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13 Nov

Showdown In Saint Louis

FM9

It’s a fun event with a very serious prize fund of $150,000 on offer - and there’s something for everyone here, with the exhibition matches being decided over various formats including Fischer Random (Chess 960), Rapid, Blitz and Basque.  Each game of the exhibition matches will feature live commentary from GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Maurice Ashley - and all streaming live from 1pm CT at www.uschesschamps.com.

For those that have never heard of “Basque” chess, this is a variant that was inspired by David Bronstein, the great Soviet world title contender of the 1950s and highly-original chess-thinker, that pits two players against each other in a pair of games (G90 + 30) simultaneously, with opposing colours - a sort of double-dipping if you like, where you have to handle both the physical pressure and the time pressure (both of your clocks can be ticking in Basque chess, a particularly unnerving thought).

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One benefit of Basque chess is that you don’t have to wait long - or wait at all - for a chance to get back at a rival who just beat you. Or, in the case of arch-rivals Nakamura and Caruana, two somewhat enterprising draws.

Fabiano Caruana - Hikaru Nakamura
Showdown In St Louis (Basque)
Sicilian Defence, Rossolimo Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 The Rossolimo Variation, named after the Russian-born, Paris-raised Nicolas Rossolimo (1910-1975), who emigrated to the USA in the early 1950s and established himself in the local New York scene where he opened a chess studio (frequented by Bobby Fischer) in Greenwich Village; drove a cab, worked in a hotel and recorded folk songs. He died in 1975 when he fell down a flight of stairs. Where is the current chess player with a CV to match that? The opening became a regular at elite level thanks to the likes of England’s Michael Adams - but more recently, its popularity has increased by being a favourite of World Champion Magnus Carlsen. 3...Nf6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 g6 6.h3 Bg7 7.Nc3 Nd7 8.Be3 b6 More usual here is 8...e5 - but everyone knows that Nakamura likes to go his own way! 9.Qd2 This is largely the drawback to Nakamura's plan - Caruana immediately spots he can compromise Black's position with ideas now such as Bh6 or even Bg5. 9...h6 10.0-0 e5 11.Nh2! Nakamura's position has been compromised, and he now needs to prevent Caruana from playing f4 and smashing the position open - and even if he has to "go ugly" to stop this. 11...g5 12.Ne2 Nf8 13.Ng3 Ng6 14.a3 With Black plugging the holes on the kingside, Caruana now turns his attention to breaking the queenside. 14...0-0 15.b4 cxb4 16.axb4 Nh4 Another ugly compromise - but Nakamura quickly saw that 16...Nf4 was achieving nothing, as Caruana had the simple plan of 17.Ra3 and doubling rooks on the a-file. At least with the knight now on h4, Nakamura has a plan for some activity. 17.f3 Perhaps Caruana has underestimated Nakamura's plan?  And if so, on reflection would he now have gone for 17.Nh5!? f5 18.Qc3! that would have been awkward for Black? 17...f5 18.exf5 Nxf5 19.Nxf5 Bxf5 20.Ra6 In an ideal world, the pressure on the a-file should give White a decisive advantage - but Nakamura has this in hand with a cunning plan. 20...Qe7 21.Ng4 e4! (See Diagram) And this is it - he sacrifices a pawn to activate his bishops, but more importantly stopping White playing Nf2-e4 to blockade the centre and stymie the scope of Black's bishop-pair. 22.dxe4 Rfd8 23.Qe1 Much better was 23.Qe2 , and we'll soon see why. 23...Be6 Now both of Nakamura's bishops are activated, and he's threatening ...Bc4. 24.Ra3 Bc4 25.Rf2 h5 26.Nh2 Amazing how quickly White has now been pushed back - and all down to Nakamura's enterprising pawn sacrifice with 21...e4! 26...Bb2 Nakamura misses perhaps his best shot here, with the tactical blow 26...a5!? 27.Bxb6 Qxb4 28.Qxb4 axb4 29.Rxa8 Rxa8 and - despite being a pawn down - his active bishops, rook and (potentially) menacing queenside pawns give him "something" to work with. As it is, the way he goes just leads to a draw due to the lack of cover for his king. 27.Ra4 Qe5 28.Nf1 Qb5 29.Ra1 Caruana knows he's losing the exchange here, but he was wonderful compensation with a hold on the dark-squares and Nakamura's rather exposed king. 29...Bxa1 30.Qxa1 Bxf1 31.Rxf1 White can also draw with 31.Qf6 Bc4 (31...Rd1 32.Qg6+ Kf8 33.Qf6+ Kg8 (33...Ke8? 34.Qh8+! wins!) 34.Qg6+ etc.) 32.Rd2! Rxd2 33.Bxd2 Kh7 34.Bc3 Rg8 35.Qe7+ Kh6 36.Qf6+ with a perpetual check. 31...Rd6 32.Qa2+ Kg7 33.Qb2+ Kh7 34.Ra1! Not only stopping Black activating the a8 rook, but also setting up a little ploy. 34...a6 35.Rc1 With the not too subtle threat of c4 snaring the queen! 35...Qe2 36.Qb3 Rg8 37.Qf7+ Rg7 38.Qf5+ Kg8 39.Qc8+ Kh7 40.Qf5+ Kg8 41.Bxg5 Rd2 42.Qe6+ Kh7 43.Qh6+ Kg8 44.Qe6+ Kh7 ½-½

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