Much like an Agatha Christie novel set in a parallel universe, now there are five. We have nothing short of a veritable logjam at the top of the leaderboard of the 6th Sinquefield Cup, with past winner and US World Championship challenger, Fabiano Caruana, now becoming the latest player to join the ever-expanding pack of tournament co-leaders, after he outplayed his fellow countryman, Hikaru Nakamura, in round four.
Caruana proved to be the only decisive winner of the round – and indeed of the last two rounds, as with all the games in round five also ending in draws, he joins Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk and Shakhriyar Mameduarov in a five-way tie at the top on 3/5, as the race looks set to tightens going into the home stretch of the last four rounds.
There’s much still to play for with such a closely-knit pack at the top, as not only is the outcome of this year’s winner of the Sinquefield Cup up for grab, but with it also being the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour (and coming with ‘bonus’ tour points), there’s also a lot of tension buzzing around the fabled Saint Louis Chess Club, as with it the race also tightens at the top of the tour standings as to which four players will go forward to contest the GCT Final in London in December.
Thursday is the rest-day, but the weekend action resumes again on Friday – and also not to be missed is what’s being dubbed as “Sinquefield Saturday”, with the expected big media-frenzy clash between two of the co-leaders, Caruana and Carlsen, in what will be their final meeting before their World Championship clash, also in London in November.
And timed with that World Championship clash now firmly on the horizon, publishers New in Chess will release on 1 September an exciting new book on the first American-born player to contest for the world title: Fabiano Caruana: His Amazing Story and His Most Instructive Chess Games, written by the renowned Russian trainer GM Alexander Kalinin.
1-5. F. Caruana (USA), L. Aronian (Armenia), A. Grischuk (Russia), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), M. Carlsen (Norway) 3/5; 6-7. V. Anand (India), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 2.5; 8. W. So (USA) 2; 9-10. S. Karjakin (Russia), H. Nakamura (USA) 1.5.
Photo: Don’t be disappointed; place your orders now for the life, times and games of Fabiano Caruana!
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Hikaru Nakamura
6th Sinquefield Cup, (4)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.g3 dxc4 6.Bg2 0-0 7.Ne5 Nc6 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.Nxc6 Qe8 10.Nxe7+ Qxe7 This is an almost carbon copy of Carlsen-Karjakin from round two: the only difference was that that game started via the English Opening with 1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 Bb4, and Carlsen played 6.a3, and then the bishop retreated back to e7 – so we got a typical Catalan position with 6.a3 added, which made no difference to the overall scheme of things. 11.Qa4 c5 12.dxc5 Qxc5 13.Be3 Qc7 Save for the interpolation of a3, we are still following Carlsen-Karjakin – but Caruana has a different plan in mind than the World Champion. 14.0-0-0!? It’s certainly an imaginative novelty from Caruana! If you remember in the Carlsen-Karjakin game, the World Champion here played Rd1 and castled kingside, and Karjakin all but easily equalised with his back-rank threats generated by an eventual …Bh3 – but with no a3 played, Caruana seems to asses that there’s less of a weakness on the queenside, so he can kill two birds with the one stone by castling queenside. 14…Ng4 Easily the most logical move, directly putting the question to the Be3. And indeed, the engines quickly tell us that Black is a little better here because of the forced doubling of the e-pawns – but Caruana believes he has more long-term prospects in the coming endgame, with his rooks dominating the d-file and Black’s queenside pawns split and vulnerable to attack. 15.Rd2 Nxe3 16.fxe3 Rb8 17.Rhd1 The difference of no a3 on the board, as in the Carlsen-Karjakin game, can be seen by the fact that castling queenside would have seen Black following up with …Rb3 and heavy pressure on White’s position. But to reinforce the safety of his king, Caruana – with his domination of the d-file – has the time to wisely move his king over to a1 for complete safety. 17…a5 18.Kb1 h6 19.Ka1 Caruana only has the luxury of being able to use his last two moves to get his king out of the way, due to Nakamura having a problem of just how he is going to develop his bishop. 19…Rb4 20.Qc2 Rb8 And herein lies Nakamura’s problem, as retreating the rook back again is the best way to develop his bishop – but now Caruana has designs of moving swiftly into the endgame and exploiting those two vulnerable Black queenside pawns on a5 and c4. And this looked a bit more solid than the alternative of 20…Bb7 21.Rd7 Qb6 22.Qd2 Bc6 23.Rd8 and it is becoming somewhat uncomfortable for Black, as the trade of a set of rooks and queens leaves White with the better endgame prospects. 21.Qe4 Bb7 22.Qd4 Caruana’s dominance of the d-file is annoying for Nakamura, as it hinders his development. 22…Ba8 23.e4 Rfc8 24.Qf2 Bc6 The only move to stop Rd7. If 24…Rd8 25.Qf4! Qb6 26.Rxd8+ Rxd8 27.Rxd8+ Qxd8 and now only 28.a3 White has the better endgame prospects, as Black’s back-rank is vulnerable, as is his queenside pawns. Black is not lost, per se – but it just becomes more and more ‘awkward’ to defend. 25.Qc5 Be8?! As we have already explained, the endgame after the trade of queens is not an easy one for Black – and this move, therefore, surprised me a little. I firmly believed Nakamura was going to go for the better alternative of keeping the queens on, with 25…a4! as greedily snatching the c-pawn with 26.Qxc4 is dangerous after 26…Qa5 as Black is not without compensation for the pawn here, with his pieces now coming to life – and these are the sort of position Nakamura usually revels in. I don’t think White can snatch the c-pawn, and if this is the case, then Nakamura clearly missed his best chance here to stay competitive in the game. 26.Qxc7 Rxc7 27.Rd6 With Caruana’s rook getting behind the a-pawn, the ending gets ever-more difficult for Nakamura. 27…Kf8 No better was the alternative of 27…Ra8 28.Rb6 as Black still faces a difficult job trying to hold the position with White’s rooks being so active. 28.Ra6 Rc5 29.Ra7 Rbc8 30.Kb1 Also good was 30.Rd6 and making the most of White’s active rooks. Rather than that, Caruana opts instead to bring his king into the game, hoping to make easy targets of Black’s weak a- and c-pawns. 30…Rh5 31.h4 Re5 32.Kc2 g5 33.Rf1! It just becomes more and more difficult for Nakamura to find a coherent plan to bring some activity for his pieces, especially now the woeful bishop on e8 pegged down to defending f7 – but Nakamura does his best to try to unravel. 33…Kg7 34.Rb7 Kg6 35.Kd2 f5 36.hxg5 fxe4? Either Nakamura cracked, miscalculated, or he inexplicably simply saw a ‘ghost’ here. The obvious and best reply was 36…hxg5 37.Rh1 Bf7! White still has the advantage as it remains somewhat awkward for Black – but at least he’s still in the game here with good chances of saving it. 37.Ke3 Easier to play and perhaps understand with the time control looming – but there was nothing wrong with the more direct and clinical 37.gxh6 as after 37…e3+ 38.Kc1 Kxh6 39.Rf8! Rf5 40.Rxf5 exf5 41.Re7 the loss of the e-pawn is unavoidable, and White will make easy targets of the three vulnerable, isolated Black pawns on f5, c4 & a5. 37…Bc6 38.Re7 It now becomes an almost study-like position – and with it, Nakamura misses arguably his last, slim chance of perhaps staying in the game. 38…Rxg5?! The best hope was to try for 38…h5 39.Rf6+ Kxg5 40.Rfxe6 Rxe6 41.Rxe6 Kf5 42.Rh6 Kg5 43.Rh7 Rg8! where Black’s more mobile king and the coming …Rg6 to hold the line means it is far from over. 39.Rxe6+ Kg7 The king is forced back now, as the alternative of 39…Kh5 40.Rh1+ Kg4 41.Rexh6 puts the Black king in danger of mating net threats with Nd1-f2+. 40.Re7+ Kg6 41.Rd1 Kf6 42.Ra7 Ke6 Unfortunately for Nakamura, capturing with check on g3 walks into a self-inflicted mating net after 42…Rxg3+ 43.Kf4 and no way to avoid Rd6 mate without losing the rook. 43.Rh1 h5 Slightly better was 43…Rxg3+ 44.Kd4 but even this is futile, as White’s activity will simply pick off more of those vulnerable pawns. 44.g4! [see diagram] The final nail in Nakamura’s coffin, as Caruana threatens to open up another line of attack for his other rook down the h-file. 44…Be8 If 44…Rxg4 45.Rxh5 Rg6 46.Raxa5 is easily winning – and, of course, if 44…hxg4 45.Rh6+ again either mates or wins the rook. 45.gxh5 Bxh5 46.Nxe4 Rf5 47.Ra6+ Ke7 48.Nd6 Re5+ 49.Kd4 1-0 Nakamura resigns, not wishing to play out 49…Rcc5 50.e4! and no way to stop Nf5+ either mating or winning material.