The action is coming thick and fast right now, as one major event just goes past its midpoint as another dramatically draws to a close over on the opposite side of the Atlantic - and both involving World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, respectively the world No.1 and 2 on the unofficial live rating list. And both whom many believe are destined to play in a future World Championship Match.
At the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament in Stavanger, Carlsen was on full survival-at-all-costs mode as Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave does what he does best of all, and that’s making life difficult as possible for his opponents - and the World Champion is no exception. Carlsen had to dig down deep to survive in the Berlin Wall ending, but survive is just what he did by finding a very resourceful piece sacrifice in the ending to secure the draw.
That dramatic save meant Carlsen went into the second and final rest day of the tournament still unbeaten on 4/6, and still in the sole lead by a half point margin over the chasing pack. But the pack has now increased from three to four, as India’s Pentala Harikrishna begins to move out of the shadow of Vishy Anand with a second successive win, this time by outplaying (with Black) Anish Giri, the Dutch world No.4, who rarely loses a game these days.
Grandmaster at this level are quite, quite ruthless when they smell blood in the water, and the only other decisive game of the round saw Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine inflicting a fourth defeat of the tournament for the ever-battling Swedish tail-ender, Nils Grandelius.
Giri 0-1 Harikrishna
Eljanov 1-0 Grandelius
Vachier-Lagrave draw Carlsen
Li Chao draw Topalov
Kramnik draw Aronian
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 4/6; 2-5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Pentala Harikrishna (India), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 3.5; 6-7. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 3; 8-9. Li Chao (China), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 2.5; 10. Nils Grandelius (Sweden)
Meanwhile at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center in St Louis, Fabiano Caruana finally fulfilled - via a decade-long detour in Italy - his early promise as a top US prodigy by clinching his first US Championship title. In a nerve-wracking final round, new young hopeful IM Akshat Chandra squandered a couple of golden opportunities that could well have rained on Caruana’s homecoming parade.
Photo © | US Chess Championship
But Caruana successfully dodged the bullet to win the game and with it his first title, as he remained undefeated on 8.5/10, a clear point ahead of his top-10 rating rivals Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, on 7.5-points. There was also a new name on the US Women’s Championship Roll of Honor, as IM Nazi Paikidze finally broke the decade-long Irina Krush/Anna Zatonskih duopoly to surprisingly clinch her first US title.
IM Akshat Chandra - GM Fabiano Caruana
US Championship, (11)
Ruy Lopez Closed
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a4 We usually see this more often as an Anti-Marshall System where Black has castled first. However, with ...d6, Caruana is not heading for a Marshall Attack, more likely something more strategical such as the Breyer or a Chigorin. 8...b4 More common here is a sort of Chigorin set-up with 8...Bd7 9.c3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qb8 - but perhaps by taking the road less traveled, Caruana was hoping to confuse his young opponent? 9.d4 0-0 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Nbd2 White can also exchange queens here and head for the ending - but even so, and winning a temp by hitting f7, this should not worry Black: 11.Qxd8 Rxd8 12.Ng5 Rf8 and Black is doing just a tad more than OK here. 11...Bc5 12.a5 Chandra attempts to fix Black's a-pawn on a6. Instead, also seen has been 12.Qe2 h6 13.h3 Qe7 14.Nc4 Be6 15.Be3 Nd7 16.a5 that worked out well for Black in Dominguez-Karjakin Berlin 2015, 0-1 (62). 12...h6 13.Bc4 Bb7 14.c3 Qd6 15.Qe2 Rad8 16.Nf1 Ne7 17.Ng3 Ng6?! More accurate first was 17...bxc3 18.bxc3 Ng6 - and we'll soon see the reason why Caruana should have opted for this rather than what he played. 18.Be3 bxc3 19.bxc3? And here's the reason - Chandra missed his best shot with 19.Rad1! Qc6 20.Bxf7+! Kxf7 21.Qc4+ Qe6 22.Qxc5 Rxd1 23.Rxd1 Qb3 24.Re1 cxb2 25.Nd2! and Caruana would have been fighting for survival here never mind thoughts of winning his first US title. A sad miss from the youngster, who nevertheless looks to have the right stuff to be a potential US Champion in the future. 19...Bxe3 20.Qxe3 Qc6 Danger averted, Caruana now goes about the business of lifting his first of arguably many US Championship titles to come. 21.Bf1 Bc8 Caruana correctly asses his bishop has no life on b7, but does have a future with the simple re-route to e6. 22.h3 Be6 23.Reb1 Nd7 24.Rb4?! With the title on the line, and Caruana no doubt looking to dampen the action as quickly as he can now, Chandra could have tested his opponent's nerves to the max by opting instead for chaos with 24.Nd4!? exd4 25.cxd4 where Black will have to keep his wits about him for survival again with 25...Rfe8 26.d5 Bxd5 27.exd5 Qxd5 28.Qa7 Nc5 29.Qxc7 Rc8 30.Qb6 Rc6 31.Rd1 Qe6 32.Qb4 Rec8 and Black's belt and braces support for a6 should see him safely draw - but White is the one having all the fun and pressure. 24...Kh7 25.Rab1 Qc5! This seems to solve just about all of Caruana's problems; and indeed, from here in, as the dangerously advanced a-pawn comes off the board, he looked very reassured with his position. 26.Bxa6 Not 26.Qxc5 Nxc5 and the knight more than covers all the critical entry squares and then some. 26...Qxa5 27.Bf1 Qc5 28.Qxc5 Nxc5 29.Bc4 Nd3! Caruana's vast experience is now showing through, as he strategically begins to outplay his young opponent. 30.Ra4 Ngf4 31.Ne1 Nxe1 32.Rxe1 Rd2 33.Bf1 The only option, as after 33.Bxe6 its the exception to the rule with Black instead recapturing not with the piece but with 33...fxe6! and White is quite simply lost here, as all Black's pieces are now threatening the weak kingside; the immeidate threat being ...Nxg2 mating. The only option then being: 34.Nf1 Re2! 35.Raa1 Ra8! with a won ending. 33...Rb8 34.Rb4 Ra8 35.Rb7 Raa2 (See Diagram) Caruana is in his element now as he dominates the board. The rest is just good technique to win the game and with it his first US title. 36.Nh1 It's always a bad sign when the only defence you have is to play Nh1. 36...c5 37.Rc7 Ra5 38.Ng3 Rc2 39.c4 g6 40.Rb1 Kg7 41.Rcb7 Raa2 42.Nh1 Bxc4 43.Bxc4 Rxc4 44.Re7 Rb4 45.Rd1 Rd4 46.Rb1 Ne6 The knight coolly and calmly retreats to stop White's only remaining threat, that of doubling rooks on the seventh and hitting f7. 47.Rbb7 Nd8 48.Rbc7 Kf6! Despite having rooks on the seventh, Chandra discovers there are times they can be quite impotent, such as here! 49.f4 Rd1+ 50.Kh2 exf4 51.e5+ Kg5 52.Rxc5 Ne6 53.Rc3 Rdd2 0-1