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Fabi vs Hari: A draw in the sharp Sicilian

by Sagar Shah - 27/05/2016

Harikrishna came excellently prepared in the first round of the Shamkir Chess 2016. He faced the top seed Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces and didn't back down from a fight. The sharp Sicilian Taimanov with opposite sides castling and pawn storms made it a highly interesting battle. It seemed as if the US Champion was a tad quicker in opening the lines. But a timely queen exchange helped Harikrishna to secure a draw. We have the in-depth game analysis with the explanation of the critical positions.

In the first round of the Norway Chess 2016 Harikrishna had the black pieces against top seed Magnus Carlsen. The Indian faltered right out of the opening and got an extremely unpleasant position, which the World Champion duly converted. Fast forward one month and Hari finds himself in a similar situation facing the top seed at the Shamkir chess tournament 2016 with the black pieces. Only this time it was Fabiano Caruana instead of Magnus Carlsen. 

The 2016 US Champion is the top seed at the Shamkir super tournament
Harikrishna had learnt his lesson. He came to the board ready for a sharp game. At such super tournaments there is no time to get warmed up. Unlike open tournaments every round is equally crucial. Hari showed no nerves and decided to fight Caruana's 1.e4 with the sharp Sicilian Defence. Soon the Taimanov variation was on the board and Caruana went for the much debated and recently popular 6.Qf3 variation.
The idea of this move is to place the queen on g3 where it would be more active than on d2
Harikrishna already had some experience in this line as he had played two games with the black pieces against Nils Grandelius and Sergei Zhigalko. However, against Caruana, he went for an extremely concrete idea.
The idea of taking on d4 followed by e5 is new and has never been tried by a grandmaster before
Harikrishna came extremely well prepared to the game
Soon the game developed into an arms race with White pushing his pawns on the kingside and Black on the queenside. One very important thing that Hari did was to limit his opponent's attacking chances.
It's Black to play here what would you do?
17...Ba6! was the correct decision as it is important to get rid of the d3 bishop which is a dangerous attacking piece. The game started to heat up pretty soon and things were looking grim for Hari. He had pushed his pawn to g6 which was a clear hook for the white h-pawn to advance and open a few lines on the kingside. However, a timely queen exchange did the trick!
22...Qf5! was the move that ensured that Black wouldn't get mated on the kingside.
Fabi vs Hari was surely one of the most interesting games of the day
The endgame that was reached was round about equal and the players agreed to a draw. A fine result for Harikrishna who will now take on Shakhriyar Mamedyarov with the white pieces in round two.

Detailed analysis of Round one

[Event "Vugar Gashimov Mem 2016"]
[Site "Shamkir AZE"]
[Date "2016.05.26"]
[Round "1.2"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B48"]
[WhiteElo "2804"]
[BlackElo "2763"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "85"]
[EventDate "2016.05.26"]
{The first round of the new super tournament and Harikrishna was facing the
top seeded Caruana with the black pieces.} 1. e4 c5 $5 {Hari usually likes to
play solid openings. e4-e5 is one of his main openings and in the Norway Chess
2016 he played the French. It looks as if in the Shamkir tournament he has
decided to open with the Sicilian.} 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 {The
Taimanov is a opening which has been in Hari's repertoire for quite some time.
He played it against Anand in his Bundesliga game and has repeatedly played it
against the best players in the world in shorter time formats. Playing against
the reigning US Champion who is famed for his preparation is going to be a
huge challenge.} 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Qf3 $5 {The queen is going to g3 and
this is one of the topical lines in the Taimanov recently.} Nf6 8. O-O-O (8.
Qg3 Qxg3 9. hxg3 Ng4 $15 {Causes some problems to White.}) 8... Nxd4 $5 {
A very concrete way of playing the position. No grandmaster has played it
before, which means that Harikrishna had done his homework prior to the game.}
9. Bxd4 e5 $1 10. Be3 d6 {The bishop is threatening to go to g4. White has to
do something about it.} 11. h3 (11. Bg5 {Trying to take control of the d5
square would have been ideal but fails to} Bg4 $1 $17) (11. Qe2 {was another
option but this hardly changes the character of the position.} b5 12. Bg5 b4 {
With counterplay.}) 11... b5 $1 12. Bd3 {White cannot fight successfully for
the d5 square and hence simply develops his bishop.} (12. Be2 b4 13. Nd5 Nxd5
14. exd5 (14. Rxd5 Be6 $17) 14... Be7 $15 {And the bishop is clearly misplaced
to e2. It has to be on d3 like it was in the game.}) 12... b4 13. Nd5 Nxd5 14.
exd5 {Now the bishop on d3 makes sense, but overall Black's position is
harmonious. His bishop goes to e7 and 0-0. The other bishop can be used to
exchange the opponent's light squared bishop with a5 and Ba6.} a5 15. Kb1 Be7
16. g4 {With black pawns already o b4 and a5 it was high time that Caruana
started his own play on the kingside.} O-O 17. g5 Ba6 $1 {Exchanging the
crucial attacking piece.} 18. Qe4 g6 $6 (18... Bxd3 19. cxd3 {Might not have
been to Hari's liking as Caruana's rook can settle down on the c6 square after
Rc1. However, Black can maintain equality with} Qd7 20. Rc1 f5 $1 $11 {
Creating counterplay. Black should be fine here.}) 19. h4 Rfc8 (19... Bxd3 20.
cxd3 $14) 20. Rc1 {White is now looking pretty good.} (20. h5 $1 Bxd3 21. cxd3
Qc2+ 22. Ka1 a4 23. Rc1 Qe2 24. hxg6 fxg6 25. Rxc8+ Rxc8 26. Qxb4 $16) 20...
Qd7 21. Bxa6 (21. h5 Bxd3 22. cxd3 Rxc1+ 23. Rxc1 Rc8 $11 {And with all the
major pieces coming off this would end in a draw.}) 21... Rxa6 22. f4 (22. h5
Qf5 23. Qh4 gxh5 $1 24. Qxh5 a4 $11 {And the queen on f5 does a wonderful job
of defending everything.}) 22... Qf5 $1 {Harikrishna senses the danger and
presses the emergency brakes.} (22... exf4 23. Bd4 $16) 23. Qxf5 gxf5 {
Although f5 is weak there is no real way to attack it. Rhf1 is met by e4 and
fxe5 dxe5 and Rhf1 is met with f4.} 24. c3 bxc3 25. Rxc3 Rxc3 26. bxc3 {
With the exchange of one pair of rooks the king on b1 is ready to join the
battle and try to create a passer on the queenside.} Ra8 $1 27. Kc2 Rb8 $1 {
Stopping the king from coming to the b-file.} 28. Rf1 $6 (28. fxe5 dxe5 29. c4
$16) 28... e4 $1 $11 29. a4 Kf8 30. h5 Ke8 31. Rg1 Kd7 32. Bd4 Kc7 33. g6 {
White tries to exchange a few pawns so that his rook can gain entry into the
opponent's position.} fxg6 34. hxg6 hxg6 35. Rxg6 Rf8 36. Rg7 Kd7 37. c4 Ke8
38. Kc3 Bh4 39. Ra7 (39. c5 dxc5 40. Be5 (40. Bxc5 Bf6+ $19) 40... Rf7 $11)
39... Be1+ 40. Kc2 Rg8 {Suddenly all of Black forces are activated and White
decides to give a perpetual check to end the game.} 41. Ra8+ Kf7 42. Ra7+ Ke8
43. Ra8+ {A very interesting game and one in which Harikrishna held is fort
against one of the best players in the world.} 1/2-1/2


Crosstable after round one

Pictures from the official website