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No Increment, No Problem For Nakamura, Dominguez
The impressive field of the 2017 Champions Showdown. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

No Increment, No Problem For Nakamura, Dominguez

In day one of the 2017 Champions Showdown, it was a case of addition by lack of addition.

Despite the G/30 time control, the longest of the four days of play, the event's lack of increment already factored in to several games.

First there was GM Alexander Grischuk, up a queen and three pawns, drawing in round two against GM Fabiano Caruana when the Russian's flag fell. Then with all three matches level, in the final G/30 round, both day one leaders used their time advantages to successfully convert.

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The six players will be joined by two more on Saturday when GMs Magnus Carlsen and Ding Liren arrive at the fourth table. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

GM Leinier Dominguez and GM Wesley So each had about 15 seconds remaining when So simply hung a knight fork. GM Hikaru Nakamura pressed a better position and a two-minute-to-one-minute clock advantage to squeeze a winning pin from GM Veselin Topalov.

Those finishes mean that Nakamura and Dominguez enter tomorrow's G/20 games both with a five-point lead. Not all the game will count the same we learned today.

Not only was the "weighted" scoring not mentioned in the press release or any pre-tournament announcements, but at least one leader didn't find out about it until halfway through the day. Nakamura told Chess.com that he didn't know the Showdown scoring until just before game three began.

The regulations were updated just today, and stipulate that the G/30 games are worth five points each, the G/20 games on day two are worth four points, the G/10 games on day three are worth three points, and the G/5 games on the final day are worth two points.

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Let's take a look at how each match unfolded in today's rapid games.

Nakamura-Topalov

Nakamura chose not to comment before the event on his selection of Topalov as his opponent. But today, he elaborated on the reasons for his selection.

"I feel like playing something different," he said. "If you’re able to pick a match player like this I think it’s important to look at the bigger picture and what you’re trying to achieve."

Part of what he was trying to achieve was just more fun from the games. He didn't want to play 30 games of Berlins (not to worry Berlin lovers; Dominguez and So had you covered today).

"I am trying to experiment a bit, play a bit sharper, play a bit different. And from that standpoint Veselin is a very good opponent to play against because he’s very sharp tactically; he sees a lot of things. I am just trying to play differently; broaden my horizons a bit."

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In game four, Nakamura invited the Frankenstein-Dracula, but his opponent didn't take the bait (more on that later in Chess.com's upcoming video interview). | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

If Nakamura was in the dark as to the exhibition's scoring, Topalov was even more in the dark about the format. When asked what he thought of Nakamura selecting him, Topalov said, "I didn't even know he was allowed to choose!"

Nakamura's opening-round Caro-Kann saw some muted aggression before a repetition, but things got going after that. White won the next three games, with Nakamura scoring two of them.

The American's Vienna Game allowed him to move seven of his pawns in the first 15 moves. Play progressed on both wings until Topalov, severely low on time, failed to find an "only" move and that was that.


Not only did Topalov even the score in game three, but he could have been even more electric. While better from start to finish, he chose not to take too many risks. Even though this time control produces some fantastic scrambles, in this case it also deprived the chess world of a chance for something truly special.

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GM Veselin Topalov: unaware that Nakamura invited him, not the St. Louis club! | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"Somehow immediately it went very wrong for Hikaru," Topalov said. "It was just very easy. The only thing I had to do was develop my pieces."

With a little more time to ponder, White might have gone for a memorable finish on move 20:

Chess.com's interview with Hikaru Nakamura.

In the final game, Nakamura's small time advantage was increased when he made many circuitous moves late in the game. Up a pawn, he thought that he would be winning anyway even in a classical game.

"It's borderline impossible to save that when you're down on the clock," Nakamura said.

"It was a great warmup," Nakamura said of the opening day.

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Images courtesy Spectrum Studios.

So-Dominguez

If rapid chess was a chance for Nakamura to play more offbeat or exciting systems, So and Dominguez didn't get the memo. They played four straight Berlins, with the first three remaining more or less within the zone of stasis.

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GM Leinier Dominguez is now a Miami resident and could be warming up for a second season with the PRO Chess League's Miami Champions. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Round four could have continued that trend, but with both players on about 15 seconds remaining, in an otherwise defensible position, So kept his king on a deadly line. As they say in fast time controls, better to have the tricky knight.

With that lone blunder, Dominguez goes into the second day of action with a five-point lead.

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GM Wesley So, future U.S. teammate of Dominguez? | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

He may actually be in the best position to thrive on the lack of increment. Although none of the players professed to play much in this format, Dominguez reminded Chess.com that when he won the World Blitz Championship in Kazakhstan in 2008, the time control was 5+0 instead of the new standard of 3+2.

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Caruana-Grischuk

Curiously, the most up-and-down tilt of the day was the only one to end all square. Caruana's pieces were all happier than their counterparts as he opened all the scoring with the only round-one win.

Caruana said the opening had both the "Magnus" and "Maxime" seal of approval. "I don’t think you can analyze it too deeply," Caruana said, "but it gives interesting play. For rapid I thought, 'Why not?'"

"I was a bit worried that I would weaken my kingside too much but I still thought I would get a grip on the light squares," he said about expanding in front of his own king. "After fxg3 fxg3, …d6-d5 was interesting to open up the bishop.

"After h5 I had a feeling I might be winning."

Caruana had already discussed the lack of increment in Chess.com's event preview, but after round one he added more thoughts, and unwittingly predicted his next game.

"It’s interesting. The games will not be of the same quality but it makes them more of a sport, a psychological warfare, which is also interesting. But I don’t think it should be implemented in all tournaments because objectively speaking a game shouldn’t end with one side running out of time in a completely winning or completely drawn position. That just doesn’t feel right."

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GM Alexander Grischuk was "leaning in" to the action against GM Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Sure enough, Grischuk had that happen to him about an hour later. In a completely winning position (he had mate in four), Grischuk just barely managed to capture Caruana's final piece as his time ran out. Caruana had only two seconds remaining himself and seemed to almost be playing "giveaway chess" in the game's final moments just to avoid flagging.

With no mating material on the board, Grischuk still got a draw (luckily for him Caruana hung his bishop on the final move; otherwise by FIDE rule Caruana would have won since setting up a checkmate with that lone bishop would have been possible).

"At some point I realized we both have four seconds left," Caruana said. "It doesn’t matter what I play. I just wanted to make moves with my king, to save time. I didn’t even realize he played ..Qe7. I wasn’t looking at the position anymore. If I had kept pieces on I guess I would have flagged him but I couldn’t think clearly with four seconds left."

"I think it was a very nice game overall until the very end," Grischuk said.

"I always hope to play faster," he said.  "Also openings didn’t go too well in both of the games. He knew the opening better in both games. It also affects the speed. When you play against preparation it’s hard to play quickly."

Grischuk did get that win the next round when Caruana'a aggression backfired.

The two go into Friday all square at 10 points each.

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While 20 points were on the line today, the next three days will award 24 points each day. Tomorrow the six G/20 games will each be worth four points.

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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