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    Entries in Fabiano Caruana (80)

    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)

    Friday
    Jan222016

    Wijk aan Zee: Caruana, Ding, and Carlsen Lead After 6 Rounds

    The first super-tournament of the year is approaching the halfway point, and after six of 13 rounds three players share the lead in the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee: Fabiano Caruana (the early leader, who has been caught), Ding Liren, and Magnus Carlsen. All three players have +2 scores; let's see how they got there.

    Round 1 was a success story for the American entrants in the field. Wesley So won convincingly against Anish Giri, while Caruana won - less convincingly - again Pavel Eljanov. Caruana's compensation for a pawn sacrificed in the opening was sketchy at best, but the pressure of his sustained initiative led Eljanov to make some serious errors near the end of the first time control. The round's third victor was Ding Liren, who won a pawn and ground out a victory against Michael Adams in a rook and knight endgame with all the pawns on the kingside. Of the draws, Hou Yifan was much better and probably winning against Sergey Karjakin, and Loek van Wely had excellent chances against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

    In round 2 all seven games were drawn, including the marquee matchup between Carlsen and Caruana. Carlsen had an advantage early on, but it quickly dissipated. Perhaps the best chance anyone had for a win came in the Hou-So game: Hou had an extra pawn but no obvious way to take advantage of it.

    Round 3 saw two decisive games: Caruana-Adams and Mamedyarov-Eljanov. Caruana was a bit worse almost through the first time control, and even once it had been made he was only slightly better. Everything went wrong for Adams in the second time control, however, and Caruana became the sole leader with 2.5/3. As for the other game, Mamedyarov was much better throughout and well on his way to a deserved victory. In fact, Eljanov's position was nearly resignable when Mamedyarov hung his rook for absolutely nothing. In general, Mamedyarov is a player who is blessed with "good luck", but not this time.

    The round also produced the first game of what could turn into a historic rivalry between Wei Yi and Carlsen; this time there was no winner nor anyone who could bemoan any serious missed chances. David Navara, by contrast, should have beaten Giri, while the other three draws were relatively free of drama.

    Round 4 was the last one prior to the tournament's first rest day, and like the first round it produced three winners. Hou Yifan stopped coming close to winning and finally did win a game - handily - against Navara. Eljanov parlayed his good fortune in the previous round into a second straight win, this time over van Wely. Van Wely faltered in an equal but complicated position due to time pressure, and not for the last time in the tournament. Winner #3 was Sergey Karjakin, who rolled up Evgeny Tomashevsky in almost embarrassing fashion. When was the last time you saw a super-GM so dominated in a final position? As for the draws, Wei Yi and especially Caruana had very good winning chances against Adams and Giri, respectively, despite having the black pieces.

    In round 5 Carlsen finally "woke up", though it could have turned out disastrously. An interesting but reasonably calm game with van Wely blew up when Carlsen tried the extravagant 21...Ng4!? 22.Bxg7 Kxg8 23.f3 Qg5?!? Objectively the sac was dubious at best, and it was clear from the subsequent play that Carlsen hadn't worked everything out - not even close. With a 200-point rating advantage and a big lead on the clock, however, Carlsen decided to take a risk to get his tournament going. Van Wely played well at first, but very short on time missed a clear forced win (29.Qh4+ wins the exchange at the very least), then lost the thread and finally blundered in an already lost position.

    Mamedyarov finally won a game, taking advantage of tournament tailender Adams' terrible form. The other winner was Ding Liren, who moved into a tie for first by beating Karjakin. Karjakin had singlehandedly defeated the Chinese team in a Russia-China summit last year, but the story in early 2016 is being written differently.

    And now, at last, round 6 - today's round. The concept of the "hot hand" in sports has been widely rejected by statisticians (though there has been some recent pushback against that rejection), but it seems to me that there are chess players for whom confidence makes a colossal difference. Bobby Fischer was one of them, and Magnus Carlsen is another. There have been numerous tournaments in recent years where he has struggled and failed to win a game for several rounds, and then once he wins one game more wins follow in rapid succession. That happened at the end of the London Chess Classic, and it's starting to happen here. A lucky but deserved win* over van Wely was followed by a speedy victory over Tomashevsky. The sequence 16.f4 exf4 17.Rf1 was very attractive, but even so Tomashevsky was alright until he played 20...Ne4. Had he traded on d4 first he would have been okay; omitting the trade, he wound with a horrid structure that Carlsen had no trouble exploiting.

    (* Deserved because he took a reasonable, calculated risk that put van Wely under strong pressure to go along with his difficulties on the clock; lucky because van Wely did obtain a winning advantage, and was only one) good (and not particularly amazing) move from converting it into a sure victory.

    Giri finally won a game, defeating Mamedyarov, and the remaining games were drawn. Two were especially interesting: So-Caruana and Hou Yifan - Wei Yi. Both games featured opponents from the same country, and in both cases the player with the white pieces enjoyed serious winning chances in a long game, though it's not clear that either So or Hou missed a clear win at any point.

    Round 7 is tomorrow, and here are the pairings:

    • Navara (2.5) - Karjakin (3)
    • Caruana (4) - Ding Liren (4)
    • Wei Yi (3) - So (3.5)
    • Mamedyarov (2.5) - Hou Yifan (3.5)
    • van Wely (2) - Giri (3)
    • Tomashevsky (2) - Adams (1.5)
    • Eljanov (3.5) - Carlsen (4)

    A brief note about the Challengers' section: Alexey Dreev and Baskaran Adhiban share the lead with undefeated 5/6 scores, and Eltaj Safarli is just half a point behind. For those who are interested I found two games especially interesting from today's play: Admiraal-Sevian and Van Foreest-Abasov.

    Monday
    Jan112016

    Caruana in the New Yorker

    A nice, short piece in the popular press.

    Saturday
    Nov212015

    Caruana Wins the Showdown in St. Louis, Hou Wins the Undercard

    Slightly old news, yes, but compensation is forthcoming. From Friday the 12th through Monday the 15th of this month the top two players in the U.S., world #5 Hikaru Nakamura and world #6 Fabiano Caruana faced off in a four day, four stage match called The Showdown in St. Louis for a hefty prize fund. ($60k for the winner, $40k for the "loser".)

    Day 1 saw them play a Basque match, i.e. a two-board simul against each other. Those games were played with a classical time control, and while Caruana had good winning chances in both Nakamura managed to hold the draw in each case.

    Day 2 was the best day of the event for Nakamura, who won the Chess960 games (played at a rapid time control) by a 2.5-1.5 score. He lost the first game, won the next two and finished with a draw. All the games in the match were weighted equally, so after two days Nakamura led 3.5-2.5.

    Day 3 was what Jennifer Shahade aptly called "rapid rapid" - game 15'+10" - and in this stage Caruana took over. Nakamura was winning the first game, but by the end was fortunate to draw. Caruana won the second game when Nakamura made an astounding, beginner's error in the opening of game two. The next two games were similar: Nakamura was very close to winning game three, which was eventually drawn, while Caruana won another (relatively) clean game in round 4 to close out the day with a 3-1 lead in the stage and a 5.5-4.5 overall lead.

    Day 4 saw the players go at it in an eight-game blitz match, and while one would normally expect Nakamura to be the favorite it was Caruana who dominated. There were lots of errors, as you'd expect from a blitz match - especially on day four of a tough event - and Caruana won the stage with a 4.5-3.5 victory that included a last-round loss from what had been an equal-to-better position almost throughout. Te final match score was 10-8 in Caruana's favor.

    In the undercard, Parimarjan Negi and Hou Yifan played the same schedule against each other, and Hou Yifan was the dominant victor, winning by an 11-7 score. That's even more impressive, considering she lost both of the Basque games on day 1, but after that she steamrolled Negi, winning the Chess960 3.5-.5 (Negi drew the fourth game), the rapid 3-1 (Negi won game 2), and the blitz 4.5-3.5. Hou earned $30k, Negi $20k.

    The latter match was quite entertaining, and certainly of greater theoretical interest as the players went after each other in one Sicilian after another. However, and possibly unfortunately, I've undertaken to offer comments to all 14 of the orthodox chess games (for one thing, I couldn't find the Chess960 games) in the Caruana-Nakamura contest, and you can replay them all here.

    Thursday
    Oct152015

    Nakamura-Caruana in November, Plus an Undercard, Plus the European Team Championship

    It looks like Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana will engage in a sort of tetrathlon in St. Louis next month. From the 12th through the 15th they will compete against each other in Chess960 (4 games at 20' + 10"), rapid (4 15' + 10" games), blitz (8 games at 3' + 2") and blindfold (not sure about the details). The games in each discipline count equally, and the overall winner of the match gets $60,000 while the loser gets $40,000.

    Meanwhile, there will be a concurrent match between Hou Yifan and Indian star (and Stanford student) Parimarjan Negi. I believe (but am not positive) that they will follow the same format.

    It looks entertaining, though chess fans won't be hurting for excitement as the European Team Championship also starts November 12, and includes Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk and many, many more superstars of the game.

    Monday
    Oct052015

    Good News For U.S. Chess Fans In 2016?

    According to Chess24's report on game 4 of the Svidler-Karjakin match at the World Cup, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said that the 2016 World Championship match will definitely be in the United States, either in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, while the odds on next year's Candidates' tournament being here in the U.S. are about 50%.

    Sounds good to me, especially if Hikaru Nakamura or Fabiano Caruana get a world championship match in New York, where they both used to live.

    Thursday
    Sep172015

    World Cup 2015 Round 3, Day 1: Draws Aplenty; Grischuk Loses a Won Game

    There weren't too many short draws on day 1 of round 3 at the World Cup, but one way or another 12 of the 16 games finished in a peaceful way. Of these, perhaps the most notable was the board 1 game between Veselin Topalov and Shanglei Lu. Topalov was winning - by a mile, and with multiple ways of cashing in. For instance, 25.Ref1 (rather than 25.Rhf1, which should also have been good enough) 25...Qg3 26.Qf6 is beyond devastating, threatening captures on f7 and f5 as well as 27.Rhg1. Later, 30.Bb3 f6 31.Rxe5 fxe5 32.Rxg6 would have been a fairly easy win as well. Finally 32.Bxh5 may still be winning, but this is a lot less certain. It seems at first as if it should be easy, as White's pieces appear to escape while Black's knight remains in the box, but Black can escape to a rook ending that at first glance may not seem completely clear after a line like 32.Bxh5 Rc5 33.Be2 Re5 34.Rxe1 Rde8 35.Rf1+ Kg7 36.Nf5+ Rxf5 37.Rxf5 Rxe2. Maybe it would be unclear if Black's king were on d6, but cut off from the queenside I suspect this is a win for White as well.

    So Topalov let his young and much lower-rated (though also underrated) opponent escape, and so did Alexander Grischuk. (Both players have something else in common, too. Can anyone recall what that might be?) In Grischuk's case, he not only lost a chance to win against Pavel Eljanov with 38.a7 and then a move later (though less clearly) with 39.Qf5, he even went on to lose the game. Beating Eljanov, a solid 2700 who has been as high as 2761 is not going to be an easy task for him tomorrow, especially with the black pieces.

    The other three decisive games were won by the white pieces. Sergey Karjakin his recent string of super-human results against Chinese players, smoothly outplaying Yu Yangyi in a Sicilian. Fabiano Caruana also won smoothly in a Sicilian, defeating Anton Kovalyov after the latter chose 23...dxc5 rather than 23...bxc5. I'm not sure what Kovalyov was hoping for, as d6 doesn't look like a great blockading square in this particular position while the b-file could have proved useful to him, if only to distract White's pieces from building at leisure in the center and on the kingside.

    Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov defeated S. P. Sethuraman in a sharp line of the Panov-Botvinnik Attack against the Caro-Kann. I haven't looked at the theory of the variation they played in a while, but my understanding was that Black normally flicks in 7...h6. White doesn't have to play 8.Bh4, but if he does then Black goes for the same line as in the game, with the point being that after 14...Ne6 (actually 15...Ne6) the rook on c4 attacks the bishop on h4, gaining a crucial tempo for the defense. The way Sethuraman played it has been known for a long time and the evaluation has always been in White's favor. My inclination was to say that he must not have thought White's advantage amounted to very much, but considering that he spent 36 minutes on his 16th move in a position that is well-known in this variation and arises almost by force once Black plays 7...Qxd4, I'm at a loss to explain what Sethuraman was thinking. Maybe his 7th move was a fingerfehler and he intended to play 7...h6 first? If someone comes across an answer, please share it in the comments.

    Friday
    Aug282015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 5: Carlsen & Aronian Lead Going Into the Rest Day

    Round 5 of the Sinquefield Cup saw loads of action. Only one of the games was a "correct" draw, and even it was a good fight with some interesting moments.

    Entering the round Levon Aronian and Veselin Topalov were tied for first; exiting the round it's Aronian and Magnus Carlsen who share the lead. (Just like the good old days!) Topalov had the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana, and obtained a very pleasant advantage in a 4.d3 Berlin. After the game Topalov said that he lacked the energy to play, and should have bailed out with a draw (24.Rc1 Na2 25.Ra1 Nb4 26.Rc1 etc.) while he had the chance. Instead, he went down, bit by bit, and after 35.Ng2? f4 the game was Caruana's to win, and he did.

    Aronian also had White, against Alexander Grischuk, and also got into trouble. Playing an English that turned into a Panov-Botvinnik Attack against the Caro-Kann, Aronian played the very unusual 7.Bg5, and his idea a couple of moves later to double Black's pawns with 9.Qe2+ Be6 10.Bxf6 didn't turn out very well. Later he was clearly worse, but it's a rare game when Grischuk doesn't get into time trouble. A series of inaccuracies from moves 24-26 (he was already below six minutes by that point) squandered his advantage, and the players shook hands on move 31.

    This gave Carlsen the chance to catch up, and he did with a nice but imperfect win over Wesley So. Carlsen played a known pawn sac in the Byrne Attack of the Najdorf, obtaining the bishop pair and a strong grip on d5 in return. Carlsen worked his positional magic, but made some serious errors along the way. The first was the worst, when 33.Nc4? (??) could have been met by the sham exchange sac 33...Rxc4!, after which White's advantage is gone in its entirety. So missed that, and then Carlsen blundered again with 40.Nd4; 40.Nxc5 won on the spot. Instead, Carlsen had to fight hard to prove the win, but he rose to the challenge and finally collected the point. Carlsen still isn't playing great, but a combination of good-enough play and some luck (vs. Caruana in round 2, So missing a fairly simple tactic here) has him tied for first with 3.5/5.

    The game between Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri was very exciting, possibly made even more exciting when Nakamura forgot his preparation and got into some trouble. He was resourceful after that, and his counterattacking play came close to delivering the full point in his favor. Giri found the defensive moves he needed, however, and the game finished in a well-earned draw.

    Finally, Viswanathan Anand managed to win a pawn in a complicated game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but in the end there weren't any real chances to exploit it in the resulting rook ending and the game ended peacefully.

    The players are now enjoying a well-deserved rest day, and will resume play on Saturday. You can tide yourselves over with my annotations to yesterday's games, and on Saturday we'll see the following games - including the battle of the leaders:

    • Grischuk (2) - Caruana (2)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Topalov (3)
    • Giri (3) - Anand (1.5)
    • So (1.5) - Nakamura (2.5)
    • Aronian (3.5) - Carlsen (3.5)

    Sunday
    Jul052015

    Dortmund 2015, Final Round: Caruana Wins Again

    And wins in more than one way: he wins the game (his fifth in a row!) and the Dortmund tournament (for the second straight year and third time overall). Fabiano Caruana's final score of 5.5/7 matched last year's total, earned him 11 rating points and should give him some confidence going into the Sinquefield Cup six weeks from now.

    Not all of his wins in the tournament were works of art; clean, logical and error-free victories where the advantage grew bit by bit, but his last round victory was a work of art. His opponent, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, entered the last round half a point behind Caruana, and so a win would give him first place in the tournament. Spoiling for a fight Nisipeanu went for the Evans Gambit, but Caruana was well-prepared and stood a bit better in the early middlegame. He managed to increase his advantage over the next few moves, and on move 25 the game went from being an impressive practical achievement to something for the ages. Caruana devised a brilliant tactical idea even the engines have difficulty finding in light of the defensive/counterattacking idea chosen by Nisipeanu in the game. The combination, which you can replay here, is reminiscent of the famous old game Ortueta-Sanz, as noted by Caruana himself after the game. (You can replay both games, with my notes, here.)

    That settle the race for first, but the other games were also interesting. Vladimir Kramnik had been in the running for first through most of the tournament, and was still in contention for second. A win over Wesley So would have given him clear second, and a draw would have given him shared second with Nisipeanu. He equalized and then some with Black in a Berlin ending, and seemed to have good winning chances until his 28th-30th moves, each of which was inaccurate-to-bad. He was much worse, but with both players in serious time trouble he managed to get back to equal again. The position remained complicated, however, and in the second time control So outplayed him and picked up the full point. Oddly, while So defeated both Caruana and Kramnik in this tournament, he was lagging a long ways back through most of it and it was a big surprise to see that he finished second on tiebreaks ahead of Nisipeanu. A very decent result, if an uneven one, and thus the Americans finished 1-2 with Nisipeanu in nominal third.

    The other two games were drawn, though not smoothly. Hou Yifan had excellent winning chances against Ian Nepomniachtchi and Georg Meier had Arkadij Naiditsch dead in the water, yet neither player could convert their advantage.

    Here are the final standings:

    • 1. Caruana 5.5 (out of 7)
    • 2. So 4
    • 3. Nisipeanu 4
    • 4. Kramnik 3.5
    • 5. Naiditsch 3
    • 6. Nepomniachtchi 3
    • 7. Hou Yifan 2.5
    • 8. Meier 2.5

    Saturday
    Jul042015

    Dortmund 2015, Round 6: Caruana Wins Again, Kramnik Lets Nisipeanu Escape

    After a bumpy start, Fabiano Caruana is looking like the player he was around this time last year, and with his fourth consecutive victory he is in the driver's seat to win Dortmund again - and might match last year's score of 5.5/7. For now, it's 4.5/6 after his win over Hou Yifan. Hou decided to sac a pawn in the opening to alleviate some pressure, and was doing a good job of hanging in there until she preferred the decentralizing 28...Ndb6 to 28...Nde5. Caruana took immediate advantage, breaking in the center and heading for Black's king. Hou had to sac the exchange for counterplay, but it wasn't enough. Ironically, her activity allowed her to recoup the material, only to walk into a mating attack.

    Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu could have kept pace with Caruana by defeating Vladimir Kramnik, but that was never in the offing. Instead, it was Kramnik who outplayed Nisipeanu and could have won in a tough rook ending. It seems his last chance to convert the full point came on move 52 (or move 54, had Kramnik decided to head back to the same position). According to the tablebases the obvious 52.Kxf4 was a winner, which is not to say that it was a trivial win. Kramnik may have missed or underestimated Nisipeanu's 54...f3, after which White no longer had even practical chances for the full point. Nisipeanu is out of at least a share of the lead for the first time in the tournament, but as he's only half a point behind and gets White against Caruana in the last round he still has a chance to be the hero of the tournament. As for Kramnik, he is now a full point behind Caruana and is mathematically eliminated from contention for first, though with a win tomorrow he would do no worse than tie for second.

    In the other games Ian Nepomniachtchi won his first game in the tournament, grinding down Arkadij Naiditsch in a technical battle, while Georg Meier had a meaningful advantage against Wesley So but played it safe and let the American escape. As Meier had and lost even bigger advantages against Caruana and Kramnik in this tournament, his trepdiation was understandable.

    Here are the pairings for the last round:

    • Nisipeanu (4) - Caruana (4.5)
    • So (3) - Kramnik (3.5)
    • Naiditsch (2.5) - Meier (2)
    • Hou Yifan (2) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)