29 January 2016

Mamedyarov -- Caruana, Tata Steel 2016

Can Fabiano Caruana catch Carlsen?

With three rounds to play, Fabiano Caruana stands one-half point behind Magnus Carlsen in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. In today's games, Carlsen has White against Hou Yifan. She opted for a Petroff Defense, which often functions well as a drawing weapon. Caruana has the Black pieces against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and played the Sicilian Defense. Mamedyarov opted for the Alapin variation.

When I awoke this morning, the games had been going for nearly two hours. My morning begins with making coffee, feeding dogs, and creating the beginning of this blog post. Once I am caught up with the action in the Netherlands, I will attempt to follow the games live and record my observations here through frequent updates.

Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar (2747) -- Caruana,Fabiano (2787) [B22]
78th Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee (11), 29.01.2016

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 e6 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 d6

White to move


The fourth most popular move with just over 300 games in my database. Mamedyarov asks Caruana, "just how deep is your preparation in this line that is new to both of us?"

7.Bc4 leads in popularity.


A few dozen reference games. Only one with a player above 2600.

8.dxe5 Nb4

Sam Shankland has played this move.

9.Be4 Qxd1+ 10.Kxd1 Nd7

Reference Game:
Fruebing,Thomas (2187) -- Shankland,Samuel L (2539) [B22]
Dresden ZMD op 20th Dresden (1), 06.08.2011
10...N8a6 11.a3 Nc5 12.Nc3 Nxe4 13.Nxe4 Nd5 14.Nd4 Bd7 15.Bg5 h6 16.Bh4 Rc8 17.Rc1 Rxc1+ 18.Kxc1 Nf4 19.Bg3 Nd3+ 20.Kc2 Nc5 21.Nc3 Be7 22.b4 Na4 23.Ne4 0–0 24.Rc1 Nb6 25.Nc5 Bxc5 26.bxc5 Rc8 27.Kb3 Nd5 28.Kb2 Bc6 29.Kb3 Kf8 30.a4 a6 31.h4 Ke7 32.Bh2 h5 33.g3 Kd7 34.Bg1 Kc7 35.f4 Ne7 36.Rc3 Rd8 37.Bf2 Be4 38.Rc1 Nc6 39.Kc3 Rd5 40.Nxc6 Rd3+ 41.Kc4 Kxc6 42.Rb1 Ra3 43.Rb6+ Kc7 44.Rd6 Rxa4+ 45.Kb3 Ra1 46.Bd4 Rb1+ 47.Bb2 Bd5+ 48.Kc2 Be4+ 49.Kb3 a5 50.Ka2 a4 51.Rd4 Re1 52.Bc3 Re2+ 53.Rd2 Bd5+ 54.Kb2 Re3 55.f5 a3+ 56.Kc2 Be4+ 57.Kb3 a2 0–1

White to move

There are still four games in my database with this position.

11.Bd2N a5 12.a3 Nc5 13.axb4 Nxe4

Black has created a minor piece imbalance.

14.Be1 b6 15.Nc3 Nxc3+ 16.Bxc3

White could undouble his pawns, but that would give Black a passed pawn and White's c-pawn would be backwards. The doubled b-pawns have strength.

16...a4 17.Nd2 Bb7 18.f3 Bd5 19.Kc1

Black to move

19...b5 20.b3 a3

Caruana has a passed pawn, but any hopes it cherishes of promotion are in the distant future.

21.Kb1 Be7 22.Ka2

The king blockades the passer, freeing White's rook for action.

22...O-O 23.Rac1

Black to move

Caruana has a achieved a middlegame with dynamic prospects to create winning chances.

I was looking at 23...Ra4 to pile on the b4 pawn, but 24...Bxb4 25.Bxb4 Rxb4 drops the a-pawn. Bad ideas are the curse of the class player. On the other hand, keeping the a-pawn on the board ties down one of Black's rooks. What else can he do?

23...Rfc8 24.Nb1 Bg5

Attack the rook. That's what Black can do.

25.Bd2 Rxc1!

Mamedyarov was ahead a few minutes on the clock until the amount of time that he spent on this position. While he thought, I looked at some tactical threats that Black might have in mind. Once I concluded that they did not work, they were played rapidly on the board.


Black to move


That's the move I was looking at!

27.Kxb3 a2 28.Na3

When I found this move, I concluded that Black's combination failed. Somehow I overlooked that White's bishop on d2 was now undefended and that losing the a-pawn did not eliminate all of Black's winning chances. There are other vulnerable pawns in White's position. On the other hand, Black must watch his back rank.

28...Bxd2 29.Ra1 Bf4 30.h3 Bxe5 31.Rxa2 Rb8

White to move


Nxb5 is threatened.


Black can block a check, so the pawn is safe for now. With most of White's pawns on light squares, the bishop has few targets. But the crucial pawn is on a dark square. The pawns for both players on the kingside are mobile. In this position, the bishop is still a better piece that the knight.

Black is one pawn ahead.

33.Rc6 Be7 34.Rc7 Bf8

34...Bd6 might lead to a repetition, but one repetition gets closer to the time control.

35.Ra7 g6

Black's king gets some air.


Black to move

Black cannot keep the b-pawn.


But, an active rook is essential in this endgame and White has other pawns that can be threatened. Will Black be forced to give up the bishop to stop White's b-pawn?

Hou and Carlsen are still playing, but the commentators think that it is headed to a draw.

37.Rxb5 Rd2 38.Rb8

Black to move


This move may have been necessary. If 38...Rxg2 39.Rxf8 Kxf8 40.b5 and White's pawn will promote.

39.Nc4 Rxg2 40.b5 Rg1 41.Rxf8! Kxf8 42.b6

Black to move

Uh-oh. Caruana is in trouble. How will he stop that pawn? Caruana will be fighting for a draw. Meanwhile, Carlsen continues to force Hou to play chess. That game is not drawn yet.

The commentators are convinced that Black must play 42...Rd1. It seems to me that 42...Rg5 might be worth considering. In any case, Caruana is using a lot of time to think. His tournament hangs in the balance. If he cannot draw this game, Carlsen will be out of reach.

After a little more than 30 minutes:


White's king and knight will work together to try and prevent the rook's exchange for the pawn.

43.Kb4 Rg1

Now Mamedyarov is thinking. Watching the live video feed, I see Wei Yi stop by to look at the game, Then Carlsen came by. This game is drawing some interest. It is a significant game for the final standings, and it is also an interesting ending.


White keeps the rook off b1. Now what can Black do?

44...Rd1 45.b7 Rxd2 46.b8Q+

Black to move

White must win this ending. Or, can Black construct a fortress?

46...Kg7 47.Qe5+ Kg8 48.Qb8+ Kg7 49.Qe5+ Kg8 50.Qb8+ 1/2-1/2

I am surprised at this draw. But perhaps Black could have created a fortress with his king on g7 and the rook shuffling among d5, f5, and h5. On the other hand, in such a position White would checkmate with king on e7 and queen on f8. The fortress might not be possible.

Carlsen won his game. Caruana falls a full point behind the leader.


  1. What? A draw? Why? This is a clear win for white!

    1. Looks very similar to the basic R+p vs Q fortress. So immediate impression is a draw, not a clear win at all.

  2. Nonsense. No need to create a fortress. Fortress is already there. How would you legally move your king to e7? No way.

  3. Looks like a fortress to me... The White King will never make it to e7... after blacks next move 50...Kg7, how to make progress? If 51. Qe5+, then Kg8 and Rd5 next... If 51. Kc5 then Rd5+ and just move the rook along the D file and whenever white plays h4 meet it with h5----Travis Miller