The Baguio Variation

Font Size
Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Croatia Grand Chess Tour
Zagreb, Croatia
June 26-July 8, 2019

Final Standings

1. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2875, 8.0/11

2. Wesley So USA 2754, 7.0/11

3-4. Levon Aronian ARM 2752,

Fabiano Caruana USA 2819, 6.0/11

5-7. Anish Giri NED 2779, Ding Liren CHN 2805, Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2775, 5.5/11

8. Sergey Karjakin RUS 2748, 5.0/11

9-11. Viswanathan Anand IND 2767, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2774, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2779, 4.5/11

12. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2754, 4.0/11

Average Rating 2782 Category 22

Time Control: 130 minutes play-to-finish with 30-second delay before the clock starts on every move

Magnus Carlsen put on a great performance to win the Croatia leg of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour and Wesley So did very well himself to finish a strong second, but they were not the only ones playing some good chess. Today I will show you the game Caruana versus Nakamura, which was very interesting to me since it featured the Baguio Variation, played in game 21 of the Karpov versus Korchnoi world championship match in 1978 held in the Baguio Convention Center.

Starting 1957 all the world championship matches were held in Russia and the streak was broken in 1972 Reykjavik. The Baguio match was only the second one held outside Russia. It was also the first match with an unlimited number of games featuring the first-to-win-six games clause.

The bickering started almost immediately after the players landed in the Manila International Airport. Korchnoi, a recent defector from the USSR, wanted to play under the flag of Switzerland, but the Soviet representatives would not agree, citing FIDE regulations that he has not yet been a permanent Swiss resident there for at least 12 months. There was an impasse, broken finally when someone suggested to remove all flags from the table.

What music to play during the opening ceremonies? After a great deal of argument finally Korchnoi acquiesced to Beethoven’s 9th (Schiller’s Ode to Joy). He got his revenge though when the military band made a blunder and played “The Internationale” instead of the Soviet national anthem.

Then, during the match, there was the Ananda Marga issue — Korchnoi brought in two American members (Victoria Sheppard and Stephen Michael Dwyer) of the Indian-based Ananda Marga sect to help him concentrate. The problem was that these two were free on bail after being convicted of attempted murder. Karpov complained that the two “meditation experts” in bright-colored flowing robes were terrorists, and they bothered him immensely.

Then there was the Zoukhar issue. The Soviets brought him in as an expert in psychology and neurology to study the psychological conditions in the playing hall. Korchnoi took exception when he noticed that all Mr. Zoukhar did was sit in the front row and stare at him all throughout the game. He claimed that Zoukhar was a parapsychologist trying to affect his normal thoughts.

We can go on and on, let us concentrate on the chess.

The two players swapped wins in games 8 and 11 and Karpov then took a three-game lead with victories in games 13, 14 and 17. Korchnoi crawled back with a nice victory in game 21 (with the Baguio Variation) but then lost again in game 27. This was the 5th win for Karpov and he just needed another win to retain his world title. Betwixt the cup and the lip though, Korchnoi seemed to get second wind as he broke through with wins in games 28, 29 and 31 to tie the match. Karpov then won game 32 to retain his title.

Here is game 21 which is generally considered the best game in the whole match.

Korchnoi, Viktor Lvovich (2665) — Karpov, Anatoly (2725) [D37]
World-ch28 Karpov-Korchnoi +6–5=21 Baguio City (21), 12.09.1978

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.d4 Be7 5.Bf4 0–0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.Rd1 Qa5 10.a3 Re8 11.Nd2 e5 12.Bg5 Nd4 <D>


The Baguio Variation.


The knight cannot be taken: 13.exd4 exd4+ 14.Ne2 Ng4 with the deadly threat of …d4–d3. Black wins in all variations: 15.Bh4 (15.Qd3 dxc4 16.Qxc4 Ne5 17.Qb3 Bf5) 15…d3 16.Qxd3 Ne5 17.Qxd5 Bf5 etc…

13…Bf5 14.Bd3 e4 15.Bc2

Korchnoi’s move was good enough for a slight edge. With the benefit of modern computer chess engines we now know that best is 15.Bf1! giving up the queen for three pieces. After 15…Ng4 16.cxd5 Ne5 17.exd4 Nf3+ 18.gxf3 exf3+ 19.Be3 (19.Nde4 Bxe4 (19…Rxe4+ 20.Qxe4 Bxe4 21.dxc5 Re8 22.Bb5) 20.Qc1 Bxd5+ 21.Be3 and the extra piece should prevail) 19…Bxb1 20.Nc4! He just has too much for the queen, Black’s attack is petering out, and the passed pawn on d5 will be a monster. I emphasize that this was calculated by the chess engines as I doubt whether anyone can work this out over the board.

15…Nxc2+ 16.Qxc2 Qa6

A disappointment, but 16…d4 does not work: 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Nd5 d3 19.Qb3 White is at least equal.

17.Bxf6 Qxf6 18.Nb3! Bd6 19.Rxd5

Korchnoi has survived with an extra pawn to boot.

19…Re5 20.Nd4 Rc8 21.Rxe5 Qxe5 22.Nxf5 Qxf5 23.0–0

[23.Qxe4? Qxe4 24.Nxe4 Rxc4 25.Nc3 Bxa3! Black has recovered his lost pawn.]

23…Rxc4 24.Rd1! Qe5 25.g3 a6 26.Qb3 b5 27.a4 Rb4 28.Qd5 Qxd5 29.Rxd5 Bf8 30.axb5 a5 31.Rd8 Rxb2 32.Ra8 f5 33.Rxa5 Bb4 34.Ra8+ Kf7 35.Na4 Rb1+ 36.Kg2 Bd6 37.Ra7+ Kf6 38.b6 Bb8 39.Ra8 Be5 40.Nc5 Bd6 41.b7 Ke7 42.Rg8 Be5

[42…Kf7? 43.Rd8 loses at once]

43.f4! exf3+ 44.Kxf3 Kf7 45.Rc8 Ke7 46.h3 h5 47.Rg8 Kf7 48.Rd8 g5 49.g4! hxg4+ 50.hxg4 Ke7 51.Rg8 fxg4+ 52.Kxg4 Kf7 53.Rc8 Bd6 54.e4 Rg1+ 55.Kf5 g4 56.e5 Rf1+ 57.Ke4 Re1+ 58.Kd5 Rd1+ 59.Nd3! Rxd3+ 60.Kc4 1–0

Now that I have sufficiently whetted your appetite, please allow me to present the Caruana-Nakamura game from Zagreb.

Caruana, Fabiano (2819) — Nakamura, Hikaru (2754) [D37]
Croatia Grand Chess Tour (1.2), 26.06.2019

In the first round in Zagreb Caruana struck hard against his compatriot Hikaru Nakamura. He came up with a very sharp novelty on the 19th (1) move with 19.Qf5 followed by 20.h4 and really went for broke.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0–0 6.e3 c5

Nakamura used to specialize in the Black side of the 6…Nbd7 7.c5 but lately has been dabbling in this more open lines of the Baguio Variation.

7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.a3 Nc6 9.Qc2 Qa5 10.Rd1

The last word hasn’t been spoken yet on 10.0–0–0. We discussed this many columns ago and used the following game to illustrate its dangers: 10…Be7 11.g4 Rd8 12.h3 a6 13.Nd2 e5 14.g5 Ne8 15.Nb3 Qb6 16.Nxd5 Rxd5 17.cxd5 exf4 18.dxc6 fxe3 19.fxe3 Bxg5 20.Kb1 bxc6 21.Bc4 Ra7 22.Rhf1 Bf6 23.Qe4 Kf8 24.Qxh7 g6 25.e4 c5 26.e5 Bg7 27.e6 1–0 (27) Speelman, J (2645)-Short, N (2665) London 1988.

10…Re8 11.Nd2 e5 12.Bg5 Nd4!? 13.Qb1 Bf5 14.Bd3 Bxd3 15.Qxd3 Ne4

White has to choose between 16.Ncxe4 16.cxd5, Ndxe4 and 16.Nxd5. All of them are playable.

16.Nxd5 Nxg5 17.b4

[17.exd4 Bxd4 18.b4 Qd8 19.Qb3 Ne6 20.0–0 Nc7 21.Ne3 Qf6 22.c5 b6 23.Ne4 Qe6 24.Qxe6 Rxe6 25.Nf5 bxc5 26.Nxc5 Bxc5 27.bxc5 Na6 28.Rd5 g6 29.Nd6 Rd8 30.Rfd1 Nxc5 31.Nxf7 Rxd5 32.Rxd5 Kxf7 33.Rxc5 draw. Mamedyarov, S (2809)-Nakamura, H (2787) Moscow 2018]

17…Qd8 18.bxc5 Nde6 19.Qf5!

This move followed by 20.h4 is Caruana’s preparation.

19…Nxc5 20.h4 Nge6 21.Nf3

[21.Qxe5?? Nd3+]

21…Qa5+ 22.Ke2 f6 23.h5 e4 24.Nd2 Qxa3

Nakamura: “I’m a bit confused, because he told me after the game that Qxa3 was his preparation, and here I thought that 24…Ng5 is the move — a complete mess.”


The move Nakamura expected was 25.h6, after which White is doing well. However, during his long think to check the variations Caruana found the text, which was even stronger.


The line that Caruana was computing was 25…Ng5 26.h6 Re5 27.Nxf6+ gxf6 28.Qxf6 Qd3+! 29.Ke1 Qd7 and now White cannot take the rook because of a potential knight fork on d3. However, then he spotted 30.Nxe4! Ncxe4 31.Qxe5 Qf7 32.Rf4 wins just as well.


Caruana basically has a strong kingside attack for nothing. He is currently threatening 27.Nexf6+ with a mating attack.

26…Qa2+ 27.Ke1

[27.Kf1? allows Black to take the c4 pawn with check.]

27…Qa5+ 28.Kf1 Nxe4 29.Rxe4 Qa4 30.Rb1 Ng5

[30…Qc6 31.h6! (31.Nxf6+ does not work as after 31…gxf6 32.Rg4+ Ng5 33.f4 is met by 33…Qxc4+ 34.Kg1 Qe4 and Black has survived) 31…Rd7 32.Qg4 Kf8 33.hxg7+ Rxg7 34.Qf3 Rf7 35.Nxf6 the attack is too strong]

31.Rd4 Nf7 32.Rxb7 Qa6 33.Qb1

With the idea of Nc7.

33…Rf8 34.Kg1 Kh8 35.c5 Rc8 36.Nf4 Ne5

[36…Rxc5? 37.Rxf7]

37.h6 g6 38.Rd6 Qc4 39.Re6 Rxc5 40.Ree7 1–0

The Baguio Variation is part of chess history. We should all remember it and be proud.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.