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    Entries in Fabiano Caruana (45)

    Thursday
    Sep182014

    Slate on Caruana and the Sinquefield Cup

    This clearly isn't written for chess players, but I do think that articles written by "civilians" (i.e. non-chess players) have been getting a bit better lately. Read at your own risk.

    (HT: Robert Davis, who noted that the link to the article from Slate's home page asks "Can Chess Be Saved" and rejoins, "From what?")

    Saturday
    Sep062014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 10: Three Draws Finish The Tournament

    And fairly peaceful draws at that, but after nine very exciting rounds at the Sinquefield Cup it's hard to begrudge the players the relative day off.

    The first game to finish went only 19 moves and featured two of the most combative players in the world and a situation where one might normally expect a big fight, but it was not to be. Veselin Topalov was apparently surprised by the particular line of the Berlin Magnus Carlsen chose, and without making a dent on theory the game ended in a quick repetition. If Topalov had won he would have taken clear second and jumped to #3 on the rating list, but in the final position the players agreed that playing on would have entailed more risk for White than for Black.

    The second game to finish was Levon Aronian vs. Fabiano Caruana. Even in this game it was Caruana who had what slight chances there were for a decisive result, but fatigued and possibly a bit undermotivated he didn't play energetically enough and Aronian managed to equalize. Concerned he might even be getting a little worse, Caruana offered a draw at the first available moment, on move 30, and Aronian accepted, happy to put a very unsuccessful tournament behind him.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made it to the time control and a bit further, but the game was equal all the way (but with play) and the draw was a normal result there too. (All three games here, with some comments and game citations for the first two.)

    An anti-climax, yes, but what an amazing tournament for Fabiano Caruana! His final score of 8.5/10 put him three points ahead of the second-place finisher (Carlsen 5.5, Topalov 5, Aronian & Vachier-Lagrave 4, Nakamura 3). He gained 35 rating points to take second on the rating list by a massive 43 point margin, has reached a rating level previously achieved (and surpassed) by only Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov, and his 3097 TPR is unsurpassed in the history of chess (in events of this sort). Speaking of Kasparov, he himself said that this was the most amazing tournament performance he had seen, better than anything he achieved and even than Anatoly Karpov's 11/13 in Linares 1994. While I don't think it breaks his heart to put someone else's performance ahead of Karpov's, it is true that the players are getting better and better, and on top of that Caruana really had no lucky games; if anything, he was a bit unlucky against Carlsen in round 8 and Nakamura in round 9. (On the other hand, Karpov was close to winning three of the four games he drew in Linares, so we shouldn't be too quick to bury that event in the sands of time.) At any rate it was a fantastic performance by Caruana. Bravo!

    And now for dessert: rumors are floating that he may switch back to representing the USA. He was asked about it in the post-game press conference, and his "I don't want to say anything about this" seems like the kind of remark that suggests that it may in fact be in the works. (Yessssss!)

    Looking forward, it should be noted that while the Sinquefield Cup is over the festivities in St. Louis are not. First, the final press conference will begin momentarily. Second, on Monday they will have the "Ultimate Moves" competition. Here's how the tournament site describes it:

    Ultimate Moves will feature eight two-man teams made up of a GM and an amateur player each. The teams will compete in a double-round knockout bracket, with teammates alternating moves in games with a time control of 15 minutes and 2-second increments. Stay tuned for more details.

    Third and better still, Aronian and Nakamura are reportedly playing a 6-game Chess960 match on Tuesday, and as they are both former world champions at that version it should be especially entertaining to see.

    Saturday
    Sep062014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 9: Three Draws; Missed Opportunities for Caruana & Carlsen

    The Sinquefield Cup is winding down and the players are perhaps starting to run out of gas. Fabiano Caruana played 38 very good moves against Hikaru Nakamura on the white side of a Berlin ending and had him at death's door. Fatigue and moderate time trouble struck, and he made an inaccuracy on move 39 and a big oversight on move 40. Even after the time control he still had some winning chances, but he failed to make anything of them and Nakamura drew comfortably by the end.

    Likewise, Magnus Carlsen seemed to be grinding his way to a win against Levon Aronian, but shortly before cashing in he saw the right idea but talked himself into a different move (or at least a different move order), one which didn't work. Aronian escaped.

    Veselin Topalov could have caught up with Carlsen in second place with a win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but although he obtained an advantage with Black he couldn't turn it into a win, so he remains in clear third.

    The tournament ends tomorrow (though there will be some other events following it), and these are the pairings: Aronian - Caruana, Topalov - Carlsen, Nakamura - Vachier-Lagrave.

    Games here (the Caruana & Carlsen games are annotated), tournament site here.

    Thursday
    Sep042014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 8: The Streak Ends, But Caruana Clinches Tournament Victory With Two Rounds To Spare

    The dreams of a 10-0 whitewash by Fabiano Caruana are over, sadly, but he "console" himself with the fact that he has clinched clear first in the strongest tournament of all time. That puts a cool $100,000 in his pocket, and he will be #2 in the world at the tournament's end. Moreover, his current rating of 2836.1 puts him at #3 all time, behind only Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov. Pretty incredible company. His TPR of 3247 isn't too shabby either.

    In today's game he was close to a win against Carlsen, but 26.0-0 let the foot off the gas and Carlsen scraped his way to a drawish ending, one which Caruana didn't seem too intent to try to win. From the perspective of tournament victory, a draw was sufficient, and for all his strength and ambition even Carlsen cannot hope to make up a three point deficit in the two remaining rounds.

    In the game between Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Aronian had a huge advantage on the white side of a Philidor with 5.g4, but let his opponent slip away with a draw. Finally, Veselin Topalov won on the black side of a Berlin endgame against Hikaru Nakamura - convincingly, too.

    The rest of the tournament is now something of an anti-climax, but it would still be nice to see Caruana do some more damage and not call off the dogs just yet. The round nine pairings are Caruana (7.5) - Nakamura (2!!), Carlsen (4.5) - Aronian (3) and Vachier-Lagrave (3) - Topalov (4).

    Tournament site here, games here (without comments).

    Wednesday
    Sep032014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 7: Caruana 7-0!

    The "impossible" continues to be not only possible but actual at the Sinquefield Cup, as Fabiano wins yet again. With his second victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the tournament Caruana improves to 7-0, guaranteeing himself at least a tie for first in the tournament. (In case there is a tie, there will be a playoff.) Caruana played the solid Queen's Gambit Declined, but Vachier-Lagrave was ambitious (as he should be with the white pieces). Unfortunately, his accuracy didn't live up to his ambition, and the strange 14.Qa4 led to all kinds of trouble. Soon he was a pawn down with a vagabond king, and Caruanaadministered yet another drubbing of a top-10 opponent. Incredible.

    Nevertheless, a glimmer of suspense remains in the tournament, as Magnus Carlsen still has a tiny chance to end the tournament equal with Caruana. Today he did what he needed to do against his regular customer, Hikaru Nakamura. (Their cassical score, excluding draws, is now 11-0 for Carlsen.) Nakamura played a Slav line he has used before, but goofed something up very early and was almost losing after 11 moves. Carlsen had a very easy time of it, and with 4/7 and Caruana on tap for tomorrow he can still fight for first, or at least to make it a good tournament. Caruana will have the white pieces, and has remained level-headed throughout the tournament, so chances are he won't implode out of dizziness.

    The third game, between Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian, was drawn.

    The games, with my notes to the first two, are here. Tomorrow's pairings are Nakamura (2) - Topalov (3), Aronian (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2.5), and Caruana (4) - Carlsen (7).

    Tuesday
    Sep022014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 6: Caruana 6-0!

    If this keeps up, is anyone going to care about the world championship in a couple of months (assuming it happens)? Fabiano Caruana is putting on a spectacular, almost unique demonstration in the history of chess. Four rounds remain at the Sinquefield Cup, but Caruana's 6-0 score and three point lead over his closest pursuer (some guy named Magnus Carlsen) have the tournament all but over. The real drama is in seeing how far the streak can go, and if he can maintain the combination of perfect preparation and incredible form he has shown so far.

    Today's victim was Veselin Topalov. Topalov played a new move with Black in a Taimanov Sicilian, but there was no opening surprise from the Bulgarian. Caruana replied immediately, and soon it was Topalov who was on his own. Some little inaccuracies led to a vulnerable position, and that vulnerability turned into collapse after 23...Nc6? 24.Bxe6! Black was unable to put up much resistance, and Caruana finished accurately and in style.

    The other two games were drawn, but Carlsen had terrific winning chances against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, though maybe there was no clear way to win by force. Carlsen enjoyed a superior ending with opposite-colored bishops and an extra pawn, but the Frenchman's strong defense saved the day. In the other game Hikaru Nakamura briefly had good winning chances against Levon Aronian. Aronian's 26...d3 was inaccurate and probably would have cost him his d-pawn had Nakamura played 28.Be3 followed by Rb3. Instead the American played 28.Bd2, and Aronian's problems were over.

    The games, with my notes, are here.

    Tomorrow's pairings are Carlsen (3) - Nakamura (2), Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Caruana (6), Topalov (2.5) - Aronian (2).

    Sunday
    Aug312014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 5: Caruana 5-0 (Updated)

    Prior to this round Fabiano Caruana was 0-3 against Hikaru Nakamura in decisive games played with a classical time control, but that didn't stop the golden boy of the Sinquefield Cup. He outplayed his opponent with the black pieces, and while he could have won a little more easily it was still a convincing victory overall, and he now enjoys a remarkable 5-0 score at the halfway point.

    Two other players won today, and share second place. Magnus Carlsen slowly ground out a win in a rook ending against Levon Aronian (winning, like Caruana, with Black) while Veselin Topalov won on the white side of a Najdorf against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Both players looked very good in winning, and as both Carlsen and Topalov are very dangerous once their confidence levels go up it's too soon to hand first prize to Caruana. On the other hand, Caruana will have White against both players in the second cycle, making it that much more difficult for them to catch up.

    This is especially so with tomorrow's rest day, which might serve to break Caruana's rhythm a bit. So far, however, this is one of the great starts in tournament chess history, going 5-0 against the world's #1 and #2 (former #2 now) and three other players in the top ten.

    Round 6 pairings (Tuesday): Nakamura (1.5) - Aronian (1.5), Caruana (5) - Topalov (2.5), Carlsen (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)

    Games later.

     UPDATE: Games here. I've annotated Nakamura-Caruana in some detail and offered a brief explanatory note at the end of Topalov vs. Vachier-Lagrave.

    Saturday
    Aug302014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 4: Caruana is 4-0 (Updated Twice)

    The 2nd Sinquefield Cup still has six rounds remaining, but with only Maxime Vachier-Lagrave even within two points of Fabiano Caruana the prognosis for the rest of the field is getting grim.

    Here's the quick summary of today's action:

    Caruana defeated Levon Aronian, showing that the position after his/his coach's novelty 15.Na2 had its drop of poison. Aronian's view was that he needed to play ...Nc3 (I think on move 20), and while Caruana didn't directly address that he stated that once he played 22.Qh5 Black was in trouble; his assessment appears to be correct. The next exciting moment came a bit later when Caruana sacrificed a piece with 29.Na5 Nxa5 30.Nxe5. Various commentators expressed their surprise and at least mild disapproval, but Caruana's judgment was not only confirmed by the computer and the course of the game, but by the players themselves. The alternative, 29.Nh2, would be met by ...Rf4 once White played Ng4, and the exchange sacrifice would give Black comparatively good chances. So it's another huge win for the American-Italian*, now 4-0 and showing both fantastic preparation and great play after the prep as well.

    The other two games were drawn, but after very different courses. Vachier-Lagrave vs. Hikaru Nakamura was an Archangelsk that was consistently interesting until it suddenly fizzled out to a draw, while Magnus Carlsen's draw with Veselin Topalov was rather strange. Carlsen obtained the sort of position where one would expect him to successfully grind against Topalov, but soon it was clear that Carlsen had overpressed. Topalov's big chance came on move 45. If he had found 45...Rc5 - a move that's well within his ability to spot and requires basically no further calculation - he probably would have won. Unfortunately for him (and for the rest of the field if Carlsen manages to play like his usual self) he missed the opportunity and the game was soon drawn.

    Tomorrow's round finishes the first cycle, and Nakamura will have White against Caruana. Nakamura noted that he has a very good score against Caruana (though Caruana seemed less impressed about it), so he's feeling confident and will be loaded for bear. Will it matter? We'll see!

    Here are the full pairings: Nakamura - Caruana, Aronian - Carlsen, Topalov - Vachier-Lagrave

    One final note, for now: Carlsen (like everyone else) does have bad results and poor stretches every now and then, but I suspect that his battle with FIDE over the world championship match contract is taking something out of him.

    * Please, Mr. Sinquefield, can't you bribe encourage Caruana to come back and represent the United States??

    Update: Here are the games, with my brief(ish) notes.

    Update II: As is clear from my notes, and as mentioned in the comments, my discussion of 45...Rc5 in the Carlsen - Topalov game was mistaken. It would have put some pressure on Carlsen, but there is a way for him to escape with a draw, and despite his apparent concern about it after the game I think it's pretty likely that he'd have found it.

    Friday
    Aug292014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 3: Caruana Beats Carlsen To Go 3-0

    For the fourth time since 2012, Fabiano Caruana has defeated Magnus Carlsen. His win today with the black pieces was impressive, and his 3-0 score has him a point and a half clear of the field and two points ahead of Carlsen in the 2nd Sinquefield Cup. (It also has him at a very clear #2 on the Live Rating List, where he is now "only" 45 points behind the world champion.) All fantastic news for the young American-Italian, who really should scrap the second part of that hyphen.

    Still, there are seven tough rounds to go, so it's too soon to crown him the winner of this week's strongest tournament ever. In the other games Maxime Vachier-Lagrave bounced back from yesterday's loss to beat Levon Aronian pretty handily. Aronian made some dubious decisions early in the game and missed a couple of nice ideas by his opponent, and went down in a hurry. They are now both at 50%.

    In the last game to finish Veselin Topalov finally got on the scoreboard with a win over Hikaru Nakamura. Nakamura missed a winning opportunity early in the game and a second, later chance that could also have resulted in a win. In the end it was Topalov who took his opportunities in their very sharp game, and they are tied with Carlsen for 4th-6th (last) at 1-2.

    Tomorrow's pairings: Vachier-Lagrave - Nakamura, Carlsen - Topalov, Caruana - Aronian

    More later.

    Update: A small addition: here are the games, with comments to Carlsen-Caruana.

    Thursday
    Aug282014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 2: Caruana Wins Again, Aronian Also Wins

    Fabiano Caruana (please stay here!) is off to a great start, two for two, at the second Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Missouri. While round 1 saw him take advantage of Veselin Topalov's self-destruction, today's victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took a completely different course. Yesterday Vachier-Lagrave was the speedier player in a fascinating theoretical battle against Magnus Carlsen, but today the Frenchman was the victim. Caruana blitzed out his first 17 moves, all prepared with his second Vladimir Chuchelov some months earlier for a game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. He didn't get to use it then and didn't expect to use it today, but Vachier-Lagrave walked into it and paid the price. Caruana didn't have to think until his opponent erred with 17...Nh6, and it didn't take him too long to figure out the refutation. Black resigned after 30 moves, and really could have thrown in the towel at least six moves before that. It was a very impressive win by the world's #2 player, even if it was largely a result of superior homework.

    While that result was clear very early in the round, it turned out that it was the second game to finish. Levon Aronian got curious at the board about an idea he "knew" wasn't very good, and when he played it his suspicions were confirmed. Topalov played well and forced Aronian to sac an exchange for some compensation, though it shouldn't have been enough. Having achieved the advantage, however, Topalov fell apart almost immediately, committing both tactical oversights and positional misjudgments (most notably making the self-destructive decision to castle queenside), and he was quickly crushed.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Carlsen drew their game. Carlsen met the Ruy with 3...g6, and while the succeeding play was always interesting neither player managed to achieve any advantage, and the world champion's attempts to sharpen the play at the end were smoothly neutralized by the American.

    After two rounds, Caruana has 2 points, Aronian 1.5, Nakamura and Carlsen 1, Vachier-Lagrave half a point and Topalov has as many as the rest of the world put together. Here are the pairings for round 3, tomorrow: Topalov - Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave - Aronian, Carlsen - Caruana.

    Finally, here are the games, with my comments.