The chess season has officially kicked off at the St. Louis Chess Club with the ongoing Cairns Cup, featuring some of the top female players in the world, and will continue on with another staple on the calendar, the Champions Showdown.
Over five days, the top five American players will duke it out against the best in the world in one-on-one matches in rapid and blitz. Each match will consist of 12 rapid and 24 blitz games and will have a prize fund of $60,000, with first place taking $36,000 and second place taking $24,000.
Hikaru Nakamura vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Nakamura is one of the best players in the world in faster time controls, winning the Grand Chess Tour by taking first in Paris and at the St Louis Rapid & Blitz before winning the overall tour in a final blitz game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
Nakamura also proved his speed prowess by winning the online Speed Chess Championship on chess.com. He is the current number-two rapid player and number-three blitz player in the world. His opponent, the young phenom from Poland, is far less experienced but has shown his mettle by finishing second in the recently completed World Blitz Championship, only behind the World Champion himself. Even so, it will be a tall task for Duda to compete with the American superstar.
Fabiano Caruana vs. Pentala Harikrishna
While Caruana has become a household name in the US, Harikrishna is far less known in the U.S. circuit. The Indian star is the strongest player to come out of his country since former world champion Vishy Anand entered the world’s top 10 in 2016.
Caruana has historically struggled in rapid and blitz. However, his skills in this area should not be underestimated, as he did take out Levon Aronian in the Grand Chess Tour finals. The matchup promises to be closer than their ratings would indicate.
Wesley So vs. David Navara
Wesley So, the former U.S. champion, is one of the best rapid players in the world, having won his national title in rapid tiebreaks in 2017. He is also the winner of several rapid and blitz events of the Grand Chess Tour. Wesley is no stranger to this event, edging out Leinier Dominguez in 2017 in rapid and blitz play.
Navara made his first appearance in the U.S. chess capital in 2017 as a wildcard in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz, where the Czech finished last. However, he has a lot of experience in this format, having played matches since 2003 against strong players, including So himself. Regardless, the American is a heavy rating favorite.
Leinier Domínguez vs. Veselin Topalov
Although a familiar face at the chess club, it will be the first time Domínguez will be sporting the American flag. Both of these players were part of the Chess960 edition in 2018 with Topalov defeating none other than legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov, while Domínguez lost a close match to So. Due to their inactivity in the recent years, it is hard to predict who will be in better form coming into the event.
Sam Shankland vs. Richárd Rapport
Shankland went on a tear after winning the U.S. Championship last year, crossing 2700 only a few months after his opponent.
While Shankland is known for his opening preparation, Rapport of Hungary is one of the most creative and unusual players in modern chess. This matchup is slated to be the closest by rating as well as experience in these events. It will be interesting to see if faster time controls will favor Shankland’s preparation or Rapport’s originality.
If you go:
The event will take place Feb. 20-24 at the St. Louis Chess Club, with the rounds starting at 1:00 p.m. daily. The games will be broadcast online on uschesschamps.com with the commentary team of Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade. If you are in St. Louis, you won’t want to miss the action, as the games are free to fans!
Tatev Abrahamyan is a Woman Grandmaster. She is a regular top competitor in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championships and competes as a member of the U.S. Women’s Chess Olympiad team. Abrahamyan is also a chess coach and journalist for the Grand Chess Tour.