Caruana Prevails in Unique Match with Nakamura

hikarucaruana Photo Saint Louis Chess Club

The top two players in the country, Nakamura and Caruana, recently faced off in a four day exhibition match, featuring basque, fischer random, rapid, and blitz games.

Basque Chess At the start of the match, two boards were set up side-by-side between the players.

Basque: a chess variant where players face each other in two games simultaneously with reserved colors.

The competitors also had to juggle two clocks beside both boards with 90 minutes + 30 seconds increment. One important aspect of basque chess was avoiding a "double ticker", where a player's clocks run on both boards. For this unique form of chess, each player was given a rolling chair to move from one game to the next quickly. With the black pieces, Caruana achieved a significant edge from the opening. Can you find Black's path to an initiative?

Nakamura vs. Caruana (Basque chess)

Black to move.

Show Solution

13...Rd8! 14. Nd5 Qh4+ 15. Ng3 Nd4!


Caruana missed this continuation and instead played 13...Ne7, allowing Nakamura to equalize.

With the white pieces, Caruana also seemed to have an advantage until Nakamura uncorked 21...e4!?, a positional pawn sacrifice to activate his pieces.

[pgn] [Round "?"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B31"] [PlyCount "88"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d3 g6 6. h3 Bg7 7. Nc3 Nd7 8. Be3 b6 9. Qd2 h6 10. O-O e5 11. Nh2 g5 12. Ne2 Nf8 13. Ng3 Ng6 14. a3 O-O 15. b4 cxb4 16. axb4 Nh4 17. f3 f5 18. exf5 Nxf5 19. Nxf5 Bxf5 20. Ra6 Qe7 21. Ng4 e4 {"What a move! Beautiful positional understanding from America's #1. The pawn sacrifice allows Black's bishops to breathe and discoordinates White's pieces." -the commentary team} 22. dxe4 Rfd8 23. Qe1 Be6 24. Ra3 Bc4 25. Rf2 h5 26. Nh2 Bb2 27. Ra4 Qe5 28. Nf1 {"White's rook is trapped but he understands the need to activate his pieces."} Qb5 29. Ra1 Bxa1 30. Qxa1 Bxf1 31. Rxf1 Rd6 32. Qa2+ Kg7 33. Qb2+ Kh7 34. Ra1 a6 35. Rc1 Qe2 36. Qb3 Rg8 37. Qf7+ {"Now a perpetual finishes the game."} Rg7 38. Qf5+ Kg8 39. Qc8+ Kh7 40. Qf5+ Kg8 41. Bxg5 Rd2 42. Qe6+ Kh7 43. Qh6+ Kg8 44. Qe6+ Kh7 1/2-1/2[/pgn]

Eventually, both games ended in a draw.

Fischer Random

For the Fischer Random rounds, the organizers allowed viewers at home to participate by choosing the starting positions.

Fischer Random: The starting positions of the pieces on the back rank are randomized. It is also often referred to as Chess960 because there are 960 possible starting positions.

Twitter followers of @CCSCSL were given eight possibilities chosen by Kasparov himself, ranging from "traditional" to "very chaotic", to vote on. Here were the starting positions that gained the most votes: Game 1: "Non-Traditional" WGM Jennifer Shahade described this position as "pretty wild" because "both bishops aim at the enemy king".

Nakamura vs Caruana

Result: 0-1

Game 2: "Bishops Side-by-Side" Although all of the pawns are defended in the beginning, Kasparov admitted that: "I don't know how to make the best move... because the moment you move any of these pawns they will be unprotected."

Caruana vs Nakamura

Result: 0-1

Game 3: "Very Chaotic" This game featured a very unusual pawn structure: On the third move, both Nakamura and Caruana played g4 and g5 respectively, opening up their bishops on h1 and h8.

Nakamura vs Caruana

Result: 1-0

Game 4: "The Double Fianchetto"

This position was probably the closest to a normal chess game with the king and queen on their normal squares and the bishops already in fianchetto positions.

Caruana vs. Nakamura

Result: 1/2-1/2

By the end of the day, Nakamura, the more experienced Fischer Random player, emerged with a one point lead in the match.

Rapid Although Nakamura is the higher rated rapid player, Caruana took over the lead in this phase of the match. He managed 3 points out of the 4 games, going undefeated. The highlight was Caruana's precise positional play to turn a slight advantage into a victory.

[pgn][White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "2793"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 Be7 8. Qd2 a6 9. Bd3 b5 10. O-O Qb6 11. dxc5 Bxc5 12. Bxc5 Nxc5 13. Qf2 Nd7 14. a3 Ke7 15. Qxb6 Nxb6 16. Ne2 Bd7 17. b3 f6 18. Ned4 Nxd4 19. Nxd4 fxe5 20. fxe5 h6 21. Kf2 Rhf8+ 22. Ke3 Rxf1 23. Rxf1 Be8 24. Bh7 Bf7 25. Nc6+ Ke8 26. Bd3 Rc8 27. Nb4 Nd7 28. Kd4 Nb8 29. Nxa6 Nc6+ 30. Kc5 Ke7 31. Kxb5 Nxe5 32. Kb6 Be8 33. a4 Kd6 34. Rf2 Nxd3 35. cxd3 Bg6 36. d4 e5 37. dxe5+ Kxe5 38. b4 d4 39. b5 d3 40. Nb4 Kd4 41. Nc6+ Ke3 42. Rf3+ Ke2 43. Nd4+ Ke1 44. Rg3 Be4 45. Re3+ Kf1 46. Rxe4 d2 47.Nf5 Rc3 48. Rd4 Ke1 49. a5 g6 50. Nd6 1-0[/pgn]
Blitz Even though Nakamura was a point behind in match points, commentators GM Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade still considered him the favorite. This isn't a surprise: Nakamura is ranked #1 in the world in FIDE blitz ratings. The surprise was that Caruana took over in the first blitz game and didn't let up. Caruana admitted, "I was ready to take a draw in the first game" until he saw the key move at the last moment. Can you find Caruana's winning move, played with only seconds left on the clock?

Nakamura vs. Caruana (Blitz Game 1)

Black to move.

Show Solution

66...Be4! and Nakamura immediately resigned.


If 67. b8=Q Rxb8 68. Kxb8 (68. Bxe4 Re8) 68...Bxa8 69. Kxa8 Ke5 White's rook is paralyzed by Black's advanced passed pawns (70. Rxg2 e1=Q) and Black's king makes it f2 to support the pawns' promotion long before White's king can help.


By game 16, Caruana had secured the match victory with two games to spare.

Here is the final scoreboard for the match:


Negi vs. Hou

One of the highlights of the match was Negi's brilliantly played double victory in basque chess.

Here is his game from the White side, defeating a Sicilian Dragon.

[pgn][White "Negi, Parimarjan"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2664"] [BlackElo "2683"]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 Re8 $5 9. h4 $5 Qa5 10. h5 $5 Nxe4 11. hxg6 hxg6 12. Qf3 d5 $5 13. Bxd5 Nf6 14. Bb3 Bg4 15. Qg3 Rad8 16. Nxc6 bxc6 17. Rh4 Bh5 18. Ra4 $1 Qf5 19. f3 e6 20. Qf2 Nd5 $6 21. Nxd5 exd5 22. O-O-O d4 23. Bd2 g5 24. g4 $1 Bxg4 25. Rxa7 Rf8 26. Rg1 Qxf3 27. Qxf3 Bxf3 28. Bxg5 Rde8 29. Bf6 Re1+ 30. Rxe1 Bxf6 31. Rf1 Bg5+ 32. Kb1 Bd5 33. Bxd5 cxd5 34. a4 Be3 35. Rd7 f5 36. a5 1-0[/pgn]

In Fischer Random, however, Hou evened the score and then soon took over the lead.

GM Hou Yifan, Photo STL Chess Club GM Hou Yifan, Photo STL Chess Club

According to one of the commentators, "Despite never having played Fischer Random in a tournament setting, she showed absolutely dominance over the nuances of development, pawn structure and piece placement in every single game."

Since blitz and rapid chess are particularly strong points for Hou, she continued to increase her lead with each phase of the match.

One of her most impressive victories was from the black side of a Hedgehog in rapid.

[pgn] [White "Negi, Parimarjan"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A31"] [WhiteElo "2664"] [BlackElo "2683"]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 a6 3. c4 e6 4. Nc3 Qc7 5. Be2 b6 6. d4 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Bb7 8. O-O Nf6 9. f3 d6 10. Be3 Be7 11. Qd2 O-O 12. Rac1 Nbd7 13. Rfd1 Rac8 14. b4 Qb8 15. a3 Rfe8 16. Nb3 Bc6 17. Kh1 h6 18. Bf1 Ne5 19. Qf2 Bd7 20. Nb1 $6 Ba4 21. N1d2 b5 $1 22. c5 $6 dxc5 23. Bxc5 Bxc5 24. Rxc5 Nfd7 25. Rxc8 Rxc8 26. Qd4 Nb6 27. Rc1 Rd8 28. Qc3 Qd6 29. Qc5 Bxb3 30. Nxb3 Nbc4 31. Qxd6 Rxd6 32. a4 bxa4 33. Nc5 Nb2 34. Ra1 a3 35. Bxa6 a2 36. Kg1 Rd1+ 37. Rxd1 Nxd1 38. Nb3 Kf8 39. Kf1 Ne3+ 40. Ke2 Nc2 $2 41. Kd2 Nxb4 42. Be2 Nec6 43. Kc3 Ke7 44. Bb5 Kd6 45. Kb2 g5 46. g3 Ne5 47. Be2 Ned3+ 48. Kc3 $6 Nc1 $1 49. Na1 Nxe2+ 50. Kxb4 Nd4 51. f4 gxf4 52. gxf4 Ne2 53. f5 e5 54. Ka3 Nc3 55. Nc2 Ke7 56. Kb2 Nxe4 57. Ne3 Kf6 58. Ng4+ Kxf5 59. Nxh6+ Ke6 60. Kxa2 f5 61. Kb2 Kf6 62. Kc2 Nd6 0-1[/pgn]

Final Scoreboard:



More information on the The Showdown is available at the Official Website.

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