Mr. Perfect: Caruana's Lead Grows as Win Streak Reaches Six

GM Fabiano Caruana's six wins has equaled the longest starting winning streak in an elite tournament in the modern era, established by former World Champion GM Anatoly Karpov in Linares 1994.

by GM Ian Rogers

La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s leading sports newspaper, asked of GM Fabiano Caruana yesterday: “Is he human?”

The answer, after Tuesday's easy win over GM Veselin Topalov in the sixth round of the Sinquefield Cup is: Clearly not.

The 22-year-old Italian – the youngest of six elite Grandmasters currently in Saint Louis for the highest-rated tournament in history – won his sixth-consecutive game in style, finding a piece sacrifice that left his Bulgarian opponent helpless.

If Topalov, playing Black, had hoped to avoid Caruana's exceptional opening preparation through his choice of the Taimanov variation of the Sicilian, he failed. Caruana had recently used the Taimanov himself, though that did not mean he was without a nasty new idea for White: the awkward-looking 12.Na4 and 13.Re2.

The idea, intended for use against Russian GM Peter Svidler, enabled Topalov to exchange queens on move 15 but, as Caruana later explained, “the computer likes Black at first but, a few moves later, realizes it is not so easy.”

Topalov was already falling well-behind on the clock when he rushed his 17th move, instead of spending time and testing Caruana's preparation via the risky 17...Nxe5!? 18.Rxe5 Qxe5 19.Bc3 Qf4 20.Qxf4 gxf4 21.Bxh8 f6! Soon, the Italian had total control of the position.

Topalov’s 23...Nc6? gave Caruana the opportunity to decide the game immediately with a powerful piece sacrifice. “I missed that 25....Kg7 would be met not by 26.Qxe6 but by 26.Qh5! Rdf8 27.Rf6!,” admitted Topalov. The rest was a massacre.

With second-place GM Magnus Carlsen failing to win his game, Caruana has increased his lead to an incredible three points with only four rounds to play -- and, of course, the dream of a perfect 10/10 is still alive.

Game Analysis by GM Alejandro Ramirez


World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen looked ready to keep pace with Caruana by beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but he instead let the near-winning position slip, ushering the Norweigan to admit: “Now my already slim hopes for first place are over.”

The game had transposed to an Accelerated Dragon in the Sicilian, but Vachier-Lagrave quickly found himself staring in horror as his fingerfehler led him to play 7...0-0 before 8...Qa5. Carlsen was thus given the option of 9.f3, whereas “after 7...0-0, 8.f3 is impossible due to 8...Qb4! 9.Bb3 Nxe4! 10.Nxc6 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qxc3+ 12.Ke2 dxc6 13.Bd4 e5! -- a line I learned as a junior,” Vachier-Lagrave explained to the audience at his post-game debrief in Lester's Sports Bar, next door to the host venue Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Rather than accept a passive position after 14...Bxc6 15.Bd4, Vachier-Lagrave gambled on 14...bxc6 but was surprised by the unexpected recapture 17.Bxd2!, leading to a highly favourable endgame for Carlsen. “It should be technically winning,” said the Norwegian.

Inexplicably, Carlsen allowed Vachier-Lagrave counterplay and, after 32...h5! Black's drawing chances had considerably improved. Even so, it took Carlsen’s 36.f4 -- admittedly played in mild time trouble -- to destabilize White's position enough to hold. With the precise 39...Ba5!, Vachier-Lagrave made the draw a certainty and left Carlsen, in his own words, “in a foul mood.”

Game Analysis by GM Alejandro Ramirez


The battle between GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Levon Aronian, who both entered the round tied for last place, seemed typical of two players struggling for form.

Aronian's choice of the Berlin Defense against the Ruy Lopez made clear that he was determined to end his losing streak, and when Nakamura played the maneuver 19.Qe1-a5 and 20.Qa5-e1, the Armenian started pushing for an advantage.

Aronian's 22...d4 was probably asking for too much from the position and, had Nakamura found 28.Be3! intending 29.Rb3, the advantage would have swung firmly to White.

Instead, Aronian was given chances for counterplay but misplayed them, leaving Nakamura with more options. Despite Aronian needing to play on his 30-second increment for the last 10 moves of time control, the balance was never again seriously disturbed. 39.Qxe6+ would have been well met by 39...Kf8!, and a draw was agreed shortly after the bonus time was received.

Game Analysis by GM Alejandro Ramirez