2017 Champions Showdown, Day 1
Friday, November 10, 2017 at 12:50PM
Dennis Monokroussos in 2017 Champions Showdown, Alexander Grischuk, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Leinier Dominguez, Veselin Topalov, Wesley So

The chess on day one of the 2017 Champions Showdown wasn't the best you'll ever see, but it was entertaining. Before moving on, a couple of details need to be added to my initial description of the event.

First, there is no increment at any stage of the matches. Day 1 was game/30', with no increment, and the same will be true of today's g/20' action, day 3's g/10' games, and likewise for the g/5' contests of the final day.

Second, the scoring system is weighted. The four 30-minute games counted for five points each, today's six 20-minute games will count for four points per game, the eight 10-minute for three points each, and two points a pop for each of the 12 five-minute games. (All of this applies to the Magnus Carlsen-Ding Liren match as well; the only difference between it and the other three is that it starts tomorrow, two days after the other matches began; and runs until Tuesday, likewise finishing two days after the other matches end.)

To the review: All three matches were tied after three of the four games, but in the end Hikaru Nakamura and Leinier Dominguez led their matches 2.5-1.5 - or rather, 12.5-7.5 - over Veselin Topalov and Wesley So, respectively, while Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk were tied at 2-2 (10-10).

Nakamura-Topalov: Topalov had White in game 1, a sharp Advance Caro-Kann that first looked a bit better for White, then a bit better for Black, before finishing in a repetition. In game 2 Nakamura was better almost throughout the game, but near the end Topalov did well to reach an objectively drawn ending. However, the lack of an increment played its part, and the dubious 57...Bd6 and the outright blunder 59...f5 lost the game immediately. In game 3 Topalov struck back with a crushing win, helped significantly by Nakamura mixing up moves in his preparation. It was a nice win by Topalov, but it could have been a mini-immortal had he spotted Qd2 in the line 20.Ng5+ Kg8 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.Bxe6+ Kh7 23.Qd2!!, with the idea that the otherwise natural and logical 23...Ng8 is broken by 24.Qxd3+! cxd3 25.Bf5#!. Finally, Nakamura won again in game four when Topalov sacrificed his c-pawn in the ending, putting too much faith in his active rooks. The hoped-for counterplay didn't exist, and with little time on the clock Topalov was unable to hold the pawn-down ending.

Caruana-Grischuk: Caruana struck first in game 1, winning convincingly on the white side of a positional Najdorf thanks largely to Grischuk's very bad 26...h5. He needed to play 26...d5 to create more scope for his pieces, but 26...h5 created loads of fresh weaknesses for Caruana to exploit, and he did. Game 2 finished in a draw and perhaps rightly so. The game was hard-fought, with both players rejecting draws near the end, and came down to a time scramble.

(Excursus: the chess pieces they are using are horrible for blitz chess and increment/delay-free time scrambles! It's all well and good to play on attractive, large wooden pieces, and they have to use some sort of DGT set, but the pieces they're using aren't designed for blitz. They're too big for the players' hands - watch them in time trouble - they all look awkward - and the players will have to decide whether or not they're willing to chip and break the pieces in time trouble. With all due respect to the St. Louis club and House of Staunton, I say move and bash and let the chips fall where they may - literally. Even so, they will still be slower with these pieces than they would with a slightly smaller-sized set.)

Back to the time scramble. With the players both under 10 seconds, Caruana decided to just move his king in the general direction of his clock, while Grischuk hoovered up all of Black's pieces. In the end, Grischuk's clock hit zeros before he took Caruana's last unit, a solitary bishop on c5. Grischuk hadn't hit the clock before the zeros appeared, which may or may not be relevant, and a still shot later revealed that he hadn't even taken the bishop when he ran out of time - which is entirely relevant. Because it was still technically possible for Caruana to deliver mate with the bishop (e.g. White promotes to a light-squared bishop, and then there's the construction Kh8+Bg8 vs. kh6+bf6), the rules say that Caruana is entitled to a win. It seems, however, that it was unclear whether Grischuk had managed to take the bishop (even if he hadn't hit the clock), and Caruana wasn't interested in arguing for a win, so the game was declared a draw.

The game will likely be remembered for the time scramble, but it should have been remembered for something else. On move 41 Caruana could have played ...g3, which both players saw and rejected because of the obvious 42.Qxb6. What they missed was the follow-up 42...Qh3!, which threatens mate on g2. Taking the queen allows a different mate on g2, with the pawn, while Caruana's clever suggestion in a post-game interview, 43.Qf2, is busted by 43...Qxh2+!.

Grischuk struck back in game 3, winning easily when Caruana's hoped for kingside attack proved to be a bust. Finally, Grischuk had some chances in game 4 as well, but Caruana escaped with a draw when Grischuk allowed too many exchanges.

Dominguez-So: All four games were Berlins, with just the amount of excitement we've all come to associate with that opening. Jokes (?) aside, games 1 and 3 were very similar, with So trying to exploit a structural advantage that was simply incapable of being exploited, giving Dominguez a pair of easy draws. Dominguez's anti-Berlin efforts didn't bear much fruit in the first game, which So drew easily, and in the last game Black was doing fine from a theoretical perspective as well. The position was very sharp though, and resulted in a time scramble. Right up to the end the position was drawish (and equal almost throughout), but the clock made the difference. Instead of 54...Kf7, with equality, So played 54...Bd3?? and resigned after 55.Ng5+, winning a rook for free.

The tournament is making an excellent case for increments!

The day two action starts in about 20 minutes.

Article originally appeared on The Chess Mind (http://www.thechessmind.net/).
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