US Olympic team members Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So stood among five victors at the Champions Showdown, Chess 960, a series of head to head matches held at the Saint Louis Chess Club from September 11-14. Olympic team spirit was very much in the air, as Nakamura, So and Sam Shankland analyzed a new chess 960 position (aka FischerRandom) each day in the hour break between the position announcement and the start of the first game.
Wesley So started off brilliantly, with a 9-3 lead, which wasn’t enough for Anish Giri to overcome, even as he found better form in the second half.
— SaintLouis ChessClub (@STLChessClub) September 11, 2018
Nakamura’s match against fellow 960 Champion, Peter Svidler was by far the closest of the five contests, with the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz champ clinching in the penultimate round of a marathon match.
— SaintLouis ChessClub (@STLChessClub) September 14, 2018
The event was headlined by Garry Kasparov’s match against Veselin Topalov. Kasparov came out of retirement in 2017 to play the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, and promised that if he did play again, it would be in Saint Louis. A little over a year later, he held true to his word and returned for an innovative format that he devised.
The 13th World Champion finished with wins in the last two blitz games, but that was not enough as Veselin Topalov had already clinched the match. One memorable chance was this position, with Garry Kasparov to move.
Instead Garry played 30.Kc1? Ke7 31. Bc4! (now White has to stop …e5 to avoid losing!) Bd5 32. Bxd5 cxd5 33.c4! and the game was drawn.
Despite such near-misses, Kasparov seemed pleased with the finish and the experiment.
Nice to finish with a couple of wins, although the match was already decided for my opponent and my congratulations to him. At least no one is telling me "stick to politics, Kasparov!" https://t.co/K2xK21GrPr
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) September 14, 2018
Many other Grandmasters (of all ages!) loved the event, while others suggested improvements.
We need more Chess 960 tournaments. This is how chess will be played in the future. #ChampionsShowdown
— Nihal Sarin (@NihalSarin) September 15, 2018
A lot of really interesting and novel ideas by the #ChampionsShowdown commentators regarding #Chess960, such as using a kind of roulette to determine the starting position in a spectacular way, or organizing the 'US vs the World' Scheveningen match. Worth re-listening carefully!
— Andrey Deviatkin (@AndreyDeviatkin) September 14, 2018
Possibly unpopular #ChampionsShowdown opinion: loved watching top players compete in 960, but there were too many games and matches to follow. Difficult to take in all the action and wrap your head around the 960 positions each day.
— John Bartholomew (@fins0905) September 14, 2018
Grand Chess Tour semi-finalists Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave both won their matches by huge margins, against Leinier Dominguez (Cuba) and Sam Shankland respectively. Shankland started off well in the first two days but faltered to the blitz phenom and World #5 in the second half of the event.
But as the Olympiad begins in just a week, rest assured that the U.S. team is in the mood to work, and play hard.
Find out more about the Champions Showdown on the official site.