Throwback Thursday: Caruana scores seven wins in a row

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/25/2021 – In a mind-boggling performance, Fabiano Caruana won the second edition of the Sinquefield Cup after scoring victories in his first seven games and obtaining a stratospheric Tournament Performance Rating. The six-player field had an average Elo rating of 2802 and included world champion Magnus Carlsen. | Photos: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Mind-boggling

A year before transferring back to the United States, Fabiano Caruana achieved what has been the strongest performance in his career and one of the most incredible feats in the history of competitive chess. At 22, he obtained a stratospheric 3103 Tournament Rating Performance by scoring 8½/10 points in the second edition of the Sinquefield Cup. Moreover, he did it by winning his first seven games consecutively.

Fabiano CaruanaThe achievement reached mainstream media, with Seth Stevenson writing for Slate

To you and me, going unbeaten and undrawn in five straight tournament games sounds impressive. But to chess aficionados, Caruana’s performance is nigh on miraculous. Caruana wasn’t merely avoiding draws and losses. In the words of one commentator, he was “spanking” his opponents.

Back then, the Sinquefield Cup had just been organized once before — as a 4-player double round robin facing the two strongest American grandmasters (Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky) against the two highest-rated players in the world (Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian). Carlsen won that first edition convincingly and returned as the favourite in 2014. All three 2800+ rated players in the world (Carlsen, Caruana and Aronian) were joined by Nakamura, Veselin Topalov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a tournament with an average Elo rating of 2801.7!

After beating every single opponent in the first half of the double round robin, Caruana defeated Topalov and MVL in rounds 6 and 7, before Carlsen put an end to the winning streak in round 8. That half point was enough for Caruana to secure tournament victory with two rounds to go.

Caruana’s performance gained him 43 rating points, which gave him his highest-ever official rating of 2844 (he was ‘only’ 19 points shy of Carlsen’s rating in the October 2014 list). Soon after, the young man from Miami would transfer back to represent the United States thanks to major efforts made by Rex Sinquefield— Stevenson wrote about the chess maecenas:

I glanced over to my left and saw a man sitting alone. It was Rex Sinquefield. [...] I suddenly realized that he’d created this institution, funded this tournament, flown these grandmasters here and housed them, out of the purest, simplest love imaginable. He may not have lured droves of spectators to the event, and may not have reignited the world’s love affair with chess. But for two weeks at least, he helped the world’s most storied game flourish as it once had, with dedicated fans witnessing an incandescent burst of greatness that seemed to come from nowhere.

Since then, Caruana moved to Saint Louis, won the 2016 US Chess Championship and represented the US on board one at the 42nd Chess Olympiad, winning team gold and individual bronze — we could say that his astounding triumph in 2014 was somewhat prophetic.

Fabiano Caruana did not hesitate to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge

Rounds 1-3: Two blacks and a win over the champ

Caruana kicked off the tournament playing with the black pieces, and obtained a ‘correct’ win over Topalov after the latter did not play as quietly as the position demanded. The strong start was followed by a win with white over Vachier-Lagrave — this time around it was Caruana’s excellent home preparation which gave him the win.

The toughest task of all awaited the 22-year-old in round 3, as he had black against Carlsen. In a flashy game, sacrifices were made by both players, but Caruana ended up on top.

Replay Caruana’s games from rounds 1-3 with analyses by GMs Ben Finegold, Alejandro Ramirez and Varuzhan Akobian.

 

Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana

Carlsen kept his title in a World Championship match against Caruana 4 years later

Rounds 4-7: Unstoppable

Aronian was the next victim, as Caruana played a strong novelty and a correct sacrifice to get the better of the Armenian. The next victory was not as impressive — for the first time in the tournament, Caruana erred, but Nakamura did not make the most of his opponent’s mistake and lost a hard-fought 67-move encounter.

Caruana had defeated all his opponents in the first half, but that did not prevent him from playing for a win in rounds 6 and 7. Vachier-Lagrave stated, after his second loss against the same rival:

He’s not making a mistake. I’ve never seen this. I’ve never even seen Carlsen play so well.

Replay Caruana’s games from rounds 4-7 with analyses by GMs Finegold, Ramirez and Akobian.

 

Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana

Hikaru Nakamura could have stopped the winning streak in round 5

Rounds 8-10: Drawing his way to victory

A draw in round 8 against Carlsen was enough to clinch tournament victory, although Caruana could have made it 8-0 had he made the most of his chances from the superior position he got out of an Accelerated Dragon!

Caruana was also better against Nakamura in round 9, while he did not get much — but was never in trouble — against Aronian in the final game of a memorable tournament.

 

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana


Final standings


All games - Sinquefield Cup 2014

 

Links


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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