Master Study: Caruana vs. MVL
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Master Study: Caruana vs. MVL

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Master Study
Caruana vs. MVL

The setting is Paris at the grand chess tour rapid 2021. Two of the strongest chess players in the world are meeting in a heated head-to-head rapid game in the hot Summer day. Fabiano Caruana sits with the white pieces against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The format is a 25 minute game with 10 second bonus.

Fabi starts the game off with d4. MVL plays Nf6 and prepares to fianchetto his bishop with g6. Fabi would bring out both of his knights, creating a fairly solid development play. Then, MVL decides to launch out with d5. This converts the game as though it had originally been a d4-d5 game and seeks to prevent any e4 ideas. Fabi plays Bf4, creating a set up that is similar to a London. So far, everything is fairly standard. 

Fabi continues his development in a London style, playing e3 and Be2. MVL castles short and develops his light square bishop with Bg4, which looks like a natural developing move, pinning the knight. However, this allows Fabi to jump his knight into the center of the board to the powerful e5 square. MVL will have a hard time removing this knight without overextending his pawn structure or alternatively, MVL can try to play Nd7 to trade equal material.

MVL trades off his bishop before opening a front of attack with his flank pawn. However, notice that Fabi has left both sides of castling open. He decides to castle long and turn the game into an aggressive and violent onslaught. MVL develops his knight to try and lock the center, but the computer thinks this is a mistake since Fabi can take a free pawn. But this is not an obvious move because it leaves a file down the center potentially open and lose control of the e5 square for the knight. Instead, Fabi plays h4, beginning the attack on the king. 

MVL takes on the center of the board, while Fabi pushes his h pawn forward. However, this pawn is actually safe for the taking. But MVL decides to push his knight forward and allow the h pawn to take on his king pawns. He most likely didn't take on the free pawn because he was worried about a potentially powerful attack on his king, if he opened up his pawn structure, as Fabi's knight, bishop, rook, and queen are ready to storm the king at the smallest weakness. 

Fabi continues the game by moving his knight back and gets a knight trade. He also takes with rook, rather than queen because the rook on the third rank actually has more potential to transfer to the h file and double up with his other rook. However, this requires sacrificing control of the e5 square. Fabi tries to recontrol the e5 square with his bishop, but MVL doesn't allow this by moving his knight inward. Fabi decides to keep his bishop on the board and surrenders control of the e5 square. 

MVL begins a massive knight rotation to the d6 square. From here, MVL is about to gain a knight outpost to which Fabi could potentially trade his bishop for knight. But Fabi is also beginning his own plan, potentially attacking the king with his bishop, queen, and rook on the h file. 

Fabi decides to trade off his bishop for knight to prevent MVL from gaining an outpost. Then, slowly, Fabi begins moving his pawns forward, careful to keep his pawns guarded. But at this point, both players are playing some shuffling moves to gain more time and develop a plan. Soon, Fabi begins routing his knight to the kingside to support his pawns and potentially move forward. 

MVL responds with trying to stack up on the c file and plowing through Fabi's pawn structure. But Fabi calmly defends with c3. But MVL continues by pushing forward with his a and b pawns. But Fabi begins his own counter-play, pushing his f and g pawn, as well as getting his own battering ram of rooks down the h file. 

MVL is able to defend against the battering ram, but Fabi continues to apply pressure by centralizing his queen. Can you find the only move for MVL to keep the position in balance?

Did you find the move? This is the only way for MVL to keep the momentum going and keep the balance in the position. Can you find the only move for Fabi in the next move that keeps his position balanced?

Did you find the brilliant move? This is the only move that keeps materials equal while stopping black from promoting. For instance, black can take the rook, but black counters with immense pressure. 

This is still a completely equal position. However, MVL doesn't take on the rook, instead, he plays the best move. 

MVL continues his push on the queenside, to which Fabi takes on with his knight, closing the c-file, but this is too slow and allows MVL to deal with Fabi's attack on his kingside. Now, the bishop can take the rook without any consequence and MVL is able to get a slight advantage. However, Fabi continues to put some dangerous lines and moves by lining his queen and rook on the h file. 

MVL decides to grab an extra pawn, allowing Fabi to infiltrate and begin a series of checks, thinking he can walk his king behind his rooks, but can you find the only move for Fabi that loses MVL's advantage to a drawn position?

This move cuts the king's line of escape and permits a line of file for the queen to infiltrate. 

MVL brings his queen to the backrank to prevent Fabi from infiltrating. In the process, Fabi is able to pick up a few pawns and trade off rooks. MVL is able to walk his king to safety, however, preventing Fabi from gaining a winning position. 

Both sides begin using their queens to check the other kings. There are still some fairly precious movements necessary to block the checks and not hang a fork, but Fabi and MVL are both precious in their endgame play. 

The game ends with a repetition of checks and the two draw their game. In this game, both had to care deeply about king safety and infiltration. It was infiltration that allowed Fabi to get a draw from a worse position with a brilliant move in the process. But what are your thoughts on this game? What are some of your favorite Caruana and MVL games? Let me know!

Rxh6 is brilliant!



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