsen. As he burns the steps to match the best specialists of speed chess, he endorses his rival’s statement that to be the world champion you must be confident in any time control. “I wouldn't say I play more rapid and blitz than classical, but it's a prominent part of every top chess player's schedule,” he added.

Hikaru Nakamura capitalizes in the bustle

Things aren't going as planned for Jan-Krzysztof Duda. | Photo: Spectrum Studios/Saint Louis Chess Club.’s undisputed top titled blitz player, Nakamura, is without a doubt a speed chess heavyweight. It’s not that surprising, then, that blazoned Polish champion Duda could crack to an unpleasing 9-3 in the first half of the blitz match. His false start gave Nakamura great momentum, which he managed to exploit by always getting an advantage out of unclear positions.

“Jan Krzysztof hasn't been too great today, he had good positions but he's been a little bit too tilty,” said the American. “In 3+2 especially, you are going to have a lot of decisive games. So if you get off to a good start and win the first one or the first couple, it generally sets a good trend.”

Veselin Topalov takes no risk

Veselin Topalov is in great shape. | Photo: Spectrum Studios/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Managing the secure lead accomplished in day three, Topalov had to take no risk and unarmed Dominguez with conservative play in blitz. Quiet opening choices allowed the Bulgarian to snap back at the opponent’s aggressive undertakings and get a safe lead ahead of the last 12 games.

Overwhelmed by the speed formula, Dominguez stated: “15' felt more like blitz. I don't know if it was just me that I was too slow, but in 25' at least you have some time to think, but I think in general this is quite spectacular.”

David Navara recovers too late

Balanced competition between So and Navara. | Photo: Spectrum Studios/Saint Louis Chess Club.

A remarkable few wins by Navara didn’t allow him to get even after the rapid rounds, as So managed to reverse the losing trend and pierced through the Czech’s kingside in game six. The following cut and thrust entertained chess fans and gave Navara a narrow margin (6.5-5.5) at the end of the day, but didn’t increase his hopes to win the match. In the last day, So will need three points to snatch victory.

“It's unrealistic to catch up but I want to play as well as I can,” said Navara, who was reportedly training on Puzzle Rush before the rounds. Alas, he commented: “Those puzzles are too easy!”

Sam Shankland plots unlikely comeback

It's mission impossible for Sam Shankland. | Photo: Spectrum Studios/Saint Louis Chess Club.

“You have to keep on fighting, no matter what,” said Shankland ahead of the last day. Overpowered by Rapport’s rapid skills, the youthful champion had better odds in blitz as he leads 6.5-5.5. He now needs a practically impossible streak of 12 consecutive wins to catch his opponent, but hope is the last thing to die: “I’m going to try and win all 12 games. I give myself one in a million chances, but of course you have to try.”

Like all other U.S. contenders, Shankland got to choose his opponent for the St. Louis matchup. “I wanted to choose someone who would challenge me,” he explained, “and I thought it would be really fun. Honestly, I didn't want anyone who plays the Berlin every day, which as a professional player you have to do sometimes, but someone like Rapport is incredibly imaginative and I don’t think we had a single boring game in this entire match.”

Game two certainly wasn't boring:

Here are the overall standings after 12 blitz games:

Graphics: Saint Louis Chess Club.

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