Although he finished with two wins, Garry Kasparov ended up losing his match with Veselin Topalov at the Champions Showdown in St. Louis. With a 6/8 score on the final day, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was much too strong for Sam Shankland.
The last day saw eight blitz games, totalling 20 games in each match. Besides MVL, also Nakamura and So finished on a plus score.
Garry Kasparov vs Veselin Topalov — Final Score: 11.5-14.5
Although Kasparov had his chances in the match, it seemed he was still too rusty, more so than Topalov, who himself is one of the least active top grandmasters. “In general I believe I was dominating the match,” said the Bulgarian GM, who also suggested that Kasparov wasn’t in top form.
It didn’t help that before the first four blitz games, Kasparov and his co-analyst Peter Svidler had mixed up some pieces and analysed the wrong starting position!
Svidler and Kasparov analysing the wrong position after having accidentally switched Bf1 and Rg1. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
“We spent 29 minutes with Peter analysing a different position,” said Kasparov. “Then Giri showed up and said: ‘wait a second, guys, are you sure it’s the right position?!’ I don’t want to spread blame, but actually Peter looked at the position. It’s my fault, you actually have to just look yourself.”
After two wins for Topalov and one draw, Kasparov kept hopes alive as he spotted a nice tactic and won a (topsy-turvy) game:
Kasparov trying to figure out another brand new opening. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
But then, three games before the end, Topalov secured match victory with a devastating win in just 18 moves:
Topalov and Kasparov chatting variations. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
Kasparov was the last to smile as he finished the match with an excellent win with the black pieces. As he tends to joke himself, he was finally warmed up when the match ended…
Kasparov couldn’t take revenge for the loss in his last classical game against Topalov. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
Topalov: “The problem is still, I guess, [that] chess fans don’t understand the point of changing from normal chess. Somehow they don’t have our problems, they don’t get bored like we do with the theory that already exists!”
Hikaru Nakamura vs Peter Svidler — Final Score: 14-12
Also coming into the game with almost useless preparation, Svidler actually drew the first and won the second blitz game. However, then Nakamura showed his speed chess prowess and won four games in a row, which clinched the match.
The following one was quite interesting. Again we saw an early rook maneuver in the game:
Svidler starting another blitz game.| Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
Like his analysing partner, Svidler finished his match with two wins. The next morning he was still in awe about the experience.
Nakamura: “It was a good match, in large part because we both had a lot of experience in Fischer Random. In the other matches there was more of a discrepancy. Some of the players had a lot of experience and the others didn’t, so it seems like our match was the closest.”
Wesley So vs Anish Giri — Final Score: 14.5-11.5
Wesley So started with a lead in this match, so a plus-one score on the final day was more than enough. In fact, seven out of eight games here ended in draws! Here’s the one decisive game:
Giri and So talking. (Caption, anyone?) | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
In his interview after the match, So seemed to suggest that Giri’s play in regular chess is heavily based on opening prep: “Some players are very good at research. In Chess960 all that preparation went into the wind; the more creative unbalanced players have an advantage.”
Sam Shankland vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave — Final Score: 8.5-17.5
In over-the-board blitz, Vachier-Lagrave doesn’t consider himself worse than Nakamura, and the latter agrees with that. (It’s different for online blitz!) We’re talking the crème de la crème of speed chess here, meaning Shankland was without a chance.
The American rising star lost the first four blitz games, of which the first one had a curious phase after the opening. MVL sacrificed a piece, which was not correct but both players missed the refutation: that Black could castle queenside!
He could play it no less than four times, but if you don’t see once, you won’t see it at all…
Shankland won his only game right after he had blundered a mate in one, so at least he was doing well in the psychology department.
Blitz specialist Vachier-Lagrave: “Today I was just able to play my best.” | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
Levon Aronian vs Leinier Dominguez — Final Score: 17.5-8.5
Aronian won his match against Dominguez with the same margin as MVL vs Shankland. He scored 5.5-2.5 on the last blitz day.
The Armenian GM said he had benefitted from the analysis sessions with Vachier-Lagrave: “I think I was playing faster, and I think we were managing to find some interesting, surprising ideas with Maxime!”
GMs gather around Svidler & Kasparov’s board. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.
The five matches, which all had a $50,000 prize fund each, included a total of six rapid (30 minutes + 10 seconds delay) and 14 blitz games (five minutes + five seconds delay). For the score, the rapid games count double: each rapid game is worth two points, and each blitz game one point.