Despite the first-ever World Championship match of 1886 being played in the locations of New York, St. Louis and New Orleans, it’s been a very long drought for Americans when it comes to the World Chess Championship. The last American to win was, famously, Bobby Fischer in 1972, when he beat his Soviet foe Boris Spassky in Reykjavik - and their iconic Cold War clash in the Icelandic capital was immortalised recently on screen with the Tinseltown production of Pawn Sacrifice starring Tobey Macguire.
Fischer didn’t defend his title, and the only players who had a shot after him were Robert Byrne, Yasser Seirawan and Gata Kamsky. Now there’s high hopes for another American battling for the title, with the top US duo of Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura winning through from the FIDE Grand Prix to take their berths in the Moscow Candidates’ Tournament - and if either of them win through, it could well be the biggest chess frenzy in America since Fischer, as there’s likely to be a media maelstrom with Magnus Carlsen set to defend his crown later this year in a $1m match in New York.
So no pressures then for Caruana and Nakamura. And of the two, Nakamura’s hopes looked to fade fast with a poor first half performance - but the brash reigning US champion did hit back with a win over Veselin Topalov. But as the Candidates' reached its halfway mark, and the players played each other again, it was Caruana who made his move to be among Magnus’ possible title contenders following an impressive win over homeland rival Nakamura - and a further defeat that all but knocks him now out of contention.
With his first win of the Candidates’, Miami-born and Brooklyn-raised Caruana now joins five-time ex-champion Viswanathan Anand of India to move to within a half point of leaders Sergey Karjakin of Russia and Levon Aronian of Armenia. Both overnight leaders drew in round eight; Aronian with ease against Anish Giri, but Karjakin had to fight for dear life to stave off defeat at the hands of fellow countryman Peter Svidler.
And, as the players now go round again for the deciding second half, the nerves will begin to show on the leading pack as the tension mounts the closer we get to the finish line. Who will have the nerves of steel to go forward to meet Magnus in New York? Will it be veteran Anand again, or will it be first-time title hopefuls Aronian, Karjakin or Caruana?
Photo © | Moscow Candidates Tournament
Aronian draw Giri
Caruana 1-0 Nakamura
Svidler draw Karjakin
Topalov draw Anand
Standings: 1-2. Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 5/8; 3-4. Fabiano Caruana (USA), Viswanathan Anand (India) 4.5; 5. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 4; 6. Peter Svidler (Russia) 3.5; 7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3; 8. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 2.5.
GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Hikaru Nakamura
FIDE Moscow Candidates, (8)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 This seems to be the latest way to play against the Berlin Defence, by steering the game towards a sort of delayed Ruy Lopez Exchange - and its roots can be found in the DERLD, the acronym given to the Delayed Exchange Ruy Lopez Deferred that was analysed and written up in a monograph by Len Pickett and very popular in the UK in the early 1970s. 5...dxc6 6.Nbd2 0-0 7.Qe2 Re8 8.Nc4 Like the DERLD, one of the key ideas is to hit e5 and force weaknesses in the Black camp. 8...Nd7 9.Bd2 Ideally, left to his own devices, White would like to play b4 followed by Bc3 where he would have a wonderful position. 9...Bd6 10.0-0-0 We've seen this position twice in the one round at top level recently, namely at the Tata Steel Masters back in January. Here, Wei Yi played 10.h4 for a trademark stunning sacrificial win over David Navara. Meanwhile, in the same round, Caruana-Karjakin was a bit more careful and ended in a draw. Now instead of the aggressive 10.h4 thrust, Caruana instead simply castles queenside, and we buckle down to attacks on both wings. 10...b5 11.Ne3 With ...e5 now well defended, the knight has done its job by extracting a slight weakness by forcing Nakamura to play ...b5, and now the knight comes round to head to the wonderful f5 square where it really wants to go to. 11...a5 12.Nf5 a4 13.Bg5 Enticing ...f6 which further weakens Black's defences, and in turn will provide a target for White later playing the pawn thrust of g4-g5. I would imagine around here, Nakamura had to be more than a bit worried about Caruana having a free reign to play as he want's on the kingside, while his queenside attack is not so co-ordinated. 13...f6 14.Be3 Nc5 15.g4 Be6 16.Kb1 b4 17.g5 b3 18.Rhg1! As Caruana hasn't committed his queenside pawns, he can use Nakamura's own pawns for protection! Sometimes in such positions an opponent's pawn so far up the board can actually help in defending, as it's impossible to sacrifice your way through to the king. 18...bxa2+ 19.Ka1 Bxf5 Nakamura would have loved to have kept this bishop on the board - but the knight on f5 is far too dangerous and has to be exchanged off. 20.exf5 a3 21.b3 It looks as if Black has a crushing attack, but the reality is that Caruana's king is now well protected by Nakamura's own pawns. And with his king safely secured, Caruana can now turn his attention towards Nakamura's king. 21...Na6 22.c3 Stopping Nakamura's knight coming to b4; and if b3 is attacked, then Caruana's knight drops back to d2 to defend and also clears at the same time a path for the queen to come into the attack on g4 or h5. 22...Bf8 23.Nd2 fxg5 If Nakamura doesn't capture here now, then Ne4 will be very strong for Caruana. And indeed, even now, there's a good case for playing Ne4 rather than what Caruana opts for. However Caruana plays it carefully, keeping his knight on d2 to help defend his own king for now. 24.Rxg5 Nc5 25.Rg3! (See Diagram) The retreat now threaten's Bxc5 and Ne4 leaving White with a dream position. 25...e4 Nakamura is in his death throes - but what else could he have played? The alternative was 25...Qd5 26.Bxc5 Qxc5 27.Ne4 Qe7 28.Qxa2 Qf7 29.b4! and Black has an horrific endgame in prospect with all those crippled and isolated pawns on a3, c6, c7 and e5. Not only that, but the White knight also dominates the Black bishop. This would be a torturous ending. 26.Bxc5 Bxc5 27.Nxe4 The pawn sacrifice achieves nothing, but it does give Nakamura a little defensive resource and faint hope of perhaps a swindle somewhere. 27...Bd6 28.Rh3 Be5 At least now Nakamura's bishop threatens to take on c3 and also shores up the defence of g7 - but it is all easily swept aside by Caruana. 29.d4 Bf6 30.Rg1! Stopping Nakmura now from playing ...Qd5 (by threatening Nxf6+) - and it also brings another major piece into the attack. Resignation can't be far off. 30...Rb8 31.Kxa2 It seems such a shame to capture one of Nakamura's pawns that shielded his king so well! 31...Bh4 The obvious 31...c5 is strongly met by 32.Rxh7! Kxh7 33.Qh5+ Kg8 34.Qxe8+! Qxe8 35.Nxf6+ with an easily won rook and pawn ending. 32.Rg4! Not only hitting the bishop on h4, but also defending the knight on e4. A retreat to f6 will fall into the same tactic leading to an easily won rook and pawn ending. So.... 32...Qd5 In the faint hope Caruana might overlook the attack on b3. 33.c4 1-0