In the 1950s and 1960s US chess fans took sides in the bitter battles - personal and over-the-board - between Bobby Fischer and the feisty Sammy Reshevsky. And if you thought that rivalry was bitter, it was nothing compared to the one fans witnessed in the 1930s between Reshevsky and Reuben Fine, as both almost came to physical blows as they struggled for recognition as the top US player.
By 1936 their mutual dislike had deepened, and Fine’s sarcasm when Reshevsky played on in a drawn ending at the great Nottingham tournament almost led to fisticuffs across the board. Reshevsky, knowing that Fine coveted the American title, turned up to another of their games wearing a large medal with the words “US Champion” round his midriff.
Today’s great American rivalry pits returning star Fabiano Caruana, who was born in Miami and grew up in Brooklyn, but played for Italy for the past 10 years, and reigning US Champion Hikaru Nakamura, formerly of Westchester - and both are among the favourites to win next year’s candidates tournament in Moscow that will decide Magnus's next title challenger.
Databases indicate their first game was in a 2004 event at Manhattan’s Marshall Chess Club. Since then they’ve met over the board more than 30 times, with Nakamura having the better record at all three standard time limits. However in their ‘Showdown In St. Louis’, rival Caruana got his revenge.
After two draws in the Basque event, Nakamura took the lead by winning the Fischer Random (Chess 960) 2.5-1.5 - but Caruana stormed back to win the rapid 3-1 and then the blitz 4.5-3.5 to take the title and first prize of $60,000 with an overall score of 10-8; Nakamura’s conciliation being the loser’s purse of $40,000.
There was also a sideshow battle of the sexes event between the former Women’s World Champion, Hou Yifan and GM Parimarjan Negi of India, that went the way of the Chinese 21-year-old Women’s world No.1. After losing both the Basque games, Hou struck back by winning the Fischer Random, rapid and blitz for an overall win of 11-7 to take the first prize of $30,000; Negi receiving $20,000 for his efforts.
Fabiano Caruana - Hikaru Nakamura
Showdown in St. Louis Blitz, (6)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 b6 3.c4 Bb7 The English Defence, named after a list of top English players - Tony Miles, Ray Keene and Michael Stean - who popularised it in grandmaster praxis through the late 1970s and 1980s. 4.Bd3 The "automatic" 4.Nc3 allows 4...Bb4 which is what built the reputation of the English Defence. White's reply is a bit more nuanced, avoiding the problematic pin. 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 Nb4 6.0-0 g6 Against the set-up with 4.Bd3, the double fianchetto is common. 7.Nc3 Nxd3 8.Qxd3 Bg7 9.d5 The idea is to close down the scope of Black's white-squared bishop. 9...Nf6 10.Bg5 h6 11.Bh4 g5 12.Bg3 Nh5 13.Rad1 Nxg3 14.fxg3! One of the great things about conventions is knowing when to break them! Generally, the convention here would be to recapture towards the center with 14.hxg3 - and this is a very good rule of thumb. However, Caruana has mitigating circumstances to break with this convention, as his rook immediately comes into the attack against Black's weak king down the open f-file. 14...0-0 15.Kh1 d6 16.Nd4 This is one of those closed positions where the knights are far superior than the bishops - Nakamura badly needs to open the game up somehow. 16...Qe7 17.h3 a6 18.Rf2 Rac8 19.Nf3 Rcd8 20.Qc2 c6 21.a4 cxd5 22.cxd5 Bc8 23.Qb3 e5 24.g4! (See Diagram) Caruana further locks Nakamura's bishops out of the game - and this further squeeze on the Black position proves to be decisive, as Nakamura lashes out in an effort for activity. 24...h5 25.Nh2! Taking the pawn would have let Nakamura off the hook: 25.gxh5 g4 26.hxg4 Bxg4 and after ...f5, Black has chances of saving the game. However the way Caruana plays it, Nakamura has nothing. 25...hxg4 26.hxg4 Kh7 27.Ne2 Heading to g3 and f5, after which, Nakamura bishops are looking really bad. 27...Rh8 There's nothing down the h-file. 28.Ng3 Kg6 29.Nf5 Qc7 30.Rc2 Qa7 31.Qe3! Threatening a5 winning a pawn, and the Black position will soon collapse. 31...Bxf5 It's all desperate stuff now from Nakamura, who has successfully been snuffed out of the game completely by Caruana. 32.gxf5+ Kh7 The domination of the c-file now compounds Nakamura's problems. 33.Rdc1! Qb8 34.Rc7 Rc8 35.Qh3+ Bh6 36.Ng4 Kg7 If 36...Rxc7 37.Qxh6+ Kg8 38.Nf6#. 37.Rxc8 1-0