Caruana Commanding, Scalps World Champ to Stay Perfect

GM Caruana has stayed perfect through three rounds at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, while World Champion Magnus Carlsen has just one point to show. 


By GM Ian Rogers

Three rounds, three wins and a commanding lead: Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana has been unstopped in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, his latest victory over the World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a remarkable match on Friday.

Caruana's win was far from simple but, after a quiet opening by Carlsen, the Italian always seemed to have the whip hand. The world champion was not happy with his early position, partially explaining his radical 13.h3!? and 15.Bxf7+!!??.

“I think he overlooked 12...Nh5,” said Caruana, “which has the idea 13.Nxe5 Nxe5! 14.Qxh5 Bg4. If he plays 15.Bc2 then, after 15...a5, black is very comfortable.” Carlsen later agreed that, without the bishop sacrifice, he would have just been worse.

Caruana reacted to the sacrifice aggressively with 17...Qg5!, but was surprised by 19.Nxh8 and went into the tank, spending almost half an hour before finding 19...Bg4. The position looked attractive, but yielded nothing more -- until Carlsen erred with 24. e5+.

Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov finally troubled the scorers with a far-from convincing win against local hero GM Hikaru Nakamura, with the former world champion describing his match as being far-below world-class standard.

The game opened as an Arkhangelsk Variation of the Ruy Lopez but started taking it's own flavor when Topalov chose the unusual 9.h3. Nakamura's b4-b3 plan was provocative, encouraging Topalov to break too early with 19.e5?!. The American’s 20...Nh5! was a great idea and, despite giving Topalov the center, Nakamura held the edge.

“I could have lost the game [very quickly] had Hikaru found 21...Bxf2+!!,” admitted the Bulgarian.

Having missed that shot, Nakamura was forced onto the defensive by a powerful pawn sacrifice at 22.e6!. The resulting position was not easy to play and, by move 27, Nakamura realized that the game had reached a critical moment. He spent 25 minutes looking for the correct tactical idea to break out of his shackles.

He chose poorly, with 27...Nc6?! 28.Nxc6 Bxc6 and the fantastic idea 29.Nxe6 Ng4!, when the complications favour Black.

Unfortunately Topalov found a simple yet powerful response 29.Bc3!, after which Black's e6 pawn was doomed. Despite some ingenious squirming by Nakamura, the former World No. 1 did not let the game escape his grasp.


Official World No. 2 Levon Aronian had a second unfortunate day in the opening and, unlike his comeback victory over Toplaov in Thursday’s second round, on Friday his opponent Maxime Vachier-Lagrave did not let the tricky Armenian escape. Aronian's problems began with 7...Be6 instead of the natural 7...Bf5.

“I think I have played 7...Be6 in blitz against GM Laurent Fressinet,” explained Vachier-Lagrave, who knew that the pawn sacrifice 10.Qxd2! was dangerous for Black. Aronian thought only two minutes before taking the pawn on c4, entering a position that gave Vachier-Lagrave massive pressure. 13.Qe3! was a particularly nasty move from the Frenchman, who rejected 13.Qb4 because of the amazing line 13...bxa2 14.Qxb7 Qb6 15.Qxa8 Qxb2 16.Qxa7 Rxf2!!. “The computer tells me that White is still better after 17.Rxa2,” said Vachier-Lagrave, “but 17...Rxf1+ 18.Kxf1 Qb1+ 19.Kf2 c5! still doesn't seem completely clear to me.”

Unwilling to defend passively, Aronian tried the tricky plan 15...Rf5!? and 16...Qb6!? but after 17.e4!, “the point is that 17...Rb5 18.Bf1 Rxb2!? loses  to 19.Rxb2 Qxd4 20.Rd2!!,” explained Vachier-Lagrave in his post-game recap at the World Chess Hall of Fame.

Forced to go backwards, Aronian had to sit and wait for his opponent to push him off the board. Vachier-Lagrave duly regained his pawn, won another and then exchanged into a winning endgame.

Aronian's loss made it only the second time in history that the world number one and two had lost on the same day, the first being at the Grand Slam Final in Sao Paulo in 2011. Both Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave now sit in second place at 50% -- another sign of Caruana's dominance so far -- with Aronian facing the scary task of taking on the leader on Saturday.