Caruana Beats Nakamura, Gets Closer To 'Unplayable'

Caruana Beats Nakamura, Gets Closer To 'Unplayable'

Update: Video interviews with Caruana and Krush added.

It's hard to say which was more declarative Sunday at the 2016 U.S. Championship: GM Fabiano Caruana's play, or his manager's praise.

The U.S. number one and new world number two, Caruana beat four-time champion GM Hikaru Nakamura, enacting some revenge for several past losses as White in the Najdorf. He was never in trouble, but manager IM Lawrence Trent didn't know that. He said that after the Candidates' Tournament he can no longer watch his client play -- the stress is too high.

The win was the only one of the day amongst the men, reversing a trend of the first three days where the scoreboard flashed more wins than draws. Caruana now leads all alone at 3.5/4.

Nakamura didn't like his spot at the beginning of the afternoon -- Black versus Caruana and trailing the leaders early. He said it paralleled their first mutual game last month in the Candidates'. Nakamura called it an "unfortunate tournament situation."

GMs Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura discuss their game after Black resigned.

Trent's voluntary embargo meant he didn't see the rare 7...h5, an old IM Manuel Bosboom favorite, get played on the board. The move is the sixth-most popular in the position and is only played about one percent of the time.

Caruana stopped to think, but not an inordinately long amount. He followed up logically. Caruana's 9. Bc4 became the novelty (previously the bishop landed on e2 in a few past games).

Analysis by GM Cristian Chirila, courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis:

"It's a bit unfortunate because out of the opening I was probably OK, even though the opening is dubious," Nakamura said.

He said that he missed 27. Ra3, "but it's probably losing anyway" (even with his preferred 24...Qa5 instead of 24...Qb4). 

Earlier on, after overlooking 21. Rd3, Nakamura admitted, "I just wasn't seeing things." He didn't make predictions about the rest of the event, but noted his pairings aren't ideal. Nakamura must also take Black against GM Wesley So (but that wasn't a problem at all in their last meeting in St. Louis).

"I felt like at this point in the tournament, I thought I had to do something. It was not the right decision."

GM Alejandro Ramirez attempts to explain for the internet audience the convoluted middlegame.

How good is Caruana playing? "With a bit more work, he can get to become unplayable," Trent said. Trent used just this word -- unplayable -- several times. His effusive praise of the 23-year-old phenom kept coming.

"He's not Fischer, he's not Tal, he's just Fabiano." Trent said that only Caruana can really press GM Magnus Carlsen, and cited their game from Norway, 2015.

Trent added that Caruana unequivocally wants to be the top American. "He said it in a really strong way...He has something to prove after Moscow and winning this is the first step."

The two played the opening with alacrity until Nakamura's 7...h5. He got up from the board, leaving Caruana alone to decipher how to handle the obscure move.

When did Trent find out about today's win? The first time he turned on the game. After three hours, that's the demarcation time when allows himself to check online.

"I used to watch all of his games, until Moscow. It's just too much. Too many swings. It just kills me."

Trent may need to find a coping mechanism. Caruana's career looks to be a long one.

"I think he just had an off day," Caruana said diplomatically about Nakamura. "He had a good position and just messed it up."

Then, a melodic analogy: his tournament thus far is like the "ocean under the moon," a lyric from a song he shares with a friend.

"I made the most I possibly could out of the three Whites," Caruana said (he went 3-0).

Here's a video interview that Chess.com conducted with Caruana.

Their personal career record actually resembles the 1984 Karpov-Kasparov World Championship Match, where Karpov took a 5-0 lead before Kasparov picked off three wins and the match was abruptly halted. Nakamura also took a healthy lead early over Caruana before the younger player began catching up with wins at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, 2016 Candidates' and 2016 U.S. Championship. Their personal record? Also 5-3, to Nakamura. They likely won't play as often as Karpov and Kasparov, but the series is gaining teeth.

In an afternoon where frequent members of the national squad had to cannibalize each other, Nakamura takes a peek at Kamsky-Onischuk. The trio have been 1-2-3 on the national team for about a decade.

Nakamura and Caruana will soon be teammates for the first time at September's Olympiad; several other American teammates also played today. Those all ended in draws including longtime teammates Kamsky-Onischuk, younger but frequent teammates Akobian-Robson, and also Shankland-So (the latter has never competed for the U.S. but has coached the national team several times).

The most interesting tussle was in GM Varuzhan Akobian's two-minors-versus-rook position against GM Ray Robson. The excitement reached it's zenith when Robson was reduced to one second several times. Akobian said he was baffled at how calm the college student was despite the time issues.

"The younger guys are improving and it's becoming more difficult," Akobian said after his game with an opponent who has sometimes superseded him for the final spot on the national team. Akobian also elucidated just how improved American chess has become: without changing in rating, he's gone from the number four seed to the number 10 seed in two short years.

"I was really disappointed that I didn't find anything clear," Robson said after liking his endgame. He said he saw that near the end of the game he could play ...f5 to continue, but was too worried about various mates on his impotent king. For starters, the circuitous plan Nc5, Nd7, Nf8, Bh7# scared him the most.

"I just couldn't finish it up," he told Chess.com.

In a battle of past 40-something champions, GMs Gata Kamsky and Alex Onischuk still couldn't crack the top half of the tables. After yet another London System, the most fashionable opening of the tournament (played by Robson and GM Jeffery Xiong too), the Texas Tech Chess Coach tried to mix things up but settled for an effortless draw as Black.

The two drew in a little more than two hours.

GM Alex Lenderman drew Xiong, whose four draws to open his U.S. Championship career could be called a "mini-Giri." The difference of course is that he is playing up nearly every round (the two are complete equals at 2618 FIDE).

"I've settled in," Xiong said.

GM Sam Shankland and GM Wesley So played the snoozer of the day, a symmetrical draw in 65 minutes.

A day after holding Nakamura without issue, IM Akshat Chandra again played well. Although he had four-time champion GM Alex Shabalov on the ropes, the veteran held the game between two automatic qualifiers to the tournament.

Analysis by GM Cristian Chirila, courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis:

"I'm not surprised at the exceptional results of the youngsters," Xiong said. Today on the women's side, they didn't fare as well as in the first 72 hours.

12-year-old NM Carissa Yip's opening quartile finally ran up against some growing pains courtesy FM Jennifer Yu

NM Carissa Yip faded a loss yesterday, but couldn't conjure another ace on the river today.

Yip didn't like her move 14...c6 but it was her other bishop's pawn move, 21...f6, that drew the criticism of the grandmaster commentators. Weirdly, her ChessKid video co-author, FunMasterMike (yours truly), tried to warn her in this lengthy series!

"I had a feeling I have to beat the juniors," Yip said after the game, blindly ignoring that she's the junior-est junior!

You don't have to worry about her ability to get back in the fight. When you're 12, wins and losses come and go like Facebook updates (or is it Snapchats?).

"I don't really cling on to my losses," Yip said. "There was this one time that I lost and I cried for 10 minutes and then it was over."

Yu pressed while Yip retreated.

GM Irina Krush got to the top of the tables for the first time thanks to her painless win and a draw amongst the leaders. First, here's Krush's checkmate against WIM Agata Bykovtsev:

Chess.com caught up with Krush and asked about her methodology versus the juniors, and about her appearance on the Steve Harvey Show with Hillary Clinton. Here's the video interview.

Her two wins and two draws have her equal to the other two leaders, who got there via the same four results. Today WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and IM Nazi Paikidze faced off, but the second Pirc in as many days didn't produce any drama like yesterday (when Krush nearly went down to FM Alisa Melekhina).

"I was definitely surprised to see the Pirc," Abrahamyan told Chess.com. "I predicted she would try to surprise me but I thought it would be a Caro just like last year. I didn't remember any of my lines and decided to play something safer so as to not walk into any kind of prep."

On yesterday's failure to convert a winning position, Abrahamyan said, "I'm more concerned about my own results than Irina's or anyone else's. I am very disappointed by my round three result because I had so many ways to get a winning position after playing a nice game and having the edge for almost the entire game. I just made a silly blunder in one move. There is really no excuse for not winning that position."

IM Nazi Paikidze, left, looks on as WGM Tatev Abrahamyan paces. Like many of the men's matchups today, the two could be Olympiad teammates later this year.

She's landed in a few tiebreaks at the U.S. Women's Championship. Chess.com asked what winning it for the first time would signify.

"It would mean overcoming an obstacle and finally proving to myself that I can actually win this tournament instead of always coming up short. It would be especially be meaningful to win this year as it is the strongest one I've played in."

After their over-the-board meeting, Paikidze and Abrahamyan decided to make the tiebreaker the hotel gym:

Also today IM Anna Zatontskih got back in the fight with her first win, taking out Melekhina's Benko Gambit even though she fell behind by one hour out of the opening. Despite her three draws to open the event, Zatonskih's now only a half-point off the pace and has yet to play either Krush or Abrahamyan.

"I'm just finding my form," the largely-inactive Zatonskih said about her return to St. Louis. "I'm not confident in my calculations."

Despite the slow start by her standards, IM Anna Zatonskih was ebullient on her way to the round.

In other action, WGM Katerina Nemcova blew another winning position, this time against WIM Ashritha Eswaran. While they drew, the "veteran team" did notch a win versus the "teenage team" as WGM Sabina Foisor beat FM Akshita Gorti.

Foisor, whose mom is also a titled player, introduced her win with a story from her native Romania (also the homeland of today's GM analyzer, Chirila).

"It was a great idea to give my bishop on c6," Foisor said. "My mom is really into knights. She's into White knights. In Romania, seeing a white Knight (horse) is good luck."

When reminded that she had a Black knight today, she said, "It's still a knight!"

Tomorrow's pairings for the open: Shabalov-Caruana, Nakamura-Shankland, Onischuk-Chandra, Xiong-Kamsky, Robson-Lenderman, and the 2015 forfeited game rematch So-Akobian,

Tomorrow's pairings for the women: Yip-Bykovtsev, Paikidze-Yu, Nemcova-Abrahamyan, Foisor-Eswaran, Melekhina-Gorti, and the classic Krush-Zatonskih.

2016 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round Four

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2795 x ½ 1 1 1 3.5
2 GM Robson, Ray 2663 x ½ 1 1 ½ 3.0
3 GM So, Wesley 2773 ½ x ½ 1 1 3.0
4 GM Shankland, Samuel L 2656 0 ½ x 1 1 2.5
5 GM Xiong, Jeffery 2618 ½ x ½ ½ ½ 2.0
6 GM Onischuk, Alexander 2664 0 ½ x ½ 1 2.0
7 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 0 x ½ 1 ½ 2.0
8 GM Kamsky, Gata 2678 0 ½ ½ x ½ 1.5
9 GM Shabalov, Alexander 2528 0 ½ x ½ ½ 1.5
10 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2615 0 ½ 0 ½ x 1.0
11 GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2618 ½ 0 0 ½ x 1.0
12 IM Chandra, Akshat 2477 0 0 ½ ½ x 1.0

2016 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round Four

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2342 x ½ ½ 1 1 3.0
2 IM Paikidze, Nazi 2346 ½ x ½ 1 1 3.0
3 GM Krush, Irina 2465 x 1 1 ½ ½ 3.0
4 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2470 ½ x ½ ½ 1 2.5
5 Yip, Carissa 2164 ½ x 0 1 1 2.5
6 WFM Yu, Jennifer R 2157 0 1 x ½ ½ 2.0
7 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 2258 0 ½ x ½ 1 2.0
8 WIM Bykovtsev, Agata 2219 0 0 ½ x 1 1.5
9 WGM Nemcova, Katerina 2367 ½ ½ x ½ 0 1.5
10 FM Melekhina, Alisa 2205 ½ 0 ½ 0 x 1.0
11 WIM Eswaran, Ashritha 2225 0 0 ½ ½ x 1.0
12 FM Gorti, Akshita 2184 0 0 0 1 x 1.0


Live coverage of each round can be found at the
official site or at www.Chess.com/tv. Rounds begin at 1 p.m. Central Time daily until April 25, with the lone rest day coming April 19.

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