“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ...” New Americans say these words for the first time at naturalization ceremonies held around the country on Independence Day on Fourth of July. But a leading chess player was once again flying the Stars and Stripes with pride, as Fide officially confirmed in late June Fabiano Caruana’s switch from Italy back to the country of his birth - and he celebrated in style this holiday weekend, by winning the 43rd Dortmund Sparkassen Chess meeting in Germany.
There was a period when Dortmund was dominated by Vladimir Kramnik, who won the tournament, jointly or by himself, 10 times between 1995 and 2011. But these are lean times for the Russian ex-World champion, and he’s not the force he once was - and this was evident in the first round when he went down to local hero Arkadij Naidtisch.
And Caruana didn’t exactly have an auspicious start as a U.S. player. Arriving hot-foot from Stavanger in Norway - where he represented Italy - Caruana started his campaign with 0.5/2, but there then came the fireworks with a winning streak of five games to capture his third Dortmund title. In round five, he also ended Kramnik’s three-game winning streak and any thoughts of an 11th title. And in the final round, he beat nearest rival GM Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu with a beautiful combination to take the title by a clear 1.5-points.
And Wesley So made it a U.S. 1-2, as he took second place on tiebreak ahead of Nisipeanu.
Final standings: 1. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 5.5/7; 2-3. Wesley So (USA), Livu-Dieter Nisipeanu (Romania) 4; 4. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 3.5; 5-6. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Arkadij Naiditsch (Germany) 3; 7-8. Hou Yifan (China), Georg Meier (Germany) 2.5
Vladimir Kramnik - Fabiano Caruana
43rd Dortmund Sparkassen, (5)
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.d4 Nf6 5.0-0 0-0 6.c4 c6 7.Nbd2 a5 The correct move when White plays Nbd2, as there's less control over the a4 square. 8.b3 a4! Caruana continues with the plan. And White can't take the pawn on a4, as after ...Qa5 Black will not only get the pawn back but he'll also cripple White's queenside. 9.Ba3 axb3 10.axb3 Bf5 11.Nh4 Be6 12.Re1 Ne4 13.Bxe4!? A bold choice from Kramnik, who declares his intentions that he's trying to complicate matters to try to win. And the tournament situation was determining this, as after 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Bxe4 Qxd4 15.Qxd4 Bxd4 16.Bb2! Rxa1 17.Bxa1 the position is equal and a likely draw coming very soon. 13...dxe4 14.Nxe4 Qxd4 Not 14...Bxd4? 15.Bxe7! and White is winning. 15.Qc2? There's taking risks, and then there's making bad moves - this is a bad move. Kramnik had to accept the inevitable, with the game likely to peter out to a draw after 15.Qxd4 Bxd4 16.Bb2 Rxa1 17.Bxa1 Bb6 where, if anything, Black is very marginally better due to the bishop-pair. 15...Bf5! Kramnik had to have missed this excellent move that wins material, as the Ra1 and Ne4 simultaneously come under attack. 16.Nxf5 gxf5 17.Ng5 Qg4 18.f4 Bxa1 19.Rxa1 h6 Kramnik's chances of saving this are slim to none, and slim has left the building - or so Caruana would like to think so. 20.Nf3 Nd7 21.Rd1 Rxa3 22.Rxd7 Qh3 23.Qc3 What else can White do, as after 23.Rxe7 Ra1+ 24.Kf2 Rf1+ 25.Ke3 Rd8 Black has snared the White king, with a mate soon coming as the queen easily gets to f2. 23...e6? Just when it looked as if Caruana was in 'mopping up mode' here, he plays his only bad move of the game to give Kramnik hopes of salvation. Activating the rooks was the way to win this: 23...Rfa8 24.Rxe7 Ra1+ 25.Kf2 Rf1+ 26.Ke3 Qg2! 27.Qf6 Rxf3+ the key point to ...Qg2. 28.exf3 Qg1+ and its open season on the lone White king. 24.Rxb7 Rfa8 25.Kf2 Ra1 26.Ke3 Rf1 More clinical would have been 26...R1a7 as White is forced to exchange rooks. 27.Qf6! This is a classic example for everyone not to lose hope after they drop material - here, Kramnik has made the most of his pieces, and the threats do look real. 27...Rf8 28.Rd7 Rb1 29.Rb7 c5 30.Rb5 Rf1 (See Diagram) 31.Nd2?? The decisive error - and with 10 min or so left on his clock here, Kramnik had no excuses for missing the saving resource of 31.Rxc5!! Qg2 32.Qxh6! Qf2+ 33.Kd2! (Not 33.Kd3?? Rd1+! 34.Kc3 Qe3+ 35.Kb4 Rb8+ 36.Rb5 Rxb5+ 37.cxb5 Qe4+ and Black wins.) 33...Qxc5 34.Qg5+ and White has a saving perpetual check. 31...Rc1! 32.Qb2 Rd1 33.Qc2 Rh1 Now that Kramnik's queen has been moved from the threatening f6 outpost, Caruana easily mops up. 34.Nf3 Qg2 35.Qc3 Rf1 36.Qf6 Kramnik almost has the same saving position - but there's a subtle difference here. 36...Rf2! 37.Kd3 Rxe2 38.Ng5 Rd2+ 0-1 Kramnik resigns, as mate is coming after 39.Kc3 Rc2+ 40.Kd3 Qe2#