Chess 9LX Champions Showdown Starts Friday

By John Hartmann |  September 11, 2020  |   News

High-level chess returns to the Saint Louis Chess Club beginning today with the Champions Showdown Chess 9LX tournament. Ten of the world’s elite will remotely fight it out for a total prize fund of $150,000, playing nine rounds of Chess 960 or Fischer Random games over three days.

Chess 960 is a chess variant, the original concept for which was pioneered by the late American World Champion Bobby Fischer, where the pieces on the first and last ranks are shuffled. (Some 960 unique positions are possible, which explains the name.) Castling is possible in this variant, although the king and rook sometimes have to make long journeys to do so.

The field for this event is stellar. Competitors include GMs Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez, Peter Svidler, Alireza Firouzja, and former World Champion Garry Kasparov, for whom Saint Louis events are typically the only public chess on his annual calendar.

Caruana-Kasparov, 2019 9LX event
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Caruana-Kasparov from 2019 (SLCC / Austin Fuller)

The presence of Kasparov in the field always prods interest in these 960 events. The Twitterati have noted that the game between Carlsen and Kasparov will be the first they have contested since 2004, and to my knowledge, Firouzja (born in 2003) has never played Kasparov in a public game.

How should we rate Kasparov’s chances in this event? Speaking to Norwegian broadcaster NRK, Carlsen believes him to be “extremely dangerous” if not one of the favorites to win the event.

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Fresh off signing for the e-sports team TSM, and on the back of a slew of positive press coverage including an interview with NPR and a story in the New York Times, Hikaru Nakamura will surely be looking to repeat his success from the 2019 9LX event, where he defeated Levon Aronian 14.5-11.5 in mixed rapid and blitz play.

Hikaru Nakamura, 2019 9LX
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Hikaru Nakamura, 2019 9LX (SLCC / Lennart Ootes)

Magnus Carlsen must also be considered one of the prohibitive favorites, given his recent successes in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour.

Magnus Carlsen seated in 2019
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Magnus Carlsen, 2019 Sinquefield Cup (SLCC / Crystal Fuller)

If there are dark horses in the field, I’d suggest two to keep an eye on. Peter Svidler has extensive experience with the 960 format, and last year defeated Leinier Dominguez 15.5-10.5 in mixed rapid and blitz in Saint Louis.

Peter Svidler, seated in 2019
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Peter Svidler, 2019 9LX (SLCC / Crystal Fuller)

While Alireza Firouzja does not have the same pedigree in this variant as does Svidler, the 17 year old phenom has shown his excellence in faster time controls at traditional chess, and it will be interesting to see if his quick board vision translates to this format.

The Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX tournament runs from Friday, September 11th through Sunday, September 13th, with three rapid games (G/20+10) played each day beginning at 1pm Central time. Live coverage will be available at or on the Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube and Twitch channels.

Quick links:

Pairings and results

SLCC YouTube

SLCC Twitch

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