Chessable Authors in Action: Erwin L’Ami starts another new series for our ever-expanding blog.
We will feature the finest games of our Chessable authors in this series and we will eventually set up a poll to determine which is the Game of the Year.
Warning: Today’s game will take some beating.
Caruana was the most recent challenger for the World Chess Championship. In 2018, he battled to a 6-6 draw in a title match with Magnus Carlsen in London but lost the play-off mini-match.
Today’s big game was played in the Schachbundesliga Championship.
White: Erwin L’Ami
Black: Fabiano Caruana
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 Nc3 h6
The Controversial 4 …h6
An unusual move. 4 …Bb4, 4 …Be7 and 4 …c5 are more common. Black is angling for a Ragozin Defense without allowing lines in which White plays an early Bg5.
It is easy to criticise moves such as 4 …h6 and to claim they waste valuable time in the opening, but at the same time it would be naive to think a player of Caruana’s calibre is taking the game lightly.
5 Bf4 Bb4
The Ragozin Defense; a popular hybrid of the Queen’s Gambit Declined and the Nimzo-Indian Defense. What difference will 4 …h6 make to the standard lines – and how much of what follows is still part of Caruana’s preparation?
There is nothing wrong with 6 …exd5, leading to a typical Queen’s Gambit type of position. With 6 …Nxd5 Black is playing in dynamic style and also reclaiming the tempo spent on 4 …h6 via an attack on the bishop.
7 Bd2 O-O
8 e4 is now to be expected, when 8 …Nxc3 9 bxc3 Be7 10 Bd3 c5 would lead to a position associated with the Semi-Tarrasch Defense. However, Erwin adopts a completely different approach.
8 g3 Nxc3 9 bxc3 Ba5
A Surprising Move
10 Bg2 is now the most logical move, to be followed by 0-0 and a positional battle. Erwin produces a surprise instead.
Ambitious and controversial. This is a direct attempt to try and make Caruana regret playing 4 …h6. The point is that the h-pawn has given White a target to attack. With Rg1 and g5 clearly on the agenda, Erwin is in the mood to attack. It remains to be seen where his own king will find a haven, so it is safe to say 10 g4 is double-edged.
Chess opening theory, just like any other fashion, comes and goes.
We don’t know if 4 …h6 will ever become trendy, but the fashion of meeting a flank attack with a central counter is unlikely to fall out of favour.
11 Rg1 Nc6
Logical play by Caruana. Most players would probably now play 12 g5 here, but once again Erwin has a surprise in store.
A Confusing Position
A confusing position. White’s king feels the draught every time another file opens up, but the kingside attack is still coming. Black has a whole range of options here, including 12 …Qe7, 12 …Ne7 and 12 …Qd5, all of which give White something different to ponder.
The move played in the game liberates the queen’s bishop and saves the target pawn on c5 for later.
12 …e5 13 Qc2
Pointing a piece towards the black king, freeing d1 for the rook – maybe even with castling involved at the same time – and protecting the c3-pawn in case the bishop needs to quickly visit the kingside.
13 …Re8 14 g5
How Should Caruana Defend the Kingside?
Black needs to decide on the best structure to use against this very direct attack. 14 … hxg5 15 Nxg5 looks risky, but 15 …e4 increases the tension for both sides, especially after 16 Nxe4 Bf5.
14 …h5 15 g6 f6 keeps the lines closed but the g-pawn will be a thorn in Black’s side for the foreseeable future.
14 …e4 seeks to disrupt the coordination of the white pieces but looks a shade on the loose side. Allowing 15 gxh6 would be brave indeed.
Caruana’s actual choice is risky too, but at least it keeps the g-file closed.
One of the most entertaining features of this game is the number of reasonable choices both players have at their disposal on virtually every move. White can now consider 15 e4 – to stop …e5-e4 by Black and to develop the bishop to c4, adding more pressure to Caruana’s kingside.
15 0-0-0, removing White’s king from the centre and building up energy by placing the rook on the same file as the black queen, is another option.
However tempting those moves may be, the game move is the most natural one to play.
15 gxh6 e4 16 Ng5 Bf5
Now 17 Qb3!? would tickle f7 and is worth a thought.
17 O-O-O Qf6 18 Bh3
Erwin is clearly in an aggressive mood! He is trying to break down Caruana’s defense on the white squares, but this invites tremendous complications. 18 e3 was another option, to be followed by 19 Bh3 without allowing the following …e3 thrust.
Attack and Counter Attack
Very sharply played and attacking both the queen and the bishop.
19 Bxf5 exd2+ 20 Rxd2
Now 20 …gxf5 costs too much material after 21 Ne4+ and 20 …Qxf5 21 Qxf5 gxf5 22 h7+, with a checkmating attack, cannot be allowed either.
Black plays 20 …Re5, when the stage is set for a dramatic sacrifice.
Erwin’s Knight Sacrifice
White wins the battle for the white squares after all, thanks to this excellent sacrifice.
Unfortunately for Black, 21 …Rxf5 22 Nd6! is too strong for White, as the exchange will be lost. If the rook moves away from the g-file then 23 Rxg6+ will win easily. 22 …Rg5 is not good enough either, as 23 Rxg5 Qxg5 24 Qb3+ forces 24 …Kh7 (24 …Kf8 25 Qf7 checkmate and 24 …Kh8 25 Nf7+ cannot be tolerated) when 25 Qxb7+ wins the house.
White has five pawns and an attack on the king for the sacrificed piece. Yet Caruana knows how to fight and the game is definitely not yet over.
22 …Qxf2 23 Bf7+ Kh8 24 Qg6
We all know the feeling. The opponent is on the ropes, the position looks hopeless and resignation is expected – but somehow they keep finding something to enable the battle to continue.
An incredible resource. Caruana gives up a rook in order to develop a counter-attack.
25 Rxg5 Bxc3
Of course, White is winning, but suddenly there are lots of choices to assess and it is not too late to spoil the victory with a careless move. What to play now? 51 Bg8, 51 Rgd5, or run the gauntlet with 51 Rd7, allowing 51 …Qe1+ 52 Kc2 Nd4+ and hope a crunching blow is not about to fall?
A very calm response. 26 …Bxd2 27 Qg7 checkmate is the point of ignoring the attack on the rook.
26… Ne7 27 Qe4 Bf6
Caruana’s position hangs by a thread, but he still entertains hopes of attacking the exposed white king.
28 Re5 Rf8 29 e3
Trying to simplify the position with 29 Rxe7 gives Black a sporting chance after 29 …Qxc5+ and only then recapturing on e7.
29… Qf1 30 Bc4 Qa1
Allowing Black several checks, which could have been avoided with 31 Rd4. However, the desire to simplify is always very strong in such positions.
31 …Qc3+ 32 Kd1 Qa1+ 33 Kc2 Qc3+ 34 Kd1 Qa1+ 35 Ke2
Heading for the Winning Ending
Black now recaptures the rook and even threatens checkmate in one move (36 …Qf1) but it comes at a very heavy cost; namely, the exchange of the queens, leaving White with an easily winning ending.
36 Qd4+ Qxd4 37 exd4 Rf4
Still Caruana battles on. The presence of opposite-colored bishops give a faint hope of a freak draw and the doubled h-pawns will be useless if everything else is exchanged. White could even have his bishop still on he board and there would still be no way to force the black king from h8.
Erwin is fully aware of such factors and there is no way he is going to let this slip from here.
38 Bd5 Bf6 39 Ke3 Rh4 40 Rd3 Rh3+ 41 Kd2 Rxh2+ 42 Kc3 Kh7 43 Bxb7 Rxa2 44 Kb3 Ra1
Erwin has protected everything that matters. The connected passed pawns will now advance to confirm the victory.
45 c6 Bd8 46 d5 Ba5 47 d6 Rc1 48 Rd5 Bd8
Erwin Builds a Bridge
Now there is no need to rush with 49 c7 which would be a big mistake due to 49 …Bxc7 and all of White’s pawn will vanish, with or without the fun and games of the tricky line 50 Kb2 Rc4 51 Ba6 Rc6.
No; there is no need for that at all when we can build a bridge.
49 Rd4 and Caruana resigned; 1-0
The threat is simply Rc4, blotting out the power of the black rook and following up with c6-c7. Black will then only be able to gain one pawn for the bishop and the other pawn will be promoted very quickly. This was a terrific game, with both players producing a plethora of wonderful and original ideas.
Fabiano Caruana will soon be back in top-level action when the Candidates event resumes.
Erwin will be involved too, of course – as assistant to Anish Giri – which explains this message on Twitter.
Very well played, Erwin!
The onus is now on our other authors to play a magnificent game we can feature in the next instalment of Chessable Authors in Action.