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    Entries in Fabiano Caruana (89)

    Saturday
    Apr302016

    Nakamura Wins "Ultimate Blitz Challenge"; So Second, Kasparov Third

    This was a very exciting event, and there were many games worth discussing. For now, however, the bare results and some brief impressions. Hikaru Nakamura had a strong second day and won with a score of 11/18, a point ahead of Wesley So and a point and a half ahead of Garry Kasparov. All three finished with plus scores, and since it was a four player tournament it meant that the remaining player served as the piñata. On this occasion it fell to Fabiano Caruana, the new U.S. Champion and world #2 player to fill that role. His play on day two was completely unsuccessful, and he wound up with just 5.5/18.

    Nakamura's victory was the product of doggedness on day 1, hanging in there while he wasn't playing well, and on day two he got into a good rhythm and was the dominant player on the day.

    So had his moments, especially against Kasparov, but couldn't keep up with Nakamura's pace on the second day. (That said, if he had beaten him in the final round rather than drawing, they would have gone to a playoff.) So's biggest success came against Kasparov. He lost badly to him in round 1, and was close to losing two more game to him on the first day as well. Sadly for Kasparov, a couple of masterpieces in the making were completely ruined by his blundering a knight (on both occasions) and losing. The highlight of their contests came on day 2, however, in the first game of the day, when So won an absolute blowout. The commentators, and then Kasparov himself found the game reminiscent of Paul Morphy's "Opera Game", and Kasparov remarked that he found himself in the role of the "amateur" in that game.

    Kasparov came close, and on the first day he could and should have scored far more heavily than he did. He repeatedly achieved the sorts of positions he wanted, and displayed not only good preparation but tremendous and energetic play in the middlegame. Only his rust and several outright blunders left him in third at the end of day 1, though only half a point behind Nakamura and So. On day two he was the one having to scramble to stay alive, and he did a remarkable job of saving some terrible positions against Nakamura in particular. Still, he finished strongly with wins over Nakamura and Caruana in the last two rounds (the latter game was especially nice), and his day 2 score was half a point better than what he achieved on day 1. Surprisingly - and impressively - Kasparov won his mini-matches with Caruana and Nakamura, but suffered badly against So.

    Finally, for Caruana just about everything went wrong starting with round 7 on the first day. After that, his main highlight was a nice victory over Kasparov on the black side of a Scotch in the penultimate cycle (in round 15). For him, it will be an event to forget, except for the privilege of being able to say that he played Kasparov in a public event on even terms.

    Thursday
    Apr282016

    Reminder: St. Louis Blitz Event With Caruana, Nakamura, So, and Kasparov Starts in About Five Minutes

    That's just before 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis, 2 p.m. ET in the U.S. The event will take place over two days, a double round-robin between the top three finishers in the U.S. Championship - Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So - and Garry Kasparov. The games will be broadcast on all the usual websites (official site here), and I'll get in a quick prediction that Caruana will win, Nakamura will come in second, and Kasparov will take the bronze. (My hedge is that the top two might switch places, but I'm going to stick to Kasparov in third.)

    Tuesday
    Apr262016

    Caruana, Paikidze Win U.S. Championships

    Fabiano Caruana won the U.S. Championship with a fine score of 8.5/11, bouncing back from a disappointing finish at the Candidates to take first place, $50,000, and to regain the #2 spot in the world ratings. He defeated Akshat Chandra to seal the deal, finishing a full point ahead of Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, both of whom drew their final round games (against Aleks Lenderman and Ray Robson, respectively). A further boon for Caruana, and for So and Nakamura as well, is that they will play in a blitz event with Garry Kasparov on Thursday and Friday.

    The women's championship finished dramatically. Going into the last round perennial bridesmaid Tatev Abrahamyan led Nazi Paikidze by a half a point, and had an easier pairing to boot. Abrahamyan had the black pieces against Ahritha Eswaran, while Paikidze had Black vs. Irina Krush. And yet...Abrahamyan was crushed by her much younger, much lower-rated opponent, while Paikidze completely outplayed Krush - enough to win the game twice. She was beating her brilliantly and beautifully early on, but missed several wins and lost almost all of her advantage. Nevertheless, Krush's position remained practically difficult, and soon Paikidze was winning again. Given another chance she finished strongly, and she was the deserving victor of the women's crown. Like Caruana, she finished with 8.5 points; Abrahamyan finished second with 8 and Anna Zatonskih took third with 7. Krush finished in a very disappointing 6th place after losing her last two games and scoring only a point and a half in the last five rounds.

    Monday
    Apr252016

    U.S. Championship: Caruana Leads So and Nakamura by Half A Point Going Into the Last Round

    It's not too surprising that the U.S. Championship is a race between the big three - Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So - with Ray Robson (mentioned by Nakamura at the start of the tournament as a potential fourth musketeer) also in the hunt. After 10 rounds, Caruana leads with 7.5 points, half a point in front of So and Nakamura, with Robson another half a point behind. In case of a tie for first, there will be a playoff the next day (Tuesday) to determine the winner. Here are the relevant last round pairings:

    • Akshat Chandra (1.5) - Fabiano Caruana (7.5)
    • Aleks Lenderman (4) - Wesley So (7)
    • Ray Robson (6.5) - Hikaru Nakamura (7) 

    Caruana is certainly a favorite to win the title, both because he's starting out with the lead and also because he's playing the tournament's lowest-rated player and tailender. Still, one can't be too sure: he does have the black pieces, and Chandra did manage to draw with Nakamura earlier in the tournament - with Black.

    In the women's championship, the terrible twosome of Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih have both been eliminated from the race for first after losing in the penultimate round. (Zatonskih also lost in the antepenultimate round as well, thanks to an outright blunder.) Both losses were to kids: Zatonskih lost to 14-year-old Jennifer Yu, while Krush lost to 12-year-old(!) Carissa Yip, who finished the game in style. (Have a look.)

    The tournament leader is Tatev Abrahamyan, who has been getting closer to winning this event every year. She has 8/10, half a point ahead of Paikidze. Both women will have Black in the last round, but Abrahamyan will be playing one of the lower seeds (Ashrithan Eswaran) while Paikidze will face Krush. Abrahamyan's situation looks even better than Caruana's, but - again - there are no guarantees.

    Finally, returning to the main event, the top three - which is at the moment the big three - qualify for a four-player blitz event running Thursday and Friday. The fourth player? Garry Kasparov.

    Monday
    Apr182016

    U.S. Championship, Rounds 3 & 4: Lots of Draws, But Caruana Beats Nakamura to Take the Lead

    In round 3 four of the six games were drawn, and in round 4 it was five of six. The two wins in round 3 saw two of the tailenders lose, both with Black: Varuzhan Akobian to Sam Shankland, and Aleks Lenderman to Alexander Onischuk. Atop the standings it was all draws: Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana drew a 92-mover that never got out of control for either player, while Ray Robson did have some difficulties before securing a draw against Jeffery Xiong.

    That left So, Caruana, and Robson tied for first with 2.5/3, half a point ahead of Hikaru Nakamura, who was unable to defeat bottom seed Akshat Chandra with the white pieces - Chandra simply played very well. The sixth game of the round was a short draw between Alexander Shabalov and Gata Kamsky.

    Round 4 was a drawfest. Shankland-So was a very easy hold for So, and Robson also had no trouble against Akobian thanks to good preparation. Or at least, no trouble until near the end. Robson wanted to push a bit and rejected a repetition, but maybe 35.Nxa6 Rxa3 36.Nc5 Rf3 37.Nd7!! (hoping to play Be4-c6xb5) would give some winning chances. (The knight is immune on account of 38.Bh7+ followed by 39.g8Q#.)

    Onischuk defanged Kamsky's London System for a quick draw, and Lenderman-Xiong also barely made it past move 30. Chandra-Shabalov had a good deal more fight in it, and Chandra was pressing throughout.

    The game of the round, and the game of the tournament so far in terms of its importance for the standings, was Caruana-Nakamura. This was one of the oddest Najdorfs I've seen, going 6.f3 e6 7.Be3 h5 (this is more normal in the ...e5 lines, but it's known here too) 8.a4 (this stops ...b5, of course, but White normally plays Qd2, castles queenside, and tries to whip up an attack on the other side of the board) 8...Nc6 (not a normal "Najdorf" move, but with a4 having been played it makes sense here) 9.Bc4 (a new move in an already rare position), and on it went from there. It's hard to assess such a non-standard variation, but it seems that things only got out of hand for Nakamura after he played 21...Kb8 and more especially 24...Qb4. At one time Caruana had a terrible record with White against the Najdorf Sicilian, and maybe that was part of what motivated Nakamura to give it a shot. If so, it was a misassessment: Caruana seemed very at home in the complications, winning quickly and relatively easily.

    With the win, Caruana moved into clear first in the tournament with 3.5/4, and also moved into second on the live rating list, passing Vladimir Kramnik's 2801 with his 2805.3. Robson and So are half a point behind going into round 5, the last round before the rest day. Here are the pairings:

    • Shabalov (1.5) - Caruana (3.5)
    • So (3) - Akobian (1)
    • Robson (3) - Lenderman (1)
    • Nakamura (2) - Shankland (2.5)
    • Xiong (2) - Kamsky (1.5)
    • Onischuk (2) - Chandra (1)

    Friday
    Apr152016

    U.S. Championship, Round 2: Caruana, So, and Robson Lead with 2/2

    A little stratification took place in round 2 of the U.S. Championship, but not much. Two of the Big Three won, and the honorary fourth won as well while the third member of the triumvirate drew comfortably with Black against a strong rival to keep within half a point. To elaborate...

    Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So won again to stay perfect. Caruana may not have achieved much on the white side of a Winawer French against Sam Shankland, but when the latter opened the queenside with 22...b4 it turned out that Caruana benefited from the open lines. Eventually Black was tied hand and foot, and when the White knight and king sauntered to the queenside Black had to give up. So won with Black against Akshat Chandra, and while it was the logical result overall there was one gigantic "oops!" moment that could have turned everything around. So's 32...Rh1 worked out for him in the end, but it was a blunder. With 33.Rxe6+! fxe6 34.Qxe6+ Kf8 35.Rd3 White's attack would give him a winning material advantage - at least. Chandra missed his chance, and So finished him off in style.

    The third winner, who is also at 2-0, is Ray Robson. Robson won with surprising ease and speed on the white side of a London System, an opening not generally associated with speedy knockouts. When asked after his round 1 victory if the Big Three were indeed the favorites, Hikaru Nakamura agreed, but made a proviso that an on-form Robson could contend as well. So far, he is on form and is contending.

    As for Nakamura himself, he was also involved in a London System, but with the black pieces against Gata Kamsky. Nakamura was well-prepared (as he should be, given Kamsky frequent adoption of the LS), and the game was already a dead draw by the time the 30-move deadline was reached.

    Varuzhan Akobian and Jeffery Xiong didn't even make it to move 30, having repeated moves enough to call it a day after just 27 moves. Finally, Aleks Lenderman and Alex Shabalov drew a wild game, with both sides missing wins along the way.

    Here are the round 3 pairings:

    • So (2) - Caruana (2) (The first meeting of the triumvirate)
    • Xiong (1) - Robson (2)
    • Nakamura (1.5) - Chandra (0)
    • Shankland (1) - Akobian (.5)
    • Shabalov (.5) - Kamsky (.5)
    • Onischuk (.5) - Lenderman (.5)

    Thursday
    Apr142016

    U.S. Championships Start Today!

    At 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis (= 2 p.m. ET) the U.S. Championships get underway in St. Louis. Both the Championship and the Women's event are 12 player round robins finishing April 25 - April 26 in case of a playoff, and don't forget that after the event, on the 28th and 29th, there will be a blitz event that might include the big three (Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So) and definitely includes none other than Garry Kasparov. (I hope for his sake he has been training hard.)

    The Championship is incredibly strong, with three players in the top 10 (the aforementioned Mssrs. Caruana, Nakamura, and So), and the second tier of Gata Kamsky, Alexander Onischuk, Ray Robson, and Sam Shankland isn't exactly chopped liver. On the Women's side, it looks likely to be another battle to the death between Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih, who between them have won the last 10 women's championships. Krush has won the last four, but they've almost always come down to the wire and Zatonskih is the very slightly higher-rated player.

    Here are the first round pairings for the main event: 

    • Fabiano Caruana (2795) - Varuzhan Akobian (2615)
    • Sam Shankland (2656) - Akshat Chandra (2477)
    • Wesley So (2773) - Gata Kamsky (2678)
    • Hikaru Nakamura (2787) - Aleksandr Lenderman (2618)
    • Alexander Shabalov (2528) - Ray Robson (2663)
    • Alexander Onischuk (2664) - Jeffery Xiong (2618) 

    It's a good time to be a fan of U.S. chess! Tournament predictions? Nakamura is the defending champion, and he and Gata Kamsky have won the last seven between them. So only started playing in the U.S. Championship last year and Caruana is a rookie, so the Nakamura-Kamsky streak isn't as relevant as it would otherwise be. My prediction is that Nakamura will win.

    Monday
    Mar282016

    Karjakin Defeats Caruana in the Final Round to Win the 2016 Candidates

    While it's frankly a pity to have the tournament decided by tiebreaks (a perspective I'm guessing both Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana share) it did make for an exciting final game between Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana. Provided that Viswanathan Anand didn't manage to defeat Peter Svidler with the black pieces (and he didn't, and didn't come close to doing so), Caruana would need to defeat Karjakin with Black to overcome the latter's favorable tiebreak score.

    Winning to order with Black isn't easy, in part because White has many ways to dry up the game if he so desires. Caruana opted for the Classical Sicilian, and managed to get a complicated game with good chances. All three results were possible as the players grew closer to the time control, and the critical moment came on move 36. Had Caruana played 36...Be4 or 36...Bf3, anything would have been possible, but to his misfortune he spotted the tactical possibility 36...Re4, which apparently retains an extra pawn. Unfortunately for him, it lost to the nice rook sac 37.Rxd5 - an especially nice find by Karjakin under the circumstances. After that, Caruana was simply losing, and resigned a few moves later, when it was mate in three.

    An excellent win for Sergey Karjakin, who deserves congratulations on winning the event - especially for bouncing back after losing to Anand in round 11. On now to the World Championship against Magnus Carlsen this fall in New York. In general Carlsen has a huge plus against Karjakin in faster games, but in Classical chess his plus score is a relatively moderate one: +3 -1 =14. Karjakin is a better theoretician and a better defender, while I'm inclined to give the other edges to Carlsen and rate him a clear but not overwhelming favorite.

    That's many months away still. For now, here is the last round game, with my comments.

    Monday
    Mar282016

    Candidates Update: Karjakin, Caruana Enter The Last Round Tied; Will Play in the Last Round with Karjakin Having Draw Odds...Almost

    So it's come down to the last round, and the only two players who can win the event are facing off for the right to play Magnus Carlsen in the next World Championship match, to be held later this year. Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana are still at +2, half a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand, and while only the first two named have a shot at winning the event Anand can play the spoiler.

    Here's the situation: Karjakin has White against Caruana in the last round, while Anand has Black against Peter Svidler. Karjakin wins the event unless one of two scenarios come to pass:

    • (1) Caruana wins (obviously).
    • (2) They draw and Anand wins.

    If Karjakin-Caruana is a draw and they're the only two players tied for first, Karjakin takes first on tiebreaks. They will have split their head-to-head matchup, and the next tiebreaker (more wins) decides things in Karjakin's favor. If it winds up in a three-way tie, however, Caruana wins because he had the best score in the head-to-head-to-head: he went +1 against Anand while the other two mini-matches were even.

    Both possibilities are attractive. If Karjakin wins, then the match the chess world has expected since 2003 or so will finally taken place, while Caruana has looked like Carlsen's likeliest rival since 2014. Both are also good from a publicity standpoint: Karjakin represents Russia while Caruana represents the U.S., which is especially good since the championship match is going to be held here.

    In round 13 both Karjakin and Caruana played for more than 100 moves. Caruana was pushing in his game, trying to grind out a win against Svidler in a rook and bishop vs. rook ending (and near the end he briefly had a theoretically winning ending, though I'm not sure if he had enough moves to convert before the 50-move rule kicked in), while Karjakin had to grimly hang on in his game with Levon Aronian. Both players are young and fit (especially Caruana), but how much will they have left after a marathon game at the end of a long tournament?

    In other round 13 action Hikaru Nakamura won again, at the expense of Veselin Topalov, who lost again. Nakamura thus made it back to 50%, while Topalov sunk to -5. Remarkably, Topalov is the only player in the field with a minus score. The other game saw Anish Giri get his 13th draw in 13 games, this one against Levon Aronian. Giri has played a lot of interesting, up and down games, and this was one of them. Somehow, they just end in draws, no matter what happens along the way there.

    Last Round Pairings:

    • Svidler (6.5) - Anand (7)
    • Giri (6.5) - Topalov (4)
    • Nakamura (6.5) - Aronian (6.5)
    • Karjakin (7.5) - Caruana (7.5)

    Sunday
    Jan312016

    Wijk aan Zee, Round 10-12: Carlsen Leads Caruana by Half a Point Entering the Last Round

    There's one round to go in the 2016 edition of the Tata Steel Chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, and it's not too surprising to learn that the world's #1 player, world champion Magnus Carlsen, is in first place, and the tournament's second seed - Fabiano Caruana - is in second. The players have been alternating wins the past few rounds: Carlsen won in round 9, Caruana in round 10, Carlsen again in round 11, and Caruana again in round 12. The margin of difference so far is Caruana's loss to David Navara; had that game finished in a draw the mighty Cars would both have 8.5/12.

    Going back to round 10: Carlsen entered the round with a full point lead, and with black a draw with Anish Giri was a satisfactory result, achieved without much fuss. Caruana took the opportunity to close the gap to half a point when he bludgeoned Wei Yi, who had been having an excellent tournament to that point. (Another game from that round I'll mention was the curious battle between Sergey Karjakin and Michael Adams. Karjakin played the London System and lost without a whimper. All Adams had to do was follow standard ideas - ideas Karjakin himself had employed in earlier games! - and he reached a superior position and won in crushing style.)

    In round 11 Caruana seemed on the verge of catching Carlsen, but instead finished the round a full point behind. Carlsen allowed Hou Yifan to play the Petroff, and to all appearances this was an error. She plays it often and knows it well, and she had no problems in the opening. She also had no problems in the middlegame, and the endgame went smoothly too. Eventually a pawn ending was reached, and had Hou played 45...a5 instead of 45...h5?? the draw she coveted would have been there for the taking. Meanwhile, Caruana enjoyed a clear advantage with the black pieces coming out of the opening against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Mamedyarov defended patiently and successfully, and in the second time control Caruana had to prove the draw, which he did. (For those of you who wonder why it's a draw, the answer is that Black will set up a fortress the moment White stops checking. He'll play ...Rd5, and that's the end, unless he wants to tidy everything up with ...h5 and ...Rf5, when there's nothing to attack the rest of the game.)

    Finally, in round 12 Carlsen again secured a comfortable draw with Black, this time against Wesley So, while Caruana collected a full point against Loek van Wely in a sharp Najdorf line that was popular around the turn of the century. Caruana played brilliantly at first, possibly refuting the variation, but shaky play later on gave van Wely some chances to survive. Those chances vaporized after 29...Rc4?, allowing the aesthetically pleasing 30.f6+!, after which Caruana finished in style.

    Meanwhile, a third protagonist has entered the picture: Ding Liren. He won with black against Evgeny Tomashevsky in round 11 and as white against Pavel Eljanov in round 12, pulling within a point of Carlsen and half a point of Caruana. Better still, he'll face Carlsen in the final round, albeit with the black pieces, so three players have a chance for first place. (Note: There are no playoffs or tiebreakers used, so if there are two or three players tied for first they are the co-winners of the event.) Here are the final round pairings:

    • Mamedyarov (6) - Karjakin (5.5)
    • van Wely (4.5) - Wei Yi (6)
    • Tomashevsky (4.5) - Caruana (8)
    • Eljanov (6) - Navara (5.5)
    • Carlsen (8.5) - Ding Liren (7.5)
    • Adams (4.5) - So (6.5)
    • Giri (6.5) - Hou Yifan (4.5)