Undefeated Caruana Wins Sinquefield Cup by Three Points
GM Fabiano Caruana won seven games and drew three for a stunning 8.5/10 and a large margin over the rest of the strongest-rated field in history.
By GM Ian Rogers
Fabiano Caruana finished the 2014 Sinquefield Cup with a solid draw against Levon Aronian to end the highest-rated tournament in history with a magnificent 8.5/10 -- three points ahead of his nearest follower, the World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen.
Caruana's performance generated high praise from the other players and chess fans around the world. “Fantastico!” GM Hikaru Nakamura said. “Ruthless,” said GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. There was one dissenting voice, however, that of Carlsen who, with clear sarcasm, summed up the Italian's triumph as “Depressing...”
Carlsen’s game was the first to finish, his Berlin defense leading to a quiet draw against the only player who could challenge him for second place, GM Veselin Topalov.
Carlsen was the first to offer a surprise with 10...b6, a move Berlin pioneer Vladimir Kramnik had used in multiple blitz games. Topalov admitted that he was unprepared for this line and his minor inaccuracy, 14.Nfd2, enabled Black to equalise immediately.
On move 16 Topalov, worried that he might drift into a less comfortable position after c3, decided to repeat moves, leaving Carlsen with little choice than to draw the game by repetition.
Aronian, playing White against Caruana, tried an unusual line of the English, with 10.cxd4!? and 11.Kf1. However, Caruana came well prepared – as always.
Instead of playing calmly with 13.f4 and 14.Kf2, Aronian lashed out with 13.h4 and 14.h5 after which he “couldn't think of anything to do,” admitted the Armenian.
Caruana tried his luck in the endgame, instead of the more ambitious 18...Qf6 threatening 19...Rd8 and 20...Bd4, and was rewarded when Aronian played 20.Rd5?! instead of 20.Rd3.
However the Italian’s advantage was spoiled after exchanging bishops on move 22, the point at which when Aronian confessed he had been “petrified about 22...Bd1!”
After both sets of bishops were exchanged, Caruana was worried he might be slightly worse, so he “took the first opportunity to offer a draw.” Aronian was happy to accept and finish his disappointing tournament.
GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave fought out the longest game of the round, with the American pressing for his first win of the tournament.
Vachier-Lagrave, playing Black, returned to his favourite Najdorf Sicilian, with which Nakamura had beaten him in the past. Nakamura was ready with the unusual 6.h3, which met an equally unorthodox response, 6...e5 7.Nb3 h5!?
Nakamura took control of the d5 square and was convinced that he should have a way to clarify his small advantage. “I should never have let him play 32...Rd7 and 33...Bd8!” opined Nakamura, since afterward, Black was safe.
Nakamura could have forced a draw in style with 39.Qxd6! but instead decided to try his luck in a queen endgame. However, after thinking for 15 minutes on his 40th move, Nakamura could find nothing better than 41.b4. Vachier-Lagrave took the position to force a draw by repetition.
So ended a classic tournament, one which will be long remembered for Fabiano Caruana's career-best performance but to which all six elite Grandmasters contributed greatly.