Champions Showdown: Halfway Update & Carlsen-Ding Begins on Saturday

The Champions Showdown is a unique event, featuring many of the top players in the world (including Carlsen and all of the top 3 American players), an increasingly faster time control (Game 30, Game 20, Game 10, and, on the final day, Game 5), and the controversial choice of no increment or delay. The event also has a unique scoring system to give the longer games more value: On Saturday, the much awaited Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren match begins and features the same format of rapid and blitz games throughout four days. Here’s a recap on the event so far and puzzles from key tactical and positional moments in the games.
"I think it puts a lot of psychological pressure on the players from an early stage." -Fabiano Caruana's thoughts on the lack of increment/delay
Fabiano Caruana vs. Alexander Grischuk has been the closest so far with the score tied for the majority of the match. Caruana won the very first game of the match with an instructive rook maneuver:

Puzzle #1

Fabiano Caruana vs. Alex Grischuk

White to move.
What three move maneuver did Caruana use to greatly improve his position? Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown 2017 - Game 20"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.09"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Grischuk, Alex"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2br1r1k/1p2b2p/pNqp2p1/P3p3/4Pp1P/1B4P1/1PP1QP2/R2R2K1 w - - 0 25"]
[PlyCount "61"]
[SourceDate "2017.11.10"]25. Rd3 $1 {The rook is heading
to c3 to push back Blacks queen and then to c7.} fxg3 26. fxg3 h5 27. Rc3 Qe8
28. Rc7 {And Caruana went on to win:} d5 29. Qe3 Rf7 30. Nxd5 Bf8 31. Rxf7 Qxf7
32. Rf1 Qg7 33. Kg2 Be6 34. Qg5 Rc8 35. Nb6 Be7 36. Qe3 Rc6 37. Bxe6 Rxe6 38.
Nd5 Bd8 39. b4 g5 40. Qc5 Re8 41. hxg5 Rg8 42. Rf5 Bxg5 43. Qd6 h4 44. Qxe5
Qxe5 45. Rxe5 hxg3 46. Rf5 Bd2 47. Rh5+ Kg7 48. Kxg3 Rf8 49. Rf5 Rh8 50. Rf3
Rh1 51. Rd3 Be1+ 52. Kg2 Rh4 53. Kf3 Kf7 54. c3 Rh3+ 55. Ke2 1-0[/pgn]
One of my favorite tactical moments was a missed opportunity in the game 30 time control.

Puzzle #2

Fabiano Caruana vs. Alex Grischuk

Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown in Saint Louis (Rapid"]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2017.11.09"]
[Round "2.2"]
[White "Alexander Grischuk"]
[Black "Fabiano Caruana"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "D20"]
[WhiteElo "2785"]
[BlackElo "2794"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "6k1/Q5b1/1n2q3/1P2p3/4Pnp1/2Np4/P5PN/6BK b - - 0 41"]
[PlyCount "7"]
[EventDate "2017.10.21"]41... g3 $1 ({In the game, Caruana played} 41... Ne2 {and went on to draw:} 42.
Nxe2 dxe2 43. Bf2 Qc4 44. Nxg4 Qc1+ 45. Kh2 e1=Q 46. Bxe1 Qxe1 47. Qxb6 Qh4+
48. Kg1 Qxg4 49. Qd8+ Kh7 50. Qd5 Bh6 51. Qf7+ Kh8 52. Qe8+ Kh7 53. Qf7+ Kh8
54. Qf3 Qg5 55. Qf2 Kg7 56. a4 Qc1+ 57. Kh2 Be3 58. Qg3+ Kf6 59. Qf3+ Ke7 60.
Kh3 Bb6 61. g3 Qa1 62. Qf5 Bd4 63. Qg5+ Kd6 64. Qd8+ Kc5 65. Qd5+ Kb4 66. b6
Qh1+ 67. Kg4 Qd1+ 68. Kg5 Qd2+ 69. Kg6 Qg2 70. b7 Qxg3+ 71. Kf7 Qf3+ 72. Ke8
Qh5+ 73. Kd8 Qh8+ 74. Kc7 Qg7+ 75. Kc6 Ba7 76. a5 Ka3 77. a6 Kb2 78. Qd7 Kc1
79. Qxg7 Kd2 80. Qxe5 Bc5 81. Qxc5) 42. Qxb6 (42. Bxb6 Qh6 43. Bg1 Qh3) (42.
Nf3 Qh6+) (42. Nd1 Nc4) 42... Qh3 43. Qf2 Qxh2+ 44. Bxh2 gxf2 $19 *[/pgn]
In the last round of the day, Grischuk pulled ahead in the match because of an unfortunate queen blunder by Caruana.
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.10"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Grischuk, Alex"]
[Black "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1k4r1/p1p3r1/1p2b3/1P2P3/Pq5P/2R3B1/2R3P1/4Q1K1 w - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "3"]{Caruana has sacrificed two pawns, but his active pieces and kingside pressure
provide adequate compensation. Grischuk played} 1. Rc6 Rxg3 $4 ({Caruana can
gain an advantage with} 1... Qxa4 2. Qf2 Rxg3 3. Rxe6 Qxh4) 2. Qxb4 {and
Caruana resigned.} 1-0[/pgn]
Despite being the favorite, Wesley So has had a difficult time so far in the match. At the finish of Day 1, So was one game behind (equivalent to 5 points), and, on Day 2, he trailed by 2 games (4 points each), leaving him 13 points behind. There are still 2 days and many games ahead: Can So manage an epic comeback?

Puzzle #3

Leinier Dominguez vs. Wesley So

Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown 2017 - Game 20"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.10"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Dominguez, Leinier"]
[Black "So, Wesley "]
[Result "*"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "4rrk1/pp3bpp/5q2/1Q3P2/2p5/1PP2P2/PK4B1/3RR3 b - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "5"]1... Qg5 2. Bh1 (2. Rg1 Re2+) 2... Rxe1 3. Rxe1 Qd2+ *[/pgn]
In one of the most eventful games of the event, So and Dominquez ended up in a nerve-wrecking time scramble in a nearly dead drawn rook endgame. So's flag fell just one second before Dominquez's. Matters became controversial because both players made several illegal moves with pieces landing on ambiguous squares and even two-handed moves.  
“Especially he’s very good at knowing when to sacrifice an exchange. If you look at all of the other top players, even if you combine them, I don’t think any of them have anywhere near the amount of victories with an exchange sacrifice as Veselin Topalov.” -Hikaru Nakamura on his Showdown opponent
Nakamura has taken a commanding lead in the match due to his resourceful defensive skills. Topalov achieved several winning positions today, but was unable to convert any of them into victories. In the last game of the day, although Nakamura found himself down a piece (for 2 pawns) in an endgame, he played actively and marched his king into the position to win. Here's the game finish:
[pgn][Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.10"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Black "Topalov, Veselin"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "4b3/5k2/7p/1p6/1BnNPP2/P2n2K1/7P/8 w - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "13"]1. e5 Bd7 2. Kf3 h5 3. Ke4 Nf2+ 4. Kd5 Ne3+ 5. Kd6 Ke8 6. e6 Nc4+ 7. Kc7 {and
Topalov resigned.} 1-0[/pgn]
Watch the time controls get faster and the beginning of Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren live on Saturday at 1 p.m. CST: For more information, visit the Official Website.
About the Author
Vanessa West is a regular writer and digital assistant for US Chess News. She won the 2017 Chess Journalist of the Year award. You can follow her on Twitter: @Vanessa__West  


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The only value the ending of So-Dominguez has is to remind us why modern time control best practices are, in fact, best practices.

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