The Moment Ends: Carlsen holds Caruana to Stop the Streak

GM Fabiano Caruana has tallied 7.5 points out of 8 rounds and has clinched first place with two rounds remaining. World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen holds clear second with 4.5. // Photo: Lennart Ootes

by GM Ian Rogers

GM Fabiano Caruana came close to a record-breaking, eighth-consecutive win but was finally held to a draw in Thursday's round of the Sinquefield Cup -- ending his historical streak through the highest-rated tournament ever.

It took World-Champion skill to rescue a position that even Norwegian fans had written off for Magnus Carlsen. The reigning king found a way to scramble to draw, however, and then had kind words for the tournament winner.

"It's an amazing result, said Carlsen. “Even if he doesn't turn up for the last two games, it would be one of the greatest of our time. If he finishes in style it will be one of the greatest results ever."

The Caruana-Carlsen game lived up to its billing as the game of the event. Carlsen unexpectedly used the Accelerated Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defence – an opening he had trashed with the White pieces when Vachier-Lagrave tried it against him earlier in the tournament.

Caruana preferred a solid Maroczy Bind setup and was surprised by Carlsen's 10...a5!? -- the World Champion admitting after the game that 10...Qa5 was probably better.

With 11.b3! and 15.Nb5! (intending to meet 15...Rc8 with 16.Na3) Caruana kept control of the game by going for kingside space via 17.h4! and 18.g4! The line certainly made Carlsen nervous, saying later: “I thought he was only going for my king, but then I realized that he was also positionally better.”

Carlsen found his only chance, breaking with 19...e5 and 21...f5.

“23.Na5! was a strong move,” said Caruana.

White's decision to castle was criticized, but “I wanted to tuck my king away in the corner,” explained Caruana. His pawn sacrifice idea at 28.Kh1! was excellent, though he should have offered the sacrifice a second time with 29.Rfd1! because, as Carlsen had seen one move earlier, 29...Bxh4 30.Rg1+ Kh8 31.Rg4! leads to a winning attack.

“I thought I was being clever using the c-rook on d1, but it was just wrong,” admitted Caruana.

The Italian had two more chances to keep an edge: 32.Rd7! (“and if I get my pawn to b7, Black is in trouble,” said Caruana) and 35.Rxe5 Rxf1+ 36.Bxf1 Rf8 37.Rf5!

“Of course, if I had seen 37.Rf5, I would have played this,” he admitted.

Game Analysis by GM Alejandro Ramirez


Despite GM Levon Aronian building up a winning position with highly original play, his game against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished without payout.

After a weird move order, the game reached a standard Philidor Defensive position, but then Aronian lashed out with Alexei Shirov's famous pawn sacrifice 5.g4!

Vachier-Lagrave's calm response provoked another unconventional idea from the Armenian, 7.Bh3!? followed by 9.Bxd7+,  which could have been answered by the equally weird 9...Qxd7.

Vachier-Lagrave seemed destabilized, however, and his pawn grab on move 11...Bxh4 left Aronian very comfortably placed. Vachier-Lagrave's next move was an error that allowed 13.Nf5!, after which Aronian built up his advantage to giant proportions.

From move 17 on, however, Aronian was at a loss to explain any of his moves. 18.e5?! threw away much of the advantage, 21.Qxf7?! made the h7 pawn vulnerable and, by the time Aronian allowed 23...Rexh7!, he was happy to escape with a draw.


Game Analysis by GM Alejandro Ramirez

Nakamura's tournament went from bad to worse with a loss against Topalov's Berlin Defense against the Ruy Lopez.

White varied early with 5. d4 instead of Re1 with which Nakamura had drawn against Carlsen. Instead, the game reached a main line of the Berlin Wall against which many top Grandmasters have beaten their heads in recent years.

White tried to mobilize his kingside pawn majority, but 18.Neg5 (played after 24 minutes, instead of the modest 18.Be3) was too optimistic and, after 18...Bc8!, Nakamura discovered that the intended 19.e6 would run into 19...Bd6+ 20.Kg2 f6! 21.Nf7 hxg4 22.hxg4 Bb7!, with a huge attack for Black.

His attempt to pull back left Topalov in the driving seat, who proceeded to play a model game with a continual increase of advantage. In time trouble, 27.Rh1 and 28.Re1 made Black's job easier and, by the 40th move bonus, Nakamura was a pawn down and forced to exchange into a losing rook ending. Topalov finished efficiently, and the Bulgarian is now Carlsen's main challenger for second place. The two meet in Saturday’s final round.

Game Analysis by GM Alejandro Ramirez