- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It has proven difficult over the years to get some of America’s greatest chess stars to play one another.

Paul Morphy, the country’s first world-class talent, played a number of matches against Europe’s best in his meteoric rise to fame in the late 1850s, but largely withdrew from the game and never paired off against such post-Civil War generation American stars as Mason and Mackenzie.

Pillsbury and Marshall played 11 times over the board (Marshall enjoying a tiny 5-4-2 edge), but never played a formal match before Pillsbury’s untimely death in 1906 at the age of 33.

Sammy Reshevsky did win a number of notable matches against fellow Americans over his long career (including Horowitz, Kashdan, Benko and Lombardy), but never sat down against his chief rival for supremacy in the interwar years, Reuben Fine, while Reshevsky’s notorious 1961 match with Bobby Fischer ended after Fischer forfeited with the score tied at two wins apiece with five games left to play.

Thus it should be seen as progress of a sort that the top two current U.S. players, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, were willing to put it all on the line in their 18-game match earlier this month at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, even though none of the games were played at classical time controls. In a mix of rapid, blitz, Fischer Random and Basque games, Caruana prevailed by a 10-8 score, though the result hardly clarifies the battle for supremacy between the two superstars.

Caruana broke on top by winning the rapid competition by a 3-1 score, helped by what GM Alejandro Ramirez, writing on ChessBase.com, called a “total suicide” by Nakamura on the Black side of a Rossolimo Sicilian, with the inexplicable 6…f6? leading quickly to his downfall. After the simple 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. Qxh8 Qd5, Black may have thought the White queen would have trouble getting back into the game, but Caruana easily consolidates his material advantage, and even goes on the attack.

The end comes quickly: 17. Ng5+ Kf8 18. Re1 e5 19. Bf4! (threatening 20. Qxg7+ Kxg7 21. Bxe5+, while 19…exf4 20. Ne6+ is crushing) Bf6 20. Qb7 Bxg5 (Rb8 21. Nh7 mate) 21. Bxe5!, when White’s threats include 22. Bxd6, 22. Qxa8 and 22. Bg7 mate; Nakamura resigned.

Chinese women’s world champ Hou Yifan won the undercard bout in St. Louis against Indian GM Parimarjan Negi by an 11-7 score, but Negi’s rapid win in Round 2 may have been the best game of the entire event. In a sharp Scheveningen Sicilian Keres Attack, Black’s king appears trapped in the center, but it is White’s monarch who finds himself in the greater peril.

Thus: 16. Qxf3 d4! 17. 0-0-0 Be6 18. Nf6+ Kf8 19. cxd4 Rc8! 20. Kb1 (see diagram; Ramirez gives Black the edge on 20. dxe5 Nxe5+ 21. Bc4 Nxf3 22. Rxd8+ Rxd8) Bxa2+!, when 21. Kxa2 runs into 21…Qa5+ 22. Kb1 Nb4, and it’s mate after 23. Nd7+ Kg8 24. Nc5 Rxc5 25. dxc5 Qa2+ 26. Kc1 Qxb2 mate.

The king hunt breaks through on 23. Nd7+ (Bc3 Rxc3!) Kg8 24. Nxe5 Nc2+ 25. Kxa2 Qa4+ 26. Qa3 Nxa3, and White’s rook also hangs. Hou resigned.

Caruana-Nakamura, St. Louis Showdown, November 2015

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 d6 4. Bxc6+ bxc6 5. e5 dxe5 6. Nxe5 f6 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. Qxh8 Qd5 10. O-O Kf7 11. Nc3 Qd4 12. d3 Bg7 13. Qh7 f5 14. Ne2 Qd6 15. Nf4 Bd7 16. Nh3 Be8 17. Ng5+ Kf8 18. Re1 e5 19. Bf4 Bf6 20. Qb7 Bxg5 21. Bxe5 Black resigns.

Hou-Negi, St. Louis Showdown, November 2015

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. g4 e5 8. Nf5 h5 9. g5 Nxe4 10. Nxg7+ Bxg7 11. Nxe4 d5 12. Ng3 e4 13. c3 Nc6 14. Nxh5 Be5 15. f4 exf3 16. Qxf3 d4 17. O-O-O Be6 18. Nf6+ Kf8 19. cxd4 Rc8 20. Kb1 Bxa2+ 21. Ka1 Nb4 22. Bd2 Qxd4 23. Nd7+ Kg8 24. Nxe5 Nc2+ 25. Kxa2 Qa4+ 26. Qa3 Nxa3 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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