GM Fabiano Caruana soared from behind on the final day of the 2022 Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX to equal GM Alireza Firouzja‘s impressive 6.5/9, before beating him in a playoff that required an armageddon game to determine the winner.
Firouzja was as close as it comes to winning a historic third straight title in St. Louis but fell at the last hurdle. GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ian Nepomniachtchi finished half a point behind the leaders, choosing to expend their energy on their Chess.com Global Championships knockout rounds earlier in the morning.
The final day began with a round full of decisive results that separated the leaders by half a point, while several chasers compressed the top of the table with important wins. Mamedyarov benefitted from an endgame blunder by GM Leinier Dominguez that left the Azeri sitting pretty, having scored his fifth win in seven rounds.
Firouzja suffered a minor setback against GM Peter Svidler who managed to find some form and hold the rampaging Firouzja to a draw. A dubious but pressure-inducing double sacrifice was the poison of choice from Svidler, culminating in a threefold repetition. Firouzja missed a straightforward opportunity to play for a win and was left kicking himself when he realized that his day-two co-leader had skipped ahead.
Round eight shook the tournament up due to a shocking win by Svidler over Mamedyarov. The tournament leader looked comfortable in the game until move 21 when he touched his rook and was forced to move it to an unintended square, due to not realizing he was in check. The position remained equal, but a flustered Mamedyarov blundered soon after.
Firouzja took full advantage of the situation and never looked in doubt against GM Levon Aronian. The Iranian-born GM drew the praise of commentators and fans around the world for his clinical endgame precision, leading Saint Louis Chess Club commentator GM Cristian Chirila (The Count on Chess.com) to state that it is clear he has been working hard on his endgames since the Candidates.
GM Garry Kasparov‘s also mentioned that Firouzja “might be a real contender for the title (of world champion).”
Kasparov (on Firouzja): He definitely looks very strong for his age, I would not be surprised if he makes it. By every count he might be a real contender for the title. Naturally his outstanding performance in these tournaments is just more proof that he’s really good. #Chess9LX pic.twitter.com/vtli3WRfJJ
— Saint Louis Chess Club (@STLChessClub) September 16, 2022
While viewers’ eyes turned to the leader’s games, what many did not realize is that Caruana had caught the leaders, winning both his round seven and eight games against Aronian and Nakamura respectively, placing him just behind Firouzja heading into the final round.
Heading into round nine Firouzja was half a point ahead of three chasers—Caruana, Nepomniachtchi, and Mamedyarov—who were all poised to tie things up or surpass the leader if things went awry. Several minutes into the final round, it was already clear that two of those chasers were out of the race, having accepted quick draws.
Perhaps still tired from their morning victories in the Chess.com Global Championship where they both progressed to the round of 32, Nepomniachtchi and Mamedyarov were happy to settle and finished on 6/9.
Nepo produces magic 🪄 as he defends what originally started as a completely lost position.#ChesscomGlobal pic.twitter.com/4rJ5RFF0gx
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) September 16, 2022
Caruana was not as willing to let Firouzja run away with another tournament victory, knocked over the world Chess960 champion GM Wesley So, and put the pressure right back on Firouzja. Firouzja, unfazed by GM Hikaru Nakamura‘s promising position against him, managed to stabilize and accept a draw after seeing Caruana’s result. The two then took a small break before they prepared for a playoff for the title.
The opening game of the tiebreak could have swung either way but Caruana, bursting with momentum, clutched up when it mattered and took the first game with the black pieces. Firouzja clapped back with inventive chess in the second, stranding Caruana’s king and tying up the score.
The tournament ended up coming down to a single game of armageddon chess with Caruana needing to win with the white pieces and Firouzja achieving at least a draw with the black.
When all was said and done, Caruana was the deserving winner and had to defeat Firouzja in the form of his life.
Prizes for this event were split evenly where players finished with the same score, meaning that both Firouzja and Caruana received healthy winnings of $31,250 each while Nepomniachtchi and Mamedyarov each received $17,500. The remainder of the players split the rest of the $150,000 prize fund.
All Games Day 3
The Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX tournament took place September 14-16, 2022, at the chess club in St. Louis. Players competed in a 10-player rapid (20+10) round robin for their share of the $150,000 prize fund.