The Showdown: Nakamura vs. Caruana


For many years, Hikaru Nakamura has been the undisputed highest ranked player in the country. He’s the reigning US Champion and has won the championship four times total. He’s had the highest FIDE and US Chess ratings of any American since 2009. This year, however, Nakamura has some competition. Fabiano Caruana recently transferred federations from Italy to USA, making him the only other American player to have broken a 2800 FIDE rating. Additionally, with his dazzling performance at the SInquefield Cup in 2014, he’s proven that he’s capable of anything. Ever since Caruana decided to call St. Louis his home (incidentally, Nakamura also resides in St. Louis), the question has been in the air: What would happen in a match between the two? This week, the question will be answered. The two will compete in an exhibition match, The Showdown, playing 18 games over the course of the next four days (November 12-15). The match will include rapid, blitz, basque, and fischer random games. There will be no classical chess games. While the two are fairly closely ranked in classical and rapid chess, Nakamura has a significant edge in overall game score and blitz ranking.

Nakamura vs. Caruana Comparison Graph

Hikaru Nakamura Fabiano Caruana
Classical FIDE Rating 2793 2787
World Rank 5 6
US Chess Rating 2899 2867
US Rank 1 2
Score 5 wins (21%) 1 win (4 %) 18 Draws (75%)
Rapid FIDE Rating 2842 2829
World Rank 2 3
Score 2 wins (67%) 1 win (33%)
Blitz FIDE Rating 2884 2665
World Rank 1 84
Score 8 wins (80%) 1 win (10%) 1 Draw (10%)

Can you solve a tactic from their game at Tata Steel in 2013?

Tactic #1

Caruana vs. Nakamura

Black to move.

How did Nakamura turn this seemingly equal ending into a win? Show Solution

55...h3! White cannot afford to capture the pawn. If 56. gxh3 Rf8 (threatening 57...Bxe4) 57. Kd3 Rf4 and a piece is lost.

The game continued: 56. Rd1 Rf8 Because the h-pawn is again immune to capture, it soon turns into a dangerous passed pawn. 57. Kd3 h2 58. Rh1 White seems to have stopped the pawn. Now what?

Black to move.

Show Solution

58...Bg1! Locking white’s rook into the corner. 59. Ke2 Bxe4 60. Bxe4 Kf6 61. Bf3 Rd8 and in the face of playing without his rook the rest of the game, White resigned.

During Caruana's spectacular winning streak at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, he won an elegant positional game against Nakamura. It was Caruana’s 5th straight win.

[pgn] [EventDate "2014.08.27"] [Round "5"] [Result "0-1"] [White "Hikaru Nakamura"] [Black "Fabiano Caruana"] 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nbd2 Bf5 5.Nh4 Be4 6.f3 Bg6 7.e3 e6 8.g3 Be7 9.a3 Nbd7 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.Nxg6 hxg6 12.Bd3 e5 13.O-O O-O 14.Qb3 Qc8 15.Nb1 exd4 16.exd4 Nb8 17.Nc3 Nc6 18.Be3 Qd7 19.Rad1 Rfd8 20.Rfe1 Ne8 21.Bf2 Nc7 22.Bf1 Bf6 23.Qa2 g5 24.b4 g6 25.Qd2 Kg7 26.b5 Ne7 27.Be3 Ne6 28.Bh3 Nf5 29.Bxf5 gxf5 30.f4 g4 31.Qd3 Rac8 32.Rc1 Rc4 33.Ne2 Nc7 34.Nc3 Rc8 35.h3 gxh3 36.Kh2 Nxb5 37.Nxb5 Qxb5 38.Kxh3 Qd7 39.Kg2 b5 40.Rb1 a6 41.Rbc1 Qe6 42.Bf2 Rxc1 43.Rxe6 fxe6 44.g4 fxg4 45.Qe2 Kf7 46.Qd3 R1c2 47.Qh7+ Ke8 48.f5 Bxd4 49.Qg6+ Kd8 50.Qxe6 Rxf2+ 51.Kg3 Rc3+ 52.Kxg4 Rg2+ 53.Kf4 Rf2+ 54.Kg4 Kc7 55.Qe7+ Kb6 56.Qd8+ Rc7 57.Qxd5 Bc5 58.Qd8 Kb7 59.f6 Bxa3 60.Qd5+ Kb6 61.Qd8 Bc5 62.Qb8+ Rb7 63.Qd8+ Ka7 64.Qd5 Bb6 65.Kg5 Rc7 66.Kg6 b4 67.Qe6 Bd4 0-1 [/pgn]
Additionally, Yifan Hou and Parimarjan Negi, both in the top 100 in the world, will play an exhibition match in the same format. Hou has a rating edge, but Negi has a slight edge in overall game score.

Hou vs. Negi Comparison Graph

Yifan Hou Parimarjan Negi
Classical FIDE Rating 2683 2664
World Rank 61 80
Score 2 wins (40%) 1 win (20%) 2 Draws (40%)
Rapid FIDE Rating 2625 2613
Blitz FIDE Rating 2704 2613
World Rank 48 >100

Can you find Hou’s clever maneuver to win a pawn in this rook endgame?

Endgame #1

Hou vs. Parimarjan

Show Solution

50. Rf8 The rook is heading to a6, where it will eye both the a5 and h6 pawns. 50...Ke7 51. Ra8 From the a-file, the white rook ties down black’s rook to the defence of the a5-pawn. 51...Kd7 52. Ra6! The h6-pawn cannot be defended because black’s rook is paralyzed. Hou went on to win.


Here is Negi’s attacking victory against Hou in 2011:

[pgn] [Round "2"] [White "Negi, Parimarjan"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B76"] [WhiteElo "2622"] [BlackElo "2612"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 d6 9. f3 Bd7 10. h4 a5 11. a4 h5 12. Qd2 Rc8 13. O-O-O Ne5 14. Bg5 Rc5 15. Kb1 Re8 16. Rhe1 Qc8 17. f4 Nc4 18. Qd3 Ng4 19. Re2 f6 20. e5 dxe5 21. fxe5 fxg5 22. e6 Bc6 23. Bxc4 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Rxe5 25. Qxg6 Rf8 26. Nxc6 bxc6 27. Bd3 Rf6 28. Qh7+ Kf8 29. hxg5 Rxg5 30. Ne4 Rgg6 31. Nc5 Rg5 32. Nd7+ 1-0[/pgn]

 Watch live games and commentary from GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade, and GM Maurice Ashley at, starting today at 1 P.M. CST.