Nakamura-Caruana battle @ CCSCSL!

Hikaru Nakamura has had a banner year and will close out with the last leg of the Grand Chess Tour. If there is a “Chess Oscar” awarded this year, no one seems to be more deserving. However as a warmup, he will face off in a $100,000 exhibition match against team mate and recent repatriate Fabiano Caruana. The winner will take $60,000. Nakamura is coming off of a thrilling win in Las Vegas winning the $100,000 first prize at the Millionaire Chess Open.

Hikaru Nakamura enroute to his victory at Millionaire Chess #2.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Since change his federation back to the U.S. last year, Caruana has been adjusting to the chess scene and has had a lot of support from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis (CCSCSL), the site of the match. The match will feature four different formats including Basque Chess (two games at once), Fischer Random 20+10, rapid 15+10 and blitz 3+2. There will be one format per day.

The above comment by Garry Kasparov spoke of pending matchup at the Sinquefield Cup, but he could not have forseen this match! This match was announced not long after the Sinquefield and builds off of the momentum of the Grand Chess Tour, a series of elite tournaments in three countries. Both Nakamura and Caruana have qualified for the World Candidates in March 2016 and will vie for the chance that an American will challenge for the world crown for the first time since Bobby Fischer won in 1972.

Fabiano Caruana and his new second, GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov at the Sinquefield Cup. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Both players broke all of Fischer’s records during their ascent and hope to repeat this feat in what would be an epic battle if either were to challenge Magnus Carlsen. In the meantime, this match will only serve bragging rights in America. The ultimate goal is the championship and of course the Olympiad gold medal.

This match will be highly anticipated and covered live by several chess servers. There being held concurrently is a battle between Asian player Hou Yifan of China and Parimarjan Negi of India. The St. Louis Chess Club will be center stage again this weekend. Live commentary will be brought by the crack team of GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Maurice Ashley.

Official Site: https://www.uschesschamps.com

The St. Louis Showdown!
November 12th-15th (St. Louis, USA)
Hikaru Nakamura vs. Fabiano Caruana
  Basque Chess960 Rapid Blitz  
Name 1 2 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Total
Hikaru Nakamura ½ ½ ½  ½ 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 8
Fabiano Caruana ½ ½ ½  ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 10

Hou Yifan vs. Parimarjan Negi
  Basque Chess960 Rapid Blitz  
Name 1 2 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Total
Hou Yifan 0 0 ½ 1 0 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 11
Parimarjan Negi 1 1 ½  0 1 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 7

6 Comments

  1. Thursday, 12 November 2015

    GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Fabiano Caruana
    (BASQUE)

    The first day of the “St. Louis Showdown” was full of twists and turns and two heavyweights battled to two exciting draws in the Basque session. Basque is an increasingly popular format where each players will face the opposing player on two different boards. Of course there is an element of risk since you have to decided how much time to spend on each board given the position. In some cases you may have to resign one board and focus on the other. This is incredibly different with such a strong opponent. Both players were up to the task.

    Hikaru Nakamura peering at Fabiano Caruana making a move with black.
    Photo by CCSCSL.

    Nakamura trotted out the Trompowsky, an occasional guest among Grandmasters for shock value and to avoid preparation. This decision almost turned into a disaster for Nakamura as he got his king stuck in the center and had retarded development. He was doing much better on the other board. In fact, he had played a novel 21…e4!? move in an attempt to wrest the initiative. Black sacrifices a pawn, but suddenly his bishops zip slice through the board and snare an exchange. Caruana found a way to avoid by playing actively and the game end in an three-fold repetition. On the other board, Caruana did not play the most testing moves and the game petered out to a draw.

    GAME #1

    GAME #2

    GM Hou Yifan vs. GM Parimarjan Negi
    (BASQUE)

    Everyone across the globe has been charting the progress of the women’s strongest active player since she was 11 or 12. She is now 21 years old with a rating hovering close to the meteoric 2700-level. This is Hou Yifan’s first competition event in America’s “chess capitol” and she is on the “undercard” with another fellow prodigy in Negi of India. The India is now studying at Stanford university and in an interview with the school newspaper we said he is seeking a “new start”. Yet he is still finding time to compete is this special exhibition.

    Hou Yifan ran into big trouble against Parimarjan Negi is on -2.
    Photo by CCSCSL.

    Hou’s Catalan has a bit more promise, but she entered a complicated line involving an exchange sacrifice and lost the thread in the middle game. Hou opted for a strong passed pawn, but Black’s strong bishops developed a commanding presence and eventually surrounded the a-pawn. White ultimately started flailing away in the endgame as the two pieces were much stronger.

    The Dragon fared even worse. White developed an initiative on the weakened black kingside. Black had none of the usual trumps seen in the Dragon. As play wore on, black’s weakness became more grave and she had to donate an exchange when the ensuing endgame was completely losing. So the Chinese player goes down two games with a chance to bounce back in the Fischer Random segment.

    GAME #1

    GAME #2

    Replay of Basque Rapid!

    Video by CCSCCL.

  2. Friday, 13 November 2015

    Today was the day to roll out “Fischer 960” chess. This variant has bee played at the top level, but has not caught onto the mainstream chess circuit. One of the ways to involve chess players has been to have a poll of fans to choose four of the starting positions in the match. Former World Champion Garry Kasparov (who seems to be a regular in St. Louis) also played a role in the selection. While explaining some of the positions, even he seemed a bit uncomfortable. Take a look.

    Kasparov talks on Fischer Random

    So the four positions selected were…

    The key here and what was aptly pointed out by Kasparov is that there are certain themes in the position… mostly notably unprotected squares. We saw some very “weird” positions, but of course each player was trying to steer the position into more familiar territory.

    GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Fabiano Caruana
    (Fischer 960)

    The games could not be replayed given that applications written for chess has not figured in castling. Otherwise, it would be easy to set up the position and simply play through the game. Both Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana got explanation on how to castle in the new variant to avoid what would be a headliner in the chess world… “SuperGM forgets how to castle.”

    Anyway, there were various times in which the commentators were puzzled by the structure of the positions. Apparently, the game will give rise to simply errors and a few made. Nakamaura lost of the opening game but roared back to win two before drawing the last. Thus he maintains the lead.

    GM Hou Yifan vs. GM Parimarjan Negi
    (Fischer 960)

    Hou Yifan who lost the two Basque games, but came back to win the first three Fischer Random game in convincing fashion. Parimarjan Negi simply lost the thread on the position repeatedly, but managed to draw the last. What does this mean? Is Fischer Random more suited for certain types of players. Not enough is known since only one starting position of chess has been played for 500 years. Hopefully Fischer Random will be played more often. It levels the playing field somewhat and takes away many advantages of home preparation.

  3. Saturday, 14 November 2015

    GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Fabiano Caruana
    (RAPID)

    After the madness of Fischer Random, the two heavyweights got back to normal version of chess (version 518). Today was Caruana’s day. Photo by Austin Fuller.

    GAME #1

    Caruana is one of the top rapid players in the world having one the world title once. Nakamura tried to catch him off guard with the Larsen’s Opening after 1.b3. This game quickly shifted from one opening to another… Larsen’s to English Maroczy Bind. Nakamura came out slightly better and he harbored a positional advantage for 30 moves. His 32.Bf1? may have cost him the advantage as he later lost the c-pawn and struggled to draw.

    GAME #2

    Game two will go down as one of the greatest disasters in rapid chess. It can almost be considered a miniature. What Nakamura was thinking in this game only he knows, but the move 6…f6?? simply gave away the point to an elementary tactic. After 7.Qh5+ black was completely busted. There is nothing more to say about this game as the American champion lasted only 21 moves. Caruana had tied the score!

    GAME #3

    Nakamura apparently like the position arising from game one and player 1.Nf3 and 2. b3. He actually got a pslight pull from the position and increased his space after the logical 13.f4! White held the initiative the entire game, and despite earning a remote passed pawn, he was unable to push it through. It was a high-quality game after a fiasco in the previous bout.

    GAME #4

    This French defense was an attempt to simply play a game… nothing crazy, nothing eccentric. This was a normal position with the usual strategic motifs. Perhaps both sides were growing tired as the day wore on and a number of crucial mistakes were traded at the end. The evaluation swung from one side to the other. Event after white had established a mass of queenside passed pawns, black’s passed d-pawn was streaking up the board. In the end, white found some resourced to stop the pawn by sacrificing the exchange and then relying on his own avalanche of pawns to settle the matter. Caruana has pulled ahead!

    GM Hou Yifan vs. GM Parimarjan Negi
    (RAPID)

    Masterful display by Hou Yifan today!
    Photo by Austin Fuller.

    GAME #1

    What a beautiful game by the Chinese star! a textbook example of how to deploy the hedgehog and timely breaks (21…b5!) to expose its sharp quills. While the material remained even, black had an incredible grip on the position. After white tried freeing the position with 32. a4, black snapped up the pawn and ushered it to the a2-square. With a weak back rank and facing an outside passed pawn whites pieces were discombobulated. When the a2-pawn fell on the sword, black had already gained another passed pawn on the other side and it was enough for a winning advantage. A master class conducted by Hou Yifan.

    GAME #2

    Another Sicilian, this time a Najdorf. After 8.Nf5, they had a chance to go into the ultra-sharp Perenyi Attack with 8…g6 and 9.g5, but these lines are forced and there are resources for both sides. Again black showed how to offset whites opening space with a timely break. This time it was the thematic pawn play in the center of the board. The move 16…d4! was a nice stroke to put white on her heels. She castled queenside to dodge bullets, but ran into a revered Greek gift sacrifice with 20…Bxa2+! The ensuing attack was lethal. Negi narrowed the gap to one.

    GAME #3

    The ever-photogenic Hou Yifan counted her lucky stars today.
    Photo by Austin Fuller.

    Black is good!

    Black wins yet another Sicilian encounter with the Keres Attack against the Scheveningen Defense. Actually black won the game, but it was not because of masterful play as in the previous two games. it was because white simply dawdled away the initiative. In fact after 25.Be4, black could almost resign. In the following moves Negi simply could not put the final nail in the black coffin and committed an incredible blunder on his back rank. It is not often that one will see a back rank checkmate in a GM-level game, but it happened. After 39.Rh1?? black played 39…Rg1+ mating. Yikes!

    GAME #4

    This was another Sicilian, but the 4.Qxd4 line which is seen in GM play from time-to-time. Negi’s 10…Qb6 isn’t the most testing line. The move 10…Qa5 11.h4 0-0 12.Nd4 h6 13.f4!? is critical. White had no problems developing an initiative after 14.g4! and it is exactly what white strives for in this offbeat line. In these positions, black ultimately has to weaken squares and after 24.Rxd5 white was on top. Black tried sacrificing a pawn, but white’s active rooks force more black concessions and the ensuing pawn endgame was easily won.

    Replay of Rapid!

    Video by CCSCCL.

  4. Sunday, 15 November 2015

    GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Fabiano Caruana
    (BLITZ)

    Most of the chess world were waiting with baited breath the beginning of the Nakamura-Caruana blitz showdown. Nakamura would be heavily favorite as the #1 ranked blitz player in the world. Caruana is perhaps know more for his rapid skills, but he certainly would be no slouch and held a two-point lead going into the eight-game contest.

    GAME #1

    It’s interesting that in this match, the black pieces dominated (+3 for Caruana). Nakamura kept playing his offbeat lines even though it was not getting him an advantage. He implied later that he was saving his preparation for the Candidates which was paramount. So 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3 it was. Caruana gave Nakamura a cold shower with 12.Bg4!

    The blitz segment was wild and crazy!
    Photo by Austin Fuller.

    Just like that white was a pawn down. Caruana held onto that pawn for 40 moves, but almost let his advantage slip. Nakamura missed his chance on 60.Bxg2! and became overwhelmed by the swarm of black pawns ushered by the king. Good start for Caruana.

    Blitz Score: 1-0 Caruana
    Total Match Score: 6½-4½ Caruana

    GAME #2

    In the second game, Caruana had a slight positional edge out of the Rossolimo. He increased his advantage in space and then raided black’s queenside. After playing wonderfully, Caruana threw away his advantage in the blink of an eye when he couldn’t won with 43.Qb6+. With his king in a mating net he had to opt for three-fold repetition.

    Blitz Score: 1½-½ Caruana
    Total Match Score: 7-5 Caruana

    GAME #3

    Nakamura resorted back to his pet queen fianchetto systems hoping to gain an improvement. He got nothing tangible. In fact, it was black who was slightly better with minor pieces dominating the light squares. The knight ensconced on c4 was meddlesome at the least and at worst, relegated the white rook on a1 as an expensive defender of the a3-pawn.

    White eventually had to take the c4-knight, but then hatched a faulty plan of 48.d5 missing the zwischenzug 49…Bc7! After that the attack was unstoppable. Black’s 55…f4! simply obliterated the white king and 57…f3+ was a nice trick, but instead of 58.Kxf3 Qxg1! 59.Rxe7+ Rxe7 60.Rxg1 Rf7+, Caruana played with 58…Qxh3? with seconds left. Then Nakamura returned the favor and tossed an exchange.

    Blitz Score: 2½-½ Caruana
    Total Match Score: 8-5 Caruana

    GAME #4

    At this point everyone was in shock mode. No one expected Caruana to be up +3 against Nakamura, nor +2 in blitz. Nevertheless, this was a must-win for Nakamura. When asked about this before the blitz match began, Caruana simply said that he didn’t think it was going to be as lop-sided as people think. Meanwhile, Nakamura had been keeping his suboptimal health a minor secret.

    It appears that Nakamura’s plan was to play offbeat lines, but Caruana simply played normal chess… and good moves! However, in this game, black got good French play… traded off light squared bishop with 10…Ba6 and then attacking with 28…f6. When all the heavy pieces came off black had a nice central pawn advantage and executed nicely.

    Blitz Score: 2½-1½ Caruana
    Total Match Score: 8-6 Caruana

    GAME #5

    Wow! Fast and furious game right here. This game went down to the wire and even had a mini controversy when it appeared Caruana had violated a rule. This game had it moments in the end, but it was Caruana forcing the issue once again. He outplayed Nakamura for most of the game as the London System failed to get any traction. In fact, black’s pieces were optimally place for a breakthrough. Caruana held this lead with his powerful c-pawn… white’s d-pawn was fully blockaded.

    As the black c-pawn got closer and closer, white decided to raid the kingside hope to get a passed pawn of his own. However, black was already at c2. On the brink of winning the game and perhaps building an insurmountable lead, Caruana promoted his pawn with 53.c1(Q) and the clocked was pressed. Under FIDE rules this is an automatic loss. You must replace the pawn with a piece before hitting the clock. It turns out that Caruana accidentally hit the clock as he was reaching to the replace the pawn with a queen. After the arbiter stepped in, they determined that it was an accident and Nakamura did not object. The move was actually a blunder and it may have been just that it was drawn.

    Blitz Score: 3-2 Caruana
    Total Match Score: 8½-6½ Caruana

    GAME #6

    Nakamura went with his hybrid French after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 b6, but this time it turned into an English Defense. This gave Caruana absolutely no troubles and he was not goaded into messy positions. Again… he was slightly better after 24.g4 and just Bogarted the light squares. Another bad game for Nakamura as he had no counterplay and pieces were rather retarded. Caruana finished the game nicely with a mating attack after 36.Ng4. Black would have to donate massive amounts of material to stave off mate. This win clinched the match for Caruana!

    Blitz Score: 4-2 Caruana
    Total Match Score: 9½-6½ Caruana

    GAME #7

    The penultimate game of the blitz match had some spills and thrills, but the most interesting part of the game was watching both players blitz in the end the R+B ending. Caruana ran his king to the right corner, but had to watch for traps. The only way to win would be if the defending side had to defend mate and his bishop. After a long volley of lightening moves occurred, Nakamura ended the game by stalemating the black king.

    Blitz Score: 4½-2½ Caruana
    Total Match Score: 10-7 Caruana

    GAME #8

    In this final game, it was Caruana who did not go for the most challenging line. He eschewed the Berlin Defense and play a less optimal line that gave black easy equality. The game was heading toward a draw when Caruana fell asleep and was hit with 36…Rxf2+! winning a pawn. After that, Nakamura simplified into a won pawn ending and closed the match with a win.

    In the post-match interview, he rejected the notion that he was such a big favorite stating that any of the top-10 players were capable of winning such a match. When asked about the London Classic in a couple of weeks, he stated that his focus was rooted in the Candidates tournament in March. He also stated that he may have been withholding preparation for such an occasion. Nevertheless, it was a very exciting encounter and we look forward to more battles between these two American products.

    Blitz Score: 4½-3½ Caruana
    Total Match Score: 10-8 Caruana

    GM Hou Yifan vs. GM Parimarjan Negi
    (BLITZ)

    This blitz match was really a Sicilian training session. Each game started 1.e4 c5 except for the last which started 1.e4 c6! As one would imagine, the games were hard-fought, but Hou Yifan’s theoretical understanding was a bit sharper.

    This match turned into Sicilian Love… minus one!
    Photo by Austin Fuller.

    GAME #1

    The first game was an accelerated Dragon Sicilian. They could have entered a mainline Dragon, but black played 7…0-0 instead of 7…d6. She then opted for the sharp 8…d5!? The difference is that white has not committed to castle queenside. Nevertheless, it seemed as if black got away with this move order and ended up with a better structure. In the ensuing time scramble, black had two marching pawns but white’s pawn was only two steps from queening! White pitched the pawn to attack the black pawns and the game went to a theoretical draw.

    Blitz Score: ½-½
    Total Match Score: 7-4 Hou Yifan

    GAME #2

    Hou Yifan went back to the 4.Qxd4 variation. The opening has some venom if black is not prepared. This time Hou Yifan employed a bind instead of open play. Black’s pieces were not optimally placed and the Chinese player started to squeeze an advantage. After 23.Na4 Rcd8 24.Nb6 Bc8 black was getting pushed back. Was Negi still in Fischer Random mode?

    The game got intense after 28…e5 29.d7… another bone in the throat. Black won the pawn back but his pieces were awful. It ended in a good vs. bad bishop. Guess who won? The good bishop of course. The game trading down and it was another interesting pawn endgame when tempos count. Interesting finish and well-calculated after 59.f6!

    Blitz Score: 1½-½ Hou Yifan
    Total Match Score: 8-4 Hou Yifan

    GAME #3

    This was a weird Sveshnikov that got white an edge in space, but nothing more. Black fought back with 27…g5! What is interesting is that black got a winning position in the R+P ending, but blundered with 51…Rxf2?? when 51…Rc1 and 52…b1(Q) would win since the rook will stop both pawns. After 51…Rxf2, the game ended up in another book draw.

    Blitz Score: 2-1 Hou Yifan
    Total Match Score: 8½-4½ Hou Yifan

    GAME #4

    If you are playing an opening and your opponent cannot get a grip on it, keep playing it. Negi had no answer for 4.Qxd4 in the previous game and didn’t find one in this game either. Hou Yifan played the same line as the previous white game and simply won a pawn for nothing. However, black got a better position after white blundered a piece. Unfortunately, Negi flagged in a drawn position. With four games to go, the world’s strongest woman had already clinched the match.

    Blitz Score: 3-1 Hou Yifan
    Total Match Score: 9½-4½ Hou Yifan

    GAME #5

    The next game was also a Dragon, but a more positional approach by white. This is typically not the best way to combat the Dragon as black gets good play throughout. On 24…f5! white had to act quickly to avoid coming under serious pressure. So… 25.c5! was a good play. Black’s initiative was still there, but the white king huddled in the corner. Black dubiously went to win a pawn which negated her positional advantage. There was nothing left in the bishop ending.

    Blitz Score: 3½-1½ Hou Yifan
    Total Match Score: 10-5 Hou Yifan

    GAME #6

    Next up for the master class… the Taimanov!

    Hou Yifan played the positional 6.g3 which has some positional venom. One can also opt for a type of King’s Indian Attack. It is a bit slow, but it has claimed many a victim. Black stopped that plan with 8…h5. Negi offered a pawn with 9…h4, but besides the open h-file, there was nothing for the pawn. Nevertheless, black’s active play ensured that white got nothing more than half-point. This game went down to the wire as both sides were blitzing at light speed on a two second increment. The knights were hopping around trying to fork things. The game ended in another nice drawing trick after 54…Nxh5! 55.Nxh5 e5+.

    Blitz Score: 4-2 Hou Yifan
    Total Match Score: 10½-5½ Hou Yifan

    GAME #7

    This may have been the best game that the Indian GM played the whole match. The Rossolimo is a nice anti-Sicilian seen quite a bit in top play. It sidesteps theory, risks little and has quite a bit of both positional strength and attacking venom. White can switch styles very quickly.

    White played the positional 5.Bxc6 instead of 5.Rel e5 6.d3 (6.b4!?). Black had what appeared to be a formidable center, but white counter with the nice 13.f4! and 16.d4! The center was dissolved and black’s pawn structure was a wreck. Thus, Negi launched a fullscale attack after black greedily snapped a pawn with 29…Bxa4?? She didn’t last ten moves after that as the attack with swift and there was no suffering.

    Blitz Score: 4-3 Hou Yifan
    Total Match Score: 10½-6½ Hou Yifan

    GAME #8

    This time it was black playing an anti-Sicilian… with black! A Caro-Kann broke out on the board and the main line was tested. However, this game liquidated rather quickly and neither side was in danger of losing. It was a peaceful ending to an otherwise spirited, fighting match. Hou Yifan was the better player and appeared to handle complicated positions better.

    Negi won both games at the longer time control which is a feather in his cap. He is a full-time student and is not playing much chess these days. When asked about her future Hou Yifan stated that she is trying to be the best player and play the strongest competition. Even though she will play Mariya Muzychuk in March for the women’s title, her focus is on reaching her potential.

    Blitz Score: 4½-3½ Hou Yifan
    Total Match Score: 11-7 Hou Yifan

    Hou Yifan dominated, but the match was closer than the score indicated.
    Photo by Austin Fuller.

    Replay Showdown Blitz

    Video by CCSCSL.

  5. The St. Louis Showdown!
    November 12th-15th (St. Louis, USA)
    Hikaru Nakamura vs. Fabiano Caruana
      Basque Chess960 Rapid Blitz  
    Name 1 2 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Total
    Hikaru Nakamura ½ ½ ½  ½ 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 8
    Fabiano Caruana ½ ½ ½  ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 10

    Hou Yifan vs. Parimarjan Negi
      Basque Chess960 Rapid Blitz  
    Name 1 2 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Total
    Hou Yifan 0 0 ½ 1 0 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 11
    Parimarjan Negi 1 1 ½  0 1 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 7

  6. oh Daaim apparently the U.S. no. 1 practicer has some interest in the Standard Stuff i see cuz hes still playin it, i saw him on chess.com practiciing with another Traditional Gm i am the ULTRAMODERNIST on that site durin one of his games i kibitzed that CHESS WAS ALIVE AND WELL!!! lol then i told the chess.comers there that UM JUST HERE FOR THE LAUGHS AND DA JOKES! hehe i think they find me kinda FUNNIE cuz of the way i move my KNIGHTS WHEN UM PRACTICIN WITH THEM IN THE BULLET STUFF! Doug?

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