Caruana Weathers Early Storm at Sinquefield Cup | Update: VIDEO

Caruana Weathers Early Storm at Sinquefield Cup | Update: VIDEO

| 53 | Chess Event Coverage

The first round of the strongest tournament in history began with a bang. Actually, many bangs. Two hours into the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, a thunderstorm roared through, and a lightning bolt struck close enough to knock out seven of the televisions inside the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

"It was definitely quite loud," said GM Hikaru Nakamura. He was able to keep his concentration thanks to his hometown experience -- in his 2011 match with GM Ruslan Ponomariov, also in St. Louis, a tornado came through town, sending the players to the basement.

After the storms cleared today, third-seeded GM Fabiano Caruana converted against the weakened king of GM Veselin Topalov.

All graphical images courtesy Eric Mousel and Spectrum Studios.

"I would have been happy with a draw before the game began," Caruana told about his first rated game on U.S. soil in about eight years. Caruana grew up in New York City before moving to Europe in his early teens to pursue his chess career.

"I'm very happy to be back playing in the U.S.," he said. 

"He [Topalov] played pretty aggressively with g4," Caruana said.

GM Ian Rogers, commentating on site, explained the idea was to play Bd2-e1-g3. He added that 20. Ne4 may have been Topalov's intention, but there are too many tactics on the g1-a7 diagonal to ever capture the c5-pawn.

GM Veselin Topalov and GM Fabiano Caruana, in a battle of green, red and white flags.

"I grabbed my chance with ...b5," Caruana said. "After ...Nd4 I have a huge advantage...His play was a but too loose."

Although we've led with the only decisive game of the day, the match that captivated for most of the day was the draw between GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen. Both players had long thinks after an original idea early in the game.

The duo had only played five previous games, and not once in three years. However, in their last event in Biel 2011, the number one Frenchman got the best of Carlsen by grinding in Carlsen-like fashion.

The two followed the game Volokitin-Eljanov, Kiev 2013 until Vachier-Lagrave's novelty on move eight. Carlsen spent about 30 minutes on his 13th move, but it proved not to be unlucky, as computers suggested it was the top choice and a creative way to develop Black's remaining forces.

White then gave back the 30 minutes on the very next move.

Vachier-Lagrave told that according to his memory, 13...Nb4 was not recommended by his home computer. "It's obvious you should look at it," he admitted.

He praised Carlsen for finding many precise moves, "because, you know, I could be just mating him." 

Vachier-Lagrave played the opening dozen moves in negative time, which Carlsen said is always disconcerting.

Update: here's a video with both players explaining their thoughts during the game:

"I thought maybe I could do better because I had some initiative," Vachier-Lagrave said. It seemed like he played everything right. At the end I was lucky to have a perpetual."

The two engaged in a spirited post-mortem analysis after the game, lobbing variations back and forth. Carlsen admitted that he missed the move 30. Rxg5+.

MVL had a surprise in store for the champion...

...but Carlsen said he'd seen the idea of 13...Nb4 "in some position."

Historical precedent suggested that GM Levon Aronian vs. GM Hikaru Nakamura would be the highest chance for a fighting game. Consider: 13 of their 20 classical encounters have produced a winner, the last six games have all been won by White (10 straight if you count rapid and blitz), and Aronian had won five straight games as White against Nakamura.

"Taking that into account, the result is disappointing," Aronian said of that final statistic.

Nakamura's King's Indian Defense has scored poorly against the world number two, but he said his opening choice was more based on tournament situation.

"It's the start of the tournament," he said. "And I have to play Magnus tomorrow." Nakamura said he has often been paired with Aronian in the opening round of a tournament.

"I was hoping he would not quite be on form. I play in Europe a lot and usually the jet lag is on me. What goes around comes around I guess."

GM Levon Aronian declared himself fit.

Aronian, who had been vacationing on the beaches of South Carolina prior to the event, but got stuck in bad weather Monday night, said he felt fine for the first game.

Nakamura's last weekend before the event included an all-day exhibition against a computer. That "training" might seem unconventional, but according to Nakamura, jousting with something that is near-perfect has a hidden benefit.

"Playing against the computer gave me more confidence. Psychologically it's nice to play against the human."

GM Hikaru Nakamura, who will once again try to upend Carlsen tomorrow (they drew twice in the inaugural event in 2013).

In a recent interview with Norwegian TV2 (which is broadcasting the tournament live) Carlsen was asked to describe his opponents in one word. Carlsen laughed when questioned about Nakamura and responded "udugelig" -- which translates as "inept". You can see his delivery here at the 0:07 mark.

Nakamura responded diplomatically: "He's entitled to say what he wants to say."

Carlsen is 10-0 with 15 draws lifetime versus Nakamura. The two meet tomorrow, with Nakamura getting white. will embed the official commentary at 2 p.m. Central (GMT -6) for every round.

2014 Sinquefield Cup | Participants

Rank Player Age Country Rating
1 Magnus Carlsen 23 Norway 2877
2 Levon Aronian 31 Armenia 2805
3 Fabiano Caruana 22 Italy 2801
5 Hikaru Nakamura 26 USA 2787
8 Veselin Topalov 39 Bulgaria 2772
9 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 23 France 2768

2014 Sinquefield Cup | Schedule & Pairings

Round 1 27.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 6 02.09.14 14:00 CDT
Aronian ½-½ Nakamura   Nakamura - Aronian
Topalov 0-1 Caruana   Caruana - Topalov
Vachier-Lagrave ½-½ Carlsen   Carlsen - Vachier-Lagrave
Round 2 28.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 7 03.09.14 14:00 CDT
Nakamura - Carlsen   Carlsen - Nakamura
Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave   Vachier-Lagrave - Caruana
Aronian - Topalov   Topalov - Aronian
Round 3 29.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 8 04.09.14 14:00 CDT
Topalov - Nakamura   Nakamura - Topalov
Vachier-Lagrave - Aronian   Aronian - Vachier-Lagrave
Carlsen - Caruana   Caruana - Carlsen
Round 4 30.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 9 05.09.14 14:00 CDT
Vachier-Lagrave - Nakamura   Caruana - Nakamura
Carlsen - Topalov   Carlsen - Aronian
Caruana - Aronian   Vachier-Lagrave - Topalov
Round 5 31.08.14 14:00 CDT   Round 10 06.09.14 14:00 CDT
Nakamura - Caruana   Nakamura - Vachier-Lagrave
Aronian - Carlsen   Topalov - Carlsen
Topalov - Vachier-Lagrave   Aronian - Caruana
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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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