Fabiano Caruana used precious little time in an opening he had prepared deeply for a game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov earlier this year.
Although Caruana had expected a Sicilian Najdorf, he nevertheless recalled his earlier work on the variation chosen by MVL up to move 17.Rf2. The Frenchman couldn't cope with his predicament.
It was clear that I was not functioning properly for some reason, and I thought things would go wrong after I got caught in the opening. It's a position you cannot really expect to play perfectly...congrats to Fabiano for his homework and also for his powerful play to finish it off.
Caruana explained, immediately after the game, that the computer evaluation is misleading in the dynamic and materially imbalanced position which arose. (Replay the game)
Veselin Topalov's woes continued against Aronian, who initially fell into a known opening trap in the a6-Slav which cost him an exchange, but managed to turn the tables and put Topalov on the defensive.
After 26.Kc1, Black was already in dire straits, but Topalov's next move 26...Qf6? allowed Aronian to put the game out of reach. White's dreadful pawn structure is of no concern with a pair of laser bishops:
White played 27.d7+! and after any king move he has Bd4 winning material.
It's not every day that a 2770 player finds himself down a full piece after less than 30 moves!
World Champion Magnus Carlsen started the tournament with two blacks, so he can be content with his 50% start. Nakamura has never beaten Carlsen in a classical game, although he came within a nanometer in Zürich last February.
GM Jan Gustafsson analyzes their latest duel:
Boy, was it hard to decide on a game to annotate today. Caruana-MVL had crazy tactics, superb opening preparation and another win for the fabulous Fab. Aronian-Topalov featured creative opening play, strange blunders, twists and turns and Topalov losing to his trademark exchange sac. But in the end, I could not decide against the the most fun ― and most one-sided ― rivalry in chess today.
1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 g6 No Berlin! Carlsen seems to have acquired a book on offbeat Spanish lines recently. At the Olympiad, 3...Nd4 did not treat him kindly. So today, he unleashed the next chapter, g6. Respectable, but rare. Fun little detail: The strongest player to employ this line before yesterday was... Hikaru Nakamura. He used it to beat Anand...which is Carlsen's next big goal (if that match happens and all that). Moving on...
4. d4 is another critical test.
5... ♘ge7 6. d4 exd4 7. cxd4 d5 is a line I was taught as a kid, but it's not quite in Carlsen's style to determine the structure that early. That, and White is probably better after 8. exd5 ♘xd5 9. ♖e1+ ♗e6 10. ♗g5 too.
6. ♗a4 Nakamura deviates from his own (black) game.
8. d5 The classical approach. White closes the center and steers the game towards a King's Indian structure.
8. ♖e1 is another popular and cunning move, waiting to see what Black does before determining the situation in the middle.
8... ♘ce7 9. ♗xd7+ ♕xd7 10. c4 The aforementioned structure appears. Now, in a normal KID, we are used to Black trying to checkmate the white king with f5-f4, g5, h5 etc. However, things are a bit different here. The light-squared bishops have left the board. It's considered close to common knowledge that without light-squared bishops, a black kingside attack is bound to fail. He's going to have to do something else. Lets see what MC is up to...
10... h6 A necessary preparation for Black's next.
12. exf5 gxf5 13. ♘h4 ♘f6 14. f4 was Fischer's approach in the old days. Nakamura opined earlier this year, "Fischer would almost certainly lose to all of us," so it's no surprise he does not follow him any longer. I think he's right, too. At least about not repeating 12.exf5. Black should be fine here. 14... e4 1-0 Fischer, R-Filip,M, Curacao 1962, Candidates (42)
12. ♘e1 is the most common move here, planning to put the knight on d3 instead.
12... ♘f6 13. f3 0-0 14. b4 c6! As mentioned earlier, the "standard" plan of f4 and g5 is less promising here. So Carlsen decides to open the queenside before his opponent gets in the desired c5 and Nc4.
15... bxc6 looks quite playable as well, but Carlsen has his eyes set on that d4-square for the horse.
18... ♘e6 was a quiet way to continue the game.
19. ♘xd4 Nakamura does not have to be asked twice to accept the challenge. The solid
19. g3 was an option, controlling f4 but not really asking questions.
19... exd4 20. exf5 This looks like one of those cases where an experienced coach might speak about the static-dynamic balance. I never quite got it, but my interpretation is that with Nh5 Carlsen has given up the static soundness of his position. To justify that decision, he has to proceed dynamically. Before embarking on such a decision, you better make sure that a dynamic solution exists...
20... ♘f4! Only this way!
21. f6! I like this decision as well. Nakamura returns the pawn, but makes sure the black structure stays as it is and that the black army becomes uncoordinated. Whatever piece shows up on f6 can be hit with a future Ne4. What was wrong with pawn grabbing, though?
21. fxg6 Ok, maybe not all that much. Still, after 21... ♖f6! the black rook will form a dangerous tag team with the knight, targeting g2. Let's show the line 22. ♘e4 ♖xg6 23. g3 d5! 24. cxd5 d3 25. ♗xg7 ♖c2! 26. ♘f6+ ♖xf6 27. ♗xf6 ♖g2+ 28. ♔h1 ♕h3 to illustrate the dangers. f6 was just a better decision.
22... ♘h3+! No Nd3 ― the rim is a better choice. Here's why:
24. ♕b1! The thing about these top players is that they make the best move a lot! By attacking g6, White gains precious time to coordinate.
24... ♔h7 25. ♕d3 ♗e5 Squeezing some more activity out of the position. The bishop gets ready to give his life on g3 for the greater good. Because of Nakamura's strong play, the greater good is no better than a draw this time around.
26. ♖ae1 The most natural move, allowing Carlsen to carry out his (drawing) combination.
26. ♘e4 was a way to prolong the game by stopping the perpetual we are about to see. The outcome would likely be the same, though. 26... ♘xe4 27. fxe4 ♖xf1 28. ♖xf1 ♕e6 29. ♗xd4 ♖xc4 30. ♗xe5 dxe5 looks fairly balanced.
26... ♗xg3 This looks flashy, but this kind of sac is child's play for these guys.
30. ♔g2 No thank you!
A well played game by both sides yet again. Carlsen's opening experiment was a success. He got a reasonably pleasant position starting with 14...c6. Nakamura did not commit a single inaccuracy along the way and correctly diffused the World Champ's attempts to confuse matters with 18...Nh5. Good moves like 21.f6 and 24.Qb1 led to the logical outcome. Draw.
Nakamura still hasn't beaten Carlsen in a tournament game. And Carlsen is yet to win a game this tournament, but two well-played draws with Black are hardly cause for concern.
Before joining the live webcast, Carlsen briefly summarized the game in his own words, and also addressed a minor controversy surrounding recent comments about Nakamura to Norway's TV2 in which he described the American as "inept", albeit light-heartedly. Take a look:
Friday's Round 3 will feature the clash of Carlsen vs. Caruana. Don't miss that one!
Daily live commentary is available courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis by WGM Jennifer Shahade, and GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley.
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