Winning Play from Italian Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana

Morning everyone! A couple weeks ago, I broke down some games of Paul Morphy in my post, “The Fun and Games of Paul Morphy”. In those games, Morphy’s play was tactical and aggressive, and he found ways to win quickly. For today, I have decided to analyze the games of a current super Grandmaster, Fabiano Caruana from Italy. GM Caruana earned his title in 2007, and has seen much success, including three wins against reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen over the last three years (Bilbao Masters, Tal Memorial, Gashimov Memorial).

Caruana – van der Heijen (2007)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 d6

6. g4!? An aggressive approach. This eliminates the typical development of Ng8–f6. With preparation, this is a sound approach. White can always play f2–f3 to solidify his g4 pawn, or further extend his position with f2–f4. By trying this move order, Caruana has created more options for play.

6…Nge7 7. Be3 a6 8. Nb3 b5

9. f4 Further controlling the center. While white hasn’t castled yet, Caruana has better development, and Black has no way to immediately refute the kingside pawn push.


10. Na4! The premature queenside play from Black gives White the a4 square. The b6 square is now weak, and it isn’t clear how Black will deal with the annoying White pair of bishops that are limiting his play. So far Caruana is winning the opening battle, as he dominates both the kingside and the queenside. In this position, it appears that Black’s traditional Sicilian queenside plan is moot. The pawns can’t advance in an attacking fashion, and already there are too many weak squares in the position.

10…Rb8 11. Qd2 Ng6 12. O-O-O Be7

13. g5 This cannot be the kind of play that Black was hoping for. Both of van der Heijen’s bishops are misplaced, and will have to result to keeping his king in the center. Meanwhile, Caruana has clear play on the kingside, as his pawns dare his opponent to castle.

13…e5?? Giving black the f5 square and complete control of the position. Generally, when White plays for rapid pawn play on one side of the board, he wants to control f5 if on the kingside, or c5 if on the queenside. By creating space, White creates more options, but also limits his opponent’s ability to play.

14. f5 Nf4 15. h4 h6 16. Rg1 hxg5 17. hxg5 Bxg5

18. Kb1 White has lost a pawn but has created a half open g–file. Black has a weakness on d6, and it still isn’t clear how the c8 bishop will get in the game.

18…Rh6 19. Nb6

19…Rxb6 The pressure is too much for Black. White wins an exchange, and there is no compensation for Black.

20. Bxb6 Qxb6 21. Rxg5 Kf8

22. Nc1?! Perhaps a relocation idea but the knight goes back to b3 later. 22. Bc4 is stronger as brings another piece into the game.

22…Nd4 23. Qf2 Bb7 24. Nb3

24…Qd8 Both of Black’s knights are on great squares, but they are powerless to do anything. White can always snap on d4 with Nxd4, and all of the squares that the f4 knight can move to are controlled by white.

25. Qg3 Nh5 26. Qe3 Nf4 27. Rg4 Nxb3 28. axb3 Rh1 29. Qf3 Rh6 30. Bc4 Rh3 31. Qf1

31…Rh6 While Black has been out of ideas, Caruana has slowly improved his position.

32. Qg1 Qf6

33. Qa7! White has put his queen on the perfect square. Black is too stretched out now to do anything.

33…Bxe4? 34. Rxd6! Bxc2+ 35. Ka2 Bb1+ 36. Ka1 And the king is out of Black’s grasp 1-0

In this game, Caruana got a big space advantage out of the opening, allowing him to put his pieces on great squares while his opponent had no chance to get back in the game. As White’s pieces got onto better squares, tactical opportunities opened up, giving him further control of the position.

This next game was in the 2010 World Blitz Championship against well-known theoretician Boris Gelfand.

Caruana – Gelfand (2010)

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bc4 Nc6 6. O-O Nf6 7. d3 O-O

8. f5! A key thematic idea in the Grand Prix Sicilian. By sacrificing a pawn, White dismantles the kingside. While Black isn’t losing, it is clear he must play defending chess for a while.

8…gxf5 9. Qe1 fxe4 10. dxe4 Be6 11. Nd5 Ne5 12. Nxe5

12…dxe5 It’s hard to imagine that this is prepared by Black. White has both the initiative and the pair of bishops, and it isn’t clear how Black plans to find compensation. Typically Black avoids the …gxf5 lines and plays e7–e6 before white can get in the traditional pawn push.

13. Bg5 Bxd5 14. exd5 Qd6 15. Qh4

15…Nxd5? Perhaps the losing move, Black takes away a defender from the king, and gives White even more play, now on the d–file. I think black could have tried b7–b5 here. The idea being that if white captures, Black plays … Qxd5 and tries to trade queens. Gelfand is still worse here, but it could have been an interesting try.

16. Rad1 e6

17. Rf6! White doesn’t bother with Bxd5 and the Be7 winning an exchange, Caruana already sees a win!

17…Qc7 The rook is poisoned, if the knight were to capture, the queen is lost, and if 17… Bxf6?? 18. Bxf6 and Black must give up his queen to avoid mate with 18… Nxf6 +-

18. Bxd5 exd5

19. Rd3 Another rook lift. Rather than trying to calculate sacrifices, Caruana doesn’t complicate anything by bringing in more pieces. Black can’t take the f6 rook, so there is plenty of time to improve the position.

19…Rfd8 20. Bh6 Bxh6 21. Qxh6 e4 22. Rg3+ 1-0

Caruana beat Gelfand fairly handily there, as the f4–f5 push seemed to throw Gelfand off-guard. White developed fairly easily out of the opening, and like the last game, expanded his kingside by attacking the f5 square. Once Caruana was much better, he just continued to improve his pieces while limiting his opponent. After 8…gxf5, Gelfand never found a way to get back into the game.

This last game is a little more recent, from the 2013 London Chess Classic against Emil Sutovsky.

Caruana – Sutovsky (2013)

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bf4 d6 4. h3 c5 5. dxc5 Qa5+ 6. Qd2 Qxc5 7. Nc3 Bf5 8. Nd4 Ne4 9. Nxe4 Bxe4

10. f3 After a slightly unorthodox method of combating the London System, this move accomplishes exactly what White wants. Caruana will follow this with an immediate e2–e4, where his f1 bishop will be better than Black’s light squared bishop.

Bc6 11. e4

11…e5 Black forks the pieces, but there is no worry for Caruana.

12. Be3 exd4 13. Bxd4 Bh6 14. Qf2 Qa5+ 15. Bc3 Qd8 16. Bxh8 f6

17. Qh4! The critical follow–up. Caruana punishes Black’s attempt to trap the White bishop. A key idea in chess is that you should not move pawns for short term plans, because every time you move a pawn, you create a weakness. Here the weakness is h4, because the Black queen is cut off.

17…Bg5 18. Qxh7 Qa5+

19. c3 White’s king seems weak in the center, but Black’s pieces are not well coordinated to put anything together.

19..Nd7 20. Qxg6+ Ke7 21. h4 Be3 22. Bxf6+ Nxf6 23. Qg7+ Ke6

24. g3 Threatening Bh3+! If the opponent’s king is in the center, you must attack it!


25. Kd2 Capturing the bishop allows Black some counter play with …Qb6+ followed by …Qxb2, while it may not be winning, Caruana’s logic is just to eliminate all initiative for Black.

25…Be3+ 26. Kc2 Bxe4+ 27. fxe4 Qa4+ 28. b3 Qxe4+

29. Kb2 Blocking with the bishop allows for Qg2+, so again Caruana chooses to eliminate all counter play for once and for all.

29…Qf3 30. Bh3+ 1-0 Black resigns because 30… Ke5 31. Qe7+ Kd5 32. Qxb7 is inevitable, and Black will lose the queen.

So in these three games, Caruana found ways to gain either a spacial or tactical advantage, either through fast pawn pushes or better piece placement. For the Italian, the key was to build upon his position by optimizing his pieces and eliminating his opponent’s play throughout the middle game.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!


2 thoughts on “Winning Play from Italian Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana

  1. Pingback: The Magical Tactical Mikhail Tal | chess^summit

  2. Pingback: Attack of the Youngsters: Benjamin Bok – chess^summit

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