Added on 2/25/2019

This week we feature the Champions Showdown, a high powered event with an unusual format.

Just days after a groundbreaking women’s tournament, the Cairns Cup, St. Louis hosted the big boys in a match-play tournament, with five lengthy matches in rapid and blitz chess. 12 rapid games followed by 24 blitz games, contested over four days.  A mini-marathon of sorts.

Here are the match-ups:  

Name Rapid Blitz FIDE Rating Federation        Name Rapid Blitz FIDE Rating Federation Fabiano Caruana 2772 2770 USA vs. Pentala Harikrishna 2711 2641 India  Hikaru Nakamura 2845 2894 USA vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2716 2818 Poland Wesley So 2797 2775 USA vs. David Navara 2688 2661 Czech Republic Leinier Dominguez 2816 2717 USA vs. Veselin Topalov 2717 2708 Bulgaria Sam Shankland 2622 2639 USA vs. Richard Rapport 2708 2695 Hungary

With such long matches, the possibility of one player leaving his opponent in the dust is a real one.  Fabiano Caruana is not supposed to be strong in rapid and blitz, but tell that to Pentala Harikrishna.  Fabi cruised through the rapid portion 9-3, but posted a near annihilation --11.5-0.5 on the first day of blitz en route to a devastating final margin of 35.5-12.5!  Let’s look at a rapid game played when things were still competitive. It’s a sharp game with lots of errors before Fabi emerges on top.

Nakamura-Duda was competitive through the rapid portion, with Hikaru taking it 7-5. Though Duda has shown prowess at blitz, Nakamura totally smoked him in that segment, taking the overall match 29.5-18.5.  Hikaru won a nice attacking game in round 7 of the rapid.

Sam Shankland had a rough go with Richard Rapport, losing several endgames in the rapid segment, which he dropped 9-3. The blitz was more competitive, but Sam never had a chance to overcome such a large margin. The rapid matches produced an unusually high number of bishops of opposite color endgames, with many of them ending decisively, like the one we shall look at next.

 The other matches were somewhat closer. Lenier Dominguez won the blitz portion 13.5-10.5 over Veselin Topalov, but because he lost the Rapid by the same margin, Topalov was the overall winner, 25.5-22.5. Topalov’s enterprising style and willingness to take risks show in the following game 

 David Navara was on the verge of winning the blitz portion before dropping the last two games to fall into a tie, 12-12.  But because Wesley So took the rapid 8-4, Navara never really had a chance of coming back all the way. Navara did show a lot of fight with some good victories, so I will feature a game from one of the losers. Navara built a quick attack after an opening novelty and scored the point easily 

 I love the part the St. Louis Chess Club is playing in keeping elite level events going, and promoting American chess interests as well. But I just don’t get this tournament. Today’s tournaments place an emphasis on producing one champion, often having playoffs in a round-robin event is tied, but this tournament is designed to not produce a single winner. Many people find rapid and blitz chess entertaining, and I’m not going to argue that, but it seems that this event has just too many games. If you have the time to faithfully watch the games live, great, but after the fact, it’s a huge chore to go through them all. As a journalist, I balk at sifting through 96 blitz games. I value them less than rapid games anyway, but that contributes to me not showing any on this article.

With the rapid segment counting double, it was hard for the trailing player to create real drama. In the lopsided matches, it just seemed cruel to play so many games that were irrelevant to the standings. Caruana could have lost every blitz game on the last day and still won by a lot. So while I enjoy watching these guys play, I think the format could use some tweaking. GM Joel Benjamin