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March 7, 2013

On his own terms: What is white’s best move?

— After two weeks of chess Italian-American Fabiano Caruana won the Zurich Chess Challenge on March 1. This is his greatest tournament success of his young career, as he placed ahead of several of the world’s best of the best, including the reigning world chess champion. This week’s position is from his game against Boris Gelfand of Israel.

Caruana is ahead a pawn, but Gelfand’s pieces are organized and pressuring white. Caruana found a tactical combination that simplifies the position and relieves this pressure. With this hint in min please try to find white’s best move.

Gelfand is inviting Caruana to immediately trade queens. This leads to lines with black owning the superior rook. Caruana accepted this invitation but on his own terms.

Caruana first checked white from e8 with his e4 rook. This forced Gelfand to take this rook with his c8 rook. Now Caruana traded queens on d6. After black’s knight took the white queen, Caruana’s c1 rook took black’s c7 rook.

In this line white’s rook is superior to black’s rook. Both sides’ queen-side pawns are vulnerable. This tactical simplification allowed Caruana to eventually nurse his one pawn advantage into a win.

This tournament victory vaulted Caruana back into the world’s top ten at number 7 in the world rankings. However, several of Caruana’s opponents may have been holding back because of the upcoming Challenger tournament at the end of March.

The Challenger tournament determines who will play against the reigning world champion for the world championship title later this year. This is an elite 8 player field based not only on rankings but on performance in major tournaments. This includes Gelfand but not Caruana, who at 20 is less than half Gelfand’s age. Even so, Caruana’s results in Zurich show that he’s sure to qualify next time.

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