Basque Chess - Showdown in Saint Louis
Nakamura vs. Caruana
The Basque chess games started with some exciting developments. It is difficult to juggle two games of chess at the same time, especially against such strong opposition. In the Nakamura vs. Caruana game, the number one player in America essayed the Trompowsky opening; however, it was not successful at all. Fabi gained a big initiative with the black pieces by timely breaking in the center. This left Hikaru’s dark squares in shambles, his king weak and his position in serious danger. In an uncharacteristic sequence, Fabiano let go of most of his advantage by playing relatively meek chess. An aggressive approach would have given him a massive advantage. Hikaru regained control of the position, simplified some pieces, and headed towards a draw.
In Caruana vs. Nakamura, it was the black side that went on the aggression with an early Nh4 and f5 ripping apart the kingside. It is likely that this was not very well founded positionally, and Hikaru’s position was questionable. Just when it seemed that things were going south for him, he found a fantastic resource with e4!? sacrificing a full pawn simply to activate his pieces. Caruana did not react in the best way, and Black even had chances to gain an advantage at a critical juncture. Hikaru’s materialistic approach was almost punished when his weak king saw itself in danger, but Fabiano’s moves were not accurate enough, and he had to content himself with a draw by perpetual check.
Hou Yifan vs. Negi
Excellent play today from the young player from India! In his game with white, Negi showed excellent mastery of the Dragon positions despite Hou Yifan’s early deviation with a strange but interesting Re8. Negi simply rammed his h-pawn down the board and created real problems for his opponent. The game was very complicated, but perhaps the crucial mistake came with the move 20...Nd5. After White castled, Black’s bishop on h5 was too weak, and that spelled disaster.
In her game with white, Yifan was simply too optimistic. An exchange sacrifice by Negi was met with a countersacrifice of a full piece, leaving the material balance two pieces vs. a rook. White’s a-pawn was simply not enough, and slowly but surely Negi took over the initiative and his extra material won him the game. Negi is the clear leader with 2-0!