Shrugging off the adversary of his badly mis-firing play, squandered chances and two painful defeats to sub-2700 opponents, Fabiano Caruana has staged a dramatic comeback in the second-half of the 2021 U.S. Championship, and the top seed has now fought his way back into a three-way tie at the top going into today’s final round at the Saint Louis Chess Club.
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster ride of a tournament for Caruana – his first over-the-board outing since the official announcement of his ‘divorce’ from Rustam Kasimzdzhano, his influential coach and second of six-years – who struggled his way through the first half, slumping to back-to-back defeats at the hands of Daniel Naroditsky and Sam Sevian.
Hailed as being ‘like a phoenix rising from the ashes’, Caruana is back in the hunt for the venerable title, scoring 3½/4 going down the homestretch – with wins over early pace-setter Ray Robson, Dariusz Swiercz, and overnight co-leader Aleks Lenderman – and now in a three-way tie for first-place at the end of the penultimate round, alongside defending champion Wesley So and Sevian.
The three co-leaders have a half point lead over the chasing pack going into today’s final round, where the key pairings in the race for the $50,000 first prize and national title sees Caruana v Shankland, So v Robson and Naroditsky v Sevian.
1-3. W. So, S. Sevian, F. Caruana, 6/10; 4-6. L. Dominguez, A. Lenderman, R. Robson, 5½; 7. S. Shankland, 4; 8-9. D. Swiercz, J. Xiong, 4½; 10-11. D. Naroditsky, J, Burke, 4; 12. L. Bruzon, 3½.
There’s live coverage (from 12:50 PM CT) of the final round action today from the resident top grandmaster commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Cristian Chirila on uschesschamps.com and on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and twitch.tv channels.
GM Aleks Lenderman – GM Fabiano Caruana
2021 U.S. Championship, (10)
King’s Indian Defence, Fianchetto Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 d6 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Nf3 c6 7.0-0 Bf5 It was the late, great Dane Bent Larsen who brought this system into praxis. The idea is to stymie White playing e4 and, if possible, Black swinging his own knight into e4. 8.Ng5 Not the most testing of moves against Larsen’s System. The solid move is 8.b3 but the most testing continuation is 8.Re1!? and if 8…Ne4 9.Qb3 Nxc3 10.bxc3 Qc7 11.e4 Be6 12.Rb1 with more space and the rooks working early doors; forcing 12…b5!? 13.d5 cxd5 14.cxd5 Bd7 15.Nd4 Na6 and a complex struggle ahead for both sides. 8…e5 9.d5 a5 10.e4 Bc8 Also up for consideration was 10…Bg4 11.f3 (If 11.Qb3 h6 12.Nf3 Na6 and Black is doing OK, as the b7-pawn is too hot.) 11…Qb6+ 12.Kh1 Bd7 and if 13.dxc6 Nxc6!? 14.Qxd6 Qb4! 15.Qxb4 axb4 16.Nd5 Nxd5 17.cxd5 Nd4 and Black has more than enough compensation for the pawn. 11.h3 cxd5 12.cxd5 Na6 13.Be3 Bd7 Caruana had to be pleased with the position he’s got from the opening, where already he stands marginally better with …b5 needing to be stopped and …Rc8 a threat. 14.a4 Rc8! 15.Nf3?! Rxc3! [see diagram] Boom! It’s the thematic exchange sacrifice normally associated with the Sicilian Defence, but here just as effective in the KID with e4 falling and Black’s pieces very active. 16.bxc3 Nxe4 17.Qc2 Nec5 Pay no attention that the engine might tell you that White is marginally a little better here, as in expert hands Black can quickly create mayhem if he can get his pieces motoring, which long-term will be difficult for White to defend. 18.Nd2 Qc7 19.Ra3 Lenderman anticipates …b5 coming, so prepares to double rooks on the a-file to hit Black’s a5-pawn. 19…f5 20.f4 Re8 Also good and strong was 20…e4 – but perhaps sensing that Lenderman might well be a little uncomfortable here, Caruana opts to keep the position a little more ‘fluid’ for now. 21.fxe5 Bxe5 22.Bf2 Seeing the problems ahead, the engine comes up with the ingenious 22.Rf3!? to defend g3, and now if 22…b5 23.axb5 Bxb5 24.Bf1 Bxf1 25.Kxf1 and White at least has a more solid, workable position. 22…b5! Black is taking control. 23.axb5 Bxb5 24.Rfa1 Nd3 All of Caruana’s pieces are now coming to life. 25.Qb1 Nab4! 26.Rxa5 White is facing more and more problems as Caruana’s pieces swing menacingly into the attack – the problem highlighted by the fact that the knight is taboo as 26.cxb4? Nxf2! 27.Kxf2 Bd4+ leads to a forced mate-in-8! 26…Qxc3 27.Be3? The critical moment and Lenderman cracks, not able to spot an ingenious saving sacrificial resource. The best try to avert disaster was 27.Nf3! Nxf2 28.Nxe5! Rxe5 29.Rxb5 Nxh3+ 30.Bxh3 Nc2 31.Ra8+ Kg7 32.Rb7+ Kh6 33.Qc1+ g5 34.Rxh7+!! A saving sacrifice that admittedly was tough to see at the board, but quickly picked up by the engine. Now, after 34…Kxh7 35.Qxg5 it’s Black who has to bail-out now with 35…Qe1+ 36.Bf1 Qe3+ 37.Qxe3 Nxe3 38.Bh3 Rxd5 39.Kf2 and a draw on the cards with the reduced material left on the board. 27…Bd4? The US No.1 is still misfiring and hasn’t got his ‘A-Game’ working, as the Caruana of old would have quickly pounced with the tactical sequence 27…Bxg3! 28.R1a3 Bf2+! 29.Bxf2 Qxd2 30.Ra2 Forced. 30…Nxa2 31.Rxa2 Qc1+ 32.Qxc1 Nxc1 33.Rb2 Ne2+ 34.Kh2 Bd3 and Black should easily convert the endgame advantage being two pawns up. 28.Bxd4 Qxd4+ 29.Kh2 f4 Nevertheless, Caruana’s attack does look promising – but looks can often be deceptive on the chessboard. 30.g4 Re2 More convincing was 30…Qf2! 31.Nf3 Re3 32.Qf1 Rxf3 33.Qxf2 Rxf2 34.Rxb5 f3 35.Kg3 Rxg2+ (Not 35…fxg2? 36.Rxb4! and White is winning.) 36.Kxf3 Rf2+ 37.Kg3 Rf7 38.Ra8+ Kg7 39.g5 but White has probably done more than enough to save the game. 31.Ra8+ Be8 32.Qg1! Remarkably, Lenderman is hanging in there – but it is still a a position fraught with danger and the pressure is mounting. 32…Qb2 33.Nf3 Kf8 34.R1a7 It’s just hard to be critical in a complex position and the ‘mad-dash’ to 40 with the clock, but stronger was 34.Rd1! and now Black has to tread carefully, with 34…Qc2 35.Rf1! Nxd5!? 36.Nd4 Rxg2+ 37.Qxg2 Qxg2+ 38.Kxg2 Ne3+ 39.Kg1 Nxf1 40.Kxf1 Ke7 and Black should be able to tough it out. 34…h6 35.Rb7 Stronger was 35.Rb8 , according to Mr Engine. 35…Ne5 36.Kh1 Nxf3 37.Bxf3 Re5? It’s been a heck of a ride for both players, but Caruana has lost his grip somewhat, as he should have played 37…Re3!? Forcing 38.Qa1 Qxa1+ 39.Rxa1 Nc2 40.Rc1 Rxf3 41.Rxc2 Rxh3+ 42.Kg2 Rd3 43.Rh7 Rxd5 44.Rh8+ Ke7 45.Rc7+ Kd8 46.Ra7 Re5 47.Rxh6 and the likely result being a draw. 38.Rc8?! After the silent killer 38.Qa1! Qxa1+ 39.Rxa1 Nc2 40.Raa7 Caruana would have been in dire straits, and not in a good way I hasten to add with Mark Knopfler on lead guitar! 38…Qd2 39.Rc1 Re3 40.Rf1 Nd3! It’s all gone tragically wrong for Lenderman, as his position collapses in the dash to make the time control. 41.Qg2 Qc3 Threatening …Ne1 winning. 42.Qh2 g5 43.Bg2? The Last Chance Saloon, according to the engine, was the complex 43.h4! Re1 44.Qg1 Rxf1 45.Qxf1 Ne5 46.hxg5! hxg5 (If 46…Nxf3 47.gxh6 Bg6 48.Rb8+ Ke7 49.Rb7+ Kd8 50.Qf2! (threatening Qb6+) saves the day!) 47.Kg2 Qd2+ 48.Kg1 Qe3+ 49.Kg2 Qd2+ 50.Kh3 Qe3 51.Kg2 Bf7 52.Rb8+ Kg7 53.Qe2 Qxe2+ 54.Bxe2 Bxd5+ 55.Kh3 and try to hold this for a draw. 43…Ne5 Threatening …Bf7. 44.Rbb1 You know it has all gone Pete Tong when the engine tells you that the only try in town was 44.h4!? Nxg4 45.Rxf4+! gxf4 46.Qxf4+ Qf6 47.Qxg4 Qa1+ 48.Kh2 Qe5+ 49.Kg1 Re1+ 50.Bf1 Re4 51.Qg2 Bf7 52.Rb8+ Ke7 53.Rb7+ Kf6 and Black has successfully unravelled from the bind of the checks. 44…Bf7 45.Rbc1 Qd4 With Lenderman’s position still all awkward, especially with his queen effectively locked out of the game on h2, Caruana skilfully moves in for the kill now for a game he just had to win for an unlikely comeback title-win. 46.Rcd1 Nd3 47.Rd2 Kg7 48.h4 Qc4 Just getting off the pin on the d-file. 49.Rfd1 Ne5 50.hxg5 hxg5 51.Rd4 Qc3 52.Qg1 It’s all over bar the shouting, but the last desperate try was 52.Rxf4 gxf4 53.Qxf4 but after 53…Re1+ 54.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 55.Kh2 Qh4+ 56.Kg1 Bg6 Black has everything covered and the end will come just as quick as in the game. 52…Nxg4 53.R1d2 Qc8 Right idea, wrong piece to retreat! Admittedly it is still easily winning, but the engine finds the forced mate with 53…Re8! 54.Be4 Rh8+ etc. 54.Qa1 Qh8+ 55.Kg1 Qh2+ 56.Kf1 Rf3+! A fitting end to what’s been an epic rollercoaster game for Caruana. 57.Bxf3 Ne3+ 58.Ke1 Qg1+ 59.Ke2 Qxa1 0-1