The St. Louis Champions Showdown took place from 20th to 24th this February. There were five matches, each one pitting a Team USA player against a foreign GM, especially chosen to ensure a clash of styles.
Each match is a mix of two time controls: First there were 12 rapid games played over three days at a time control of 15 minutes per players (with increment of 10 seconds per move) followed by 24 blitz games over two days at three minutes each with two seconds increment after every move. The rapid games will have double the value of the blitz games. The winner of each match gets $36,000 (about P1.9 million) and the loser $24,000 (about P1.3 million). Win or lose, it was a pretty substantial payday.
Wesley So USA 27675 vs. David Navara CZE 2738, 28.0-20.0
There were four other matches held at the same time, but today we concentrate on Wesley So vs David Navara.
David Navara (born March 27, 1985 in Prague) has been the top Czech player since 2004 when he won national championship. Known for his dynamic and aggressive chess style, he is currently rated no. 18 in the world. Another trademark of his is a penchant for hard work and deep theoretical preparation.
The Rapid portion of the match was heavily in Wesley’s favor, who won seven, drew two and lost three to get 16 points (remember, rapid games count double).
The match started inauspiciously by a horrible thrashing administered by Navara.
Navara, David (2738) — So, Wesley (2765) [C83]
St. Louis (1), 20.02.2019
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0 — 0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Be7 10.c3 0 — 0 11.Bc2 f5 12.Nb3 Qd7 13.Nfd4 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 c5 15.Nxe6 Qxe6 16.f3
The move 16.f4? is a clear mistake — the knight on e4 should not be tolerated. Black can simply continue 16…a5! 17.a4 b4 with the better chances.
16…Ng5 17.a4 Rad8 18.axb5 axb5
POSITION AFTER 18…AXB5
This position came up twice in his speed match with Vidit. Wesley was White then and he won both games, the most convincing of which went 19.Kh1 f4 20.b4! giving up a pawn to open the long diagonal against the black king. 20…cxb4 21.cxb4 Qxe5 22.Rb1 Qb8 23.Re1 Rd7 24.Qd3 g6 25.h4 Nf7 26.Bb2 d4 27.Re6 Ne5 28.Qe4 Rf5 29.Bxd4 White is already clearly winning: So,W (2780)-Vidit,S (2718) chess.com 1 — 0 36. Navara prefers to soften up Black’s position first before going on a full scale assault.
This was the move that Navara was trying to provoke. Better would be 19…g6 20.Kh1 first before 20…Rd7 for now after 21.Rxd7 Qxd7 22.f4 Ne4 White doesn’t have the tactical device he used in the game 23.Bxe4 fxe4 24.f5 as this time Black can get the f5 — pawn for nothing.
20.Rxd7 Qxd7 21.f4 Ne4 22.Bxe4 fxe4 23.f5! d4
Taking the f5 — pawn 23…Rxf5 loses his d5 — and e4 pawns: 24.Rxf5 Qxf5 25.Qxd5+ Qf7 26.e6 Qf6 27.Qa8+ Qf8 28.Qxe4 with a clearly superior game for White.
24.f6! gxf6 25.Bh6 Rf7 26.cxd4 Qe6?
The only defense was 26…fxe5; 26…Qxd4+? is not possible because of 27.Qxd4 cxd4 28.e6.
27.d5 1 — 0
Black had to resign because of 27.d5 Qxe5 28.Qg4+ Kh8 29.Qc8+.
GM Wesley So struck back immediately with two wins to overtake his opponent, but then Navara equalized the match in game 5 with a powerful attack.
Navara, David (2738) — So, Wesley (2765) [D41]
St. Louis (5), 21.02.2019
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Bxd2+ 10.Qxd2 0 — 0 11.Bc4
Once again we have the main line of the Semi-Tarrasch. You will recall that several years ago I wrote a theoretical on this. White’s chances lie in a central breakthrough followed by a kingside attack.
Anybody who wants to play the Semi-Tarrasch must be familiar with the Polugaevsky-Tal game. Tal fell to 11…Nc6 12.0 — 0 b6 13.Rad1 Bb7 14.Rfe1 Na5 15.Bd3 Rc8 16.d5! exd5?! 17.e5 Nc4 18.Qf4 Nb2? 19.Bxh7+! Kxh7 20.Ng5+ Kg6 21.h4!! Rc4 22.h5+ Kh6 23.Nxf7+ Kh7 24.Qf5+ Kg8 25.e6! Qf6! 26.Qxf6 gxf6 27.Rd2! Rc6 28.Rxb2 Re8 29.Nh6+ Kh7 30.Nf5 Rexe6 31.Rxe6 Rxe6 32.Rc2 Rc6 33.Re2 Bc8 34.Re7+ Kh8 35.Nh4 f5 36.Ng6+ Kg8 37.Rxa7 1 — 0 Polugaevsky, L-Tal, M Moscow 1969.
12.0 — 0 b6 13.Rad1 Bb7 14.Rfe1 Rc8 15.Bb3 Re8
The most common move here is 15…Qf6 with the idea of …Qg6 and maybe even …f7 — f5 and …Nf6. Wesley has gotten this position with the White pieces against Kramnik in last year’s Candidates’ Tournament. As all of you know Kramnik doesn’t just play openings — he comes up with complete opening systems like the Berlin Wall or White to Play and Win with the Catalan. Wesley is now Black and follows the moves of Kramnik. Whatever Kramnik plays cannot be bad, right?
16.h3 Nf6 17.Qf4 Nh5 18.Qh2 h6 19.h4!
Navara’s improvement. Wesley played 19.d5 against Kramnik 19…exd5 20.exd5 Rxe1+ 21.Nxe1 Qf6 22.Nd3 Ba6 Black is doing well. So, W (2799)-Kramnik,V (2800) Berlin 2018 1/2 57.
To be followed up with Ne5 — c4 — d6.
20…Nf6 21.Qf4 Qd6 22.g4! Re7 23.g5 hxg5 24.hxg5 Nh5
[24…Nh7? 25.g6! fxg6 26.d5 exd5 27.Rxd5 Bxd5 28.Bxd5+ Kh8 29.Nf7+ wins the Black queen]
25.Qe3 g6 26.Rd3 Rec7 27.Kg2 a5 28.Bd1!
Trying to get rid of the knight so that he can slide his rook over to the h-file and perhaps his queen to f6.
28…Ba6 29.Bxh5! Bxd3 30.Bf3!
And just like that Black is lost. White’s rook will go to h1 and then the queen to f4 — h4 or f4 — f6.
30…Rd8 31.Rh1 Bf1+ 32.Kxf1 Qxd4 33.Qf4! 1 — 0
The score was now equal but at this point Wesley strung together four straight wins and after another exchange of wins that was what Wesley brought into the second half of the match — a 4-game (8 points since rapid games are counted double) lead. The blitz portion was played to a 12-12 tie, so this same 4-game counted for the final margin.
Here is a typical win for Wesley in the match — technical perfection.
So, Wesley (2765) — Navara, David (2738) [B12]
St. Louis (12), 22.02.2019
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.c4 e6 7.Nc3 Bc5 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Be2
Let me point out here that Wesley could have sharpened the game with 9.cxd5 cxd5 10.b4! Bb6 11.Nb5 Bc7 12.Bb2 Ne7 13.Bd3 a6 14.Nxc7+ Qxc7 15.0 — 0 Bd7 16.Qg4 with a nice initiative for White. Naiditsch, A (2710)-Khenkin, I (2605) Dortmund 2013 1 — 0 37. Perhaps against a technician like Jakovenko White would have gone down this road, but versus Navara it is more prudent to keep it solid. That is why after the match Navara made this comment: “It’s tough because Wesley is extremely strong in technical positions and he’s playing very quickly, unlike me. I’m losing in the endgames because he plays them excellently. When I’m short of time, my instincts are not that good and I become nervous.”
9…Ne7 10.0 — 0 Ng6 11.Na4 Be7 12.f4 0 — 0 13.Be3 f6 14.exf6 Bxf6 15.Bd3 e5 16.Bxg6 hxg6 17.fxe5 Bxe5 18.Rxf8+ Kxf8 19.cxd5 Qxd5 20.Qxd5 cxd5 21.Rd1
Black has the two bishops. White has the isolated d-pawn to work against. The game is far from over.
21…Bb7 22.Bd4 Re8 23.Kf2 Bc6 24.Nc3 Bb8? 25.Nxd5 Kf7 26.Ne3 Rd8 27.Nc4 a6
Black does not play 27…Bxh2! because he was afraid of 28.g3 but actually 28…Kg8! saves the bishop because of the threat of Rf8+
Now this does not work.
29.g3 Kg8 30.Bc5
This was not possible a move earlier because the rook on d1 would have been en prise.
30…Rc8 31.Be7 Rc7 32.Ne5 Bh1 33.Bg5 Kh7 34.Rd7 Rc2+ 35.Bd2 Rc8 36.Nf7
Forcing the exchange of rooks, otherwise Ng5+ and Bc3 targeting g7 is fatal.
36…Kg8 37.Rd8+ Rxd8 38.Nxd8 Bd5 39.Bb4
Wesley had to have seen this ahead. Now if 39…Bxa2 40.Kg2 finally wins the bishop.
39…g5 40.a4 Kh7 41.Bd6 Kg6 42.b4 Kf6 43.b5 axb5 44.axb5 Kf5 45.g4+ Kxg4 46.Bxh2 Kh3 47.Bg3 Kg4 48.b6 Kf5 49.Ke3 g4 50.Kd4 Bf3 51.b7 Bxb7 52.Nxb7
Can Wesley win with bishop and knight vs. king is quick time controls? No problem.
52…Ke6 53.Ke4 g6 54.Nc5+ Kf6 55.Kf4 g5+ 56.Kxg4 Kg6 57.Be5 Kf7 58.Kxg5
White’s dark-squared bishop controls the corner squares a1 and h8. As the BW reader knows the mating procedure is to first bring the Black king to the wrong corner, and then force it to either the a1 or h8 corner.
58…Ke7 59.Kg6 Kd8 60.Kf7 Kc8 61.Ke6 Kd8 62.Kd6 Kc8 63.Bf4 Kb8 64.Kd7+ Ka8 65.Kc6 Ka7 66.Nd7 Ka8 67.Nb6+ Ka7 68.Be5 Ka6 69.Bb8 Ka5 70.Nd5 Ka4 71.Kc5 Kb3 72.Nb4 Kc3 73.Bf4 1 — 0
Navara has had enough. The finish would have been 73.Bf4 Kb3 74.Bd2 Ka4 75.Nc2 Kb3 76.Ne3 Ka4 77.Kc4 Ka3 78.Nd1 Ka4 79.Nb2+ Ka3 80.Kc3 Ka2 81.Nc4 Ka1 (81…Kb1 82.Kb3 Ka1 83.Be3 Kb1 84.Na3+ Ka1 85.Bd4#) 82.Kb3 Kb1 83.Na3+ Ka1 84.Bc3#
The match has uncovered several chinks in Wesley’s armor, but I think that is precisely why we had these USA vs. Other-GMs matches. When the USA championship comes around they should all be ready.
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.