All-American Armageddon - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


A rare slip-up from Magnus Carlsen saw the Norwegian World Champion losing his first match in his own signature event involving his major rivals past, present and future, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, as he crashed to a surprise 2.5-1.5 defeat to Anish Giri, as the Dutch No.1 won his first match in the pandemic lockdown $250,000 online super-tournament hosted on Chess24.

The defeat from Carlsen offered the chance for Hikaru Nakamura to go clear at the top of the leaderboard – but only if the speed maven could beat his US rival, Fabiano Caruana, in the eagerly anticipated all-American clash of Round 5, Day 2 of the preliminaries that will decide which four players will go forward to the next stage of the tournament with its $70,000 top prize.

The encounter more than lived up to the hype of its billing, with the hard-fought match ending tied at 2-2 and going to the wire of the deciding “Armageddon” contest. In the Armageddon decider, White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4, but a draw sees Black win the match (and the Armageddon winner gets 2 points, the loser 1).

Nakamura won the toss and opted for Black – but despite the faster time control, and the prospects of a nerve-wracking decider, even the all-American Armageddon encounter proved to be a high-quality affair, as Caruana edged out Nakamura after the latter fell to far behind on his clock in a complex position.

In the other exciting match-up of the round, Ding Liren beat Ian Nepomniachtchi to collect the full 3-points to join a three-way tie at the top alongside Nakamura and Carlsen – and with two rounds left to play and Caruana lurking just a point off the lead (and five points ahead of the next players), the likely outcome now is that this looks the likely quartette who will go forward to contest the next stage, the ‘Final Four’.

Preliminary Standings:
1-3. Ding Liren (China), H. Nakamura (USA), M. Carlsen (Norway) 11-points; 4. F. Caruana (USA) 10; 5-6. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 5; 7. A. Giri (Netherlands) 4; 8. A. Firouzja (FIDE) 3.

Watch the ‘Aftershow with Pascal Charbonneau’ (video opposite), as the Canadian GM breaks down the highlights of Magnus Carlsen’s loss to Anish Giri.

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Magnus Carlsen Invitational, (5.5)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.cxd5!? This Exchange variation-type option isn’t the main choice, but Caruana’s trainer and coach, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, have mentioned this move in the past as a try – and perhaps best of all played in a speed decider. 7…Nxd5 For the Exchange variation proper, we would normally see 7…exd5 – but Black can take an early advantage with the Bf4 by recapturing with the knight, as it forces early trades that will ease his position, which Nakamura does in the Armageddon-decider, needing only to draw to win the match. 8.Nxd5 exd5 9.Bd3 c5 10.0-0 c4 11.Bc2 b5 12.b3! Immediately undermining Black’s queenside pawns, not giving Nakamura a chance to consolidate the area of the board he is looking to dominate in. 12…a5 13.bxc4 bxc4 14.Rb1 Caruana has the easy advantage with his free-flowing piece-play – but he is the one that has to force the win to take the match. 14…Bb4 15.h3 Ra6! Nakamura, as Magnus Carlsen himself noted, is a tough defender and he can often be very resourceful in speed play, and here he develops his rook as best he can, strategically utilising it somewhere along his own third rank. 16.Qe2 Nf6 17.Ne5 Be6 The game is ideally poised for an Armageddon-decider – neither side has any decisive advantage, though Caruana stands marginally better, but he’s the one who has to now take risks to play for the win, as a draw gives Nakamura the match. 18.f3 Nd7 19.Ng4! Caruana has to play with an element of risk to play for the win – but with Nakamura having less time on the clock, and even although he’s one of the top speed mavens in chess, he has to spend precious thinking time making sure he doesn’t fall into a big attack on his kingside. 19…Re8 20.Rfd1 Caruana now wants to burst the game open with e4. 20…Bxg4 21.hxg4 Bd6! Again, the correct call for Nakamura – the more pieces he can trade now, the it will be to hold for the draw needed to win the match. 22.Bxd6 Rxd6 23.Rb7 Nf8 Also good – and arguably the better call in this scenario – looked 23…Rb6!? and forcing the trade of a set of rooks to further dampen down any complications. In hindsight, as this is the more likely move to steer the game towards a draw, Nakamura probably regrets not taking this route. 24.Qf2 Rf6?! Aimed at stopping e4, but this just backfires on Nakamura. 25.Rdb1! With the rooks being kept on the board, Caruana gets to complicate the game as he needs to. 25…Qd6 26.g5 Rfe6 27.e4 It’s always easy to be an armchair GM in this situation: I sit back with no Armageddon clock pressures to worry about, and while armed with a leading engine, it tells me that Caruana should have played 27.R7b5! the tactical point being that 27…Rxe3 28.Be4! Qa3 29.Rxd5 Qc3 30.Kh2 and suddenly the complications look to be going in White’s favour. 27…Qa3?! Here and now is when Nakamura’s game just starts to drift. It’s a complex position for sure, and he has less time on the clock being Black in Armageddon, and this makes it difficult to react. If he had found 27…Qf4! White’s position is just starting to show some obvious weaknesses, namely what to do about the g5-pawn? The point is that 28.exd5?? Re2 is killing. – so with that in mind, White has to try 28.R7b5 Rd6 29.Rxa5 Qxg5 30.Rxd5 Rxd5 31.exd5 Qxd5 32.Be4 Qg5! but Black should be able to easily hold now for the draw. 28.e5! White’s a2-pawn is taboo due to Bxh7+ winning the queen. 28…R6e7 29.R7b5 With Nakamura’s time running out, and the position still complex, Caruana rightly keeps as many pieces on the board as he can. 29…Qc3? And with this reply, Nakamura’s fate is sealed in what was proving to be an intriguing tussle between the two top US players. He had to play 29…Rd7! 30.Qd2 Rc8 and he’s still in the game – but with his flag on the digital clock now metaphorically beginning to fall, he’s only human and he errs. 30.Rxd5 Ne6 31.Ba4! Caruana now has a big advantage and over 1 minute more on his clock. 31…Rf8 32.f4 g6 33.Rd6 Ng7 34.Bc2 Just stopping Nakamura having some swindling chances with an …Nf5. 34…Ne8 35.Rc6 It’s a mad dash to the finish now, but more clinical was 35.Rd8! Nc7 36.Rxf8+ Kxf8 37.f5! Nd5 38.Rb5 and the White attack is soon crashing through to victory. 35…Rd7 36.Rd1 Nc7 37.Be4 Rfd8 38.Qf3 Qxf3 Some would argue that Nakamura, down to his last 30 seconds, is still something of an eternity for him, but he’s starting to run out of constructive ideas, and trading queens only simplifies the position to help Caruana win the game. 39.Bxf3 Ne6 40.d5 Nxf4 41.d6 Nd3 42.Bg4! Ra7 43.d7! [see diagram] Caruana finishes Nakamura off now with just a touch of endgame élan. 43…Kf8 44.Rxc4 Nb4 There’s no hope now for Nakamura. If 44…Nxe5 45.Rc8 Ke7 46.Re1! and the pin on the e-file easily wins. 45.e6 fxe6 46.Bxe6 Ra6 47.Rc8 Ke7 48.Bg4 Ra8 49.Re1+ Kf7 50.Re8! 1-0 With either rook capture losing, and less than 20 seconds on his clock, Nakamura resigns – but what a wonderful match and deciding Armageddon tussle between the two US players!


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