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3 Americans and World Champion Carlsen dominate showdown in St. Louis

World Champion Magnus Carlsen at the Champions Showdown in St. Louis
Lennart Ootes | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

Eight of the top players in the world headlined the recently completed Champions Showdown in Saint Louis.

The Saint Louis Chess Club has been hosting exhibition matches each November for the past few years as a more experimental and fun scenario, having formats that are not the traditional way of playing chess at the top level.

A few years ago, there was a combination of chess 960 and Basque chess. This year, the players experimented with unusual time controls, as they did in 2016.

The idea of playing with increment has become the gold standard in the chess world. Basically, the idea is that an additional amount of time is added after you complete a move. Introduced by renown chess player Bobby Fischer, the idea is that players cannot play only for time in hopeless positions, retaining what some call more purity of chess. In the United States, delay is very popular, with the same concept: there is a small countdown before the clock starts after each move is made.

This past week featured four matches between some of the best blitz and rapid players, but, unlike most official tournaments, they played without increment or delay. This added a fair amount of drama in many games. World Champion Magnus Carlsen actually liked playing with this system, saying that it simply needed to be approached differently. Each match featured four days of chess, the first being game in 30 minutes, the second, game in 20, then, game in 10 and finally, game in 5.

The event kicked off with three distinct matches. In the most one-sided competition, Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, known as one of the fastest chess players in the world, made short work of Bulgarian Grandmaster Veselin Topalov. The former world champion mentioned that he was the “weakest top player” at this time control, and it certainly showed. Despite having excellent opportunities to convert many games, he was unable to do so.

The two other concurrent matches were comeback stories. Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana and Grandmaster Wesley So, two American players, were behind going into the last day — and actually were many points behind in the middle of the game in 10. However, both finished the third day strong and had fantastic performances on the fourth day. Their opponents, Russian Grandmaster Alexander Grischuk and Cuban Grandmaster Leinier Dominguez, both former World Blitz champions, were unable to keep the pace and the Americans took home the first place prize of $60,000 each.

The final match was one that many people were anticipating: Carlsen versus Ding Liren, one of the players competing in the upcoming Candidates Tournament — the event that determines that next World Championship contender.

But Liren, China's No. 1 player, was no match for Carlsen. While Liren was playing blitz, it seemed that Carlsen was playing classical chess. His tactics were immaculate and his technique absolutely phenomenal throughout the event. Carlsen won his matchup with a full day to spare.

The world champion welcomed the challenge of having no increment and no delay, and heavily used it to his advantage. It would be of no surprise that these time controls become a bit more popular as chess progresses and becomes more mainstream.

Alejandro Ramirez earned his grandmaster title by age 15. That achievement set Ramirez as the first Central American player to earn the elite grand master title. Ramirez is the coach of the Saint Louis University Chess Team and a regular live broadcast commentator, in both English and Spanish, for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

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