Hail the Conquering Hero - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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If American chess fans were cheering late last month, with the news that countryman Fabiano Caruana dominated the Berlin Candidates Tournament to become the first US-born title challenger since Bobby Fischer, then they now have even more reasons today to be cheerful, as Caruana continues his German odyssey by now winning the Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden ahead of World champion Magnus Carlsen!

Just as Caruana finished strongly in the Candidates’, he did likewise at the Grenke Chess Classic, yet again dominating an elite field with a powerhouse performance. In round seven, Caruana took the sole in the tournament by beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with black – and in the final round, also with black, he showed class, strong nerves, not to mention a ruthless streak by crushing Russian Nikita Vitiugov for a very impressive +4 unbeaten winning score of 6.5/9, as the new American chess hero took first place by a full point ahead of runner-up Carlsen, who was also unbeaten.

In quick succession now, Caruana has turned in two monumental tournament performances – and the sort of performances not seen from an American player since the days of Fischer in his pomp. And by reinforcing his Candidates’ credentials with an equally emphatic win of the Grenke Chess Classic, Caruana has now transformed himself into a very serious title challenger – and one that could well prove to be a tough challenger for Carlsen to overcome.

Not only that, but the script for their London clash just continues to get better and better. In winning the Grenke Chess Classic, Caruana has now leapfrogged Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the unofficial live ratings, climbing to 2817.5 and the new world #2, just some 20-points behind Carlsen now, making their upcoming title match in November in London a showdown between the top two ranking players in the world.

Now Miami-born, Brooklyn-raised Caruana heads home to what will surely be a hero’s welcome in his adopted city of St.Louis – and also next week there at the CCSCSL, the 2018 U.S. Championship, where the on-fire title-challenger could be set for a historic hat-trick of top tournament victories!

Final standings:
1. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 6.5/9; 2. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 5.5; 3-5. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Nikita Vitiugov (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 5; 6. Matthius Bluebaum (Germany) 4.5; 7-9. Vishy Anand (India), Hou Yifan (China), Arkadij Naiditsch (Germany) 3.5; 10. Georg Meier (Germany) 3.

Post-game video interview opposite with tournament victor Fabiano Caruana, including his final round win over Nikita Vitiugov.

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – GM Fabiano Caruana
GRENKE Chess Classic, (7)
English Opening
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4 The English Opening is something of a foreign territory for the Frenchman – and Caruana immediately sensed this, commenting in his post-game interview, “I felt that he was very unfamiliar with the opening”. 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 e4 7.Ng5 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Re8 9.Qc2 A somewhat timid line – and this perhaps confirmed Caruana’s initial hunch that MVL had played the English specifically to play something against his known set-up. The big theory crunch line comes with 9.d3. 9…d5 10.cxd5 Qxd5 11.d3 Bf5 12.Bf4 h6 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Qb2 b6 15.Rfd1 Caruana said he thought MVL would simply grab the pawn with 15.Bxc7 and he intended 15…Rac8 16.Bf4 Na5 17.Rad1 Qe6 18.Bxe4 Bxe4 19.dxe4 Qxe4 with excellent compensation with White’s queenside pawns all weak and vulnerable. 15…Qc5 16.dxe4 Bxe4 17.Bf1?! This came as a surprise for Caruana, who fully expected 17.Bxe4 Rxe4 18.Bxc7 Qe7! where Black will recapturing the pawn on e2. And with it, there’s not much in the position, though Black can claim he has the better pawn structure and his knight also having more potential than the bishop – but no concrete winning threats. 17…Re7 18.a4 Rae8 19.Rac1?! MVL continues to drift, Caruana explaining that the concept of a4 followed by Rac1 just looked all wrong. It was time to trade the queens to ease the pressure, so better was 19.Qb5 Qxb5 (Black can’t play 19…Qxc3 as now 20.Rac1! is good and strong, offering White excellent compensation with his better-placed pieces.) 20.axb5 Na5 where Caruana felt Black had a little edge with White’s queenside pawns being weak – but nothing he felt that White couldn’t deal with. 19…g5! An ambitious move that allows Caruana to not only seize control of the position but also the initiative – and certainly in the body language of the players, MVL started to look very uncomfortable by now. 20.Bd2 No better is 20.Be3, as after 20…Qf5 Black will stand better after the knight-hop of …Nc6-e5. 20…Qf5 21.f3 If 21.c4 Ne5 22.Rc3 c5 Black will follow up with …Bc6 and an overwhelming position. 21…Qc5+ 22.Kh1 White is simply doomed – and here, Caruana speculated that perhaps MVL had inadvertently fallen into this bad position, having initially missed the big tactical point after 22.Kg2 being the sacrificial stunner of 22…Bxf3+! 23.Kxf3 (23.exf3 Or even 23…Re2+! 24.Bxe2 Rxe2+ 25.Kh3 Qf5+ 26.g4 Qxf3#) 23…Qg1! and a forced mate coming, as White’s king is unceremoniously marched up the board by the unstoppable threats of …Ne5+ and/or …Re3+! 22…Bd5 The clinical win was still with the bishop sacrifice – but Caruana was unsure with no …Qg1 available, so he opted instead to take the ‘safe win’. But it still all crashes through after 22…Bxf3+! 23.exf3 Qf2! 24.Bg2 Rd8! with the doubling of rooks on the d-file winning back the piece and then some. 23.Be1 Bc4 Despite missing the clinical win, this proves to nothing short of total domination from Caruana now. 24.e4 Bxf1 Caruana could also have flicked in 24…Ne5! 25.Bxc4 Qxc4 which is also easily winning. But all roads lead to Rome here for Fabi. 25.Bf2 Qc4 26.Rxf1 Qxa4 27.c4 Ne5 28.Bd4 g4! [see diagram] With the break-up of the kingside pawns, Caruana now skilfully liquidates the position down to an easily won endgame. 29.fxg4 What else is there? If 29.f4 Nf3 would have been torture. So best for MVL to find a quick and painless death. 29…Qd7 30.Qc3 c5 31.Bxe5 Rxe5 32.Qf3 Rxe4 33.Rcd1 Qe6 34.g5 hxg5 35.Rd5 g4 36.Qc3 Re5 0-1 With Caruana ruthlessly snuffing out any slim hopes MVL might have had, and the endgame clearly winning now, the Frenchman resigns rather than prolonging his suffering.

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