The 2022 Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX commenced at the Saint Louis Chess Club on Wednesday with three rounds of electrifying Chess960 (or Fischer Random) games, pitting the world’s best chess players against each other on unfamiliar playing fields.
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi emerged as a frontrunner with a perfect score to start the event, needing only 75 moves in total to win all three of his games. GM Fabiano Caruana is his closest pursuer after scoring 2.5/3.
Chess960 World Champion GM Wesley So had his prospects of a tournament win dinted early after a tough loss to GM Alireza Firouzja in round two while former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov and his chief preparation partner on the day, GM Peter Svidler, were both luckless and unable to pick up points in the opening rounds.
The event will continue with rounds 4-6 on September 15th at 12 p.m. PT/21:00 Central European.
Chess fans were spoiled on Wednesday with two world-class events taking place simultaneously, the Chess.com Global Championship Knockout and the Champions Showdown. With significant crossover between the best players in both fields, the Chess960 event in St. Louis should prove to be a great indicator of which players are in the best form heading into the Global Championship.
Nepomniachtchi was in fine form in the first rounds, kicking off with a win against Svidler, who swapped commentary for participation in the event. One of the shortest games of the day was decided in 21 moves after Nepomniachtchi found a clever knight sacrifice that put enough pressure on Svidler to procure a blunder.
The world championship challenger followed up his round-one victory with a dark-square demolition of GM Levon Aronian before executing a 19-move crusher against GM Hikaru Nakamura, who had a slow start on Wednesday. The American GM lost two games but was able to take solace in his victory against Kasparov.
Nakamura’s content team worked hard in the background to provide live commentary on his Twitch channel, and they posted a humorous graphic on Twitter featuring Nakamura’s opponents.
Today I play @Shakhmamedyarov @Kasparov63 and @lachesisq in 960 Chess at @STLChessClub. Just another Wednesday, eh? Send some energy and spam some 🍍🌻🍍at https://t.co/1IAaMM5tcJ with GM Irina Krush and @GMBenjaminBok pic.twitter.com/TQchTEXroz
— Hikaru Nakamura (@GMHikaru) September 14, 2022
Firouzja kept the momentum rolling after two major tournament victories in Missouri, in the Rapid and Blitz and Sinquefield Cup, scoring a handy win against the Chess960 World Champion So as well as draws against Caruana and GM Shakriyar Mamedyarov.
Caruana was clinical in rounds 1-3, carving up Mamedyarov and Kasparov with precise play. His game against Mamedyarov was not marked by any particularly brilliant moment, but instead by a consistent flurry of forceful moves that saw the evaluation bar rise like a thermometer in boiling water.
One of the notable features of the event is the 15-minute preparation period before the start of each round. With such little time to plan after the starting position is selected, it was curious to see the different preparation methods employed by the players. Kasparov worked exclusively with Svidler on the board while the other participants formed small groups to talk about ideas. Nakamura and Firouzja preferred to collect their thoughts privately before heading to their boards.
Defending Champion GM Leinier Dominguez started the day solidly, scoring 1.5/2 before he faltered against Aronian, who played a winning move that highlighted a fascinating castling scenario unique to Chess960.
Heading into day two all eyes will turn to the top-of-the-table showdown between Nepomniachtchi and Caruana, which will go a long way to determining a tournament victor. Meanwhile, chess fans will relish the opportunity to watch Kasparov take the white pieces against Firouzja in an intergenerational clash for the ages.
All Games Day 1
The Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX tournament takes place September 14-16, 2022, at the chess club in St. Louis. Players compete in a 10-player rapid (20+10) round robin for their share of the $150,000 prize fund.