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12 March 2018

A Top View for Spectators

Round one of the Candidates Tournament in Berlin. Report by Vladimir Barsky

On day one the organizers’ brainchild showed up in its best. The playhall area, situated on the lower floor, was divided up into four sectors, much like in a shared apartment, where each pair of players is given its own cubicle with a table and armchairs. Spectators could either watch the game from a distance of some four/five steps, going around the shared apartment in a circle, or from as high above as the second or even third floor. While the mass media is not admitted into the third floor, watching the game from the second floor is a funny thing - just imagine yourself in Sokolniki overhanging the sporting site from the branch of a high tree.

The view from the upper circle is so enchanting that certain spectators would freeze there for hours in a row, others would put down moves into their copybooks in the old fashion; children and youngsters would sit on the floor and keep viewing games through the railings. However, as soon as the door between the floor and the staircase landing opens, the noise from other floors rushes in. When one of security guard’s portable transmitter suddenly came alive with a loud command, a middle-aged fan standing near me detached himself from the railings and whispered loudly, «Was ist das!»

The fourth floor accommodates the fan-zone, where you can play chess, listen to the game commenting in German or purchase tournament-dedicated souvenirs. This is where grandmasters ascend in the evenings to share game details with the journalists; press conferences are hosted by FIDE press officer Anastasiya Karlovich.

At last, the fifth floor accommodates the VIP-zone, as well as rooms for personnel and journalists. Our working conditions are Spartan at the moment, but the lengthy tournament distance ahead of us gives us hope that things will gradually sort out for the better.

This is what Ilya Merenzon, owner of Agon, told your correspondent about the organizational aspect of the event:

– We have been looking for a large space to rent for a relatively long time, and it has proven rather a challenge. Besides, we wanted to have a top view of the event. All in all, finding an atrium is difficult because there are so few of them here. Therefore, Kulhouse seemed like a classy venue in this respect. Moreover, this is exactly our style: it's a loft, it's a brick, it's an opportunity to make classy areas for spectators.  This is exactly what we have been after.

– Why do you need a top view of the event after all?

– The idea is to show chess from unusual angles. To give a fresh view of chess, so to say! All in all, the event is watched not only from inside the venue, but also from outside through Internet. We wanted the picture to be cinematic, and shooting from above gives you exactly this.

– How large is the Internet audience of the tournament?

– It is hard to say now; it is only day one we have behind us. The first three broadcasting days are for free, then you need to pay. In a couple of days, we will be able to sum up the first results; I think we are going to have several hundred thousand spectators.

– What languages do you broadcast the event in?

- It is in English, German and Russian.

– Kulhouse features five storeys. Which area is the most convenient for spectators?

– VIP zone on the fifth floor. Chess events are not devoid of business objectives. Thus, partners and sponsors hold their meetings here. Any sporting event is known to have a similar VIP zone.  It is interesting to watch chess from any floor though.  On the fifth floor they comment in English, on the fourth - in German.  On the second and third floors you can watch the players from the upper circle, and on the first - from close proximity to grandmasters.

– How many tickets do you sell every day?

– We have 500 seats, and all tickets have been sold out for the initial rounds.

However, this innovative approach has not been appreciated unanimously by every grandmaster.  Sergey Karjakin’s opinion was the harshest:  "Everything is organized horribly:  It is equally true about the hotel and the playhall.” Grischuk's opinion chimes in: it's true that Alexander did not complain about the living conditions at the hotel, but he was outraged by lack of water in the WC facility.  Vladimir Kramnik has voiced his opinion in a more diplomatic manner, saying that he hoped that shortcomings of the first day would be dealt with and that the WC would be repaired, but in general the staff needed pay more attention to enforcing silence because it was noisy in the hall from time to time.  Shakhriyar Mamedyarov told that at one point he raised his eyes from the board to see Judit Polgar commenting his game from a large screen nearby.  "It's good that she was not demonstrating any moves at that moment, and there was no voice either - only her image.  I immediately approached the arbiter and said that the screen should be removed at once to avoid any outside hints.  The second half of grandmasters (Levon Aronian, Ding Liren, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So) admitted that their concentration during the game was so high that any sounds coming from outside would pass unnoticed.

However, let us move from the entourage to the chess content of round one. The Candidates Tournament pairing has been known from long before, the pairings drawn so as to pit compatriots in the starting rounds. This rule goes back to the 1962 Candidates Tournament in Curacao, in which three Soviet grandmasters are known to have signed “a non-aggression pact” and drew all games between themselves, having got many additional rest days as a result. Quite a few days have passed since then, but “bitter feelings” are still in the air; therefore, compatriots are pitted against each other in the starting rounds. The point is that pre-agreed draws (potentially possible but most unlikely in modern realities) thus have the least bearing on the final outcome of the event. After all, everyone is equal from the starting line, which makes it hard to predict players in good shape to contest the top place.

Thus, two compatriot derbies have taken place in round one: Facing each other were the Americans Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, as well as the Russians Alexander Grischuk and Vladimir Kramnik. The other two pairs were Levon Aronian –Ding Liren, and Sergey Karjakin – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Making the symbolic first move was Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan, who moved up his compatriot's bishop pawn from c2 to c4. Aronian has surprised his Chinese opponent with a novelty, which pinned the latter’s queen to the rim of the board, where it seemed one step from perishing. However, Ding has demonstrated an enviable coolness of head and resourcefulness by offering a sacrifice of his bishop for two pawns, the acceptance of which could have allowed him to take the initiative over. With Levon unwilling to take risks, a draw by repetition was agreed on move 22.


Aronian – Ding Liren




15. c5

The alternative is 15. Rh3!? exd4 16. cxd4 Bb4 17. d5 Bxd2 18. Rb5 Qa6 19. dxc6 Bxc6 20. Qxd2 Qxa4 with an extremely sharp game to follow: Black has two pawns for a piece and a lead in development, while White’s pieces are poorly coordinated at the moment and his king is stuck in the center.

15… Bxc5 16. Rb5 Qa6 17. Rh3 Bxd4 18. Be2 Rd6 19. Rb1

The engine recommends 19. Rb2, intending 19…Qa5 20. cxd4 Qd5 21. dxe5 – the d2-bishop is defended and trades on е5 are possible, therefore. While the iron friend fears nothing, it is humanly difficult to be White here, as after 21…Nxe5 22. Nf3 Rhd8 if feels scary indeed.

19... Qa5 20. Rb5




20…Qa6

The Chinese grandmaster was unwilling to dare dangers arising after 20...Bxc3 21. Rd3 Rxd3 22. Bxd3 Ba6 23. Qg4+ Kb7 24. Rxa5 Bxd3+ 25. Ke1.

21. Rb1 Qa5 22. Rb5 Draw.

Goals have been scored in the other three games. This is amazing, taking into account that three preceding Candidates events (London-2013, Khanty-Mansiysk-2014 and Moscow 2016) saw only 2 out of 12 games with other than draw results. Grandmasters needed no prior probing in Berlin, launching street fights right from the word go.

Fabiano Caruana admitted to be other than content with his opening play. To cut the opening preparation from under his opponent’s feet, he refused from his favorite е2-е4 in favor of d2-d4, but allowed his opponent to solve all his opening problems in the Catalan Opening. “I hated my position, and I could have landed into a strategically difficult situation; therefore, I decided to render the game as sharp as possible,” admitted Fabiano at the press conference. The funny thing is that doing so required making his favorite е2-е4 anyway, even if it was as late as move 21! So’s game was somewhat imprecise, and his position became hopeless when he missed a powerful central blow from his opponent. Black recognized her defeat on move 33.


Caruana – So




21.e4! b3 22. axb3 axb3 23. Qe2 Ba6?

Caruana was apprehensive of 23... Ra2 24. Rab1 (in the case of 24. e6 Ba6! 25. Qf3 Rxb2 Black gets at f2) 24... Ba6 25. Qf3 Bd3! Fabiano believed this strong move, which he discovered at the last moment, to give Black tremendous counterplay. For example: 26. Qxd3 Bxf2+ 27. Kh1 Nc5, etc.

24. Qf3 Bc4 25. Rxa8 Rxa8 26.e6! dxe4

26...fxe6 is decisively refuted by a simple 27. Bc7, as well as by a flashier 27. Bb8.

27. exf7+ Bxf7 28. Nxe4 Bd4 29. Nd6 Bd5 30. Qe2 Nf8 31. Bxd5+ cxd5 32. Qf3 Qa5 33. Re7 Black resigns.

Kramnik has deftly taken Grischuk out of his home prep, opting for a seemingly unpretentious b2-b3 on move three. It gave rise to a balanced but very complex type of position with all pieces remaining on the board. Grischuk would burn up much of his time clock over certain moves and found himself in a time trouble in which, despite inability to give it much thought, initiated a risky transfer of his rook over to the kingside. White soon trapped this rook, and Black were so lucky to give it up for a knight and a pawn. A couple of moves later Kramnik gave the exchange back in return for developing a queenside initiative and infiltrating his rook into the opponent’s camp. White created a dangerous passer and managed to push it almost as far as the queening square when another error was committed by Black. White’s move 48 put an end to the battle.


Kramnik – Grischuk




25. h4 Rf5 26. e4

Kramnik admitted that 26.g4 was his initial intention, but then he thought again about having to weaken his king so.

26... Rxf4 27. Nxf4 Nxe4 28. Nd5 Nc5 29. Rb4 Qa7 30. Ne3 a5 31. Rb5 Ne6

Now it is the white rook that is in trouble. Kramnik gives the exchange back to initiate further simplifications, ensuring a minor edge in the endgame.

32.Rxe5 dxe5 33. Bxe5 Qc5 34. Bxg7 Nxg7 35. Qd4 Qxd4 36. Rxd4 Bc6 37. Rd2




37…Rb8?

This is a decisive time trouble error. After 37... Ne6 (taking care of the с7-square) Black seems to have a sufficient amount of defensive resources. Now the path into the opponent’s camp has been cleared for the white rook.

38. Rc2 Be8 39. Rc7 Kf8 40. Ra7 a4 41. bxa4 Rb1+ 42. Kh2 Rb4

More stubborn is 42... Rb2 43. Bc4 Rxf2 44. a5 Nf5 45. Nxf5 Rxf5, pinning hopes on giving up a bishop for both a-pawns and engineering a fortress on the kingside afterwards.

43. a5 Rxh4+ 44. Kg1!

Grischuk admitted to having underestimated this simple rejoinder, only hoping to get counterplay against the opponent’s king after 44. Kg3 g5.

44... Ra4 45. Bc4 Bc6 46. Rc7 Be8 47. a6 Nh5 48. Nd5 Black resigns.

The Karjakin – Mamedyarov game lasted the longest, about 7 hours. Knowing opponent’s commitment to his usual openings, the Azeri grandmaster (who used to be Sergey’s second back in the 2016 match) opted for a seemingly risky continuation in the Ruy Lopez, which rendered the game sharp as early as possible. Karjakin gave it a long thought, but it led him nowhere in terms of achieving an edge. When Sergey wanted to fix a draw, he overlooked opponent’s strong rejoinder and found himself in a difficult queen ending. The minster of defense, a nickname Karjakin deserved during the New York match, put up a stubborn defense, but in a critical moment of a mutual zugzwang committed an error, which resulted in his fortress being destroyed. Black’s remote passer decided the game in the end.


Karjakin – Mamedyarov




The diagram is a position of mutual zugzwang. Black gets nowhere via 47... Qxf4 48. e6, or 47... g5 48. hxg5 hxg5 49. f5; therefore, Mamedyarov essays to pass the onus of moving onto his opponent.

47…Qe2+ 48. Kg3 Qe1+ 49. Kg2?

Karjakin admitted to having realized his mistake immediately upon making the move. Balance was maintained by 49. Kh3! Qe3 50. Kg2.

49... Qe3 50. Qb4

Losing now is 50. Kg3 g5! 51. hxg5 hxg5 52. fxg5 Qxe5+ 53. Kg4 b2.

50... g5 51. hxg5 hxg5 52. fxg5 Qe2+ 53. Kg3 Qxe5+?

Shakh goes astray. Winning was 53... b2! 54. e6 Qe5+ 55. Kg2 fxe6.

54. Kf2 Qh2+ 55. Ke3 Qg1+ 56. Kf4 Qc1+ 57. Kg4 Qe3




58. Kg3?

“White should not have given up his pawn as it is a draw after 58. f4.” (Sh. Mamedyarov).

“White’s defense is extremely difficult in a practical game anyway.” (S. Karjakin)

58... Qxg5+ 59. Kf2 Qd5 60. Ke3 Kg6 61. Ke2 Kf6 62. Ke3 Ke6 63. Qb6+ Kd7 64. Qa7+ Kc6 65. Qa6+ Kc5 66. Qa4 Qc4 67. Qa5+ Kc6 68. Qa1 Kb5 69. Qb2 Kb4 70. Kd2 Qf4+ 71. Ke1 Qh4+ White resigns.

Round two is scheduled on Sunday, March 11, and features the following pairings: Grischuk – So, Ding Liren – Caruana, Mamedyarov – Aronian, Kramnik – Karjakin. The round starts at 17.00 Moscow time. 



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