So leads Yank brigade to dominance in London
The just-concluded Eighth London Chess Classic featured an elite field of players from around the world, but it was the Americans who provided most of the drama and the fireworks.
The U.S. “Big Three” of GMs — Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura — have already made history by bringing home the Olympiad gold medal in September for the first time in four decades. All three shone again in London, with So taking first outright with an undefeated 6-3 score, Caruana a half-point back in second and Nakamura in a three-way tie for third with exworld champs Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and Viswanathan Anand of India at 5-4.
So, who captured the multitournament Grand Chess Tour with his win, played some beautiful chess in London, but it was completely overshadowed by Caruana’s epic queen sacrifice against Nakamura in their Round 6 game. Nakamura — whose only other loss was to So in Round 1 — bounced back with a brilliancy of his own against France’s Maxime Vachier Lagrave, using the same Sicilian Najdorf opening that Caruana had just employed against him.
Let’s pick up the action with Caruana’s amazing win. Both players had apparently deeply analyzed this complex line through 17. Qxf4 Nexg4 18. Bxg4 e5 (see diagram) 19. Qxf6!!? Bxf6 20. Nd5 Qd8, when White can restore material equality with 21. Nc6!? (the Black queen is trapped) Bxg4 22. Nxd8 Bxd8, with an unclear ending. Instead, White offers a true positional sacrifice with 21. Nf5!! Rb8?! (Bxf5 22. Bxf5 was also playable, but White has a fearsome bind) 22. Nxf6+ Qxf6.
Polish GM Michal Kransenkow, analyzing the game on ChessBase. com, contends Caruana now had a complex win starting with 23. Nxd6+! Ke7 24. Bc5!!, but White’s 23. Rxd6 Be6 24. Rah1 0-0 25. h5 still gives him an attack with never flags, despite the material deficit. One last error by the hard-pressed defender gives Caruana the point.
Thus: 28. Bf5 Qe7? (Rhe8 was needed here to shore up e6) 29. b5 Qe8 30. Nxf7+! Rxf7 31. Rxe6 Qxb5 32. Rh6+, and Nakamura resigned facing hopeless lines such as 32... Kg8 33. Rg1+ Rg7 34. Be6+ Kf8 35. Bc5+! Qxc5 36. Rh8+ Ke7 37. Rxg7+ Kd6 (Kxe6 38. Rh6 mate) 38. Rxb8 Kxe6 39. Rb6+! Qxb6 40. Rg6+ and wins.
All credit to Nakamura — he rebounded with Najdorf brilliancy of his own against Vachier-Lagrave, this time playing the White pieces. We pick it up from today’s diagram, where Black is desperately trying to gin up some counterthreats with his king under heavy fire. Play continued 29...Rg5!? (one last trick; Black gets a perpetual after 30. Qxg5?? Qa4+ 31. Kb1 Qc2+) 30. Qxd6+! Kg8 (Ke8 31. Rxe6+ will mate quickly) 31. Rg1!, blocking 31...Ra5+ by pinning the rook.
White finishes in style: 31... Qa4+ 32. Ba3 Rxg1 33. Rxg1+ Kh7 34. Qd3+ Kh6 35. Rg6+!! Kxh5 (fxg6 36. Qxg6 mate; 35... Kh7 36. Rf6+ Kg7 37. Rxf7+!! Kxf7 38. Qg6 mate) 36. Rg1 f5 37. Qf3+, and Black has to give up his queen just to delay checkmate; VachierLagrave resigned.