The Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis was promised to be extraordinary this year: the highest-rated chess tournament ever with many of the world's best players on hand. To the delight of Rex Sinquefield, the main sponsor, it got even better.
Fabiano Caruana, an Italian born in Miami, won the first seven games and finished the six-player double-round robin tournament three points ahead of the world champion Magnus Carlsen. It was one of the best results in chess history and it earned Caruana $100,000 first prize.
The string of chess victories took Caruana straight into the record books. The result of the 22-year-old Italian grandmaster was soon being compared to Anatoly Karpov's fabulous run in the 1994 tournament in Linares called the Wimbledon of Chess. After winning the first six games, Karpov finished undefeated with 2.5 point ahead of Garry Kasparov and Alexei Shirov, scoring 11/13. The 14-player field also included Vishy Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Vassily Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand, Judit Polgar, Gata Kamsky and other strong players.
Chess dominance is often measured by the margin of victory. The world champion Alexander Alekhine won the double-round robin in Bled, Slovenia, in 1931, scoring 20.5/26 and finishing 5.5 points ahead of Efim Bogoljubov. Bobby Fischer's perfect 11-0 score placed him 3.5 points ahead of his nearest rival, Larry Evans, at the 1963 U.S. championship. In 1970, Bobby won the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal with the margin of 3.5 points.
Fischer's string of 13 victories in the 1971 Candidates matches, defeating both Bent Larsen and Mark Taimanov 6-0 and winning the first game against Tigran Petrosian, is unprecedented in match play.
It is possible that Caruana may never repeat the result he achieved in Saint Louis. Karpov could never match his own result from Linares 20 years ago.
In the rating game, Karpov gained 34 points, Caruana 35 - an incredible feat in tournaments of such strength. With the rating leap to 2836, the Italian is rated second, just 27 points behind the world champion Magnus Carlsen.
Caruana achieved his victory with steady play and excellent opening preparation. He didn't appear to be nervous and he was calm when he spoke. And he is modest. No, he doesn't play like Karpov. Not yet.
Caruana's final result of 8.5 points matched Karpov's performance after 10 games. Veselin Topalov was their common victim and both grandmasters were able to make a decisive sacrifice on the square e6: Caruana offered his bishop, Karpov gave away a whole rook.
Caruana,Fabiano (2801) - Topalov,Veselin (2772)
Sinquefield Cup, Saint Louis 2014
Nothing is more frustrating than to be ambushed after you have followed a promising plan to its logical end. Topalov spent a lot of time to bring his knight to the square c6, overlooking the demolition.
The bishop sacrifice opens lines to the black king.
24...fxe6 25.Rf3+ Ke8
After 25...Kg7 white has two ways to crack black's position:
A. 26.Nxc5 Bxc5 (26...Kh6 27.Nxe6 Bc8 28.Nxc7+-) 27.Rf6 wins.
B. 26...Rdf8 27.Rf6!!
A brilliant entry that Topalov did not see at first. The black pieces resemble a warehouse, boxing in the vulnerable king. White wins either after 27...Rxf6 28.exf6+ Bxf6 29.Nxc5 Bxc3 30.Nxe6+ Kf6 31.Nxc7 Bxe1 32.Qh6+ Rg6 33.Qh7; or after 27...Bxf6 28.Nxc5 Bc8 29.Nxe6+ Bxe6 30.exf6+ Rxf6 31.Rxe6+-.
Black has problems with his rook on g8.
After 26...Nd4 27.Qxg8+ Kd7 28.Qf7 black can win back the exchange, but his position is lost.
And after 26...Rf8 27.Nxc5 Rxf3 28.gxf3 Nd4 29.Qg6+ Kf8 30.Bxd4 Bxc5 31.Bxc5+ Qxc5 32.Qf6+ Ke8 33.e6 Qf8 34.Qg6+ Ke7 35.Qh7+ Kf6 36.e7 white wins.
Hemming in the black king.
28...Nxf3+ 29.gxf3 Bf8
Black is lost, for example 29...Rg8 30.Qh5+ Kf8 31.Qf7#;
or 29...Qf4 30.Qxg7 Bd6 31.Qxb7+-.
30.Qh5+ Ke7 31.Bxg7
After 31...Bxg7 32.Qf7+ Kd6 33.e7 wins.
Karpov's sacrifice leads to more king hunts and he crowns his victory with another rook sacrifice. It belongs to some of his best tactical achievements.
Karpov,Anatoly (2740) - Topalov,Veselin (2640)
The rook runs amok since the black king is left to his own devices without good defenders. After 20.Bxc6 Ra7 black wins the bishop on c6.
After 20...fxe6 21.Qxe6+! Kg7 22.Bxc6 Ra7 (22...Rxc6 23.Qxc6 Qc8 24.Qe4 Bf6 25.Nd5+-) 23.Be4 Bf6 24.Qg4 g5 25.Qf5 white wins.
White has a mating attack after other moves, for example:
A. 21...Kf8 22.Qh3 fxg6 (22...Bh4 23.Rh6!) 23.Qh8+ Kf7 24.Bd5 mate;
B. 21...Kh7 22.Qh3+! Kxg6 23.Be4+ f5 (23...Kg7 24.Qh7+ Kf6 25.Qh6 mate) 24.Qxf5+ Kg7 25.Qh7+ Kf8 (25...Kf6 26.Qg6 mate) 26.Qh8+ Kf7 27.Bd5+ Kg6 28.f5+! Kxf5 (28...Kg5 29.Qg7+ Kxf5 30.g4+ Kf4 31.Ne2 mate) 29.Qh7+ Ke5 30.Qh6! Kf5 31.g4+ Kxg4 32.Be6+ Kf3 33.Qe3 mate.
22.Qe6+ Kg7 23.Bxc6
White has enough material for the exchange and dominates the light squares.
After 23...Bf6 24.Ne4! Bxb2 25.Rd1 Bd4 26.Rxd4! cxd4 27.Qf6+ Kh6 28.f5 white wins.
Karpov could have minimized black's suffering with 24.Ne4! bxc4 25.Kg2 Qxb2 26.Rh1 Rh8 27.Bd7 wins.
24...axb5 25.Nxb5 wins;
24...Qd6 25.Qxd6 Bxd6 (25...Rxd6 26.b6+-) 26.b6 Re7 27.Rd1 and white should win.
After 25...Bxb2 26.Rb1 Bd4 27.b6 Rf7 28.Ng5 decides.
26.Kg2! is even stronger: 26...axb5 27.Rh1 Rh8 28.Rxh8 Qxh8 (28...Kxh8 29.Qxg6) 29.f5 gxf5 30.Nd6 wins.
After 26...Qxb2 comes 27.Rd1!
After 27...Rxa6 28.Rxd4! white wins, for example:
A. 28...Rxd4 29.Qe7+ Kh6 30.Qf8+ Kh5 (30...Kh7 31.Ng5 mate) 31.Nf6 mate)
B. 28...cxd4 29.Qe7+ Kh8 (29...Kh6 30.Nf6 Ra7 31.Ng4+ Kh5 32.Qh4 mate) 30.Qf6++-;
And after 27...c4 28.f5 gxf5 29.Nd6 wins.
The double-exchange sacrifice eliminates the defender of dark squares.
28...Rxd4 29.Qf6+ Kg8
Other moves do not help either:
A. 29...Kh6 30.Qf8+ Rg7 31.Nf6 wins.
B. 29...Kh7 30.Ng5+ Kg8 31.Qxg6+ Kf8 32.Qe8+ Kg7 33.Ne6+ Kf6 34.Nxd4 cxd4 35.Qf8+ Rf7 36.Qh8+ Ke7 (36...Rg7 37.Qh6+) 37.Qe8+ Kf6 (37...Kd6 38.Bb5+-) 38.Qe5+ Kg6 39.Be4+ wins.
30...Kh8 31.Nf6! wins.
30...Rg7 31.Nf6+ followed by 32.Qe8+ wins.
Karpov misses a faster ending 31.Qh6+
A. 31...Rg7 32.Qh8+ Ke7 (32...Rg8 33.Qf6 mate) 33.Qe8 mate.
B. 31...Kg8 32.Nf6+ Kf7 33.Nh5! and black does not have a good defense.
31...Kg7 32.Qe5+ Kg8
Other king moves are also inadequate:
A. 32...Kf8 33.Qh8+ Kf7 (33...Ke7 34.Qf6 mate.) 34.Ng5+ Ke7 35.Qe5+ Kf8 36.Qxc5+ Re7 37.Ne6+ wins.
B. 32...Kf7 33.Ng5+ Kg8 34.Qe8+ Kg7 35.Ne6+ wins.
33.Nf6+ Kf7 34.Be8+ Kf8
Or 34...Kg7 35.Nd7+ wins.
After 35...Rd6 36.Ne4 wins.
36.Qxa7 Qxf6 37.Bh5 Rd2 38.b3 Rb2 39.Kg2 Black resigned.
During the Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen had to decide whether he was going to play the world championship match against Vishy Anand in the Russian coastal city of Sochi in November. In the end he signed. The sanction against Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine do not apply to sporting events.
As the legendary Czech master Karel Opocensky used to say: "You can't play chess with a big noise in your head." Chess players, preoccupied by personal problems cannot concentrate properly. Perhaps one reason for Carlsen's less than stellar result.
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Image Lennart Ootes