In the 1930s, Savielly Tartakower, the grandmaster famed for his witty epigrams, described those having to defend the black side of the Ruy Lopez as “the Spanish Torture”. That nickname stuck over the years, and Fabiano Caruana, with all the acumen of Spanish inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada himself, proved to be at his brilliant best to beat his rating-rival, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the world No.3, as Team USA took down Azerbaijan in one of the biggest matches of the 43rd Batumi Olympiad in Georgia.
With what transpired to be big clutch wins from Caruana and Sam Shankland in Round 8, the defending champions not only beat Azerbaijan, 2.5-1.5, but in doing so, they also stormed into the sole lead, one point ahead of the chasing pack, as the in the biennial team competition goes down the home stretch of the crucial medal-deciding final rounds.
But in equally dramatic fashion, Team USA’s joy at regaining the lead turned out to be short-lived. In Round 9, Poland sensationally edged the heavily-fancied USA, 2.5-1.5, with Hikaru Nakamura losing, and talisman Caruana almost saving the day again, as the American title-challenger and world No.2 came close to yet another win, but he was stoically held to a marathon 116-move draw by 20-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda, the rapidly rising young Polish star .
And with the young Polish squad’s takedown of the heavily-favoured top seeds and defending champions, they’ve blown the race for the Hamilton-Russell Cup wide-open going into the penultimate round. The Poles, on 16/18, have a one-point lead at the top, but the chasing pack has ominously now expanded to eight teams and the likely prospects of a very tight finish, with the USA, Armenia, China and England on 15 points, and France, Russia, Croatia and Germany on 14 points.
For the record, Poland last won gold at the Hamburg Olympiad in 1930 in Germany. They were also runners-up a couple of times during the ‘30s, most memorably in 1939, when the Buenos Aires Olympiad in Argentina was dramatically interrupted by the outbreak of war with Nazi Germany invading Poland, and, coincidently, the same two nations also battling for gold at the Olympiad!
1. Poland 16/18; 2-5. USA, Armenia, China, England 15; 6-9. France, Russia, Croatia, Germany 14.
1. China 16/18; 2-4. Ukraine, USA, Armenia 15; 5-7. Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia 1 14; 8-14. Vietnam, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Spain, Slovenia 13.
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
43rd Batumi Chess Olympiad, (8)
Ruy Lopez Open
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 Mamedyarov has long been an Open Lopez maven. It was the late great Danish legend Bent Larsen who suggested that the Open Variation was the only ‘correct way’ for Black to play against the Ruy Lopez. And indeed, Larsen was the one to rehabilitate the Open Lopez at elite-level; writing many articles supporting it, and famously using it to beat Bobby Fischer during the Second Piatigorsky Cup in Santa Monica, 1966. 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Nbd2 Nc5 10.c3 Be7 11.Bc2 d4 12.Nb3 d3 13.Bb1 Nxb3 14.axb3 Bf5 15.Be3 0-0 16.Bd4 Qd5 17.Re1 d2 18.Re2 Bxb1 19.Rxb1 It was obvious by the speed of the moves coming out, that both players came to the board fully expecting this long variation – and herein lies the tale of the game! 19…Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Bg5 21.g3 c5 22.Nf5 Qd3 23.Nd6 Qg6 24.h4 Bf4N In the final round of the Sinquefield Cup in late August, Anand-Mamedyarov here went 24…Bh6 and Anand’s legendary opening preparation came to the fore with the clever novelty of 25.h5! that was seen in a recent correspondence game, after which, the Azeri suffered long and hard, and only held on by grim determination. So now, Mamedyarov must have looked more closely at this line and comes up with a new solution of 24…Bf4. And also another known option here for Black is 24…Bxh4 but after 25.Rxd2 Be7 26.Rd5! f6 27.e6 Caruana soon easily achieved a winning position against Erwin L’Ami in the 2012 Reykjavik Open. 25.Ne4 If Mamedyarov thought he was going to get an ‘easy day at the office’ with 25.h5 Qe6! 26.gxf4 Qg4+ 27.Kh2 Qxf4+ 28.Kg2 Qg4+ and a perpetual, he’s facing the wrong opponent! 25…f5 Also a worthy option was 25…Bxe5!? 26.Qxd2 Bc7 that looks good for equality, with Black ready to centralise his rooks and looking for trades. And notice White can’t play 27.Nxc5?? with the Rb1 hanging! 26.Nxd2 Rad8 Caruana is a pawn up – but it is temporary, as his pieces are somewhat awkward right now, and in the unravelling process, he will have to return the material – and his first priority is to remove his rook from the same diagonal as Shakh’s queen! 27.Ra1 Rfe8 28.Qe1 Bxd2?! Shakh cashes in his chips right away – but this is a costly error. He missed his big chance to save the game; though, admittedly, it takes an engine to spot a very ingenious way to force a perpetual! It comes with 28…Rd5! 29.Nf3 (What can’t play 29.e6 as 29…Bxd2 30.Rxd2 Rxd2 31.Qxd2 Qxe6 leaves Black with the better ending now.) 29…Rd3 30.Nh2 (Certainly not 30.Kg2?? Qc6! and the tables are turned.) 30…Bxg3! This saves the day – but only if you find the correct follow-up! Now, after 31.fxg3 Rxg3+ 32.Kf2 (The only option, as 32.Kh1?? Qc6+! and White can resign.) 32…Rg2+ 33.Kf3 Qc6+! 34.Kf4 Qh6+! 35.Kf3 Qc6+ with a somewhat unusual perpetual with the queen pirouetting between c6 and h6. So this looks like Shakh’s “missed moment” – and albeit a tough one – as what now comes is one long struggle, in a vain effort to survive. 29.Rxd2 Rxd2 30.Qxd2 Rxe5 31.Qd8+ The game may look equal, and you would think a resourceful player like Mamedyarov should be able to hold this ending – but the reality is that, along with pawn weaknesses on the queenside, the Black king comes under too much pressure from the queen and rook. 31…Re8 32.Qd5+ Qe6 33.Rd1 c4 Trading queens with 33…Qxd5 34.Rxd5 leaves us with the notoriously drawn rook and pawn ending – but this is still bad for Black after 34…Re1+ 35.Kg2 Rb1 36.Rxc5 Rxb2 37.b4! g6 38.Rc7! Rd2 39.Kf3 Rc2 40.Ke3 as White looks close to winning, with his rook active and his king easily sliding over to either wing of the board. 34.bxc4 bxc4 35.Qb7! The queen and rook just boss the position – if the rook gets to d7, then it’s game over. And in preventing this, Black’s king gets put in an awkward situation. 35…Re7 The trade of queens is again fraught with danger, as 35…Qe4 36.Qxe4 Rxe4 37.Rd6 Re1+ 38.Kg2 Ra1 39.h5! Kf7 40.Kf3 is much the same as the previous note on the rook and pawn ending, the only real difference being Black’s a6 and c4 pawns being split, making them easy targets. So now you can understand Mamedyarov’s desire to keep the queens on the board. 36.Rd8+ Kf7 37.Qf3 The playing engines may well believe this to be near to equal, but Black’s position is being stretched to its very limits with the pawn weaknesses and his vulnerable king. 37…g6 38.Qf4! Heading for h6 and embarrassing the Black king. 38…Qc6 39.Rd1 We were closing in on the time control now, and with it, Caruana missed the stronger 39.Qd2! covering any awkwardness on the back-rank, and the follow-up will be Kh2 and Rd5 and those split pawns on the queenside look set to fall. 39…Re4?! Showing more resistance was 39…h5!? and Black may well be on the verge here of a saving fortress. 40.Qh6! But not now! Just in the nick of time, and with the extra-time kicking in, the final stage of the game is just pure brilliance from Caruana! 40…Kg8 41.h5! The difficulties just keep mounting for Mamedyarov, as Caruana ruthlessly turns the screw now. 41…Re8 42.hxg6 hxg6 43.Kf1! There are so many wonderful moves in this game from Caruana – and this is one of them. Caruana wants to play Rd4-h4, but, to do so, he first must cover his own back-rank and the threat of …Re1 mate! 43…Re6 44.Qh4 As they would say in Monty Python, “No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!” And like Torquemada, Caruana relentlessly keeps turning the screws with some very accurate moves – and eerily torturing his opponent in much the same brutal way that Bobby Fischer would do in his pomp. 44…Re8 45.Rd4 Rc8 46.Qh6! There’s no way to stop Caruana from playing Rh4 – and when he does, the Black king is going to be caught in a deadly snare. 46…Qe6 47.Rh4 Kf7 48.Qh7+ Kf6 49.Rd4 Qe7 50.Qh6 Kf7 51.Qd2! Caruana’s control is awesome, with the relentless stretching torture taking Mamedyarov close now to his breaking point. 51…Rc7 52.Rh4 Kf6 53.Qd4+ Qe5 54.Qb6+ Kg7 55.Qb8 Kf6 There’s nothing else. If 55…Re7 56.Qh8+! Kf7 57.Rh7+ wins on the spot. 56.Qh8+ Ke6 57.Qg8+ Kf6 58.Rd4 Qe7 59.Rd8 Kg5 If 59…Rd7 60.Qh8+ Qg7 61.Qe8 Rxd8 62.Qxd8+ Ke6 63.Qb6+ White will systematically pick-off the weak queenside pawns. Resignation here would have been justified for Mamedyarov – but now he has unwittingly fallen right into a lovely mating net, that Caruana quickly pounces on. 60.f4+! Kh5 61.Rd2 The queen and rook have certainly traversed the board – and now the lethal pair has its quarry cornered. 61…Qg7 62.Rh2+ Kg4 63.Kg2!! [see diagram] A fitting, finishing finesse from Fabi! 63…g5 If Mamedyarov accepts the queen offer with 63…Qxg8 then there’s 64.Rh4#. 64.Qe8 1-0 Mamedyarov has been stretched to his very limits and resigns, as he’s getting mated after 64…Qf7 (or 64…Qe7 65.Qh5#) 65.Qe2#.