Over the course of this year Fabiano Caruana has scored splendidly in tournaments with classical time limits, notching up first prizes in the Berlin Candidates tournament, Baden Baden and Stavanger. The first of these triumphs qualified him to contest the World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen, the title holder, in London in November. In the second and third Caruana finished ahead of Carlsen himself on both occasions. Nevertheless, the worm in the fruit was that Caruana had to fight to the death with the white pieces to save himself against Carlsen at Baden Baden while in Stavanger Caruana actually lost his individual clash with the world champion, recovering brilliantly to take the overall laurels. Where Caruana has slipped up is in quickplay events. In the first leg of this year’s Grand Chess Tour Wesley So won the rapidplay section while Sergei Karjakin came out on top of the blitz. Caruana failed miserably on both occasions, and it has become clear that his most serious weakness is to be found in games played at non-classical time limits. As far as the World Championship match is concerned, Caruana’s Achilles heel would only become apparent were there to be a rapidplay play-off in the event of a tie in the main match. As it is, I fully expect Carlsen to wrap up the match in his favour well before any tie-breaks might be instituted, hence Caruana’s main failing will probably have little bearing on the destination of the title. This week some examples of Caruana’s catastrophes from Leuven.
Caruana–Karjakin; Leuven Blitz 2018
Although White is a pawn up and threatens Ne7+, his own king is very exposed. 44 ... Re5 Karjakin ignores the threat. He is more interested in getting at White’s vulnerable king. 45 Ne7+ Rdxe7 46 fxe7 Qxe7 47 Rd8+ Caruana tries to play aggressively but the circumspect 47 Rg4 was more to the point. After 47 ... Rxg5 48 Rf2 White’s king is well protected by the major pieces and he should not lose. 47 ... Kh7 48 R8d7 Qxg5+ 49 Kh2 Qh4+ 50 Qh3 Qf4+ 51 Kg2 Rg5+ 52 Kh1 Kg7 White has no threats and now his king is catastrophically exposed. 53 Qc3+ Nf6 54 R7d3 White resigns
Aronian–Caruana; Leuven Blitz 2018
Black is the exchange down and cannot play 15 ... Rxb7 16 Bxb7 Qxb7 as the reply 17 Qd6+ and Rab1 wins at once. However, after the extremely logical and obvious 15 ... Bb5 16 Re1 Nd5, Black is well in the game as the white knight is trapped. Instead Caruana lost a fatal tempo and suffered an immediate rout. 15 ... Ke7? 16 Rb1 Bb5 17 Re1 Nbd7 18 Qc1 Nd5 19 Qa3+ Kf6 20 Bxd5 exd5 21 Rxb5 Black resigns