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Milliseconds Sacred In Showdown's 2nd Day
The heart-stopping final beat of So-Dominguez Game Five. Screenshot courtesy official broadcast.

Milliseconds Sacred In Showdown's 2nd Day

It was supposed to be a rapid and blitz match, but it's turning into a theme match. Good reflexes don't hurt either.

The 2017 Champions Showdown doesn't actually require specific openings to be played over the quartet of 30-game matches, but so far the players have clearly found their favorites.

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GM Hikaru Nakamura keeps essaying varying iterations of the Vienna and Najdorf against GM Veselin Topalov. GMs Leinier Dominguez and Wesley So began the day with their fifth-straight Berlin before finally varying in the day's second game. GM Fabiano Caruana keeps accepting GM Alexander Grischuk's Queen's Gambit, with White invariably replying with the sharp 3. e4 line.

Amid of all the repetitious openings, it's the endings that captivated the audience today. While time scramble scenarios were asked about yesterday, today the theoretical turned into the actual when So and Dominguez volleyed their pieces so fast in the final seconds that a slow-motion replay was needed to decipher what had happened.

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After today, the some of the players may not want to check their moves with a machine. | Photo: Austin Fuller, official site.

At day's end, Dominguez's three wins, each valued at four points each, catapulted him into a commanding lead over So, 28.5-15.5. Nakamura wasn't beaten at all on this day and leads Topalov by the same score. Caruana had enjoyed a lead for most of the day, but dropped the final two games to trail Grischuk 24-20.

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A total of 48 more points are up for grabs; 24 for each of the weekend days. Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Today's discussion has to begin with Dominguez and So, whose round five game either made you love or hate the lack of increment.

So-Dominguez

"It was a very tough day," a deflated So said at day's end. After the six games, he'd lost three and only won one.

The opening game ended drawn after a deadlock, but round two broke another impasse. In the first non-Berlin game the two played, Dominguez ground down So's French for his first win of the day. Both players ended with less than 30 seconds, but that is an eternity compared to a few rounds later.

Dominguez then got his second win when So went for a rook-and-two-pawns vs. knight-and-bishop middlegame.


So then clawed back that game a few minutes later, but again, all was simply a prelude to game five. They went back to playing another Berlin, and another rook ending ensued.

So had been up about five minutes to one, and he had an extra, albeit doubled pawn. Somehow all that thinking cannibalized the time advantage, as the cat-like Dominguez kept moving instantly, mostly checking the American's king.

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Further complicating the time scramble, both players had to reach to the other side of the board for many of their moves. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Some messy moves landed as both players dwindled down to their final seconds -- pieces often landed in between squares and Dominguez breached the rules several times by using two hands for capturing. So had gone back to sitting side-saddle in his chair but for the final moves of this one, he played standing up. The DGT boards couldn't keep up with the transmission of moves.

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Moments before this picture, GM Leinier Dominguez's clock had one second left. Moments after this picture, his leaning king did not land upright, but he did still win. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

The action ended when the arbiters stepped in. Both clocks had seemingly expired, and a smiling So got up from the board. Dominguez, also laughing, shook So's hand and made the same conclusion -- the wild scramble ended in a draw. But no. By rule, if the arbiters notice someone's time having expired, the game ends in that instant. The fact that Dominguez's final second expired as the intervention was happening was irrelevant.

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GM Leinier Dominguez had the better fast-twitch muscles on this day. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Later, a slow-motion replay confirmed the arbiters made the correct decision. Dominguez had one second remaining at the moment that So's clock ticked to all zeroes. The clock gave further confirmation via a feature that showed whose time expired first. Dominguez took the full point.

Have a look for yourself. Even the commentators were confused and thought the game was drawn, or at least should have been:

"He suddenly played like a machine at the end -- bam, bam, bam, move, move, move," So said about Dominguez. "I was just way too slow moving my king."

So said he didn't even notice the two-handed moves, and Dominguez told Chess.com he didn't even remember doing it.

"Maybe tomorrow I'll use two hands," So said, and also upped his idea. "I should have used three hands!"

But why stop there? Just a few miles down the road is the taproom to this St. Louis Brewery:

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Next up for 4 Hands Brewing...A Filipino-Cuban Lager?

After that chaos, the two traded all the pieces quickly to end the day with a peaceful draw.

"He's just more skillful in moving fast," So told Chess.com after the day ended. "That's why it's called a 'Showdown.' Crazy stuff like that happens. I don't enjoy flagging someone."

So said that when he gets under one minute, he starts to focus on just making moves, and not as much on the quality. For his part, Dominguez told Chess.com that he kept trying to make sensible moves, no matter his time. Indeed, his late offer to trade rooks was his way of trying to force a draw.

You can hear much more about Dominguez's thoughts in this video interview:

Dominguez told Chess.com that he also contemplated offering a draw when he had four seconds left, but decided not to since that could break his opponent's focus. There's a certain catch-22 to the situation. A player that wants to be sportsmanlike and agree to a just result, a draw, could be seen as unsportsmanlike for offering a draw at that moment.

So said he's been challenged this year playing so many different time controls. He will get that increment back on November 18 for his Speed Chess Championship match against GM Magnus Carlsen.

"That one-second increment is pretty useful," he said about the bullet section (1+1).

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So had the minimum five minutes to regroup before his final game, and did not protest or appeal. Now that the replays have come out, his manager Lotis Key had this to say to Chess.com:

"Wesley feels very sad that none of the three arbiters standing right beside his game, watching the whole thing, called those illegal hand moves on Dominguez and instead flagged Wesley on time. This in fact, in the same venue where he was forfeited a game for writing himself a note of encouragement on a piece of paper."

Key was referencing the 2015 U.S. championship, when So was forfeited after several warnings to stop writing notes.

Caruana-Grischuk

Their mutual battle began with two draws as they opened by also getting in on the Berlin action, or some would say lack thereof. Then Caruana accepted the Queen's Gambit in game two, only to be answered by Grischuk's 3. e4 (all five times Grischuk has had White have opened this way).

"That's been working out more or less for me," Caruana told Chess.com about his repetitive choice as Black.

Caruana broke through the day's scoring with yet another Berlin in game three. Curiously every single fighting piece for Grischuk was on the kingside, where Caruana's king could be found, but quantity doesn't equal quality and Black's pieces could not find the keys to the castle. The clever 21. g3 repulsed the black queen. Grischuk preferred to pitch a piece rather than play a pawn-down position, but the American was up to the challenge.


After another draw, Grischuk got the day and the match back to square by winning a queen for rook and minor. Caruana couldn't engineer a fortress.

nullGM Fabiano Caruana, like the other players, realized the need to play quickly even on move two. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.


To close out the day, a tragedy for the American. In a better position, he hung his queen and had to resign immediately. 


Caruana told Chess.com that he'd seen the Rc6 idea, and planned to capture the a-pawn, then continue attacking down the g-file. He just forget the zwischenzug.

"I wasn't really looking at the board fully," he said. "It was a blackout.

"If I had won like I thought I should have, it would have been a good day for me."

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Nakamura-Topalov

Like Dominguez, Nakamura extended his lead from five points to 13 points by going plus two on day two. Unlike his former Miami Champions teammate, Nakamura had a "clean" day -- no messy time scrambles and no losses. Well, it was only "clean" if you don't count several lost positions that were saved.

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GM Hikaru Nakamura must have had a premonition. Even before the opening round, he was all smiles. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

He bookended his day with wins and four draws in the middle. In at least three games, Topalov had either moderate or outright winning advantages.

Game three was the biggest swindle. Although Nakamura didn't completely reverse the result, the fast that he didn't lose caused GM Yasser Seirawan to dig into his bag of mythological analogies.

"Hikaru's like a Hydra -- you just have to kill four, five, six times," Seirawan said.


Seirawan called the game "spectacular," clearly focusing on the sporting element.

"'Spectacular' is not the world I would use," GM Sam Shankland said, clearly focusing on the precision, or lack thereof.

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GM Veselin Topalov -- contemplating stealing Nakamura's Red Bull? | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In the final round six, Nakamura looked to be down a pawn, then an exchange, finally then a piece. Topalov never found a way to make the conversion easy, and then suddenly White's two compensatory pawns got moving. Nakamura flipped the entire point this time.

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Tomorrow the three leaders and three trailers will be joined by two newcomers. GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Ding Liren will get their four-day match started, which follows the exact same scoring and format but ends Tuesday.

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The world champion arrived today and will come out of the shadows tomorrow. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

The day ended with a reception at the World Chess Hall of Fame. A new exhibit chronicles the history of Olympiads and specifically the American team's first team gold in 40 years.

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The winning U.S. team from Baku, 2016. Top row left to right: GM Ray Robson, Captain IM John Donaldson, GM Sam Shankland. Seated: GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Wesley So. Not pictured: Coach GM Alex Lenderman. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

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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