“I think I have decent chances”

Fabiano Caruana is optimistic going into the final day

After a long and dramatic second day of the semifinals, Fabiano Caruana started his final of the WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge with a relatively quick draw against Magnus Carlsen. We spoke to him about the game, about his high heart rate during yesterday’s playoff, and more.

Fabiano, how did the first classical game of the final go for you?

Well, I think I never had anything and I was even getting a little bit outplayed and a little bit worse, I think at some point. So I realized my position is dangerous, that’s why I traded everything off, 16.Nxb6, 17.Bxe6, just to get to safety.  And I think it’s very safe. I realized that with my queen on c3, basically, there’s never a mate. The queen defends everything. And yeah, I was already happy to be playing an equal position rather than… I thought there was a great deal of strategic risk because his pieces are just better than mine, my knight on f3 is misplaced, my king is potentially more vulnerable.

I think the mistake I made was that I assumed that because he can’t castle so easily that he would have some long-term difficulties with his king, but his king is very stable on b8 where it stands and I don’t have targets. I thought that maybe tactically I would be able to find some way to disturb him but it wasn’t really the case.

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How was the difficulty level of this starting position maybe compared to some others here?

Well, I think we misevaluated it. I was analyzing again with Vincent and with Nodirbek and we missed …d6, which Magnus found. 1.d4 g6 2.Nf3 followed by e4, and we thought Black would try to get the center with like d5 or f5 as I think Ding played f5 five early on, but d6 and e5 is just so so solid that I’m pretty much obligated to trade on e5, otherwise I might just get worse. And after that, the position is pretty sterile. I mean, it’s still kind of double edged because the piece placement is so unusual and especially the queen on h1 is really misplaced. So this was the main difficulty, trying to get that queen out, and that’s why, for example, I can’t castle short so easily because my queen just gets stuck on h1.  But castling long, I didn’t really want to do it. I thought there is some long-term danger with my king there, but I didn’t also want to trap my queen on h1.

You and Magnus are actually the top rated players in classical; how do you think the situation is in this game?

Well, it’s difficult to say, of course, I think the final could have been anyone at some point. I mean, I was definitely losing the match to Levon and had to come back. Also Magnus was losing the match against Alireza. So we could have seen, let’s say, an Alireza-Levon match or Nodirbek against Levon, something like this could have easily happened, but I guess that we’ve shown consistency, somewhat, not all the time but at the critical moments, we’ve probably been the most consistent.

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Aronian and Caruana after their grueling semifinal yesterday. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Yeah, let’s talk a bit more about yesterday. One thing, for example was that in the playoff game where you dropped the rook on b7, your heart, heart rate was up to 170 I don’t know your base heart rate, but you were pretty intense I guess I right there?

Yeah, I don’t reach this during exercise, even in pretty intense exercise I don’t reach such a high heart rate but I guess the stress really elevates it. Maybe I get more stressed than other players, I’m not really sure, this is the first time that I’ve measured my heart rate during a chess game. I’ve checked it, let’s say when I’m not exactly resting, but when I’m, let’s say, sitting down and it usually bounces around 65 and 70 and then if I’m doing moderate cardio, maybe I’ll get to like 120 and then if I’m doing heavy cardio, probably 150 plus, but usually not getting all the way up to 170.

And are you noticing that too during the game or are you all immersed in the position?

No, I can feel it!

And, well, actually before your match, Levon said that, because of your curiosity and your willingness to calculate you have all the qualities to be a very good chess960 player. Do you agree with him?

I think Levon was just being nice! I’m not sure that I’m maybe so suited for it, but I haven’t done badly in the tournaments I’ve played. So I once played this Chess9LX event and I tied for first with Alireza and won the playoff, also in very shaky fashion but I managed to win. So, in some events I’ve been doing quite well. I think the chess skills just transfer pretty naturally, I mean, everyone is completely on their own and has no idea about the starting position. You see how many mistakes we’re making and, it’s not like anyone has some terrible positional feeling or some amazing positional feeling.

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Caruana (left) with his second, the Spanish grandmaster Miguel Santos Ruiz. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

I mean, even Magnus who we can definitely say has probably the best natural feel for where to put his pieces is struggling, because it’s so unusual and patterns don’t really carry over so much. And castling is, it’s not that like we understand, we’re aware that that how you castle, but still the pattern is so unusual that you can forget. One thing which I very often forget and I have to remind myself is that if I have a rook on d1 and let’s say Black has a king on c8 and a rook on a8, he can play long castle, rook to d8. It feels like he’s castling through check but but the king doesn’t pass over. So even in the game today, that was one pattern that I noticed and almost forgot about and it would have been very decisive in one small variation. So you always have to remind yourself of some things that are just either unusual or don’t happen at all in normal chess.

And to end with, especially because it’s a different type of game, just how do you see your chances tomorrow?

I think I have decent chances. To be honest, I’m also not too worried to go into faster time controls because I feel like my play has been maybe a bit better in the rapid than in the classical. I think against Levon in the first classical game, I got very severely outplayed from a decent position and in rapid, I feel like, besides hanging pieces, I’ve been doing pretty well. So if I avoid that small detail, then then maybe I have a good chance.

Peter Doggers

By Peter Doggers

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