Reports Aug 28, 2014 | 6:14 AMby Macauley Peterson

Caruana takes first round by storm

Topalov ponders his first round pairing | photo: Macauley Peterson

The hot and humid weather in St. Louis gave way to a tremendous thunderstorm that struck right in the middle of the first round. In fact, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center’s Executive Director Tony Rich reported that lightning may actually have struck the parking lot behind the building, knocking out several electrical systems inside the Club in the process.

In the "boardroom" on the second floor Fabiano Caruana remained relatively unfazed by the meteorological clamour, as he was busy knocking out his first round opponent, Veselin Topalov.

“Today it was crazy, I think it was hailing outside,” Caruana noted with a hint of amusement. “The noise was a bit disturbing, but I felt my position was good so I wasn’t too worried.”

GM Maurice Ashley on the live webcast even managed to work in a pun on the inclement weather.

“You played very solidly in the middle, and then all of a sudden, all hail broke loose. His position just fell apart.”

Topalov blamed overzealousness on his part, beginning with 17.g4?!

I created some weaknesses...advanced some pawns for no reason, I believe. And then I couldn’t feel the moment when I had to switch to play for a draw.

At the Chess Club there is a running joke about the g4 pawn thrust. Tournament sponsor Rex Sinquefield calls it his "favorite move" and during previous live commentary shows, host Jennifer Shahade would often interject "we have a g4-alert!" whenever the opportunity arose.

Position after 23...Nd4!

Caruana didn't really have to do anything special. He just stayed solid until the right moment to pounce with 23...Nd4. (Play over the complete game.)

“I didn’t really think I was better, and then suddenly after Nd4, I had an enormous advantage, almost out of nowhere,” said the American-Italian after the game.

Black has a discovered attack on White's d5 bishop, and after an exchange of bishops he also threatens a knight fork on b3 plus Nxf5, followed by a queen invasion with Qd4+.

This win puts Caruana at least temporarily at number two in the world rankings, as he leapfrogs Levon Aronian, who only managed a draw with Hikaru Nakamura.

Aronian was pressing in the middle game, but never generated more than a small edge against Hikaru.

In particular Levon thought he was better after 18.Ng5, but decided to repeat moves shortly after the minimum 30 move limit. He said he hadn't prepared much for the game so did not feel surprised by Nakamura's opening choice, the Slav Defence.

During their previous classical encounter in Zürich earlier this year, Nakamura played his pet King's Indian.

I've played Levon many times and actually I lost the last few times with black, so I thought it was better to try something solid at the start of the tournament.

Hikaru Nakamura, waiting for Aronian to arrive | photo: Macauley Peterson

The final game of the round was the most interesting, although it too ended in a draw. GM Jan Gustafsson takes a closer look:

A messy new position after 8 moves. Maybe we can put the Chess960 on hold for a few more years?

Like most top players, Vachier is comfortable going both 1.e4 and 1.d4 nowadays.

1. e4 e5 No more Scandinavians!

2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. d4 This might be the earliest surprise since SPOILER ALERT George Clooney not making it past the first half hour of Gravity. However, both had good reasons for their choice: George Clooney would rather die than spend another minute around a woman of his own age, MVL would rather try the Scotch than spend another minute banging his head against the Berlin wall. The Scotch has not been a prominent guest in the Frenchman's repertoire. In fact, the only time he used it in the last couple of years resulted in a painful 22-move loss against Vladimir Kramnik.

3... exd4 4. ♘xd4 ♗c5

4... ♘f6 has replaced the move in the game at the top level recently. It would have been interesting to see what Vachier had up his sleeve here, but Magnus prefers the bishop move.

4... ♗b4+ 5. c3 ♗c5 6. ♗e3 ♗b6 7. ♗d3 ♘f6 8. 0-0 0-0 9. ♘xc6 bxc6 10. e5 ♘d5 11. ♗d2 d6 12. c4 ♘e7 13. ♕c2 ♘g6 14. exd6 cxd6 15. ♘c3 ♕h4 16. ♖ae1 ♘e5 17. ♖e4 ♕h5 18. ♗e2 ♕g6 19. ♕d1 ♗h3 20. ♗f3 ♗f5 21. ♖h4 ♗c2 22. ♕xc2 ♘xf3+ 0-1 Vachier Lagrave,M (2719)-Kramnik,V (2784), Tromso 2013, was Vachier's last outing in this opening. He has gained quite some rating since, hasn't he?

5. ♘b3

"MVL" or "The Frenchman with two names" | photo: Macauley Peterson

The strongest player to employ this move is... Magnus Carlsen! And quite regularly - I count at least 6 games on the white side over the last couple of years. So to use it against its main advocate is quite a brave choice by Vachier... Or maybe, the main advocate was behind the scenes? According to Nakamura, it was none other than Garry Kasparov who introduced Carlsen and himself to this line, Maxime clearly had a look as well. The main alternatives

5. ♘xc6 ♕f6 and

5. ♗e3 ♕f6 6. c3 ♘ge7 have been doing fine for Black.

5... ♗b6 6. ♘c3

6. ♕e2 has been Magnus' preference here, making it harder for Black to go 6... ♘f6? due to 7. e5!

6... ♘f6 7. ♕e2 This move might look funny at first sight, but it is still well known. White wants to follow up with Be3 or Bg5 and long castles. Quite an aggressive setup!

7... a5! A rare move. And a good one! Do we have to stop believing that Carlsen doesn't know all that much about the opening?

7... d6 8. ♗e3 or

7... 0-0 8. ♗g5 have been seen more frequently.

8. e5 The critical test. And a novelty! Carlsen was candid about his feelings facing this surprise:

I was scared. I thought this line was supposed to be OK for me, but I didn't check it before the game, and then, well, at some point I just had to use my brains and see what I could do.

8. a4 had been played before, but weakening his queenside and the position of the b3-knight like this undermines White's cruel intentions of 0-0-0 and checkmate. After e.g. 8... d6 9. ♗e3 ♗xe3 10. ♕xe3 ♗e6 Black is ok.

8. ♗e3 runs into 8... a4!

8... 0-0! Let the games begin!

8... ♘g8? 9. ♘d5 was of course not Carlsen's intention. Instead he temporarily sacrifices a piece to bring his king to safety. A messy new position after 8 moves. Maybe we can put the Chess960 on hold for a few more years?

9. exf6 a4! The right order!

9... ♖e8 10. ♗e3 a4 11. ♘d2 doesn't work.

10. ♘d5! Vachier also wastes no time adding fuel to the fire. The humble retreat

10. ♘d2? ♖e8 11. ♘de4 d5 would lose the piece back as well in much worse circumstances.

10. fxg7 ♖e8 11. ♗e3 axb3 12. cxb3 d5 also doesn't seem to pose Black any tricky problems.

10... ♖e8

10... axb3 might have been playable, but to allow 11. ♘e7+! ♔h8 12. ♗g5 does look borderline insane.

11. ♗e3

11. ♘e7+? ♘xe7 12. fxe7 ♖xe7 13. ♗e3 axb3 wins for Black.

11... axb3 12. ♕g4! This was the idea. The pawn on f6 remains alive and a thorn in the black monarch's flesh.

12... g6 13. ♗c4! Development matters more than taking the pawn back.

13. cxb3 ♗a5+! 14. ♔d1 ♖e5! would favour MC once again.

13... ♘b4! What a move! Using another temporary piece sac, Carlsen frees his position.

I knew that Nb4 was a move in this position, or some others. It's strange to call such a move thematic, but to some extent it might be. And I was just trying to find a way not to lose immediately, and I felt that if I don't lose immediately in this position, I have some trumps.

13... ♗d4 came into consideration as well, planning to take f6 ASAP. It is a lot less funky, though.

14. ♘xb4

14. 0-0 ♘xd5 15. ♗xd5 bxc2 led to a huge mess as well. (15... ♕xf6 16. ♗xb6 cxb6 17. cxb3+/= ; 15... ♖xe3 )

14... d5 Restoring material equality once again. However, the party just begun.

15. ♕f4 dxc4 16. 0-0 bxc2 After a forced sequence, Black seems to have a fine position. But with the little f6-guy still around, one misstep would lead to Qh6-Qg7 checkmate. Vachier immediately uses that fact to create new play.

17. ♘d5!

17. ♘xc2 ♗f5!

17... ♖e6 The best move.

17... ♕xd5 18. ♕h6

18. ♕xc4 ♗xe3 19. fxe3 b5! Carlsen keeps being up to the challenge. With the rook on e6 blocking his own bishop, he finds a new way to activate it via b7.

20. ♕c5 ♗b7 21. ♘e7+ ♔h8

21... ♖xe7 was quite possible as well and could lead to a draw after 22. fxe7 (22. ♕xe7 ♕d2 23. e4 h5 is still chaos.) 22... ♕d2 23. ♖f2 ♕d1+ 24. ♖f1 ♕d2 with a repetition.

22. ♕xc2 Black's asset is gone - time to remove the white one as well!

22... ♖aa6 23. ♖ac1

23. ♕c3 ♖ad6! Planning Rd2 24. ♖f2 should once again lead to a draw.

23... ♖xf6 24. ♖xf6 ♖xf6 25. ♕xc7 ♕d2 Threatening mate and attacking the e3-pawn, what could be more natural? Still, 23. Rac1 and this move might be the only inaccuracies in a wonderfully played game by both sides. A tougher challenge was the counterintuitive

25... ♕d3 The difference only becomes clear if we compare the following line to the one that will happen in the game: 26. ♕b8+? (26. ♕c3 is the best move, when White has to fight for a draw in the ending after 26... ♕xc3 27. ♖xc3 ♖d6 ) 26... ♔g7 27. ♕g8+ ♔h6 28. ♕f8+ ♔h5 29. ♖c5+ g5 30. ♖xg5+ ♔h4 31. g3+ ♔xg5 32. ♕g7+ ♖g6 33. ♕e5+ f5 and with the queen on d3 instead of d2, f5 is covered and there is no perpetual check. Puny humans...

26. ♕b8+ The only move, leading to a forced draw. MVL must already have calculated this line until the end when he chose 23. Rac1, which makes it even harder to criticise that move. Great stuff by both!

26... ♔g7 27. ♕g8+ ♔h6 28. ♕f8+ ♔h5

28... ♔g5 29. ♖c5+ ♔g4 30. h3+ ♔g3 31. ♖g5+ ♔h4 32. ♕h6#

29. ♖c5+ g5 30. ♖xg5+! Forced once again.

30... ♔xg5

30... ♔h4 was the winner with the queen on d3. As it's on d2, this doesn't make a difference here: 31. g3+ ♔xg5 32. ♕g7+ ♖g6 33. ♕e5+ f5 34. ♕xf5+ ♔h6 35. ♕f8+ is still a perpetual.

31. ♕g7+ ♖g6 32. ♕e5+ f5

32... ♔h6 33. ♘f5+ ♔h5 34. ♘g3+ ♔h6 35. ♘f5+ is another way to repeat moves.

33. h4+ ♔h5 34. ♕xf5+ ♔h6 At the risk of repeating myself, the Frenchman must have calculated this position when choosing his 23rd move!

35. ♕f8+ ♔h5 36. ♕f5+ ♔h6

36... ♔xh4 37. ♕h3+ ♔g5 38. ♕f5+ ♔h6 39. ♕f8+ is the same story.

37. ♕f8+ ♔h5 38. ♕f5+ And draw it is. A fantastic game by both sides with attack and defence/counterattack on the same — the very highest — level. At the risk of eating my words any day, it already looks like a good decision to have MVL around in supertournaments.

As for Carlsen - he is Carlsen. Enough said.

Replay the Round 1 games (click on the result):

GM Levon Aronian 1/2 - 1/2 GM Hikaru Nakamura
GM Veselin Topalov 0 - 1 GM Fabiano Caruana
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1/2 - 1/2 GM Magnus Carlsen

Thursday's weather forecast calls for potentially more thunderstorms in St. Louis. With Nakamura White against Carlsen, you should definitely watch out for sparks!

Round 2 pairings:

GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Magnus Carlsen
GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
GM Levon Aronian - GM Veselin Topalov

Follow the action live here on chess24, with commentary courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis by WGM Jennifer Shahade, and GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley.

Full on-demand replay of Round 1:

See also:

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