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The Don Fabi Engine and Hari's French Explorations

by Sagar Shah - 19/01/2021

Great news for Indian chess fans. After three rounds of Tata Steel Masters 2021, we have Pentala Harikrishna in the lead with 2.0/3. The India no.2 played the French defence to beat the overnight leader Nils Grandelius. The tournament is now led by Harikrishna along with Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri and Nils Grandelius. The most exciting player of the event has without doubt been Fabiano Caruana. IM Sagar Shah analyzes his round 2 and 3 encounters with Donchenko and Duda in great depth and tells you why he thinks Don Fabi is the most uncompromising player at the highest level.

All photos in this report by Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Decoding Fabiano Caruana's play

It goes without saying that the style of the top players in the world has been affected by Modern chess engines. However, the degree to which these players rely upon engines differs a lot. Some players use the engines to get positions which they feel at home, while some players feel comfortable when the engines show an advantage. The latter is what I like to call the uncompromising approach because it puts a lot of pressure on a chess player to all the time find the best moves in a position. You no longer prefer a middlegame over an endgame or a quiet position over an attacking one. What you always keep doing is keep making the moves which the position demands you to make. And when it comes to this style of play, there is absolutely no one who does it better than Fabiano Caruana.

Fabiano Caruana, world no.2, is one of the most unassuming GMs out there

The American GM lets his moves on the board do the talking! In round two he played against Alexander Donchenko.

Alexander Donchenko vs Fabiano Caruana

For a human this position might not be easy to play with the black pieces because the king on e8 is in the centre and doesn't have a safe place to go to. However, Caruana feels at home in such positions.

The queen comes to d5 and strikes the a2 pawn and at the same time prepares c4. Caruana knows that after exf7+, he will simply park his king on f8 and his king would be completely safe.

The move c4!? is the uncompromising style that we are speaking about. A lot of players would not go for this variation because the d4 pawn is hanging. Donchenko did go for Rxd4, but after Na4! Qb1, Caruana had to find the only winning move.

Can you find the only winning move as Black? Yes, Ba3!! Black is totally winning. To see this way in advance shows how Caruana does not play like "normal humans" when he gets a winning position. He just keeps trying to find the best moves all the time.

This one is very cool. Black to play and win! Yes, Caruana did find the move Rb8! The bishop cannot be taken because of Rb2+ and a1=Q. Please note that instead of Rb8, making a queen is not the best idea because after Bb4+ and Rxa1, you still have a lot of technical work that needs to be done

The final strike with c3! The pawn on a1 either queens or the rook swoops down on d2. Bxc3 is met with Rc8! Caruana took home the full point
IM Sagar Shah explains Caruana's game in depth in this video

The game of the day in round 3 was definitely Caruana's duel against Duda

Let's go through this game in detail to understand Caruana's style in much greater depth.


Caruana vs Duda

The Petroff against Caruana is not the best of ideas, especially because the opening features as one of the main moves in Fabi's opening repertoire. But Duda was expecting 1.d4 and when Caruana opened with 1.e4, he decided to just go for it!

This is a new move. Previously Rhe1 and Kb1 had been seen in this position where over 100 games have been played. Rhg1 is a typical computer novelty where Caruana has looked at a lot of lines and has developed a feel for the position, while for Duda it is completely new! The game continued b5!? g4! when the g4 pawn is taboo as you can see in the game analysis.

A completely crazy position where Caruana finds the most exciting move. Can you do the same?

White has the powerful Ne6 here. The knight cannot be taken as Bxe6+ Kh8 and Bxd5 results in a winning position for White. Black went Qa5.

How do you even come up with a move like Qf3!? Caruana's point is that the queen pins the knight on d5 and at the same time he prepares Bxh7+ followed by Qxf7. Caruana had to calculate a lot of lines beginning with Nxc3, but it seems like he felt at home there!

Duda now has begun serious counterplay by taking on c3, but Caruana strikes back with Bxh7+!

Qxf7 is tempting, but is not the best. Once again Caruana found the best move in the position here g6!!

Perhaps the most impressive moment of the game came at this point. White has the very tempting Qh3+ followed by Qh7+ trying to get the black king out in the open. However, it doesn't seem to finish of Duda. Hence, Caruana with very little time on the clock found the move Bd4!! This is absolute engine like play.

The position simplified to this point where the knight on e6 had to be taken.

White is an exchange up and is clearly winning

The game transposed into this endgame where White seems clearly better because of the active king and the rook.

The final critical moment of the game, and one where Caruana finally showed that he is a human! Here Rb1 or a4 followed by Rb1 gives White close to winning advantage. However, Caruana wasted a tempo here with Re1 and the result was Black solidifying his queenside with Ke8-d7.

In the end Caruana couldn't make a breakthrough here and the players agreed to a draw!

What a fight by the Polish no.1! And what a game!

Try to check the analysis of the game below and understand Caruana's playing style better. He is truly one of the best players in the world out there. The no. of best moves he could find in a mind boggling complex position was simply amazing!

Duda speaks about his Houdini like escape

We are looking forward to more such exciting games from Fabiano Caruana

Harikrishna beats Grandelius and moves into the lead

Grandelius Nils vs Harikrishna

Speaking about this position Harikrishna said in his post game interview - "White should have taken on b4 and he would have a great position. However, he went bishop to f4. As a former French player I found it very comfortable to play after this point."

Grandelius Nils had a dream start to the Tata Steel Masters 2021 with 2.0/2. But this dream run was put to a halt in round three by Harikrishna

Harikrishna's choice of French Defence against Nils was an interesting one. He played the Bd7-b5 line which is positionally very sound, as Black tries to get rid of his problem piece right out of the opening, but from the perspective of dynamic chess, it losses a lot of time

The critical moment of the game. Black is doing fine here, but White also has no real problems. A very natural way to continue is to go g4!? with the idea of Kh1 and Rg1 launching a powerful kingside attack. This makes sense because Black has play on the queenside and White must do something very quickly on the other wing. However, Nils was not in his element and he played the timid Bc1?! as White in the above position.

Grandelius wanted to exchange the bishops so that he can fight for the c5 square. However, this proved to be a mirage as the knight on c5 is not stable. In fact whenever White's knight jumps to c5, it gets hit by Nxd4 tactic

Harikrishna won the a2 pawn and very cleanly converted the game!

Oh My God! What did I do wrong? Nils was left wondering in his game against Hari.
Harikrishna speaks about his win over Nils Grandelius

In joint lead along with four other players is Harikrishna!

Magnus Carlsen arrives to his game in a hurry!

In Covid times, players are always confused on how they should greet their opponents!

The game between Norway's 1 and 2 ended in a draw

Results of round 2 with three decisive games

Results of round 3 with two decisive games

The standings of the tournament after three rounds

Here's a small trivia! Who is this player?

The game that we are all waiting for is definitely Harikrishna vs Caruana in round 4
Round 2 Commentary LIVE by IM Sagar Shah
Round 3 Commentary LIVE by IM Sagar Shah, joined by Amruta Mokal

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