18 May

Coming to America

Neil Diamond's patriotic hit song, Coming to America, tells a story of new life and new dreams for immigrants.  And many talented young chess players from across the globe have left their homeland for such aspirations in the United States - the latest being the Italian No.3-ranked player in the world, Fabiano Caruana, whom many believe could well be the first American since Bobby Fischer to challenge for the world title.


Currently, Caruana is taking the final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansiysk in Siberia by storm, as he battles for one of the two top spots that will guarantee him an automatic place in the 2016 Candidates’ Tournament - the overall winner of which will go on to become World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s next title challenger.  At the first rest day in Khanty-Mansiysk, Caruana - following back-to-back wins over Evgeny Tomashevsky and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - leads the field by a half point. And he needs to keep his lead to be absolutely certain of winning one of the qualifying spots.

Round 4 Standings: 1. Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA), 3/4; 2-3. Peter Svidler (Russia), Leinier Dominguez Perez (Cuba), 2.5; 4-8. Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), Boris Gelfand (Israel), 2; 9-12. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Baadur Jobava (Georgia), Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia), 1.5.

The leading GP standings before the final event were as follows - with those in brackets already playing in their three events, so not in “K-M” : Evgeny Tomashevsky 252-points, (Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 235), Fabiano Caruana 230, (Teimour Radjabov 210), Hikaru Nakamura 207, (Dmitry Andreikin 200); and Dmitry Jakovenko and Boris Gelfand 170. First place outright in the GP tournaments receive 170 points followed by 140 for second, 110, 90 and 80 for fifth. So, in reality - save for a monumental collapse by the leaders, coupled with a monumental streak of wins by Jakovenko and Gelfand, along with the standings and math being in their favour - it’s more than likely to be won by Tomashevsky, Caruana or Nakamura.

There is only one player currently known for the 2016 Candidates’ Tournament: ex-champion Viswanathan Anand of India, who was the defeated challenger when Carlsen retained his title last year. The Candidates’ Tournament will have eight players: Anand (as defeated challenger), two players from the Grand Prix, the two finalists’ from the FIDE World Cup, two players by rating, and one wild card (who has to be rated 2700+) to be selected by the Candidates’ host nation.

And with Nakamura also riding high right now in the world rankings (currently No.4), the prospects of two Americans in the Candidates’ battling for a crack at Carlsen’s title could well be a reality - and perhaps three, if the unconfirmed rumours swirling are indeed to be believed, that the Candidates’ Tournament could also be coming to America!

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Fabiano Caruana
Khanty-Mansyisk Grand Prix, (4)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Ragozin Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 The Ragozin Defence, named after the Soviet Grandmaster Viacheslav Vasilyevich Ragozin (1908-1962), who played it a lot in the 1930s. It's a sort of hybrid Nimzo-Indian set-up; both a flexible and versatile chess opening system. 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.Rc1 c6 8.e3 Qa5 9.Bd3 Ne4 Not the main line - but nevertheless, a well-known equalising theme in the Queen's Gambit Declined. 10.0-0 Nxg5 11.Nxg5 Nf6 12.Qc2 h6 13.Nf3 Bd6 14.Ne5 Ng4 15.Nf3 Nf6 16.h3 0-0 17.Ne5 a6! Previously seen before was 17...c5? 18.Nb5 Bxe5 19.dxe5 Nd7 20.f4 and White has a serious advantage, as in Gelfand-Jakovenko 2009, the only other occurrence of 9 ...Ne4 being played. However, Caruana has found a big improvement for Black to play this relatively unexplored line. 18.f4 c5 This is Caruana's idea - now the undermining c5 works. 19.g4 cxd4 20.exd4 Be6 21.Qb3 b5 22.f5 Qb6! 23.Nf3 Bc8 The bishop will come to b7 now to support d5 and an eventual knight being planted in e4. Also, Caruana's new plan in this set-up is to now exploit the dark-squared weakness in the White camp - a weakness he began chipping away at with his improved idea of 18 ...c5. 24.Kg2 24.Nxd5 Nxd5 25.Be4! (Of course not 25.Qxd5? Bb7 26.Qb3 Rae8 with a winning advantage.) 25...Nc7! 26.Rc6 Qb8 27.Rxd6 Ne8 28.Bxa8 Qxd6 29.Qc2 Nf6 and Black has excellent compensation for the pawn. 24...Bb7 25.Na4 Qa7 26.Nc5 Rac8 27.a4? This was the time for White to admit he faced a difficult position, and exchanging off pieces with 27.Nxb7 to try to consolidate the position. An added bonus is also the fact that this would leave opposite coloured bishops - always a saving grace if you can find a way to the ending. 27...Bxc5 28.dxc5 d4 Much stronger was 28...Ne4! - but this still wins easily. 29.axb5 axb5 30.Qxb5 Bc6 31.Qb6 Qd7 32.Kg1 (See Diagram) 32...Rfe8! Looking for a future rook "luft" to e3. 33.Rce1 Rxe1 34.Nxe1 Re8 Practically winning on the spot was 34...Qe8. 35.Ng2 Nd5 36.Qb3 Ne3 37.Nxe3 dxe3! Much stronger now than taking with the rook - now, apart from the huge weakness around his king, Vachier-Lagrave has to also worry about a massive passed pawn close to queening. 38.Qc4 Qc7 Threatening ...Qg3 mate! - forcing White to lose a piece, and with it the game. 39.Qf4 Qxf4 40.Rxf4 e2 41.Bxe2 Rxe2 42.Rb4 Rg2+ 43.Kf1 Rc2 0-1

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