13 May

Buying Nerds

During a recent chess feature in Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart over-excitedly announced - as only the irrepressible Stewart can - that “The United States is buying nerds!” He was referring to a front-page New York Times splash saying that, following Wesley So’s switch to the U.S., next up could well be Fabiano Caruana.  And yesterday, the Italian world number three confirmed the worst kept secret in chess by making it official with the release of a statement on the United States federation’s website


The Miami-born and Brooklyn-raised Caruana, 22, has dual citizenship but has played under the Italian tricolor for the past decade; though he did represent the U.S. as a junior. Intense efforts to woo him back to play under the Stars and Stripes have been ongoing for some time now, with the speculation being that Rex Sinquefield, the St. Louis chess patron, could well have been instrumental in securing a financial deal for the switch to take place.

Last year, Caruana said that he was offered a “large sum” of money from an unnamed source to make the switch, though this time he made no mention of any compensation or payments offered in agreeing to play once again for the U.S. “I’d like to thank everybody who has made this possible, and I look forward to this exciting new partnership,” he said.

Jean Hoffman, executive director of the USCF called Caruana’s allegiance shift “historic.”

“For the first time in history, the United States will have three of the top ten players in the world,” she said in a statement. “Over the past several years, we have made tremendous strides to increase the awareness of, and appreciation for, the great game of chess in the United States. The return of Fabiano to the USCF is another large step toward achieving our goals.”

He now joins Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So to give the U.S. a powerful top trio in major team events, ahead of more traditional powerhouses such as Russia, Armenia, Ukraine and China - and with his addition, the ‘Dream Team’ could now be favorites to win Olympiad gold next year in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In the past year, Caruana has made a rapid rise up the world rankings with some very notable tournament wins to his name - his stunning performance at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis being the highlight - and is seen as a potential challenger to World Champion Magnus Carlsen. His rapid rise started during last year’s Dortmund Chess Meeting in Germany.

Fabiano Caruana - Ruslan Ponomariov
Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting, (2)
Petroff’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 This is the modern way to take on the Petroff. It all looks a bit innocuous to the untrained eye, but this simple treatment can pack a punch. 5...Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0-0-0 Qd7 10.Kb1 Bf6 11.h3 h6 12.b3 a6 13.g4 0-0-0 14.Bg2 More common is 11. h4, which Caruana has had success with in the past. However here, he decides to make his opponent 'think' about his more uncommon set-up with h3, g4 and Bg2. 14...g5? The more solid option of 14...Kb8 looked like the natural move here. 15.Nd4 Nxd4 16.cxd4 d5 17.f4! Now we see the problems with 14...g5 - now Black's kingside is weakened. 17...gxf4 18.Bxf4 h5 19.g5 Bg7 20.Rde1 h4 21.Be5 Rdg8 22.Qf4 Qd8 23.Bf1 Kb8 24.Bd3 Bc8 25.Kb2 Commenting on this game in New in Chess magazine (2014#6), Caruana said he was tempted by the queen sacrifice with 25.Qxf7 Bxe5 26.dxe5 Rf8 27.e6!? but rejected it as 27...Qxg5! 28.Qg6 Qe7 and the e-pawn is securely blockaded, and in some lines could well be under threat of being captured. 25...Bxe5 26.Rxe5 Rg7 27.a4 a5 28.Ka2 Ka7 29.Qd2 Kb8 30.Qf4 Ka7 31.Rhe1! The only way for Caruana to make progress, and take full advantage of the badly-placed rook on g7, is to swap off the h-pawn and rooks - and he does it with this nicely timed manoeuvre. If Ponomariov doesn't take on h3, then R1e3 leaves him in total control of the board. 31...Bxh3 32.Rh1 Bc8 33.Rxh4 Rxh4 34.Qxh4 b6? Not only wrong, but it also looks wrong! After the correct 34...c6, d5 is protected and there is still a lot of work left for White to win. However, it does allow Caruana to finish the game in spectacular fashion. 35.Qh6 Rg8 36.Qc6! Caruana is trying to lure the bishop to b7.  36...Be6 [As said in the previous note, Caruana wanted 36...Bb7, as after 37.Qf6 Qxf6 38.gxf6 Kb8 39.Re7 Rf8 40.Bb5 Black is all passive, and he will easily win. 37.g6 Rg7 No better is 37...Rf8 38.g7 Rg8 as it leads to another spectacular win with 39.Rg5!! Qxg5 40.Qxc7+ Ka8 41.Bb5 38.gxf7 Bxf7 39.Re7! Only now does Ponomariov - who had been under time pressure - see the dangers; but, to his credit, he showed great sportsmanship in allowing the chess fans to see the spectacular finale. 39...Qxe7 (See Diagram) 40.Ba6!! Kxa6 41.Qa8 checkmate 1-0

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