Three of the world’s top six players play for the United States, giving it a good chance to recapture the World Championship.

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The United States may be on the verge of complete chess supremacy, with not only the best team in the world but quite possibly the next world champion.

Last September, the United States won the team gold medal at the Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. It was the first time that the United States had been the top team in the biennial competition since 1976, a year in which the Soviet Union and some Eastern Bloc countries boycotted. And before that, the last time that the United States won was in 1937, before the Soviet Union had developed its assembly-line program to churn out the best players in the world.

The victorious United States team was led by a trio of stars – Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, who all rank in the top six in the world. The three of them pose a real threat to dethrone Magnus Carlsen, the reigning champion, and to bring the world championship title back to the United States for the first time since Bobby Fischer captured it in 1972.

Nakamura, 29, who is ranked No. 6, won the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, one of the world’s strongest open tournaments, last Thursday. It was his third consecutive Gibraltar title – an unprecedented run. Though Nakamura’s overall record against Carlsen is not impressive in classical, or slow, chess – 12 losses with one win and 19 draws– Nakamura has done better the last few times he has faced him, including notching his only win last year in the Bilbao Masters. Nakamura thrives in complicated positions, as, for example, in his last round against Romain Edouard of France in Gibraltar.

Romain Edouard vs. Hikaru Nakamura
Tradewise Gibraltar | Catalan Bay GIB | Round 10.3 | 28 Jan 2017 | 0-1
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 The Nimzo-Indian Defense.
4. Nf3 O-O 5. Bg5 5.e3 would be safer, particularly against a player like Nakamura.
5... c5 6. Rc1 Once again, e3 was safer.
6... h6 7. Bh4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 d5 Not surprisingly, with White's king still in the center, Nakamura wants to open up the center as quickly as possible.
9. e3 Ironically, this time, 9.cd5 would have been the wiser choice.
9... e5 10. Nf3 d4 Black already has the initiative.
11. exd4 exd4 12. Nxd4 12.Qd4, trying to exchange queens would have been the wiser move.
12... Qb6 13. Nf3 The knight moves to f3 for the third time in the first 13 moves -- a sure sign that there is something wrong.
13... Rd8 14. Qc2 g5 The pin must be broken. The damage to Black's kingside pawn structure does not matter as much as being sure that all the Black pieces can participate in the attack.
15. Bg3 Nc6 No need to rush; Black continues to develop.
16. Bd3 g4 Black must disrupt White's pieces before he has time to castle.
17. Nh4 Bf8 18. Qb1 Re8+ 19. Kf1 Be6 White's extra pawn gives him some compensation, but his pieces are awkwardly placed.
20. h3? An error: 20.Nf5, bringing the knight back toward the center, was better.
20... Nh5 21. Ne4 Nxg3+ 22. Nxg3 Rad8 23. hxg4 Ne5 Black has the initiative and his pieces are posed to strike; White is in trouble.
24. Be2 Bxg4!? Not the most accurate; 24... Bc4 was the right way to go.
25. Bxg4 Returning the favor. After 25.f3 followed by 26.Nhf5, White would be creating problems for Black.
25... Nxg4 Now Black has a huge edge.
26. Qc2 Bb4 27. c5 Qa6+ 28. Kg1 Be1 Not the most accurate. After 28... Re1 29.Re1 Be1, everything falls.
29. Rh3 Bxf2+ 30. Kh1 Re1+ 31. Rxe1 Bxe1 The rest is just mop up.
32. Nf3 Nf2+ 33. Kh2 Nxh3 34. Nxe1 Ng5 35. Qc3 Qg6 White throws in the towel as he really has no hope.

Caruana, 24, has actually struggled a bit recently, though he remains No. 3 in the world. He has the record for the third-highest rating ever (after Carlsen and Garry Kasparov, the former world champion), which he achieved in 2014 after he had one of the greatest performances ever at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. That victory, which shows that he can go on streaks where he is unbeatable, coupled with his overall consistency, would make him a threat in any match.

So, 23, and ranked No. 2, may be the biggest threat, and not just because of his ranking. He has been on an unbelievable tear in recent months, winning the Sinquefield Cup, the London Classic and, last week, the Tata Steel Chess Tournament. Those are three of the biggest tournaments of the year. While Carlsen did not play in the first two tournaments, as he was preparing for his world championship match in New York last November, which he won, he did play in Tata Steel and finished in second, a full point behind So.

So has not just been winning, he has also not been losing – he currently has a 56-game unbeaten streak. During the streak, in which he has rarely been threatened, So has shown that he has a universal style. He has won games by blowing his opponents off the board, and with subtle positional masterpieces, where it is hard to see exactly what his opponents did wrong. Should he make his way through the cycle to become the challenger, Carlsen would clearly have to be concerned. 

Wesley So vs. Radoslaw Wojtaszek
Tata Steel | 0:38:33-0:14:33 | Round 10 | 25 Jan 2017 | 1-0
1. c4 The English opening can transpose to many other openings, so it is quite flexible.
1... Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 d5 4. d4 By transposition, the opening has become a Catalan.
4... Be7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. Qc2 A bit unusual and not thought to be best. White generally just castles.
6... c5 The most natural move. Black attacks the White center now that the queen is no longer defending the d-pawn. This position is thought to be quite reasonable for Black.
7. O-O Nc6 8. dxc5 d4 Black can win the c-pawn at his leisure.
9. a3 a5 10. Rd1 e5 A slight inaccuracy. It is natural that Black wants to reinforce the d-pawn, but taking on c5 with the bishop was the better way to do it.
11. Nc3 Now Black must take the c-pawn or he will have problems after Na4.
11... Bxc5 12. Nd5!? The knight cannot be taken and is quite annoying on d5.
12... h6 12... Nd5? 13.cd5 Qd5 14.Ng5, and Black will not survive long.
13. Bd2 With the idea of playing b4.
13... a4 14. Bb4 Nxb4 15. axb4 Nxd5 16. bxc5 Nb4 17. Qd2 Nc6 All the preceding exchanges made sense and Black seems fine.
18. b4! A nice move. White gets his pawns rolling by taking advantage of the pin along the a-file. He also threatens to attack the knight defending the e-pawn.
18... Qe7 19. Qb2 Bg4 20. Re1 Rfd8? A mistake for a very subtle reason: It allows White to organize a blockade of Black's center pawns. Instead, 20... Be6 was better.
21. Nd2 Be6 22. b5 Nb8 23. Qb4 White has made no extraordinary moves, but Black's position has become difficult.
23... f5 24. Nb3 Once again taking advantage of that pin along the a-file.
24... Nd7? Another mistake, but even the computer's suggestion of 24... a3 offers little relief.
25. Bxb7 Rab8 26. Rxa4 And just like that White is up a pawn. The rest was rather simple.
26... Rxb7 27. c6 Qxb4 28. Rxb4 Rc7 29. cxd7 Rxc4 30. Rxc4 Bxc4 It seems that Black will be able to restore material equality, but...
31. Rc1! Be6 The only move.
32. Rc8!? Good enough: 32.b5 was better.
32... Rxc8 33. dxc8=Q+ Bxc8 34. b6 And Black resigned as there is nothing he can do to stop Nc5 and b7, winning his bishop, after which the endgame would be trivially easy to win.
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Wesley So
Tata Steel | 0:09:33-0:43:33 | Round 11 | 29 Jan 2017 | 0-1
1. d4 It was the last round and a win would guarantee So first place. A draw would probably, too.
1... Nf6 2. Bg5 The Trompowsky. Not a very popular opening as it is thought to give Black several good ways to equalize.
2... d5 3. Nd2 A sideline, even in the Trompowsky. The drawback of the move becomes immediately apparent after Black's reply.
3... c5! Hitting White's d-pawn, which is undefended.
4. dxc5 e6 5. e4 h6 6. Bh4 dxe4 6... Bc5 was also fine.
7. Qe2 Qa5 8. O-O-O? This is just crazy. White does not have enough of an initiative to justify this move.
8... Qxa2 9. Qb5+ Practically losing. White essentially helps Black develop. 9.Bxf6 made more sense.
9... Nbd7 10. c6 White is halucinating.
10... bxc6 11. Qxc6 Bb7! Of course. White is already dead lost. The rest is just a massacre.
12. Qxb7 Qa1+ 13. Nb1 Rb8 14. Qxb8+ Nxb8 15. Bb5+ Nfd7 16. Ne2 Be7?! After 16... g5 17. Bg3 Bg7, White would be in deep trouble.
17. Bxe7 Kxe7 18. Nd4 Nc5 19. h4 Rd8 20. Rh3 Nd3+! A nice finesse.
21. Bxd3 Rxd4 22. Be2 Rxd1+ 23. Bxd1 Qa5 24. Nd2 f5 25. Rg3 Qe5 26. Ra3 Nc6 27. g3 Qd4 28. Re3 Nb4 White had seen enough; his position is absolutely hopeless.


Dylan Loeb McClain is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He was a staff editor for The New York Times for 18 years and wrote the paper’s chess column from 2006 to 2014. He is now editor-in-chief of He is a FIDE master as well.