The first day of the 2019 Champions Showdown definitely didn’t lack for excitement. Everyone was eager to see how Garry Kasparov would fare against the world #2, and he looked pretty strong out of the gate, but was unable to convert his good positions when low on time.
Peter Svidler and Wesley So played well and secured solid leads, while Hikaru Nakamura had a disastrous day and is trailing significantly against Levon Aronian. Let’s recap each match one by one.
Player standings after Day 1
Fabiano Caruana vs. Garry Kasparov
All of us were unsure how Kasparov’s form would be coming into this event, and at first it looked quite promising for him. He got a strong initiative in the first rapid game, but allowed Caruana to draw after getting low on time. In game two, he was playing a brilliant game and had a winning advantage. Unfortunately, time was once again his enemy, and when the clocks were low he blundered a piece and passed the win to the American #1. The blitz didn’t go any better, and Fabiano won both games without too many difficulties. As such, Caruana finished the day with a dominating 5 to 1 lead. Kasparov had his chances today, but only got one draw for his efforts
Wesley So vs. Veselin Topalov
Similar to Kasparov, time seemed to be Topalov’s biggest foe. He won a pawn in the first rapid game, but allowed his clock to get dangerously low very quickly. The Bulgarian flagged in a position where he was no worse. In the 2nd rapid game, he once again got an advantage, and did so by using a lot less time. Wesley managed to swindle a draw this time in a pawn down endgame. They split the blitz games, leaving the American in the lead with 4 points against 2.
Leinier Dominguez vs. Peter Svidler
Svidler seemed to dominate in the rapid games. In the first one he came close to winning with black, but Dominguez put up an admirable defense, and the Russian missed a win with seconds on his clock allowing Leinier to nab a draw. Peter was far more merciless in game two, winning a pawn again but this time converting it into a win with few difficulties. The Russian also won the first blitz game, and while the second blitz game was a fairly tame draw. This left Svidler clearly ahead with 4.5 points to Dominguez’s 1.5
Dominguez, Topalov, and Nakamura were in good spirits before the games
Hikaru Nakamura vs. Levon Aronian
The rapid portion spelled disaster for the 2019 U.S. Champion. Nakamura was completely winning in the first game, but Aronian found some serious counterplay, and was able to checkmate the American with a nasty mating net. In game two, the Armenian ground down Hikaru in an instructive endgame, eventually winning the game using a passed g-pawn in a rook endgame. The first blitz game didn’t improve the American’s mood, as he lost by getting his queen trapped right out of the opening. Hikaru managed to secure a draw in the 2nd blitz game, but the 5.5 - .5 deficit will be difficult to overcome against an opponent as strong as Aronian.
Hikaru had a disastrous day at the office, and will have a seriously uphill battle ahead