Champions Showdown Chess9LX: Nakamura Crushes Aronian On Final Day
Nakamura started badly but won his match anyway. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Champions Showdown Chess9LX: Nakamura Crushes Aronian On Final Day

| 42 | Chess Event Coverage

Scoring 6-2 on the final day of blitz, Hikaru Nakamura ended up winning his Champions Showdown Chess9LX match with Levon Aronian convincingly: 14.5-11.5. Garry Kasparov won three more blitz games but lost with a score of 7-19 to Fabiano Caruana.

With a small blitz victory on the last day, Peter Svidler beat Leinier Dominguez 15.5-10.5. Wesley So increased his gap with Veselin Topalov with two more points, winning his match 18-8.

The matches consisted 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 was $200,000 with $30,000 going to the winners and $20,000 to the losers.

Chess9LX Day 4 positions
The positions on day four (first four rounds left, next four rounds right).
Chess9LX players analyse
Nakamura, Topalov, Dominguez, Caruana, Aronian and So analyzing. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The day started with a funny outcome of the first draw of the new position: BBRQKNRN. Everyone quickly realized that this was a mirror of the position the day before, this time with the bishops on the queenside.

"So we don't need to prepare?" joked So. Nakamura's proclamation of "something we looked at before; it's pretty similar" was closer to the truth. It wasn't exactly the same, because of the long and short castling.

Fabiano Caruana vs. Garry Kasparov: 19-7

Having lost the match already, all that was left for Kasparov was to try and win the "mini-match" on the final day—and he got close. He started well by winning the first blitz game, but then lost two in a row. After a draw in the fourth, both players won their two remaining white games, but Caruana was lost in the last one.

If you give me everything, I can win. Even I can win.
—Garry Kasparov

The start was good for The Boss:

Kasparov Chess9LX
Kasparov won the first blitz game, and his second in the match. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Caruana won quickly in the third, which was kind of an opening disaster for Black:

Kasparov Chess9LX
Seeking some solitude. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

In game seven, Kasparov completely dominated from start to finish. Caruana later admitted that he played "too casually" in the opening in a few games, and this was definitely one of them. He somehow managed to degrade his bishop on b8 to a mere spectator and was helpless on the kingside.

Kasparov: "If you give me everything, I can win. Even I can win."

Kasparov Chess9LX
The end of the fourth game (a draw). Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

We were more like drunken boxers trying to land a blow.
—Fabiano Caruana

And so the score was tied (well, if you ignore the first three days) with one game to go. Kasparov got a winning position but once again Caissa didn't even allow him the slightest of bragging rights. 

"I really should have lost the last game; that was an atrocious position," Caruana admitted. "We were more like drunken boxers trying to land a blow but not really managing to. Today was really not great."

I’m old, I’m not rusty. Rusty is different, it means you’re young and you’re out of practice. I’m old. I’m 56, come on!
—Garry Kasparov

"Delivery was definitely not my strongest suit today," Kasparov started his post-match interview. "It’s a pity. I know it’s not an official competition; I’m retired, but game two, day one, it’s banging in my head. It would have changed the whole match, if I won that game. You have plus-five in the position. I think the match could be very different."

Maurice Ashley noted that Kasparov didn't want to make the excuse of being rusty. That wouldn't be an unfair assessment, since every time Kasparov participates somewhere these days, he tends to play better later in the event.

But Kasparov didn't agree: "I’m old, I’m not rusty. Rusty is different, it means you’re young and you’re out of practice. I’m old. I’m 56, come on!"

Kasparov Chess9LX
Kasparov disagreed that he was rusty. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

But let's compare things with that one, legendary chess player who remained so strong at an older age: Viktor Korchnoi. We would have to place Viktor the Terrible in the summer of 1987.

Back then, when he was 56, Korchnoi was the world number-five behind Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Artur Yusupov and Andrei Sokolov.

Viktor Korchnoi
Viktor Korchnoi was world number-five at 56. Photo: Creative Commons 3.0/Wikipedia.

Kasparov revealed that he had played a 20-game training match with Svidler to prepare. It was an equal match and eventually he even prevailed. But somehow it's not the same. He noted: "Being on stage, under this pressure, it had a really bad effect on me."

Some fans will argue that perhaps it's time for Kasparov to stop playing these exhibition events, and in fact his wife Dasha has told him the same. Adding to that, Kasparov suggested that his many one-move blunders were a "sign from above" that maybe it's enough.

And still, this author prefers to join the dreamers who wonder what he could still achieve if he'd play more regularly.

As Svidler put it, halfway through day four: "I understand there are no ifs and this is not how life works, but if you take the positions he’s had in this match—let’s say at the 30-35 move break or even earlier—and you eliminate just the one-move blunders, not batches of bad play but just the one-move blunders throwing games away, I think the match would be extremely close which, considering he plays one event a year, is tremendous against the world number-two."

Peter Svidler interview Chess9LX
Peter Svidler called Kasparov's achievement "tremendous." Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Peter Svidler vs. Leinier Dominguez: 15.5-10.5

"It's been a privilege, and a lot of fun," Svidler said about analyzing and playing a lot with Kasparov these days. "The one kind of sad thing about it is that I seem to be reaping all the benefits," he said.

The eight-time Russian champion had allowed Dominguez to come back in their match on day three and blundered at the start of day four, but then he made sure that victory wouldn't be in doubt.

Svidler Dominguez Chess9LX
A spectator watching Dominguez and Svidler. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

"I am honestly quite satisfied with my play," Svidler said. "I thought my play generally made sense. I did leave some rooks en prise but apart from just blackouts and forgetting about knight moves backwards I thought there was a decent amount of common sense and some nice calculation thrown in, so I'm very happy with how it came up."

Levon Aronian vs. Hikaru Nakamura: 11.5-14.5

Nakamura made quite the comeback if you take into account that he started his match down 7.5-0.5. Before the final day he was only one game down, and starting with three straight wins he took control right away, and didn't let go.

"I think I played very good chess in a couple of games early on," Nakamura said. "I felt that throughout the match in the rapid especially I was just outplaying him almost every game. I would say today I got a little bit lucky; if the first game had gone differently, which it probably should have, then it would’ve been very tight."

Nakamura Chess9LX
A great comeback for Nakamura. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Nakamura noted that he had been playing "Nepo style," meaning that he preferred to play quickly even if that compromised on the quality, and that he took some risk here and there, sometimes avoiding symmetrical positions. "I think for Levon he was still trying too hard to find best moves at the start," Nakamura said.

Wesley So vs. Veselin Topalov: 18-8

So only needed one draw from eight blitz games to win his match, and he got it right at the start. "I tried to clinch the match in the very first game and I managed to draw," he said. "There’s a lot less pressure when you’ve already won the match."

He ended up winning three games to one, with four draws. 

So Topalov Chess9LX
A big advantage for So was Topalov's clock handling. With age, it's harder to play fast! | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Day four 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 four.

Next on the agenda for many of the world's elite players is the FIDE World Cup, starting in just a few days in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Incidentally, if they win their first two matches, Nakamura and Svidler will meet in the third round.

You can find all upcoming major events in our tournament calendar.

2019 World Cup Chessbrahs coverage
The Chessbrahs will be covering the 2019 World Cup daily.

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