Caruana Puts a Spell on Vachier-Lagrave to Reach 7-0

GM Fabiano Caruana has been perfect in Saint Louis and is now on the brink of clinching the $100,000 top prize of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup. // Photo: Lennart Ootes

by GM Ian Rogers

Fabulous Fabiano Caruana beat a seemingly hypnotized GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on Wednesday, extending his winning streak to seven and continuing his incredible domination of the highest-rated tournament in history.

“It keeps getting weirder,” said the 22-year-old Italian. “I played a solid line, and then I just took over – it happened so suddenly.”

Vachier-Lagrave had lost only one game with White in more than a year, and Caruana admitted that, when he chose a solid line of the Queen's Gambit Declined, he would have been very satisfied to have finished the day with a draw.

Vachier-Lagrave's combination of 6.Rc1 and 7.c5 was unusual but, after 7...Ne4, Caruana managed to steer the game back into lines similar to those he had prepared.

Just when the game was looking balanced, Vachier-Lagrave found the bizarre plan 14.Qa4?! and followed it with the weakening 15.g3?!. (Carlsen, watching the game because his was already close to decided at that point, later said that he could not see anything wrong with 15.0-0 f4 16.Bxe4 dxe4 17.dxe5, with his variation continuing 17...f3 18.Ng3 fxg2 19.Rfd1 Bg4 20.Rd2.)

After Caruana's 15...Qg4!, intending 16.dxe5 Nxf2!, white was in trouble. After Vachier-Lagrave missed the ingenious defensive idea 17.f4! Nf3+ 18.Rxf3 Qxf3 19.dxe5 Qxe3 20.Qd4 – suggested by Carlsen at his post-game analysis session at Lester's Sports Bar, next door to the host venue Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis – White was soon a pawn down with nothing to show for it.

The rest of the game was agony for Vachier-Lagrave, with Caruana's 23...b6! and 24...c5! winning more material.

Caruana's leading margin remained at “only” three points as his nearest follower, World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, also won his seventh-round game against GM Hikaru Nakamura.

Game analysis by GM Ben Finegold


Before the tournament, World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen's match-up against GM Hikaru Nakamura would have been expected to be one of the showpiece games of the Cup, but Wednesday's seventh-round encounter was rather anticlimactic.

Nakamura repeated the risky pawn-grabbing line of the Queen's Gambit which had brought him both success and disaster in recent games against Azeri GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov -- the most recent being a loss in the final round of the Tromso Chess Olympiad.

Carlsen expected Nakamura to play a more solid system but had 10.Qc2 ready just in case. Carlsen criticized 10...e5 as bad, but it was only after Nakamura spent 22 minutes on the disastrous pawn sacrifice 11...Na6? that Black's position became untenable.

“I don't know what he missed,” said Carlsen. “11...Na6 just doesn't work.”

With the precise 15.Bxe6, allowing Nakamura a much-feared yet innocuous double-check, Carlsen won a pawn and, before long, Black's lone soldier on c2 inevitably followed.

Nakamura kept the game going with little hope until move 52, but by then Carlsen was spending more time looking at the Caruana game than his own. Carlsen has now scored 11 wins and no losses (plus 15 draws) against Nakamura in classical games – a hoodoo which the American seems unable to shake.

Game analysis by GM Ben Finegold


GMs Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian, the two oldest players in the field, fought out a strange draw where the Armenian missed a number of chances.

The game started as a hybrid Catalan, with Topalov playing the White side of a system that had caused him so much grief as Black in his world title matches.

After 9...e5, Aronian had solved most of his opening problems and, by move 16, the Armenian was offering a repetition of moves to agree to a draw.

Topalov refused, however, but his choice of continuation -- 17.Rfc1?! -- was unlucky. After Aronian’s 17...Nd4!, intending to meet 18.Rd1 with 18...Bxc3 19.bxc3 Nxe2+ 20.Kf1 Be6, Black had taken the initiative.

Topalov’s 21.e3 should have cost a pawn, but Aronian meekly replied 21...Rdd8 and White was able to keep the balance. “This is typical of a strong player out of form,” said Carlsen. “They play well but miss the critical moment.” Carlsen then demonstrated the variation  21...Rb3! 22.Na2 Rxb3 23.Nd4 Bxc4 24.Nxb3 Bxb3 when, after 25.Rcb1 Bc3! 26.Ra3 Bc2 27.Rc1 Bb2, the bishops escape and triumph.

After 33 moves, it became Topalov's turn to be rebuffed after offering repetition in the hopes of a draw. But Aronian stopped his winning efforts just a few moves later, and the point was split.

Game analysis by GM Ben Finegold