© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

On Chess: Blunders And Brilliancies At The Champions Showdown In St. Louis

Fans crowd to watch champions play rounds of rapid and blitz matches at the St. Louis Chess Club during the Champions Showdown last week. Feb. 27, 2019
Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

The top five American chess players headlined the recently completed Champions Showdown at the St. Louis Chess Club. As per tradition, each player chose their opponent for the unique head-to-head matches. The opponents varied from young, up-and-coming talents to a former World Champion.

Each year, the St. Louis Chess Club comes up with an innovative idea to make the showdown fan friendly and a fun event. As rapid and blitz events are becoming more popular on the international chess calendar, top players are starting to focus their attention on improving their skills in faster time controls. Given that the last two World Championship matches were decided in tie breaks in rapid and blitz, these skills are becoming imperative.

Over five days, 12 rapid and 24 blitz games were played by each duo. The wins in rapid games were worth double. Ultimately, all matches ended in decisive fashion:

  • Fabiano Caruana (USA, 35.5) - Pentala Harikrishna (India, 12.5)
  • Hikaru Nakamura (USA, 29.5) - Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland, 18.5)
  • Wesley So (USA, 28) - David Navara (Czech Republic, 20)
  • Leinier Dominguez (USA, 22.5) - Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria, 25.5)
  • Sam Shankland (USA, 16.5) - Richárd Rapport (Hungary, 31.5)

The winners took home $36,000 each, while the runners-up received $24,000 for their efforts.
The most lopsided match was between Caruana and Harikrishna, which ended with 17 games to spare. The American has somewhat of a reputation for being weaker in rapid and blitz, but his dominant performance showed a big contrast to perceptions.

Although Duda earned a silver medal in the recently completed World Blitz Championship, the young Polish star was no match to Nakamura, who is known to be one of the fastest players on the planet. The match between So and Navara was more competitive than the score suggests, but eventually So's experience in these type of events prevailed.

Sam Shankland should be commended for choosing a stylistically challenging opponent. He later explained that his main focus has been classical chess, where he has made major strides.

Surprisingly, the closest matchup was between Dominguez and former World Champion Topalov. Dominguez was playing in this event for the first time under the American flag; due to his recently switching federations, Dominguez has been inactive for quite some time and so has Topalov, who doesn’t play competitive chess frequently. Ultimately, this was the only match where the losing side won the blitz portion. But unfortunately that was not enough for the American player to close the big gap in points created in the rapid.

The best part of these events for the fans are, of course, the blunders and tragedies; it can be quite satisfying to see one’s favorite players make the big errors amateurs make on a regular basis. After walking into checkmate, Topalov missed mates not once but twice! Caruana resigned in a position because he thought he was getting checkmated when, in fact, he had a check with a backward queen move that would have led to a win. Duda went for a brillant sacrifice, forgetting that his knight was pinned and couldn’t join the attack. What more can chess fans ask for?

The event was once again covered by the familiar trio of grandmasters Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade, all of whom particularly enjoy seeing the abundance of both blunders and brilliancies that happen in time scrambles. We will see the same commentators in just three short week for the U.S. & U.S. Women’s Chess Championships, happening at the St. Louis Chess Club March 18-April 1, 2019.

Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at age 8 after her father took her to the 1996 Chess Olympiad in Yerevan, Armenia. There she met grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest female player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. Currently the third highest rated female in the U.S., she has represented the United States in four Olympiads and two World Team Championships since 2008.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.