Champions Showdown Chess9LX: Kasparov 'Happy'; Caruana Extends Lead
Kasparov won one blitz game, but is down 9-3 after two days. | Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Champions Showdown Chess9LX: Kasparov 'Happy'; Caruana Extends Lead

| 15 | Chess Event Coverage

Garry Kasparov won one blitz game but couldn't prevent Fabiano Caruana from extending his match lead on the second day of the Champions Showdown Chess9LX in St. Louis.

Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Peter Svidler continue to lead their matches against Hikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov and Leinier Dominguez respectively. 

The matches consist of six rapid games with 30 minutes and a 10-second delay on the clock, and 14 blitz games with five minutes and a five-second delay. The total prize fund is $200,000.

The position on day two.

I can fight all opponents, but not age.

—Garry Kasparov

Svidler Kasparov analysing Chess9LX
Svidler and Kasparov analysing the position, which was more similar to regular chess. | Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Fabiano Caruana vs. Garry Kasparov: 9-3

"I can fight all opponents, but not age," said Kasparov. "Time is the most powerful opponent none of us can beat. But I’m actually quite happy with what I did today," said Kasparov after ending his second day of play. Caruana has the biggest lead of all four matches.

Kasparov Chess9LX
Kasparov was happy with his play on day two. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

After holding the draw without problems in the first rapid game, Kasparov got surprised in the opening in the second. Caruana played what looked like a Benko Gambit in regular chess. 

The players analyze the starting position for an hour in pairs, and the 13th world champion partnered with Svidler. The latter felt partly responsible: "Missing the 1...b5 2.cxb5 a6 idea was kind of painful," said Svidler. 

Caruana was happy to find this idea together with Aronian.

"At first we thought 1.c4 was a normal move, a very logical move," said Caruana. "We thought maybe White can try to get c4 and b4 and stop Black from playing ...b5 and if ...b5 cxb5 Rxb5 White gets quick development. And then we found out that 2...a6 is just like the most beautiful Benko ever. You just get a rook on b8 and a queen on a6 and a2 is falling and the surprising thing is that the queen on a2 is really annoying for White because the rook b1 is hanging in many lines."

Kasparov also shared his point of view.

"We blundered 1...b5 and 2...a6," said Kasparov, who praised his opponent for his subsequent play: "I have to say that 6...g6, 7...Bh6 was great, he found a phenomenal maneuver and I was in trouble very quickly," he said.

Caruana thought it was a good game: "Maybe my technique wasn’t really great but it was a pretty clean performance," Caruana said.

Kasparov did see something positive as well: "I have to say that I nearly saved the game, playing with two seconds. I was happy how I played," Kasparov said.

Kasparov had even more reason to be happy with the first blitz game, where he scored his first victory.  His 6...g5 and 7...Nh6 made a good impression, and he was basically in control throughout. 

Kasparov beats Caruana Chess9XL
Still optimistic, Kasparov said: "I’m sure there will be a few more games like that." Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Nigarhan Gurpinar ( Turkey) is in St. Louis and posts daily "visual blog posts" on her channel. You can find more videos and photos there.

The last blitz game resembled the second rapid game from day one: Kasparov had built up a winning position when he blundered heavily. The clocks were showing 20 seconds for him vs. 19 for Caruana and, with a 10-second delay, he only spent three seconds on 36.g5?? completely forgetting about 36...Rxe6.

"We have eight blitz games but tomorrow I'll try to come back with rapid because I don’t want to leave rapid without a single win," Kasparov said.

Svidler gave some insightful comments about Kasparov's play on these first two days.

"He clearly has no reason to be satisfied with where he is in the match in terms of his score," said Svidler, "but the positions he’s having, I don’t know, if some people still had any doubt that he is kind of good at chess, still, at the age of 56, I think those people have been once again conclusively proven wrong." he said.

Svidler continued: "The thing is that this variant of chess [...] where the pieces belong, sort of immediately figuring out the most harmonious way of treating your pieces, putting them on correct squares and just generally the flow of things you see in just about every game here. If he converts like half of the positions he had the match is even, if he converts three quarters he is way ahead. Yeah, time management and general rustiness is clearly a very large problem. But that’s not unexpected; we kind of knew that as well."

Peter Svidler vs. Leinier Dominguez: 8.5-3.5

Svidler himself is doing well in his match—he still hasn't lost a game. He remained modest about the reason.

"Leinier playing below his normal standards I would say," said Svidler. "It should not be happening, I did not expect to be ahead by this much by day two and honestly the positions I am having don’t warrant me to being plus five. But I will obviously take it."

After two draws in the rapid, Svidler won both blitz games and is now leading by five points. His play in the second blitz game was especially powerful. 11.g4 was wrong, and Black showed it, with blow after blow:

Levon Aronian vs. Hikaru Nakamura: 8-4

Nakamura repaired some of the damage done on the first day, but only after he had started with a dramatic first game. He was up two pawns in a rook endgame, but somehow ended up losing it.

After missing a clear win by liquidating to a pawn ending, the rook ending was still a fairly basic draw. However, the American GM, with 14 seconds on the clock, got carried away as he was blitzing along with his opponent, who had three seconds.

It seems quite difficult, even for the best players in the world, to get used to the 10-second delay. It basically means that, no matter how little time you have left on your clock, you'll always have 10 seconds on every move. There's never the need to play instantly, which the players were doing anyway at the end:

Nakamura blunder Chess9XL
Nakamura can't believe he blew this endgame. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Nakamura bounced back immediately with a good game and then also won the first blitz game, as an early piece sac for two pawns didn't exactly work out as Aronian had hoped:

Levon Aronian Chess9LX
Aronian didn't get the compensation he wanted. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Wesley So vs. Veselin Topalov: 8.5-3.5

So won his two white games (one rapid and one blitz) and drew the other two to increase his score further against Topalov. The Bulgarian must also be suffering from rustiness, though not as heavily as Kasparov. A few years ago he sort of semi-retired from competitive chess, without formally announcing it, although this year he will play the FIDE Grand Prix.

Veselin Topalov Chess9LX
Veselin Topalov. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Unlike Aronian, So did manage to break open Black's pawn phalanx g7-f6-e5 directed against the bishop on a1.

"I wish every day it works like that," So said. "When I saw 26.Ne5+ I just realized that the pawns are crushing and there’s no way to defend his king. The moves come very easily."

Wesley So Chess9LX
Wesley So. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

On Wednesday the players will also start with two rapid games, followed by two blitz games, with one different starting positions. 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 2 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 two.

Previous report:

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