The recent switch of allegiance to the USA from Italy of Miami-born Fabiano Caruana, the world No.3, has overnight made the USA a leading chess powerhouse, with three players in the world’s top ten, as he joins forces with Hikaru Nakamura, No.4 and Wesley So, No. 7. And the new US status as a chess powerhouse could well make an impact in determining Magnus Carlsen’s next title challenger.
That’s because the qualification race for the 2016 Candidates Tournament is currently being lead by Caruana and Nakamura, who go into the final three rounds of the last leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansisyk in Siberia not only in the lead in the tournament, but they now also take the top two places in the overall GP standings.
After starting with six straight draws, Nakamura has now found another gear with back to back wins over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Baadur Jobava to move onto an unbeaten score of 5/8 and a three-way share of the lead. He joins overnight leader Caruana - who lost his first game of the tournament, to Dmitry Jakovenko - and Leinier Dominguez of Cuba in a three-way tie at the top.
But Caruana and Nakamura are strong favourites to take the top two GP qualifying spots for the Candidates’, after their main rival, Evgeny Tomashevsky of Russia saw a spectacular reversal of fortunes with three mid-tournament losses to fall behind in the crucial chase for GP points. Currently, with the standings in K-M factored in, Caruana leads the GP race with 370-points and Nakamura is a strong second (347) - 70 points ahead of his nearest rival, Tomashevsky.
Round 8 Standings: 1-3. Leinier Dominguez (Cuba), Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA), Hikaru Nakamurra (USA), 5/8; 4-6. Boris Gelfand (Israel), Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), 4.5; 7-8. Peter Svidler (Russia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), 4; 9. Anish Giri (Netherlands), 3.5; 10-11. Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), Baadur Jobava (Georgia), 3; 12. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 2.
Hikaru Nakamura - Maxime Vachier Lagrave
Khanty-Mansisyk FIDE Grand Prix, (7)
Queen’s Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 This is - usually with Nf3 first - the London System, commonly regarded as "the Working Man's" opening because you don't need to remember reams upon reams of theory, as the set-up for the pieces and the strategy is always the same. But without Nf3 first, White has further options - and Nakamura exploits this. 2...b6 3.c4 Bb7 4.Nc3 e6 5.a3 d5 6.e3 Now we are back into known territory of the Queen's Indian Defence, Petrosian System - the only difference being that White usually has the bishop on g5 and Black with the bishop on e7. 6...Bd6 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.cxd5 exd5 10.Qa4+! Kf8?! 'MVL' was having an horrific tournament at this stage, and this game was his fourth loss. When you are in such situations, the idea is to simplify and head for a draw to stop the rot - and he should have gone for 10...Bc6 11.Bb5 Bxb5 12.Nxb5 0-0 with an equal game. But now, Nakamura is at his best as he squeezes ever little weakness in the Black camp, as his opponent tries to take his king to safety. 11.g3 c6 12.Bg2 g6 13.Nge2 Kg7 14.0-0 Qd8 15.e4! Black has wasted so much time getting his king safe - and also retreating his queen to complete the development of his knight (he couldn't play 14...Nbd7 as 15 Nxd5! was winning) - that Nakamura has all his pieces ready to strike early. 15...dxe4 16.Nxe4 Re8 17.Rad1 Na6 Awkward, but he still couldn't play Nbd7 as the bishop on d6 was under attack. 18.N2c3 Nc7? Perhaps MVL had to bite the bullet now with 18...Re6 and then put his pieces on sensible squares, such as Qe7 and Rd8 etc. Now it is too late - the Nakamura attack comes in like a tsunami. 19.Nc5! (See Diagram) 19...bxc5 There's no alternative - everything else sees c6 fall with a very easy win. 20.dxc5 Nd5 21.cxd6 Qxd6 22.Ne4! Qe5 Trying to stop the lethal threat of Qd4+ 23.Rc1 Nb6 24.Qb4 Rad8 25.Nc5 Rd4?? As ugly as it looks, Black had to retreat with 25...Ba8 - but even here, White has an overwhelming advantage and will easily win. 26.Qc3 Bc8 No better is 26...Rb8 27.Rfe1 Qf6 28.Ne4 with a big material advantage. 27.Rce1 1-0