It’s no secret that one of my favourite MGM movies is the screen classic Meet Me in St. Louis, with a tour de force from a blossoming Judy Garland and superbly directed by Vincente Minnelli. However, these days with the Midwest US city becoming practically the hub of world chess, a modern day remake would likely be called 'Mate Me in St. Louis' - and that literally was the storyline of round six of the 3rd Sinquefield Cup, the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour.
The “blossoming star” of this production was the US No.1 Hikaru Nakamura, who launched a brilliant and deadly kingside assault against the US No3 and tournament wild card Wesley So - a win that moved Nakamura up to within half a point of leaders Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian and takes him to No.2 again in the live ratings. And Nakamura also spared the time during the game to enter the confessional box to prophetically say “...I’m going to try and mate him!”
The game even received plaudits for Garry Kasparov, who tweeted: “The King's Indian requires the courage of your convictions & courage to ignore machine opinions!” And he should know, as before Nakamura he was the world’s leading exponent of the KID - particularly the über-aggressive Mar del Plata variation, a line that came to fame when Svetzar Gligoric played it against Miguel Najdorf at the 1953 Mar del Plata tournament.
The KID in general is not for the faint of heart. Kasparov was a big fan, as was Bobby Fischer (and as a kid, I was always impressed by Fischer’s pummelling of no less a player than Viktor Korchnoi). But considerably more so for the faint of heart is the famed Mar del Plata Variation. The battle lines are clearly drawn. White is going to storm the queenside while Black will storm the kingside - and therein lies a tale of the first time the line was played.
At Mar del Plata 1953, when Najdorf lost to Gligoric, the Argentinian simply stared at the board in disbelief that White’s tremendous queenside initiative did not win the game. His fellow countryman, Marcos Luckis, though quite inferior to Najdorf in playing strength, is said to have succinctly explained it to the legendary grandmaster: “It is simple. The King is more important!”
Maybe we should all follow Nakamura’s example and take up the King’s Indian Defence again?
Grischuk 1-0 Caruana
Vachier-Lagarve 1-0 Topalov
Giri draw Anand
So 0-1 Nakamura
Aronian draw Carlsen
Round 6 standings: 1-2. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 4/6; 3-5. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3.5; 6-7. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 3; 8-9. Vishy Anand (India), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 2; 10. Wesley So (USA) 1.5.
Wesley So - Hikaru Nakamura
3rd Sinquefield Cup, (6)
King’s Indian Defence, Mar del Plata Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.f3 f5 11.Be3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 A standard Mar del Plata set-up - both players set their course with direct actions on opposite wings. It's exciting stuff to watch - and these days, Nakamura has taken over Kasparov's mantle as the only elite player to regularly play this variation. 13.Nd3 Ng6 14.c5 Nf6 15.Rc1 Rf7 16.Kh1 h5 17.cxd6 cxd6 18.Nb5 a6 Here Nakamura puts the brakes on his kingside assault by weakening his queenside to move the troublesome knight. He could have just ploughed on with 18...g4 19.Nxa7 Bd7 20.Qb3 Ne8 21.Nb5 Qg5 but here, compared to the game, White has an extra pawn and better chances to further breakthrough on the queenside. 19.Na3 b5 You simply cannot allow White to play Nc4-b6 - to do so would be suicide. 20.Rc6 g4 21.Qc2 Qf8 Usually in the Mar del Plata, we see the queen sally to g5 to punch home the attack. But here the queen not only links up with the rook on f7 but keeps its eye on d6 so that he can shift the rook from its good outpost on c6. 22.Rc1 Bd7 23.Rc7? The rook looks good and active on c7, but the only trouble is that So has nothing to bite on there the way Nakamura has played this. Instead, he may well have been better playing 23.Nb4!? Bxc6 24.dxc6 which - with Black now without his light-squared bishop - does at least offer some tangible compensation with a space advantage and a potentially menacing c-pawn. 23...Bh6 24.Be1 h4 Ready or not, here I come! It's now one-way traffic - White's queenside assault has virtually stalled, while Black's kingside attack is just beginning to start. 25.fxg4?! The pawn sacrifices open lines for the Black pieces to move in for the kill. It becomes clear now that 25.fxg4 doesn't help matters. Trouble is, it's very difficult to suggest just what White can do that's any better. 25...f3 26.gxf3 Nxe4! (See Diagram) In his post-game interview, Nakamura said "Wesley, frankly, just needs to learn how to prepare better. He just really misunderstood the position." Nakamura further adding that the computer evaluation can't be trusted and that White might be fine if not for 26...Nxe4! It now becomes clear that White is well and truly busted here; there's nothing he can do, but sportingly, So allows Nakamura the crowd-pleasing compliment of playing on to allow the mate. 27.Rd1 The alternative lost just as effectively - but it would have been a "treasure hunt" rather than a king hunt. 27.Rxd7 Rxf3 28.Bxf3 Qxf3+ 29.Qg2 Qxd3 30.Rd1 Bd2!! 31.Bxd2 Nf4 32.Be1 Nf2+! 33.Qxf2 Qe4+ 34.Kg1 Nh3+ 35.Kf1 Nxf2 36.Bxf2 Qxg4 also picking up a rook. 27...Rxf3!! 28.Rxd7 Rf1+ 29.Kg2 Be3! Spoilt for choice, Nakamura also had the even more spectacular mating attack with 29...h3+ 30.Kxh3 Rf2!! 31.Bxf2 Qxf2 32.Nxf2 Nf4+ 33.Kh4 Bg5# Now that would have been a mating finish to give Chinese teenager Wei Yi a run for his money for Game of the Year! 30.Bg3 hxg3 31.Rxf1 White may be up a rook, but he's soon going to be down a king! 31...Nh4+ 32.Kh3 Qh6 33.g5 Nxg5+ 34.Kg4 Nhf3 35.Nf2 Qh4+ 36.Kf5 Rf8+ Let's invite everyone to the party!, as Doc Nunn would say. 37.Kg6 Rf6+ It's hard to criticise a further rook sac that leads to mate, but the excited crowd were baying for the finish of 37...Nf7 38.Kf5 Nd4+ 39.Kg6 Nh8# Not very often in chess do you see a mate with Nh8 (or Nh1). 38.Kxf6 Ne4+ 39.Kg6 Qg5 checkmate 0-1