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20 March 2018

If You Have no Check...

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

The temperature has fallen in Berlin and has brought snow with it.  It might seem an unpleasant event for mid March, but at least one person was cheered up by it.  "As I was heading for today’s round, seeing the snowflakes falling have lifted my spirits!  – Ding Liren told with a smile at the press conference.  – This is first time I see snow this year! Ding is from Wenzhou, a city on the East China Sea coast; he has obviously never been in need of digging out his car or clearing the snow off the path outside his house in winter.

The game of the Chinese grandmaster with Sergey Karjakin turned out to be very short, not making it beyond 18 moves.  Ding was either in a hurry to take a walk in the snow, or it is just the fact that draws suit him fine.  In one of his songs Vysotsky told us that the Asian people are patient when it comes to waiting in ambush; here is Ding Liren patiently waiting for his chance.  However, for the sake of fairness it should be noted that in a duel with Karjakin he certainly wanted to get things going and avoided the exchange of queens for that reason, upon which he could have got a slightly better endgame without the slightest risk for himself.  Sergey was just very well prepared in the opening and confidently took the b2-pawn, the capture of which looked extremely dangerous.  White seemed to have a choice of many tempting continuations, but ended up finding nothing better than a perpetual hunt of his rooks on the opponent’s queen.  Draw.

Ding Liren – Sergey Karjakin

Ding Liren – Karjakin

1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 g6 3. d4 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. c4 dxc4 6. 0-0 0-0 7. Na3 c5 8. dxc5 c3 9. Nb5 Na6 10. Nxc3 Nxc5 11. Nd4 Qb6 12. Be3 Qxb2 13. Ncb5 Ne6 14. Rb1 Qxa2 15. Ra1 Qb2

16. Rb1

In response to 16. Qd3 Karjakin intended 16…Bd7!, and after 17. Rfb1 Bxb5 18. Nxb5 Qe5 the queen flees to freedom. Winning the queen takes White’s giving up a piece – 17. Nc7 (in lieu of 17.Rfb1), but the position after 17... Nxc7 18. Rfb1 Qxa1 19. Rxa1 Nfd5 was unanimously evaluated by both grandmasters in Black’s favor.

16... Qa2 17. Ra1 Qb2 18. Rb1 Draw.

Fabiano Caruana – Alexander Grischuk

A bright and a quality game was played by Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk.  Given a floor at a press conference, Grischuk immediately started complaining jokingly about his opponent’s actions:

– After all, 4.e3 and 5.Be2 is my plan against the Grunfeld defense, and here is Caruana using it against me! I believe it to be one of my three most valuable contributions into the opening theory.  In response, I opted for the setup that made me stop employing it as White a few years ago.

The game took outlines typical of the so-called Benoni defense.  In Hebrew this name means "a son of sorrow"; the title was given by the German chess player A. Reinhanum back in 1825.  It's hard to say why he had such sad associations as the positions arising out of this opening are usually known to be very entertaining, lively and dynamic.  Sometimes, however, sadness is out there awaiting the second player.  By the way, not all chess fans might know what this name stands for, rather believing Benoni to be a chess player’s name.  But Grischuk did know that and decided to translate the word into English.  A son of sorrow - it sounds good indeed! 

The critical moment in this game arose after White's 26th move, when Black had a tempting sacrifice of a piece for three pawns.  Grischuk thought hard, but in the end he chose a more reliable continuation.  That day he generally played in a very practical manner: not only did he manage without time trouble, but also ended up with much more time on his clock than his opponent.  Caruana won a pawn, but the tension in the position escalated markedly.  Unwilling to tempt fate, White forced a draw by perpetual on move 36. 

After the game, I asked Alexander:

– You said that the plan with e3 and Be2 against the Grünfeld Defense is one of your three most valuable novice ideas.  And what about the other two?

– There is also a setup with 1.d4 and 2.Bf4.  It is clear that Gata Kamsky played this way 25 years ahead of me, but afterwards this setup was forgotten.  I develop the bishop strictly on move two, and, unlike the London system, the ideas there are in many cases different from those arising after 2.Nf3 and 3.Bf4.  It is also about the move 6...Bc5 in the English opening, which caught up with many players immediately (we mean the line 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Bc5!?  – Ed.).  I employed it against Eljanov (Geneva 2017), and the very next day had Adams repeating it against Gelfand.

– Caruana has used your weapons against you. How justified this approach is?

– It used to be my weapon a long time ago, about five years back.  It's no longer your weapon immediately after you come into the open with it.

– You have opted for the setup that was believed to be the most unpleasant for White.  Does Black have a full-fledged game there?

– I thought so five years ago, and now, after this game of ours, I am no longer as sure of it as I used to be.  It was clear that Caruana was aware of this only too well.  If he had started deep thinking five moves earlier, I would have been entirely pleased about it. He was clearly prepared for it: apparently, modern computers believe White to be better there.

Caruana – Grischuk

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. e3 0-0 5. Be2

5… c5 6. d5 e6 7. Nc3 exd5 8. cxd5 d6 9. Nd2 Na6 10. 0-0 Nc7 11. e4 Re8 12. a4 Rb8 13. f3 a6 14. a5 Bd7 15. Nc4 Bb5 16. Bg5 Bxc4 17. Bxc4 b5 18. axb6 Rxb6

19. Na4 Rb4 20. b3 Qc8 21. Bf4 Qd7 22. Ra2 Nh5 23. Be3 Rbb8 24. Qd2 Nb5 25. g4 Nf6 26. Nb2

26… Qc8

– Have you refused from a tempting knight sacrifice on e4 or g4 while thinking that it was stretching it a bit too far, perhaps?

– I gave it a long thought, but did not see the followup.

– The computer suggested 26... h5 27. g5 Nxe4 28. fxe4 Nc3 29. Rxa6, and the queen makes it to h3 ...

– It looks very illogical: instead of taking the g-pawn, Black pushes it as far as g5. It would never occur to me!  That is, it did occur, but I thought for a second:  "What nonsense!”

27. Bf4 Nd7 28. Bxb5 axb5 29. Bxd6 Rb6 30. Bg3 c4 31. bxc4 bxc4 32. Qe2 Rb4 33. Bd6 Rb6 34. Bg3 Rb4 35. Bd6 Rb6 36. Bg3 Draw.

– Alexander, can you put us in the picture about what has happened today in the game Mamedyarov - Kramnik?

– It seems that Kramnik started playing for a win for no particular reason at all, and overdid it. I think so; I have had no time to carefully study their game.

And here's another thing I would like to say:  I congratulate all fans on the remarkable victory of CSKA over Lyon and CSKA’s qualification into the quarterfinals of the Europa League!

The first move in the game Mamedyarov - Kramnik was made by CEO of the German-Russian forum Martin Hoffmann

Kramnik himself let us know about what happened in a duel with Mamedyarov. Kramnik said he blundered in an approximately equal position and was down a pawn.  The so-called "old image" is to blame: in the key line the counterplay of Black rested on the rook check from f8.  However, this rook went from c8 to c7, and, therefore, could not make it to f8 in one move.

According to Kramnik, he experienced a real shock when he realized his error.  To Vladimir's credit, he managed to get together and put up stubborn resistance.  However, Shakhriyar did not miss his chance: he calculated lines precisely and bypassed the opponent’s numerous traps along the way.  The last trap was set by Vladimir in what seemed like a completely hopeless position, having only a rook for the queen.  Should White hurry to deliver a check (a famous joke says: seeing a check and not delivering it is a crime!), his king would have found himself in a matting net!  The trap is beautiful, but very simple, and Mamedyarov, naturally, did not walk into it. Having won, the Azerbaijani grandmaster has caught up with the leader Fabiano Caruana. 

Mamedyarov – Kramnik

24… Rd6 25. Rd1

Mamedyarov thought that Black had taken the initiative over and switched to the defensive mode. After all:, the d4-pawn is not that big a liability needing permanent care. 25. f4 Rcd8 26. Rc5! (an immediate 26. e5 fails to 26…fxe5 27. fxe5 Nxe5, while now this is exactly the threat that White is about to unleash) 26... Nxd4 27. Rc7+ Kf8 28. e5!, and losing now are both 28... Rc6 29. Nxd4 Rxd4 30. Rxc6 Rxd3+ 31. Kxd3 Bxc6 32. Rc1, and 28… fxe5 29. fxe5 Rd5 (29... Rc6 30. Nxd4) 30. Be4. Therefore, Black would have had to refuse from taking the central pawn and hunker down to fighting for a draw with 26... h6 27. e5!? (There is no hurry with this advance, also interesting is a preliminary 27.h5) 27… fxe5 28. fxe5 Rd5.

25... Rcd8 26. Bc2 Na5 27. Bd3 Nc6 28. Bc2 h5!?

Kramnik refuses from a threefold repetition, overestimating his chances.

29. g5 fxg5 30. e5 R6d7 31. hxg5 h4 32. g6

Shakhriyar believed White to be better after this move.


A bold marathon of the pawn yields nothing: 32...h3 33. f4 h2 34. Be4.

33. Rbc1 Rc7 34. Bd3


This is an optical delusion. Rooks should have been traded – 34... Rxc1 35. Rxc1, followed by 35…Bd7, although after 36. f4 Rh8 37. Kf3 White is on a more pleasant side of the position.

35. Rxc7+ Rxc7 36. Rh1 Nc4+ 37. Kf4 Nb2

After 37... Bc6 38. Rxh4 Kramnik wanted to deliver a check 38…Rf8+!?? so as to take the f2-pawn, but was horrified to find his rook placed on с7 rather than on с8, which meant that no check was at Black’s disposal after all!

38. Be4 b4 39. Rxh4 Nd1 40. f3 Nc3 41. Nxc3 bxc3 42. Rh2 Rc8 43. Ke3 Bb5 44. f4 Bc4 45. Rh7 Rg8 46. a3 a5 47. Bc2 Kd7

48. d5!

Shakhriyar pries open the opponent’s defenses in a very energetic manner. Black is always a tempo behind to shore up new defensive lines.

48…Bxd5 49. Kd4 Ba2 50. Kxc3 Kc6 51. Rh2 Kc5 52. Rd2 Rh8 53. Rd7 Rh3+ 54. Kb2 Bd5 55. Rxg7 Kd4

Vladimir is after active counterplay, but does not quite make it in time.

56. Rh7 Rg3 57. Rh5!

Paving the way for the passer.

57…Rg2 58. Rg5 Rf2 59. g7 Be4 60. g8Q Rxc2+ 61. Kb3 Rc3+ 62. Ka4 Rc5

An impulsive 63. Qd8+?? Kc4! results in White’s getting checkmated, but Shakh had enough time for thinking to rule this out.

63. Rg2 Bf3 64. Qd8+ Black resigns.

The game Wesley So – Levon Aronian had the first player triumphing as well. In Peter Svidler’s opinion, Wesley So created a real masterpiece. Facing an outsider, Levon decided to fight for victory, notwithstanding the fact that he was playing Black.  He won a pawn, but at the price of serious positional concessions.  Firstly, Black significantly weakened the position of his king, and, secondly, his two pieces, a knight and a rook, bogged down on the queenside.  The position was a dynamic balance for quite some time, but Aronian blundered on move 34, allowing the opponent’s pieces into his camp.

A seemingly robust setup collapsed literally in three moves: while Black attempted to bring his dormant pieces into the battlefront, White won a queen for a rook.  The attempts to engineer a fortress failed, and Wesley So has scored his first tournament victory.  He has obviously recovered from the startup failures and regained confidence in his capabilities. 

So – Aronian

White has an excellent compensation for the missing pawn, and he launches central operations, made possible by his two more active pieces.

30. e5 Be7

30... Bxe5 fails to 31. Ng5 g6 32. Nxe6 Qe7 33. Nxf8 Qxf8 34. Rd8.

31. Nd4 Rc8 32. Nxe6!

This pawn matters more than the trapped rook. In the case of 32. Nxb5 axb5 33. Qe4 Nd5 Black is about to launch counterattack with с5-с4.

32... Qxe5 33. Nf4


In this sharp position the very first error proves decisive. A dynamic equilibrium was maintained by 33… Kg8 34. Re2 Bf8.

34. Re2 Qc3

Also grim-looking is 34... Bf6 35. g3 (White defends a knight and creates the threat of Bd4) 35…Qe7 36. Bd4 Qf7 37. Bxf6 Qxf6 38. Ne6, etc.

35. Qb1

Probably stronger is 35. Qa2!?

35... Qf6 36. Bc1 c4 37. bxc4 Nxc4 38. Re6 Qg5

38... Qf7 39. Rd7 Re8 40. Qe4 does not help either.

39. Ng6+ Qxg6 40. Rxg6 hxg6

41. Qe4! Bf6 42. Qxc4, and White went on to win the game.

Wesley So, Anastasiya Karlovich and Levon Aronian

Standings after round 6:

1-2. F. Caruana, S. Mamedyarov - 4 out of 6; 3-5. A. Grischuk, Ding Liren, V. Kramnik - with 3; 6-7. L. Aronian, W. So - 2.5; 8. S. Karjakin - 2. 

Saturday, March 17, is a rest day. Round seven is scheduled on Sunday, March 18, and features the following pairings: Grischuk – Mamedyarov, Kramnik – Ding Liren, Karjakin – So, Aronian – Caruana. 

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