The most exciting event in November so far has been the Champions Showdown, the four-player exhibition round robin that finished Monday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Fabiano Caruana started as the favorite but failed to meet expectations and ended up having to settle for third place and the prize of $30,000.
It it was the former World Champion, Viswanathan Anand from India, who maintained a lead almost throughout the whole tournament to finish first.
The piercing battle for the win, which lasted until the last round, was between the Bullet King — Hikaru Nakamura — and one of the most feared players in the chess world — Anand. The latter imposed his dominance in the classical and rapid time controls, and managed to amass a 1.5 point lead going into the last stage of the event, which was 12 games of blitz chess (3 minutes + 2 seconds delay).
Everybody knew that, despite his comforting lead, Anand would have to fight until the last game to secure the victory. Nakamura fired his engines quickly and managed to cut his opponent’s lead to half a point in the first three rounds of the blitz stage.
With nine rounds still to go, anything was possible. Round five of the blitz stage was perhaps the most important to the final standings. Anand managed to secure a convincing win against another former World Champion—Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria—and Nakamura surprisingly fell to a flawless attack by Caruana. These outcomes once again restored the 1.5 point difference between the two contenders, and Anand even managed to increase his lead to a 2 point margin going into the final three rounds.
Only a miracle would have allowed Nakamura to cut into Anand’s lead. Nevertheless, round 10 brought another clash between the leaders, and surely the last chance for Nakamura to stay in striking distance to the front-runner. The resilient American started slow and it looked as if Anand would easily hold his own, but his position slowly started to deteriorate and soon he found himself facing a very difficult defense with little time on the clock. Nakamura pressed for a win for more than 100 moves and ultimately was rewarded when his opponent failed to press the clock fast enough after making his move and lost on time.
Only 1 point separated the two going into the final two rounds. The current U.S. Champion, Fabiano Caruana, once again embraced the spoiler role and obtained a crucial win against Nakamura. Anand quickly drew his game against Topalov. With one round to spare, he was crowned the 2016 Champions Showdown victor and was $60,000 richer.
Kudos to the participants, the organizers, and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for putting on a show and entertaining the chess world in this chess exhibition!