How Fabiano Caruana Wins
In his excellent 1995 work Winning Chess Brilliancies (part of the acclaimed Winning Chess series), GM Yasser Seirawan developed a novel analytical method: he literally broke every game down into its three stages, separately analyzing the opening, middlegame, and endgame.
This approach certainly has its drawbacks, but it enables the reader to closely follow the game's progression and pinpoint the exact moments in which the winner demonstrated his superiority.
In this article, I would like to apply this system to one of GM Fabiano Caruana's victories at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup (of course, I assume that you are well aware of his reality-defying performance at the Cup).
His results have been scrutinized and canvassed from every possible angle, but the actual fruits of his labor — the games themselves — have not. By examining his captivating round five game against GM Hikaru Nakamura, we will come one step closer to uncovering the roots of his success.
Throughout the Sinquefield Cup (and throughout his chess career), Fabiano has been an opening preparation virtuoso. A strong engine and a dedicated team of seconds is no longer enough at the super GM level.
One needs to master the opening on a human level as well, to reach an understanding of its finer points, imperceptible to Houdini or Stockfish. For years, Fabiano has shown a consistent ability to do just that — and this game is no exception.
Without a doubt, Black has won the opening battle. To be sure, the position is approximately balanced, but White was the one treading carefully for most of the time. Now, a lengthy (and enthralling) maneuvering stage begins.
Put simply, these 21 moves constitute one of the finest middlegame displays I have ever seen. Notice how gradually, how consecutively, Caruana outplayed (read: crushed) his opponent from a dead equal position.
First, while Nakamura wasted a few tempi aimlessly moving about, Caruana devised and executed an excellent piece regrouping. He then mercilessly exploited an inaccurate idea (24.b4), building up the pressure until Nakamura made further concessions.
Finally, he pounced with tremendous energy and precision, winning material and finally transposing to a completely winning endgame. All that remains is accurate technique, and it is here that Fabiano hits his only roadblock of the game.
Yes, folks, Caruana is indeed human. Unfortunately, fatigue can never be avoided, no matter what kind of form you are in.
All's well that ends well!
This is what they call deep-fried analysis (the only healthy deep-fried food there is) in the South!
Hopefully, I was able to illuminate the aspects of Fabiano's play that distinguish him from the rest of the chess world: magical opening preparation, Karpovian positional understanding, tactical alertness, and boundless energy.
Delving deep into super-GM chess is difficult, but truly rewarding.
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read GM Naroditsky's last article, How to Understand Pawn Races.
- Watch GM Ben Finegold's eerily prescient video preview of Caruana's success in the Sinquefield Cup.
- Learn how to transition between the middlegame and endgame in the Chess Mentor.
- Practice your pawn tactics in the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine:The Master's Bulletin.