Last year, the legendary Garry Kasparov made headlines when he came out of a 12-year retirement to compete in the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz as part of the Grand Chess Tour. This year, he’s returning, yet again, to take part in a unique chess competition. From Sept. 11-14, the St. Louis Chess Club will host 10 of the world’s top players in the Champions Showdown.
This will not be your average chess event. In fact, the players won’t be playing traditional chess. Instead, they will compete in Chess 960, also known as Fischer Random. Chess 960 is an increasingly popular variant in which the starting row of pieces are randomly shuffled. As a result, there are exactly 960 different possible starting positions, so players cannot rely on memorized opening preparation or deep computer analysis as they do in traditional chess. With fresh positions resulting from the very beginning of play, games are much more likely to produce creative ideas and decisive results.
Players will compete for $250,000 in prizes in five separate one-on-one matches:
Garry Kasparov versus Veselin Topalov
Not only does this matchup feature two former world champions, but also two players with highly aggressive and creative styles. While Kasparov is bound to be the fan-favorite, Topalov may be a slight favorite objectively as he boasts a world ranking of No. 22 and has been a lot more active in recent elite competitions.
Hikaru Nakamura versus Peter Svidler
Having recently won the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz last month, Nakamura is a highly dangerous competitor in any format involving speed. While Svidler has claimed an incredible eight Russian championships and holds the No. 16 world ranking, it’s difficult not to label him at least a slight underdog.
Wesley So versus Anish Giri
While these players are ranked No. 9 and No. 7 in the world respectively, it’s difficult to identify a clear favorite. Both players are known for their solid style of play, so it will be interesting if the same styles translate into Chess 960.
Sam Shankland versus Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
This event will mark Sam Shankland’s first return to St. Louis since his U.S. championship victory earlier this year. Despite Shankland’s recent successes and incredible rating serge to No. 30 in the world, he is a clear underdog in this matchup. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is a speed chess specialist known for his creativity, which will suit him very well for this event’s format.
Levon Aronian versus Leinier Dominguez
Armenia’s top player takes on Cuba’s top player. Having just tied for first in the Sinquefield Cup last month, Aronian appears to be in great form. Dominguez is a former World Blitz Champion and will not go down without a fight.
Each matchup will feature six rapid games and 14 blitz games over the course of four days. For those in the St. Louis area, spectators are welcome to watch the games live at the St. Louis Chess Club each day starting at 1 p.m. For those unable to visit, a free, online broadcast can be enjoyed with grandmaster commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jen Shahade and Maurice Ashley. More information about this event can be found at uschesschamps.com.
Eric Rosen is an international master and and recently graduated from Webster University with a B.A. in Interactive Digital Media. Over the last year, Eric has spent his time coaching students online, doing freelance web development and photography, as well as traveling around the world for international competitions.