2014 Sinquefield Cup: Round #5

2014 Sinquefield Cup
August 27th – September 7th, 2014 (St. Louis, USA)
Round #5 – Sunday, 31 August 2014
1 Nakamura, H
USA
0-1
Caruana, F
ITA
2 Aronian, L
ARM
0-1
Carlsen, M
NOR
3 Topalov, V
BUL
1-0
Vachier-Lagrave
FRA
Official Site

“Fab Five”… unprecedented performance in strongest tournament!

Two American products facing off! Photo by uschesschamps.com.

Two products of the American Swiss system facing off!
Are Swiss systems really bad for chess development?
Photo by uschesschamps.com.

The commentators admitted to running out of superlatives to describe Fabiano Caruana’s performance so they have started assigning him nicknames. “The Perfect One,” “Don Fabiano,” and “Fabulous Fab” were a few. Of course, when you get such a nickname, you have to live up to it… and he certainly has done so.

With and improbably 5/5 and an unthinkable performance rating, Caruana has done what no one… absolutely NO ONE predicted. At least two of his adversaries (Veselin Topalov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave) have stated that the tournament is practically over. Second places is still a possibility for the other five players. Hikaru Nakamura stated that the only way to stop Caruana is to beat him. Coming into this game, Nakamura had a 3-0 score, but with a string of recent draws.

After Nakamura’s 42.Bf2, Caruana parted with the lady gaining two powerful rooks with 42…Rxc1!

This Slav Defense resulted in positional battle where black got a solid and playable position. Caruana eschewed sacrificing a pawn with 14…Qc8 instead of 14…Bd6. The game entered into tactical complications which Caruana offered a pawn after 32…Rc4. The f5-pawn is poisoned because of 33.Qxf5?? Nxd4! winning, so white tried to hunker down with 35.h3? gxh3 36.Kh2. This only exposed white’s weaknesses as the open h-file gave rise to mating tricks. More than that, white had too many holes on the light squares and on 41…Qe6 42.Bf2 black trade his queen for two active rooks after 42…Rxc1!

In severe time pressure, black missed the computer-like 44…Bh4! and allowed white a chance to complicate. However, after 48.f5? white left his drawing chances slip away. After white’s long series of checks ran out the two rooks and bishop were too much to withstand. Caruana was now on an improbable 5/5 but would not admit that the tournament was clearly over. Topalov and Carlsen, the nearest rivals are 2.5 points behind.

Hikaru Nakamura certainly not on point in this tournament.

Topalov won after MVL resigned in a difficult position. In the post-game interview, Vachier-Lagrave was asked why he resigned and he mentioned that after trading queens, black’s position is very unpleasant. True, but perhaps he could have played on a few moves. Nevertheless Topalov is in joint second place with Magnus Carlsen on an even score. While the pack is still tight Topalov admits that he is not playing his best chess and only Caruana can make any such claim.

After black’s 50…Rxb3 in Aronian-Carlsen, the game should be drawn, right?

Levon Aronian is probably wondering how he lost a seemingly trivial drawn ending. Take the following position after 50…Rxb3. It appears that white needs to hold the a-pawn at bay while probing the black kingside with his monarch. Carlsen mixed up things with a daring try 53…g5! The sacrifice intended to stop the king from invading and at the same time destroying the pawn structure.

It worked like a charm… with Aronian’s cooperation of course. A couple of other nice tactics such as 62…hxg3! probably served as a shock to the Armenian who must have had a sinking feeling that this game was slipping away. Unbelievable collapse for Aronian who has also abdicated his #2 position in the world ranking while falling under 2800. Carlsen recorded his first win to merely break even. Everyone seems to be playing for 2nd now.

After flying under the radar for a decade, we should get used to seeing his photo. Rising in obscurity may have been the best for Caruana. Not ruined by all the fanfare and expectations of fans, he has quietly become a world contender. Only in the movie “Luzhin’s Defense” have we seen a player of Italian ancestry in such a position. Photo by uschesschamps.com.

Standings after Round 5

1st: Fabiano Caruana 5; 2nd-3rd: Veselin Topalov, Magnus Carlsen, 2½; 4th: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; 5th-6th: Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, 1½.

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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