Kasparov Rusty On 1st Day Champions Showdown Chess9LX
Garry Kasparov after having just blundered in a winning position. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Kasparov Rusty On 1st Day Champions Showdown Chess9LX

| 54 | Chess Event Coverage

Back at the chessboard in St. Louis for a Chess960 match with Fabiano Caruana, 13th world champion Garry Kasparov got promising positions on the first day but scored just one draw. The Champions Showdown Chess9LX runs for three more days.

For the second consecutive year the Saint Louis Chess Club is hosting Fischer Random rapid and blitz matches among eight top grandmasters. This year we're having the following matchups:

  • Fabiano Caruana vs. Garry Kasparov
  • Levon Aronian vs. Hikaru Nakamura
  • Wesley So vs. Veselin Topalov
  • Peter Svidler vs. Leinier Dominguez

The format is six rapid games with 30 minutes and a 10-second delay, and 14 blitz games with five minutes and a five-second delay. Each of the first three days starts with two rapid games (which are worth two points for a win) followed by a final day of blitz only. The total prize fund is $200,000.

For some reason the organizers found it necessary to further complicate the naming of a variant of chess that already has two names. They altered the alternative for Fischer Random—"Chess960"—by using Roman numerals for the last two digits, thus introducing the term "Chess9LX." As Ginger GM Simon Williams noted in his stream on, it sounds like a car engine.

The position that was contested on the first day. 

Tony Rich Chess960 Saint Louis
Tony Rich of the Saint Louis Chess Club shows the first position. The players had an hour to prepare for it. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Fabiano Caruana vs. Garry Kasparov: 5-1

The main attraction was obviously Kasparov, for many fans still the best chess player ever. Billionaire and chess patron Rex Sinquefield is the only one who still manages to put the Beast from Baku behind a chess board, about once a year.

Participating in the 2017 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz, Kasparov showed that, every now and then, he can still beat top grandmasters. He made his Chess960 debut last year, when he lost a match to Topalov 11.5-14.5. This year Kasparov takes up world number-two Caruana.

Garry Kasparov Chess960 studying
Kasparov studies the first position. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

"It saves me the hassle of preparation. I am no longer a professional player, and I have no time and energy to study openings and do all sorts of preparation, which is an absolute must for top professional players," said Kasparov before the event, adding:

"960 offers opportunities to create from the very early stage of the game, and then I’m always having fun playing chess. So, 960 is the only option for me to compete with the best players in the world."

Kasparov Caruana Chess960 Chess9LX
Kasparov back at the board, this time facing the world number-two. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The first day, however, wasn't a good start for the 56-year-old legend. He was too slow on the clock, and it cost him.

Kasparov got a nice position in the first game but allowed his opponent to fight back. In time trouble, the former world champion didn't make the most of his chances in a rook endgame:

The second game was a dramatic affair. It reminded of Kasparov's game with David Navara two years ago, which was also a beautifully conducted encounter spoiled by a late blunder. 

"It was a great game; I fully outplayed him. If I didn’t make a move, it was still winning," said Kasparov. "The position was so good, just don’t blunder. There was hardly any move that wasn’t winning. OK, I found one."

Kasparov Chess960 Chess9LX
Kasparov will always remain a great subject for photographers. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

As so often in chess, it would have been easier to have just one good move instead of plenty. Also on move 20 Black could choose several, but the knight maneuver to a6 would have been particularly strong.

Kasparov: "It was a variety of options, like a tasting menu."

Kasparov Chess960 Chess9LX
Kasparov resigns the game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

"The game affected two blitz games because I couldn’t recover," said Kasparov, who in between games could be seen walking back and forth in the chess club with his 13-year-old daughter, Aida, close by.

Also in his second white game (this time blitz), he built a nice position, but Caruana countered strongly on the queenside and in the center:

Caruana Chess960 Chess9LX
Caruana was under pressure in the rapid but played well in the blitz. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The last game was Kasparov's worst. Clearly affected, he played recklessly in the opening, and it seriously backfired. 

At the same time it was another good game by Caruana, who needs to do only one thing for tomorrow: remember the rules.

"I thought I was just outplaying him, but then after the game everyone asked me, 'Why didn’t you castle?' Because I could have just castled and forced resignation, but I forgot that I can castle," Caruana said. "It seems like a thing that I have been doing in a lot of games, that I keep forgetting that either he can castle or I can castle. It’s happened more than once. I’ll probably have to fix that!"

Kasparov Chess960 Chess9LX
What can I do? | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

"I hope that if I will do just as well as I did in both rapid games, I think eventually I should deliver," said a reasonably optimistic Kasparov.

Levon Aronian vs. Hikaru Nakamura: 5.5-0.5

Aronian is one of the best Fischer Random players in the world, but still his big lead after day one versus Nakamura is surprising. His win in the first game was the result of a devilish tactic:

Aronian Caruana analysing Chess960 Chess9LX
The players are looking at the positions in pairs. Caruana said he enjoyed analyzing the position with Aronian, who has a quick feel for original starting positions. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Aronian's secret might be that he truly loves this type of chess, as he said before the event: "It's something that gives you a chance to be creative right away. It's something that I view an ideal form of a game of chess. You get this art and sport immediately in the game. The science is taken away from the game."

In fact, all of these top GMs are remarkably happy with the fact that they don't need to prepare for their games. Apparently, that part of their job really isn't fun anymore.

The originality of the starting positions tends to lead to the occasional early disaster, such as the first blitz game in this match when Nakamura self-trapped his queen:

Aronian Nakamura Chess960 Chess9LX
Aronian leads with a big margin after day one. "I think he just had an off-day," he said about Nakamura. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Peter Svidler vs. Leinier Dominguez: 4.5-1.5

Also in the match between Svidler and Dominguez, we saw an example of how wrong things can go at an early stage. In their second rapid game, the Cuban copied his opponent's first two central pawn advances, but then his third move already looked dubious, after which White got a devastating initiative:

The first rapid game had started with a remarkable moment of chess blindness for Svidler.

Svidler Chess960 Chess9LX
Svidler's comment: "The first game I should lose, I think, and at the very end I decided not to play 87...Ng2 because I’m an idiot. Having gotten to that position and not playing 87...Ng2 is quite spectacular, I have to say."  | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Wesley So vs. Veselin Topalov: 4-2

In the closest match of all, So won a rapid game and a blitz game, but Topalov won the last blitz game. The margin is two points because a rapid win counts double.

So came well prepared, as he had just won the final Fischer Random world chess championship knockout qualifier the day before. His weekend was well spent on, since he also won the PRO Chess League Summer Series with the Saint Louis Arch Bishops.

The last game saw some tactics that could easily make it into Puzzle Rush (in fact, this author might just enter it in the pool himself). Black had two promising options, but just one was good.

So Nakamura Chess960 Chess9LX
So and Nakamura analyzing, knowing that a certain name was mentioned quite a few times on the first day. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Also on both Tuesday and Wednesday the players will start with two rapid games, followed by two blitz games, with one different starting position. On Thursday they will play four blitz games with a third position, and after a break another four blitz games with yet another starting position.

Day 1 coverage: 

You can find all games here as part of our live portal. More photos from the event can be found here. The official site is here.

All games from day 1.

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