Fabiano Caruana And The Chess Revolution

Fabiano Caruana And The Chess Revolution

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The recent Tata Steel tournament was a huge success. The organizers did an outstanding job creating a mixed field of players who are known for sharp, "take no prisoners" kind of chess. Yet, in my opinion, the main reason for the success of this tournament was a general thirst for over-the-board chess. The players and fans have been waiting for a long time to play this almost forgotten form of chess.

In the past year, we got used to the never-ending stream of top tournaments with all the unintended consequences that we discussed in this article. Thanks to COVID (yes, I know how weird this phrase sounds), we managed to turn time back some 40-50 years. At that time we had just 2-3 super tournaments per year and the games played there would be analyzed for months.

There were dozens of remarkable games played in Wijk an Zee, so I won't be surprised if you missed the following one. Indeed, this seemingly uneventful draw is not exactly what chess fans are going to talk about.

Here is what GM Magnus Carlsen said about this position:

In those positions his extra pawn doesn't mean very much, my bishop is a lot better than
his is, his pawn is blockaded and in general I should have enough activity to
secure the draw pretty comfortably and at any rate, the course of the game
didn't prove that that was not the case.

And here is the opinion of GM Fabiano Caruana:

I thought I would have an advantage from afar but once I got there it suddenly seemed like very little. At the end I was almost worried that I started to risk things.

Yes, Carlsen managed to evaluate this position better during the game, but what really impressed me is his words "those positions". What did he mean? I think that he is referring to the following game played by Jose Capablanca, that we analyzed in this article:

It looks very similar, doesn't it? Caruana's words: "At the end, I was almost worried that I started to risk things" were right on the money, since a strong player like Alexander Kevitz couldn't manage to make a draw. 

I have a very strong suspicion that while Carlsen knew the above-mentioned game of Capablanca, Fabiano Caruana didn't. I could be totally wrong of course, but let's go back in time and look at the very first game that these two chess titans ever played against each other.

Here is what Caruana says about the move 11. Bxf6 in his annotations for New In Chess magazine:

"This surprised me. I hadn't expected him to give up the bishop pair without a fight."

To tell you the truth, I was shocked by this comment as I have known this idea since my childhood. "200 Open Games" by GM David Bronstein is one of my all-time favorite chess books and contains the following games:

I liked the idea of Bxf6 followed by h2-h4 so much that I played it myself in 1985 against late GM Vladimir Malaniuk in one of the tournaments in my home city of Tashkent. Well, at that time Malaniuk was one of the strongest Soviet masters, so you can easily guess the result of the game. 

I can totally understand that Caruana didn't read "200 Open Games", but how about the following modern classic from the creative GM Alexander Morozevich?

Since you already know Bronstein's games, it shouldn't come as a surprise that after Bxf6, Carlsen played h2-h4:

Here is Fabiano's comment after 11.Bxf6:

"A move that threw me off balance. I didn't realize he could play this way! Soon, I started to feel uncomfortable, because I couldn't see how to counter his attack."

That was another puzzling comment. While it is easy to understand that Caruana didn't see two lesser-known Bronstein games and he somehow missed Morozevich's gem, but for god's sake, Wilhelm Steinitz played exactly this idea in two of his world championship games and GM Garry Kasparov has annotated both of them in the first volume of "My Great Predecessors" just like Romanovsky did some 70 years ago in his classical book "Chess Middlegame."

If you, my dear readers, think that I am picking on Fabiano Caruana, then you are totally wrong. First of all, such an attempt would be quite comical since he is a much stronger chess player than I am. Secondly, you cannot argue with success, so if Caruana, the world's #2 player reads this article and says the infamous "OK boomer", I wouldn't be surprised since he has all the right to do so. 

The goal of the article is totally different. When I attended the famous Botvinnik-Kasparov school as a child, one of the strongest impressions was the way the Patriarch analyzed our games. He would look at the position, silently listening to our comments, and say something like, "A similar position happened in the Trade Union championship of 1931 in the game Chekhover vs Budo. Look at the game, and you'll see how to play this kind of the position!" Since then it was a chess axiom to me that you cannot be a strong chess player without a firm knowledge of the classical heritage.

Now let's see what happened in the game that we just analyzed. Caruana was not familiar with any of the classical ideas known for over 100 years, got himself in an uncomfortable position (as he admitted himself), and he didn't really see how to counter White's attack... and what's the result of such a tough start in the game versus the world's #1 player? Caruana should have won the game if not for a mistake on move 40!

We are witnessing a true chess revolution, where the old values are mercilessly replaced by a new one: the almighty computer. Move over Steinitz and Capablanca: there is a new sheriff in town. AlphaZero can attack better than GM Mikhail Tal and plays endgames more accurately than GM Anatoly Karpov. Am I happy about all of these changes? Of course not! But as I mentioned in this article, whether we like it or not, chess is quickly turning into an esport and we all need to adapt.

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