Topalov Joins Champions Showdown Leader Board
Topalov's Vienna Game was Nakamura's choice on day one. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Topalov Joins Champions Showdown Leader Board

| 14 | Chess Event Coverage

Veselin Topalov took Leinier Dominguez on a trip to Vienna to get a clear lead on their match at the Saint Louis Champions Showdown. However barely played at a top level, the Vienna Game proved to be an effective surprise weapon as Topalov endorsed Hikaru Nakamura’s trend to play unusual openings in rapid.

The Champions Showdown at the Saint Louis Chess Club confronts America’s top five players to super-GMs from the rest of the world in five separate speed chess matches. At the end of the rapid section of the tournament and ahead of two days of blitz, most matchups are nearly decided as the margins broaden: Caruana-Harikrishna 18-6, Rapport-Shankland 18-6, So-Navara 16-8, Topalov-Dominguez 15-9, Nakamura-Duda 14-10.

The last day of rapid in St. Louis | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Leinier Dominguez stumbles

The most balanced matchup of the event just took an unexpected turn as Topalov’s hat-trick left Dominguez with an uncomfortable six points gap (each rapid win counts double) to recover in the blitz section. The Bulgarian GM took Dominguez to an unfamiliar territory, which proved to be a quite efficient strategy with a time control of 15’+10”.

A dire day for Leinier Dominguez | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Dominguez’ natural queenside pawn structure just didn’t seem to stand together, allowing Topalov to cruise into better endgames and convert without breaking a sweat.

Two avoidable black losses the demoralized the Cuban GM (now playing for the U.S.), who ended the day with a third hopeless endgame to defend. Topalov will now have to score 7.5 points out of the 24 blitz games to secure a $36.000 prize.

Pentala Harikrishna stops the bleeding

An even bigger gap is the one separating Fabiano Caruana and Pentala Harikrishna. The world’s number two now aims to win his match with one day to spare as he just needs 6.5 points to mathematically end the competition. "Today was interesting games, but the past two days were just a nightmare for me,” admitted Harikrishna. “Not because I was on minus six, but because of the way I was blundering pieces: it's never happened to me."

Pentala Harikrishna in better shape against a relaxed Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Harikrishna did however manage to get himself together after two days of distress. In game nine, a quite uneventful endgame turned to havoc after Caruana forced his way into a bishop versus knight setup. The Indian GM created a passed pawn which simply couldn’t be stopped.

In an attempt to repeat the pawn parade in the following game, Harikrishna sacrificed a knight and got himself on the back foot. Caruana didn’t struggle to stop the pawn avalanche and kept the extra piece. Two intense games followed, but they ended as draws securing Caruana’s grip on the matchup standings. "I think he kind of found his form today,” he said about his opponent.

Richard Rapport in control

Some good rapid lessons for Sam Shankland. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Sam Shankland’s good start of day three gave him some hope to pick up from the few losses in the previous rounds. The cheer didn’t last too long, since his opponent Richard Rapport promptly regained momentum with the black pieces. He took advantage of Shankland’s inaccurate handling of a delicate position and easily cut through white’s weakened center.

Two more losses for the American champion let Rapport consolidate his lead to a conspicuous 12 points advantage. The 24 blitz games will be little more than a formality, as Shankland himself confessed: "I'm just not a great rapid and blitz player. I've put a lot of effort into improving my classical chess in the past years. I think I clearly showed I can hang with the best in that regard but in rapid and blitz I still have a lot to learn.”

David Navara under pressure

It will be hard to catch up for David Navara. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Not quite a rapid specialist either, David Navara lost the plot a few times while his clock was ticking and let Wesley So demonstrate the full extent of his endgame technique. In fact, So made most club players look like fools as he smoothly played out the feared knight and bishop checkmate in game 12.

“It’s tough because Wesley is extremely strong in technical positions and he’s playing very quickly, unlike me. I’m losing in the endgames because he plays them excellently,” said Navara. “When I’m short of time, my instincts are not that good and I become nervous.”

Hikaru Nakamura “good enough”

The only matchup still in contention seems to be the one between Hikaru Nakamura and Jan-Krzysztof Duda. While all other matches will require an incredible upset to overturn the rapid results, the World Blitz runner up Duda has all it takes to get to the lead starting from -4. Of course, his opponent is one of the most admired speed chess players in the world and has been in good shape during a thrilling rapid portion.

A confindent Hikaru Nakamura observes his opponent. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club.

Do you want a taste of what’s to come in the blitz clash between the two? Enjoy GM Dejan Bojkov’s analysis of today’s most exciting game! 

Rather hopeful about his prospects in this match, Nakamura said: "He's been very good at defending when he had very bad positions, but it's just a matter of having better technique. So far I haven't been doing great, but I've been good enough.”

Here are the overall standings at the end of the rapid portion:

Graphics: Saint Louis Chess Club.

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