Space Advantage: Caruana Opens Up Two-Point Lead in Sinquefield Cup

GM Fabiano Caruana has won each of his first four games of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, including against the World's No. 1 and No. 2 players, and now enjoys a comfortable lead over the strongest-ever field. 

By GM Ian Rogers

Four rounds, four wins, and now a two-point lead -- has it been mentioned that GM Fabiano Caruana is looking unstoppable at the Sinquefield Cup?

With another exhibition of power chess, the Italian took down the player he had replaced as world number-two, GM Levon Aronian, in Saturday’s fourth round at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

The game began as a peaceful Ruy Lopez, with Caruana -- despite being the only player to take down Aronian in the Marshall Gambit, in Zurich 2014 -- avoiding the highly analyzed line.

When Caruana unleashed his new move, 15.Na2, it seemed that little was different from the standard variations, though his eventual 21.Ng5! and 22.Qh5! changed everything.

“(Aronian) should have taken the knight on g5 or played 22...Rh6,” Caruana explained.

The resulting positions were rather passive for Black, but Caruana was not content to keep maneuvering.

“I thought if I played 29.Nh2-g4, he would sacrifice an exchange with Rf4 and take over the dark squares,” Caruana said. Instead, he gave up his own piece with 29.Na5!! in order to start his own attack.

Resisting the lure of a pawn with 32.Ne5 Rf8 33.Ng4, White pushed its pawns forward and after 35...Kh7 -- a blunder, according to Caruana -- the Sinquefield Cup leader's fourth-consecutive win was in the bag.

Caruana needs two more wins to equal the longest starting winning streak in an elite tournament in the modern era, established by Anatoly Karpov in Linares 1994.

Game analyses by GM Ben Finegold

In an apparent quick-round tournament that had yet to see a game reach time control, GMs Veselin Topalov and Magnus Carlsen fought out the Sinquefield Cup’s longest game thus far, though only to a draw.

Carlsen’s curious 5.Bd2!? in a hybrid Queen's Indian/Nimzo-Indian Opening  -- a favorite move of world champions half a century ago -- showed that the current world’s king was pushing for an early advantage, but he lost control of the game just before the time control and was forced to defend grimly.

After the game was settled in a draw, Carlsen informed a shocked Topalov that the Bulgarian had missed a win with 45...Rc5! -- “I saw that as soon as I played 45.Rc8,” admitted Carlsen -- but luckily, for Topalov’s sanity, the move was not as good as it looked. White could still draw with 46.Rxc5 Nxc5 47.h5! Kc7 48.Nxa6+ Nxa6 49.Kg3.

Game analyses by GM Ben Finegold

GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura played the least-eventful game of the tournament, a result which should have suited Nakamura --determined not to lose two games in a row -- just fine.

For the second consecutive day Nakamura played an Arkangelsk variation of the Ruy Lopez, and he played it quickly and confidently. But after Vachier-Lagrave's 17th move, the American realized something was wrong. Nakamura admitted that he thought he was following the game Ponomariov-Giri from the Zug Grand Prix tournament of 2013 but, in fact, the moves Re1 and h6 had been inserted.

After long thought, Nakamura decided to follow Giri's example anyway by playing 17...Rb8 and was relieved when Vachier allowed a liquidation of pawns, leading to equality.

Nakamura was most concerned about 18.f3, after which he was unsure whether 18...Nd5!? 19.exd5 Rxe3! 20.Rxe3 Bxd4 was good enough for Black, but he felt that the fallback plan 18...d5 19.e5 Nd7 20.f4 c5 21.Nf3 f6 would also likely be playable.

After Vachier's 18.Nxc4, multiple exchanges brought the game to its inevitable draw, leaving the Frenchman in second place with two points and Nakamura declaring that tournament victory was still within reach -- should he be able to stop the Caruana Express on Sunday. In his career, the American has yet to lose a game to Caruana.

Game analyses by GM Ben Finegold