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    Entries in Fabiano Caruana (94)

    Saturday
    Jun042016

    Shamkir, Round 9 + Tiebreaks: Mamedyarov Wins, Caruana Collapses

    Chess is a tough, sometimes cruel game. 40, 50 excellent moves can all be for nought after a single mistake, and likewise tournament victory can slip away after a lapse or two. Something like that was the case for Fabiano Caruana in this tournament, except that tournament victory slipped away after leaving points on the table in no fewer than six games. Such lapses may be something of a habit for Caruana - off the top of my head I can think of rounds 8 and 9 from the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, the last two rounds of this year's Candidates tournament, and now rounds 6-8 of this tournament plus the first three games in the tiebreak with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Maybe this is why Magnus Carlsen is #1 and Caruana is still in the peleton, and why Sergey Karjakin will be playing for the world championship this November and Caruana won't be.

    If the foregoing is correct - and maybe a more thorough comparison of Caruana's results will show that it isn't - then it is a problem in need of a solution. Improved stamina? A stronger killer instinct at the board, or at least a more assertive presence at the board? He's still young enough to work on and correct the problem; again, assuming that there really is a problem.

    Let's get back to objective matters and recap the round and the subsequent tiebreak. Caruana entered the round tied for first with Anish Giri, half a point ahead of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Caruana drew comfortably with Black against Karjakin, who chose an innocuous line against Caruana's Open Ruy. Mamedyarov was much less peacably inclined against Giri, and ground out an impressive win against the hitherto undefeated Dutchman. It was Mamedyarov's third win in a row (he beat his countryman Eltaj Safarli in round 7 and then Caruana in round 8), and it earned him a playoff against Caruana for the title.

    Before getting to the tiebreaks, a review of the other games. Pavel Eljanov had an advantage against Teimour Radjabov, but didn't manage to convert it: a draw. Pentala Harikrishna had a winning advantage against Safarli after playing an excellent first part of the game, but a string of inaccurate-to-awful moves from move 30 to move 36 resulted in a loss in the second time control. Finally, Hou Yifan's efforts to escape the cellar backfired. She overextended with the white pieces against Rauf Mamedov, and eventually her positional weaknesses cost her the game.

    On to the tiebreaks. First there were a pair of rapid games, and in both of them Caruana had a large, even winning advantage. The result: two draws. It was on then to a pair of blitz games, and here the tournament's outcome was finally decided. The first blitz game was a nervy affair that generally trended in Mamedyarov's favor, but Caruana had a chance to win this one too. Afterwards Caruana had several chances to draw the rook ending (some easy, some less easy), but at the end of a very long day at the end of a long tournament it's understandable that he didn't manage to save a blitz game. Mamedaryov won that game, and then needed only a draw in the rematch - with White - to secure tournament victory. In fact he could have won that game in the opening. He found a great tactical shot, but missed a key follow-up that would have left him a piece ahead. His decision to take the cynical route a few moves later with 21.Bxd4 could have backfired against an in-form Caruana, who did outplay him for a while in an endgame with rooks and opposite-colored bishops. Caruana couldn't quite squeeze enough from the position, and then a moment of carelessness left him lost (or nearly lost) again. Mamedyarov was happy to coast in with a draw though, and that was how that game finished, leaving Mamedyarov the winner of the third Vugar Gashimov memorial tournament in Shamkir, Azerbaijan.

    All the games from the final round and the tiebreaks are here, with my comments.

    Final Standings:

    • 1. Mamedyarov 6
    • 2. Caruana 6
    • 3. Giri 5.5
    • 4. Karjakin 5
    • 5. Mamedov 4.5
    • 6-8. Harikrishna, Radjabov, Safarli 4
    • 9. Eljanov 3.5
    • 10. Hou 2.5

    Friday
    Jun032016

    Shamkir, Round 8: Caruana Loses to Mamedyarov, Shares First With Giri With A Round to Play

    What could have been a victory lap for Fabiano Caruana has turned into a struggle to survive in the Vugar Gashimov memorial tournament in Shamkir. After giving up draws in rounds 6 and 7 from positions he should win, Caruana lost unnecessarily - with White, even - to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in round 8. Mamedyarov equalized in a Sveshnikov Sicilian, and then outplayed Caruana in a heavy piece endgame.

    Suddenly there is all to play for, as Caruana is now only tied with Anish Giri for first, while Mamedyarov is just half a point behind and Sergey Karjakin a point back. Better still for dramatic purposes, but much worse for Caruana, he has Black against Karjakin in the last round, while Giri has Black against Mamedyarov.

    In fact, Giri had good chances to take sole possession of first, playing White against tailender Hou Yifan. Giri enjoyed an advantage from early on, but although he tried for a long time - 103 moves in all - she defended excellently and saved the game.

    As for Karjakin, he drew very easily with Black against Eltaj Safarli, and they split the point in just 22 moves. It was an easy day at the office for him, but with the draw Karjakin is mathematically eliminated from any possibility of a first-place tie. On the flip side, he's guaranteed of at least a tie for second place if he defeats Caruana tomorrow.

    The other two games, Teimour Radjabov vs. Pentala Harikrishna and Rauf Mamedov vs. Pavel Eljanov, were also drawn, with no one experiencing any real danger on the way to the handshake.

    Here's Caruana-Mamedyarov (with my comments), and here are the final round pairings:

    • Mamedyarov (5) - Giri (5.5)
    • Karjakin (4.5) - Caruana (5.5)
    • Harikrishna (4) - Safarli (3)
    • Eljanov (3) - Radjabov (3.5)
    • Hou Yifan (2.5) - Mamedov (3.5)

    Friday
    Jun032016

    Shamkir, Round 7: Caruana Misses a Big Chance

    There were two decisive results in the antepenultimate round of the Vugar Gashimov memorial tournament in Shamkir, and there should have been three or even four.

    There was only one non-game in the round, and surprisingly it wasn't the all-Azeri match between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Eltaj Safarli. Why exactly this was a real game while all of the other intra-national games featuring the home players were short, effortless draws is a mystery to me, but Mamedyarov came to play. Unfortunately for Safarli, he played a very poor game and was in trouble after just 12 moves. Mamedyarov dominated for a long time, but his knight misadventure 32.Nc6 and 33.Nd8 gave Safarli a couple of chances to save the game. Perhaps due to time pressure, he didn't succeed, and Mamedyarov was winning easily by the end of the time control.

    The one short draw was instead between Sergey Karjakin and Teimour Radjabov, and there wasn't much to see there. The other two draws were full of life, however, and that includes the game between Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri. Caruana entered the round half a point ahead, and with a win the tournament would have been on ice. The players seemed to be prepared almost to move 30, but then the adventures started. Giri's foolhardy 31st move exposed his king to grave danger, and he was very fortunate that Caruana didn't venture Qf7 on either move 35 or 37. (Time pressure?) Luckily for Giri, Caruana allowed a threefold repetition, and the question of first place remains open.

    The other draw was less significant for the top places, but was an interesting battle all the same. Pentala Harikrishna managed to draw with Rauf Mamedov, but despite having the white pieces he was in trouble for a long time and probably lost at one or two moments.

    Finally, in the battle of the tailenders Pavel Eljanov escaped the cellar by defeating Hou Yifan, who is now in last place half a point behind Eljanov and Safarli. Eljanov played very aggressively and it paid off, and the game finished with an attractive, study-like win.

    The two decisive games, plus Caruana-Giri, are here (with my comments).

    The round 8 pairings look like this:

     

    • Giri (5) - Hou Yifan (2)
    • Mamedov (3) - Eljanov (2.5)
    • Radjabov (3) - Harikrishna (3.5)
    • Safarli (2.5) - Karjakin (4)
    • Caruana (5.5) - Mamedyarov (4)

     

    Monday
    May302016

    (Big) Shamkir Update: Caruana Leads with 4.5/5, Giri Half a Point Behind

    Starting from round 2 the event heated up and decisive results have abounded. Even many of the draws have been interesting – at least when they haven’t involved all-Azeri pairings.

    In round 2, Hou Yifan had an advantage against Eltaj Safarli on the white side of a Winawer French, but didn’t manage to convert. On the other hand, the top player most associated with draws these days, Anish Giri, managed to defeat Sergey Karjakin. In fact, nothing much was happening in their game until Karjakin’s 33…Qg4 followed by 34…Rhe8, walking himself into a tactical disaster. After 35.f5! gxf5 36.Nf2 Qg6 37.exf5 the best Black could do was enter an ending with two rooks against a queen, and with as many weak pawns as Karjakin had the result was a foregone conclusion. Pavel Eljanov has had some great results over the past year, but this tournament doesn’t look like it’s going to be one of them. Fabiano Caruana was pressing early on with Black, combining queenside play (with his passed a-pawn and later with a rook on the b-file) with control of the a8-h1 diagonal and penetration by his queen on the kingside. Eljanov needn’t have lost, but as often happens under sustained pressure the defender eventually lets something slip – especially in time trouble. Eljanov’s just before the time control allowed Caruana’s heavy pieces to penetrate to the first rank, and the game ended several moves later. Rauf Mamedov and Teimour Radjabov went through the motions to draw in 20 moves. Finally, Pentala Harikrishna won very easily against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Harikrishna took the space that Mamedyarov offered, used it to penetrate Black’s porous position, and soon material fell.

    In round 3 Mamedyarov bounced back with a win over Eljanov. The game was more or less equal until the last move of the time control, 40…Rd7?! (though perhaps Eljanov’s 36…d5 was a risky choice that put him in a situation where accuracy was required) Instead 40…Rd6 would have maintained equality. After this inaccurate move Mamedyarov engineered a nice kingside breakthrough and won with a passed h-pawn. Caruana cruised to a second straight win, defeating Hou Yifan on the white side of an Open Ruy. In her world championship match against Mariya Muzychuk Hou faced the Open Ruy several time; perhaps as a result of her work on the opening in that match she has decided to give it a try here. Caruana produced the first novelty, however, and quickly obtained an advantage. Things weren’t too bad for the women’s champion until 27…h5, whereupon her position collapsed. Radjabov-Giri looked like it could have been an all-Azeri battle (i.e. a very easy draw) – which was the case in Safarli – Mamedov. Karjakin – Harikrishna was another story. Like Mamedyarov, Karjakin recovered from his loss in round 2 with a win to get back to 50%, dragging Harikrishna back down to the same score. Harikrishna’s 12…h6 was provocative, and Karjakin accepted the provocation with 13.Bxh6. Karjakin’s assessment was better than his opponent, and after a series of exchanges White’s two rooks and six pawns proved stronger than Black’s rook, bishop, knight, and three pawns. Converting the advantage wasn’t easy, but Karjakin did it.

    Round 4 saw perhaps the first outright blunder of the event, Harikrishna’s 24…Qxd4 against Giri. His position was uncomfortable before that, but it was dead lost afterwards, and he resigned three moves later. Radjabov and Safarli did the patriotic thing and draw speedily; at least the game was entertaining for a while. Caruana stayed half a point ahead of Giri by winning his third game in a row, this time with Black against Mamedov. Mamedov’s hyper-aggressive opening idea fizzled, and although he enjoyed the nominal material advantage of rook and two pawns against two bishops, the power of the bishop pair is often supreme in such cases. Eventually it proved so in this game as well, helped along by Mamedyarov’s erroneous 30.Re7+ and some further mistakes to boot. It was not a great game by Caruana, but with the win he maintained his lead and leapfrogged Vladimir Kramnik into second place in the Live Ratings. The last two games, Hou Yifan-Mamedyarov and Eljanov-Karjakin, were both good fighting draws.

    In round 5, only one game was drawn (Mamedyarov-Mamedov – the usual story); in the remaining games it was mostly the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Hou Yifan went for another Open Ruy against Karjakin (though a different line), and while she may have won the theoretical battle (25…d3 seems a little better for Black) she lost the war, getting ground down in an ending. Caruana won his fourth game in a row, this time at Radjabov’s expense. In a Rossolimo with opposite-sides castling White’s attack was much faster than Black’s after Black failed to play 16…b4 and White took advantage with 17.b4! Caruana misplayed the position near the end and gave Radjabov a chance to keep fighting, but after 33…Bf5? White finished in style with 34.e6! Rxg4 35.exf7 Rxd4 36.Ne8! Giri also won again, staying just half a point behind Caruana. Safarli – Giri’s victim – may have expected that Black’s pawn duo on e4 and f5 was bound to collapse, but it remained long enough to give Giri a winning attack. Finally, Harikrishna got back to 50% by giving Eljanov his third defeat of the tournament. White’s kingside attack was very dangerous but only enough for equality until 26…exd4. After a forced sequence White wound up with a queen and four pawns against two rooks and four pawns, but White had connected passers while Black’s pawns were all weak. Once the time control was reached White had queen and three pawns vs. the two rooks and a single pawn, and with no counterplay available to Black he decided to call it a day.

    All the decisive games in the tournament up to now are here, with my comments.

    Tuesday is a rest day, and on Wednesday the round 6 pairings are as follows:

     

    • Giri (4) – Eljanov (1)
    • Hou (1.5) – Harikrishna (2.5)
    • Mamedov (2) – Karjakin (3)
    • Radjabov (2) – Mamedyarov (2.5)
    • Safarli (2) – Caruana (4.5)

     

    Thursday
    May122016

    MVL vs. Caruana Blitz Match: Updated

    There's a report on it here, while if you, like me, haven't seen it yet and would rather watch it "live" without knowing the result, you can watch the on-demand video here. Somehow I managed to dig up those links without seeing the result of the match, which took place on Tuesday, so I'll let you find out for yourself.

    This is part of an eight-player knockout event on Chess.com, and I reported last month on another of the quarterfinal matches, Alexander Grischuk's win over Levon Aronian. Somehow I missed last week's match between Hikaru Nakamura and Pentala Harikrishna, so I'll have to dig that one up as well. (Don't tell me what happened, even if it's extremely likely that Nakamura was the victor!) The last of the quarterfinal matches will see Magnus Carlsen take on the winner of a qualifying tournament, making this probably the strongest blitz tournament (by average rating) in chess history.

    UPDATE: It would be hard for the commentators of the match between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana not to say what happened in the Nakamura-Harikrishna match, so I decided to find (and hopefully watch) that one first. If you also don't want to spoil the drama, you can watch that one here.

    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)