Showdown in STL: World class Basque Chess

by Albert Silver
11/13/2015 – The first day of the very exotic exhibition matches in St. Louis began with elite level Basque Chess. Basque chess is when two players play two games against each other at the exact same time, one with white, the other with black. In the top pairing between Nakamura and Caruana, there were great games that ended sadly in draws. On the other hand, Negi handed Hou two defeats.

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Basque chess

Nakamura vs. Caruana

What could be better than the two top American players, both Top 10, playing a game of
chess? The answer is two games at the same time! That's what Basque Chess is.

The Basque chess games started with some exciting developments. It is difficult to juggle two games of chess at the same time, especially against such strong opposition. In the Nakamura vs. Caruana game, Nakamura, the number one player in America, essayed the Trompowsky opening; however, it was not successful at all. Fabi gained a big initiative with the black pieces with a timely break in the center. This left Hikaru’s dark squares in a shambles, his king weak and his position in serious danger. In an uncharacteristic sequence, Fabiano let go of most of his advantage by playing relatively meek chess. An aggressive approach would have given him a massive advantage. Hikaru regained control of the position, simplified some pieces, and headed towards a draw.

[Event "Showdown St. Louis 2015-Basque"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2015.11.12"] [Round "1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A45"] [WhiteElo "2793"] [BlackElo "2787"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 {The Trompowsky! A rare guest in GM games.} e6 3. e4 h6 4. Bxf6 Qxf6 5. Nc3 Bb4 6. Qd2 d6 7. a3 Ba5 8. Nge2 Nc6 {This is probably why the Trompowsky is a rare gues in GM games. I like Black already, he has the pair of bishops and White's central position doesn't impress me to the point where it would be compensation.} 9. Rd1 O-O 10. f4 e5 $1 {A very standard break on the center. White's position is underdeveloped and his dark squares are going to suffer without his bishop of that square.} 11. dxe5 dxe5 12. b4 Bb6 13. f5 Ne7 $2 {This was definitely not the way to punish White's play.} (13... Rd8 $1 14. Nd5 Qh4+ 15. Ng3 Nd4 $1 {with a big, big initiative all over the board.}) 14. Na4 Qh4+ 15. Ng3 g6 16. fxg6 Nxg6 (16... fxg6 $15 {made much more sense, opening the f-file and making it difficult for White to castle.}) 17. Be2 Nf4 18. Bf3 Be6 (18... Qg5 $1 19. Nxb6 axb6 20. Qc3 h5 $1 {with an initiative.}) 19. Nxb6 cxb6 20. O-O Qg5 21. Kh1 Rfd8 22. Qf2 Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Ng6 24. Nf1 Rd8 { Black exchanges rooks, good enough for equality but he is no longer thinking of an advantage.} 25. Rxd8+ Qxd8 26. Qd2 Qxd2 27. Nxd2 Ne7 28. Kg1 Nc8 29. Kf2 Nd6 30. Be2 f6 31. Bd3 Kf7 32. Ke3 {It's impossible for either side to make any real progress here.} Ke7 33. h3 Kf7 34. c4 Ke7 35. Be2 Nf7 36. Nf1 Nd6 37. Nd2 Nf7 38. Nf1 Nd6 39. Nd2 1/2-1/2

One of the curiosities of Basque chess is that more often than not, the players are on different
boards since when it is their turn on one board, it is usually the turn of their rival on the other

In Caruana vs. Nakamura, it was the black side that went on the aggression with an early Nh4 and f5 ripping apart the kingside. It is likely that this was not very well founded positionally, and Hikaru’s position was questionable. Just when it seemed that things were going south for him, he found a fantastic resource with e4!? sacrificing a full pawn simply to activate his pieces. Caruana did not react in the best way, and Black even had chances to gain an advantage at a critical juncture. Hikaru’s materialistic approach was almost punished when his weak king saw itself in danger, but Fabiano’s moves were not accurate enough, and he had to content himself with a draw by perpetual check.

[Event "Showdown St. Louis 2015-Basque"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2015.11.12"] [Round "1"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "2793"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d3 g6 6. h3 Bg7 7. Nc3 Nd7 8. Be3 b6 (8... e5 {immediately is definitely more common. Black sometimes doesn't play b6 at all, but Hikaru has his own idea.}) 9. Qd2 h6 10. O-O e5 11. Nh2 {Black has trouble here if he plays his usual Nf8-e6 plan. White would be too fast with f4, and overall Black's position would be uncomfortable. Hikaru stops this on its tracks, even though it looks strategically unsound.} g5 12. Ne2 Nf8 13. Ng3 {targetting the weak light squares, of course.} Ng6 14. a3 { With the kingside locked up, Fabiano naturally focuses his attention on a queenside break.} O-O 15. b4 cxb4 16. axb4 Nh4 $5 {Perhaps the objective of this idea with Nh4 and f5 is dubious, but it is the type of complications that Hikaru always manages to inject into positions that he feels are turning slightly worse.} (16... Nf4 17. Ra3 $14) 17. f3 (17. Nh5 $1 f5 18. Qc3 $1 { would have put Hikaru's idea into question.}) 17... f5 18. exf5 Nxf5 19. Nxf5 Bxf5 20. Ra6 Qe7 21. Ng4 {Trying to get to e4, cementing a strong positional advantage for White clamping down on the center and kingside.} e4 $5 {What a move! Beautiful positional understanding from America's #1. The pawn sacrifice allows Black's bishops to breathe and discoordinates White's pieces.} 22. dxe4 (22. fxe4 Bxg4 23. Rxf8+ Rxf8 24. hxg4 Qd7 (24... Rf7 {gives Black some compensation for the pawn.}) 25. d4 $1 Qxg4 26. e5 $1 {with an advantage.}) 22... Rfd8 23. Qe1 (23. Qe2 {was perhaps a little better.}) 23... Be6 24. Ra3 Bc4 25. Rf2 h5 26. Nh2 {White has been pushed back significantly.} Bb2 (26... a5 $1 {This would have been a very nice tactical blow} 27. Bxb6 {what else?} Qxb4 28. Qxb4 {forced} axb4 29. Rxa8 Rxa8 {and Black's monstrous bishops give him enough activity for an advantage, even with the pawn deficit.}) 27. Ra4 Qe5 28. Nf1 $1 {White's rook is trapped but he understands the need to activate his pieces} Qb5 29. Ra1 $1 Bxa1 30. Qxa1 Bxf1 31. Rxf1 Rd6 {Now it is White's activity that more than compensates for the material disadvantage. Black is too exposed on the kingside.} 32. Qa2+ Kg7 33. Qb2+ (33. f4 $1 {was much stronger, ripping apart the kingside and making Hikaru's king very nervous.} Qe2 34. Qa1+ Kh7 35. Re1 $1 $16) 33... Kh7 34. Ra1 a6 35. Rc1 {with a not very subtle threat of c4.} (35. c4 Qxc4 36. Bxb6 $14 {still kept some edge.}) 35... Qe2 $1 36. Qb3 Rg8 37. Qf7+ {Now a perpetual finishes the game.} Rg7 38. Qf5+ Kg8 39. Qc8+ Kh7 40. Qf5+ Kg8 41. Bxg5 Rd2 42. Qe6+ Kh7 43. Qh6+ Kg8 44. Qe6+ Kh7 1/2-1/2

Hou Yifan vs. Parimarjan Negi

Hou Yifan brings a nice gender balance to the fun event. The no. 1 woman is actually higher
rated than her Top 100 opponent, Parimarjan Negi.

Excellent play today from the young player from India! In his game with white, Negi showed excellent mastery of the Dragon positions despite Hou Yifan’s early deviation with a strange but interesting Re8. Negi simply rammed his h-pawn down the board and created real problems for his opponent. The game was very complicated, but perhaps the crucial mistake came with the move 20...Nd5. After White castled, Black’s bishop on h5 was too weak, and that spelled disaster.

[Event "Showdown St. Louis 2015-Basque"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2015.11.12"] [Round "1"] [White "Negi, Parimarjan"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2664"] [BlackElo "2683"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 Re8 $5 {Taking a page from Vitiugov's book, who used it against Leko last year, who in turn probably got it from a bizarre experiment by Zvjaginsev. The move is strange, but it does preper e6 and d5 and it might not be so bad.} 9. h4 $5 Qa5 (9... e6 $5 10. h5 d5 $5 {would be crazy.}) 10. h5 $5 {Going for it} Nxe4 (10... Nxh5 11. Nf5 $5 {is one of several tempting possibilities.}) 11. hxg6 hxg6 12. Qf3 d5 $5 (12... Nf6 13. O-O-O {looks too optimistic. White has too much initiative on the h-file.}) 13. Bxd5 Nf6 {the tempo is rather important!} 14. Bb3 (14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Bxc6 Rb8 16. Bxe8 Rxb2 {is just crazy. Negi didn't feel like getting into this probably.}) 14... Bg4 (14... Nxd4 15. Bxd4 e5 16. Be3 e4 $13) 15. Qg3 Rad8 16. Nxc6 bxc6 17. Rh4 Bh5 18. Ra4 $1 { Taking advantage of that weak a7 pawn.} Qf5 19. f3 e6 20. Qf2 Nd5 $6 (20... g5 21. g4 Bxg4 22. fxg4 Nxg4 {is a weird position.}) 21. Nxd5 exd5 22. O-O-O { White's position is superior now. Black's bishop on h5 is in serious danger.} d4 23. Bd2 g5 24. g4 $1 {Very nicely timed!} Bxg4 25. Rxa7 {It's amazing how this rook, originally attacking the kingside from h1, is now attacking the kingside from a7!} Rf8 26. Rg1 Qxf3 27. Qxf3 Bxf3 28. Bxg5 {there are too many threats agains the kingside.} Rde8 29. Bf6 Re1+ 30. Rxe1 Bxf6 31. Rf1 Bg5+ 32. Kb1 Bd5 33. Bxd5 cxd5 34. a4 Be3 35. Rd7 f5 36. a5 1-0

It wasn't the best start for the world no. 1 female

In her game with white, Yifan was simply too optimistic. An exchange sacrifice by Negi was met with a countersacrifice of a full piece, leaving the material balance two pieces vs. a rook. White’s a-pawn was simply not enough, and slowly but surely Negi took over the initiative and his extra material won him the game. Negi is the clear leader with 2-0!

[Event "Showdown St. Louis 2015-Basque"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2015.11.12"] [Round "1"] [White "Hou, Yifan"] [Black "Negi, Parimarjan"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2683"] [BlackElo "2664"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. c4 e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nf3 a6 {One of the more ambitious set ups against the Catalan. Black will take on c4 and keep the pawn in these variations.} 5. d4 dxc4 6. O-O Nc6 7. Nbd2 b5 $5 {A typical idea in these positions, sacrificing the exchange but keeping the strong pawn majority on the queenside.} 8. Ne5 Nxe5 9. Bxa8 Qxd4 10. a4 Qa7 11. Bg2 Bb7 $1 {A nice move. Black can ignore the a4 threat and continue his development.} 12. axb5 Bxg2 13. Qa4 $5 {Changing the character of the game!} (13. Kxg2 Qb7+ 14. Nf3 axb5 {looks a bit more pleasant for Black.}) 13... Qa8 14. Qxa6 Qxa6 15. bxa6 Ba8 {Unfortunately for Yifan it is unlikely that this sacrifice works. Black's pieces coordinate too well and the a-pawn isn't goin anywhere.} 16. Ra4 Bd6 17. Nxc4 Nxc4 18. Rxc4 Kd7 19. f3 Bd5 (19... Bc6 $1) 20. Ra4 Bc6 21. Ra5 Bb4 22. Rd1+ Ke7 23. Ra1 Ra8 24. Kf1 Bb5 25. a7 Bc5 26. Bf4 Nd5 27. Ra5 c6 28. Bd2 Rxa7 {Black collects the pawn, and the rest is just suffering.} 29. Rxa7+ Bxa7 30. Ke1 Bc5 31. Ra1 Ne3 32. Rc1 Bb6 33. Bb4+ Kd7 34. b3 e5 35. Bc5 Bxc5 36. Rxc5 Kd6 37. Rc1 f5 38. Kd2 f4 39. gxf4 exf4 40. Rg1 g6 41. Rg5 Nf5 42. Rg4 Ke5 43. h4 Nd4 44. Rg5+ Kf6 45. b4 Nxe2 46. Ke1 Nc3 0-1

Parimarjan Negi (right) is the second youngest grandmaster in history

Text by Nicole Halpin / Photos by Austin Fuller

Vote for the starting positions

The @CCSCSL Twitter account is running a promotion/poll on Twitter where followers may vote for the starting positions—selected by Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63), of all four games of Fischer Random Chess during Showdown in St. Louis (#STLShowdown). These games will be played on Friday Nov. 13th @ 1pm.

There is a 5-minute video that will be posted to & where Garry fully explains the positions and why they were chosen. In addition, there are individual clips of each voting segment, that will be posted on Facebook to drive viewers to Twitter.

Here are the scheduled polling times, along with the options:

Game 1 Voting: Nov. 12 from 8am to Noon CST

Position 1


Position 2

Game 2 Voting: Nov. 12 from Noon - 4pm CST

Position 3


Position 4

Game 3 Voting: Nov. 12 from 4pm - 8pm CST

Position 5


Position 6

Game 4 Voting: Nov. 13 from 8am - Noon CST

Position 7


Position 8

The voting results will be revealed at the beginning of the games on Friday, and on Twitter. Everyone is encouraged to have fun with this! Please vote, retweet, and use the above-mentioned @tags and #tags.

Vote at the St Louis Chess Club Twitter channel

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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