Caruana, Hou Yifan 'Rapidly' Take Charge Of Matches

Caruana, Hou Yifan 'Rapidly' Take Charge Of Matches

| 6 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Fabiano Caruana agreed that Saturday's four-game rapid series would be the most evenly matched of the disciplines in their weekend match in St. Louis.

Today, Caruana told with a smile that his results were "better than expected."

Caruana held two worse positions as Black but took both White games to win the day 3-1 and flip the standings. He goes into the final day of the Showdown in St. Louis with a 5.5-4.5 lead. Eight blitz games at G/3+2 await.


Images courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Saturday also featured a very short loss that commentator GM Maurice Ashley called "one of the worst games you'll ever see [Nakamura] play." The U.S. champion was essentially lost after move six  see the inexplicable blunder below.

Just a few feet away, GM Hou Yifan continued to erase her slow start. Her 0-2 hole against GM Parimarjan Negi after the opening day's Basque Chess is a distant memory: Today she won 3-1 to take a commanding 6.5-3.5 lead into the blitz.


Instead of going chronologically, this report must begin with the second game of the day in the main event. After a normal Rossolimo, something Caruana vetted on Thursday in Basque chess, Black played 6...f6?? (normal is the centralizing 6...Qd5). Then came the elementary tactic beginning with 7. Qh5+.

It's hard to fathom Nakamura's idea. Perhaps he somehow inverted his move order (5...f6 had been played once by a 2400), or he thought that White's queen would get buried, although that never came close to happening.

"This is the kind of stuff I see (against me) in a simul," Ashley said.

"I couldn't see anything," Caruana told about any trickery behind 6...f6. "I knew this wasn't really a move that had ever been played."


The standings inverted today  GM Fabiano Caruana went from a one-point deficit to a one-point cushion.

Amazingly, the move may not have been the worst of the day  that's a debate you readers can have in the comments. Negi had things under control in his third game when Hou Yifan desperately played for a single trick, and it worked!

"His only weakness is his king," Hou Yifan told about her stroke of luck. (Unlike Nakamura's false step, Negi's move came under duress on the clock.)

Hou Yifan couldn't fully explain why she eschewed the perpetual with 22...Nh4. "Why not try something else?" she said. "Maybe next time I should not be more irrational." She told that her loss in game two may have affected her emotions in game three.


We know Nakamura drinks Red Bull; Hou Yifan prefers Smart Water.

Back to the world's top 10, Nakamura missed a chance to widen his one-point lead in his first game of the day. He parlayed a symmetrical double-fianchetto into a dominant position with all the trumps: control of the open file, backward development for Black and eventually the game's lone passer.

But then everything went mysteriously awry after a seemingly innocuous retreat  instead a king walk was what the computer had ordered.

"I remember (Sergey) Karjakin tortured me for 50 moves [in this ending], but I don't remember how he did it," Caruana told, recalling their 2013 encounter at the Tal Memorial.


Nakamura pressed with White twice, but only came up with one point from the two positive positions.

After that quick win in round two, Caruana was back to defending in game three. Nakamura again played a double fianchetto (one of his "usual" offbeat openings  not a carryover from Fischer Random).

This time the top American's advantage translated into material, but despite his best efforts, the extra queenside pawn was not enough. His kingside pawns were on the vulnerable light squares, and their constant need for chaperoning prevented any progress.

They entered the final rapid game still tied at 4.5, but after mutual king walks an errant king move late in the game cost Nakamura the full point.

Analysis by GM Robert Hess:


Back to the undercard, Hou Yifan slowly showed how to take apart the Maroczy structure in the opening round:

Negi's lone bright spot came in round two when his central influence translated into a brutal kingside attack.


GM Parimarjan Negi started 2-0 but only picked up 1.5 points from the next eight games.

After the Indian grandmaster's checkmate oversight in the following round, his deficit became three points when Hou Yifan took game four. The perspicacious reader will notice that this was the fourth Open Sicilian of the day between them!


"I cannot say I'm fully satisfied," Hou Yifan said of her play today.

She also shed some light on her future career plans. She visited Saint Louis University, a school with a new chess team coached by GM Alejandro Ramirez. But her dream lies much farther Northeast.

"Harvard is my dream since I was young," she told She said she may take a gap year to play chess and improve her English (required for her entrance, though not necessarily with a Boston accent!). "I'm open to any possible choice."


Hou Yifan: future American graduate student?

She insisted that no matter what post-graduate work she does, "I'll still focus on chess no matter what happens. I won't give up chess."

Her early thoughts center on a masters of public administration  she preferred something "more practical, less academic." Her currently studies international relations. 

Neither leader planned to play blitz to prepare for Sunday. Caruana was off to the St. Louis Blues hockey game.

St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks! Unfortunately the Blues lost.

A photo posted by Fabiano Caruana (@fabianocaruana) onNov 14, 2015 at 8:23pm PST

"We've already played some crazy games today," Hou Yifan said. "Time to get rest." All players have played 10 games in the last three days.

Does Caruana think that his slim lead is enough to forestall Nakamura's expected onslaught today? "I didn't really expect it yesterday after I was minus one. I still believe in my blitz skills."

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