28 March 2016

A Week On Tranquilizers

Dmitry Kryakvin sums up the results of rounds 7 to 12 of the Candidates tournament.

Can you remember any other competition qualifying for the world championship that was so action-packed? In the first similar event after World War II, Boleslavsky was leading, and Bronstein, the runner-up, caught up with him heroically and won the tie-break match. A nice and interesting, yet linear plot. Smyslov had two convincing victories later, although not without some scheming by Mr. Postnikov, the Gray Eminence of Soviet chess at the time. Then Tal blazed through the chess world, with some intrigue appearing only at Curaçao, where Petrosian, the winner-to-be, raced neck-to-neck with Efim Geller and Paul Keres. But did the suspense in Curaçao match the one in Moscow? No, because of the Russian collusion and the many short draws. Furthermore, Petrosian won not because he ran quickly, but mostly because he didn't have to ski around the penalty loops, if we use the biathlon jargon.       

Granted, Carlsen and Kramnik fought for dear life at the recent London tournament. It seemed like the Budapest 1950 scenario, only the interesting match was replaced by a fairly controversial tie-break system. But there was no other event where half of the participants could have gotten the first place if they had been lucky, right? If one or two games had gone a bit differently. If a single precise move had been played. So this qualifying event is really unique!   

Take Anish Giri. Count his "goal attempts". But the Dutch of Leningrad origin has nothing but halves in his scoresheets, and his opponents' sharp-tongued fans are already planning to publish My 60 Memorable Draws, a book about Giri's play. The only question: why just 60?

Peter Svidler could have easily had at least +2, and he actually scored a goal at a moment when no one expected it any longer, especially his opponent, Levon Aronian. And the key players ― Levon himself, Sergey Karjakin, Viswanathan Anand and Fabiano Caruana ― can regard any lost or found half a point as if it were a wagon of gold mined by Klondike prospectors.

Thus, a standard Hollywood plot, where the introduction and prelude are followed by an obvious climax point, is not possible in this review. In fact, there will be a lot of climax points, and many of them are yet to appear in the last two rounds! The incredible tension affects not only the participants and their teams: the fans, exhausted and craving for their favorites' victory, are also on the verge of nervous exhaustion. The suspense of the tense Candidates Tournament in Moscow will surely go down in history, with generations of chess fans to tell legends and spin yarns about it.

Fortune cookies: better than meldonium

The seventh round was relatively calm and became a quiet prelude to the subsequent dramatic events. Svidler failed to convert his edge versus Caruana, and Fabio, inspired by this circumstance and some prophecies from fortune cookies, moved into top gear. In the outsiders' camp, Topalov was defeated by Nakamura and was buried too early by everyone on assumptions that the third loss wasn't the last in the Bulgarian's collection. But the scenery certainly changed at the Telegraph in round 8!  

Caruana – Nakamura
Round 8

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nbd2 0–0 7.Qe2 Re8 8.Nc4 Nd7 9.Bd2 Bd6

All this has become nearly mandatory at the elite level for the Berlin ― Anti-Berlin sequence. Which means that the chess world is undergoing change, and not for the worse, since the trend is to move away from an endgame polished over years ― and to choose a sharp position with opposite-sided castling instead.  


A relatively new move: debates have been unfolding around 10.h4 in recent games. It is known that 10...c5 11.h5 h6 12.0–0–0 Nb8 13.Rdg1, Wei Yi – Navara, 2016, is bad for Black, whereas 10…Nf8 11.h5 Ne6 12.0–0–0 c5, Caruana – Karjakin, 2016, is good for him.


In the only game along these lines, Sargissian, playing against a player of not such a high level, responded 10...c5 11.Kb1 Nb8, but David Navara's unfortunate example is too memorable. Nakamura shows that he is not to be trifled with and that he is going to storm the opposing king's castled position. Of course, Hikaru was keen to make a mark in this American derby in order to claim the first board in the American Olympic dream team.

11.Ne3 a5 12.Nf5 a4 


A strong move, provoking a weakening of the Black king's pawn cover. 13...Nf6 14.g4 Be6 (14...h6 15.Bh4)15.Kb1 b4 16.Rhg1 b3 17.d4 is extremely dangerous, so Hikaru's choice is obvious.

13…f6 14.Be3 Nc5 15.g4 Be6 16.Kb1 b4

Nakamura pushed the pawn forward decisively, signaling his readiness for a hand-to-hand combat, but I think Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was right when he offered the more cunning 16...Qd7!? 17.Rhg1 Qf7, which strengthened the position and provoked White's weakening.



Incredible! This logical move is almost a decisive mistake. The older of the opponents continued to plough on in this clash of wills, but got burned in the dense layers of the atmosphere. The black army did have a choice:

the accurate 17...Kh8!? with the idea 18.Rhg1 Bxf5 19.exf5 a3 20.b3 e4 or, as suggested by numerous commentators, 17...a3 18.b3 Bxf5 19.exf5 e4 20.dxe4 (20.d4!? Nxb3 21.Qc4+ Kh8 22.Ne5 fxe5 23.cxb3 is an interesting line) 20...Nxe4 21.Qc4+ Kh8 22.Bd4 Ra5 23.gxf6 gxf6 24.Rhe1 Rxf5 25.Qxc6 with serious complications.


A cold-blooded and brilliant response. It turns out that Nakamura's pawn push was a waste, and no good capture can be found for the black pawn.


18...bxc2+ 19.Qxc2 would have been totally gloomy, but now Caruana's king hides behind the opponent's pawn, as is often the case in the Najdorf system's different variations.

19.Ka1 Bxf5

The knight must be destroyed until it has wreaked havoc. After 19...g6 Fabio would only have had to find a couple of precise moves: 20.gxf6 Qxf6 21.d4! Nxe4 22.Nh6+ Kh8 23.dxe5 Qg7 24.Bd4 Be7 25.Qxe4 Qxh6 26.Qxc6 with an overwhelming advantage.

20.exf5 a3

It's too late to move the king to the edge: 20...Kh8 21.Nh4, Black should have done this three moves earlier.

21.b3 Na6

All moves are bad in a bad position. 21...e4? doesn't impress at all: 22.dxe4 Rxe4 23.Rd4! Qe7 (23...Rxd4 24.Bxd4)24.Qc4+ Kh8 25.Kxa2, and 21...Qe7 is countered with 22.Nd2, but it would be logical to assume that such an attempt to trouble waters, not too esthetic positionally, should be refuted.


After thinking for half an hour, Fabiano played safe, which gives particular integrity to this game. It's clear that the engine's first line is 22.d4! e4

22...exd4 23.gxf6 dxe3 (23...Qxf6 24.Qc4+ Qf7 25.Rxg7+! Kxg7 26.Rg1+ Kf8 27.Bh6+ Ke7 28.Re1+ ) 24.Qc4+ Kh8 25.fxg7#

23.Qc4+ Kh8 24.gxf6 Qxf6 25.Ng5 Rf8 26.Ne6 with a triumphant attack, but it's people who are playing, not machines, and why calculate all this if one can finish the encounter by simple means.


There is no 22...Nc5 23.Bxc5 Bxc5 24.d4 exd4 25.Qc4+ Qd5 26.gxf6, and the poor knight never made a career.

23.Nd2 fxg5 24.Rxg5 Nc5 25.Rg3! 

A brilliant prophylactic move that emphasizes the futility of Nakamura's attempts to create counterplay. 25...Nxd3 26.Ne4 or 25...Qxd3 26.Qxd3 Nxd3 27.Ne4 Nf4 28.Nf6+ looks convincing enough.

25...e4 26.Bxc5 Bxc5

26...exd3 27.Qg4 loses, but even now White's attack goes without a hitch.

27.Nxe4 Bd6 28.Rh3 Be5 29.d4 Bf6 30.Rg1 Rb8

There is no salvation: 30...Kh8 31.Qh5 Kg8 32.Qxe8+ 30...Bxd4 31.Rd3, but Hikaru set a couple of one-move traps just in case.

31.Kxa2! Bh4 32.Rg4 Qd5 33.c4 Black resigned. An impressive routing showing the entire strength of Caruana, who finally got better after the cold that he had had throughout the first half of the tournament.

A new player joined the leaders, whereas Sergey Karjakin played a fascinating game against Peter Svidler. Both opponents had reasons to be displeased with this game. Sergey and his second Vladimir Potkin had done a great job preparing an old line of the English Opening with the pawn thrust e4-e3, well known since the memorable game Kasparov ― Karpov (1988), and after Peter's mistake Karjakin had an attacking position but played inaccurately, unlike his encouraged opponent. Svidler delivered a series of energetic moves, which resulted in the following endgame. 

Svidler ― Karjakin
Round 8

The white pieces are active and all the black pawns are weak, but Sergei rightfully hoped to grab the e2 'root' pawn, which he had locked on its initial square about 40 moves before that.  


The most natural move, and it's quite hard to see that 48.Re5! helps grab both pawns with comfort: 48…Rc7

Here comes the punch line: 48...Rxa2 49.Re7 g6 50.Rxf4 Rxe2 51.Ne8!! with irrefutable threats; 48...Rd7 49.Nf5 g6 50.Ne7+ Kg7 51.Nd5 Rxa2 52.Nxf4.

49.Nf5 Raa7 50.Rxf4 Ng6 51.Re8+ Kh7 (51...Kf7 52.Nd6#) 52.Rg4 Rxa2 53.Rxe3, and the two extra pawns should determine the outcome.

48...Rxa2 49.Rfh4?!

The recommended lines were 49.Nf5 g6 50.Nh6+ Kh8 51.Re5 Rxe2 52.Ng4 or 50.Ne7+ Kg7 51.Re5 Rxe2 52.Nd5 with chances to succeed, but I think that such a fine defender as Sergey Karjakin would have easily shown at the board that too little material had been left.

49...g6 50.Re5, and a draw ensued, probably a fair one, given Karjakin's opening gaffe.

In the ninth round, Caruana was to play Black versus Anish Giri, who tried desperately to end his series of draws and join the leaders' race. The duel between Vladimir Chuchelov's former trainees was no laughing matter, and Fabio had to withstand a hard siege. But the fortune cookies proved to be invigorating, and Anish couldn't do anything against Caruana.

Giri – Caruana
Round 9

One of my familiar coaches says that a queen and a knight are a devil's union. What about a queen and two knights then, is it hell's alliance? Giri probably thought that his pieces' activity should turn into something sooner or later. There should be a decisive fork or a conversion into a won endgame.   
White's main advantage, however, is the extra pawn, and it should have hurried to give the other pieces a hand. 53.g4! Bd4 54.g5 Kg7 55.Qe4 Bb2

Black's king is in trouble if 55...Be5 56.Ne3, and in the event of a trade-off 55...Qe5 56.Qxe5+ Bxe5 57.Kg4 his white counterpart penetrates on f5.

56.Ne3 Qe5 57.Nf5+ Kg8

If 57...Kf8 58.Qa8+ Qe8 59.Qxa7, the pawn is lost.

58.Qxe5 Bxe5 59.Nh6+ Kg7 60.Nxf7 Bxf4 61.Kg4, and the endgame is won for White.

53.Kg4?! Bd4 54.Nc7

54.Qc8+ Kg7 55.Qb7 a5 56.Ne7 Qd8 57.Nf5+ Kf8 58.Nh6 gives good chances for a win: all of White's pieces are positioned ideally. But the attempt to procrastinate until another time control proved to be a failure.

54...Be5 55.Ncd5 a5 56.Qc8+ Kg7 57.Ne3 Kh7 


It was necessary to calculate precisely that after 58.Nf5! Qd1+ 59.Kg5 Bxf4+ 60.Kxf4 Qd2+ 61.Kg4 Qd1+ 62.Kg5 Qh5+ 63.Kf4 the white king hid away from checks, and 58…Qf6 59.Qb7 enabled White to go back to its ideal stance. But now Caruana finds a very strong defensive resource.

58...Kg8 59.Qa8+ Qb8! 60.Qe4

Alas, 60.Qc6 Qd6! 61.Qc8+ Qf8 62.Qxf8+ Kxf8 63.Kf5 Bxf4 64.gxf4 a4 65.Nc4 axb3 66.axb3 b5 67.Na5 b4 leads to a drawn endgame, as the f7 bishop only needs a queen exchange to deal with the white pawns. Giri is forced to keep the strongest pieces on the board, and he has to bring back the knights to protect his own king.

60...Qd6 61.Nf5 Qd1+! 62.Ne2

62.Kg5 Qd8+, but after half of White's cavalry retreated to the stables, Fabio can breathe a sigh of relief.



Practical chances remained after 63.Kh3!? Qf1+ 64.Kh4 Bf6+ 65.Kg4. With the knight blocked on e2, White is out of good ideas, even though he can deliver many checks.

63...Kxg7 64.Qe5+ Kg6 65.Kf3 Qd3+ 66.Kf2 Qc2 67.Qd6+ Kg7 68.Qd4+ Kg8 69.Qg4+ Kf8 70.Qa4 Be8 71.Qa3+ Kg8 72.Qe7 Bf7 73.Qd8+ Kg7 74.Qd4+ Kg8 75.Qa4 Qd2 76.Qg4+ Kf8 77.Qc8+ Ke7 78.Qc7+ Kf8 79.a3!

The only chance is to keep at least one pawn on the queenside.

79…Bxb3 80.Qb8+ Kf7 81.Qb7+ Kg8 82.Qxb6 Qa2 83.Qd8+

There is no point in grabbing the pawn: 83.Qxa5 Bc4. Poor knight that once proudly stalked don Caruana's territory...

83...Kf7 84.Qd7+ Kg8 85.Qe8+ Kg7 86.Qe7+ Bf7 87.g4 


87...Qe6 88.Qxe6 Bxe6 89.g5 Bb3 90.Nf4 a4 results in a logical draw, but Fabio doesn't trade off the queens. Why give the opponent even minimal chances and be obliged to make an extra fifty moves on the board?

88.Qc5 Be6 89.Qe5+ Kf7 90.g5 Qa2

Again avoiding 90...Bg4 91.Qf4+ Qxf4+ 92.Nxf4.

91.Qf6+ Ke8 92.Qh8+ Ke7 93.Qh7+ Kf8 94.Qh8+

There's 94.g6, and the sudden 94…Qxa3?! is followed by 95.g7+ Ke8 96.Qg6+; here the opponent can be checked in the queen-and-knight versus queen-and-pawn endgame. But I am sure that the precise 94...Qb2= would have followed.

94...Ke7 95.Qg7+ Ke8 96.Qh8+, and Black claimed a draw because of threefold repetition. A magnificent defense. It should be noted that Giri is very, very strong, but this is not his cycle yet.

Levon Aronian's curse

Another player joined the best of the best, but the leaders' camp suffered a loss almost at the same time. Most regretfully, a curse of the second half of the tournament follows the Armenian national team's leader and Moscow's symbolic "host player." Like in London, Levon had a splendid start, but then got into a series of hurdles that he can only overcome if he wins two games at the finish. The first obstacle was delivered by Vishy Anand, who defeated Aronian in a very educative endgame. To be honest, I was a bit surprised about how this rook endgame was analyzed by various commentators on a number of websites. I'll try to fill in this gap.

Anand – Aronian
Round 9

Black had played out the opening surprisingly passively considering Aronian's creativity, and now his only hope is the strength of ramparts.


Vishy offered 30.f4! f6 31.Rc3 at the press conference in order to start harassing Black before the black king gets to d7. 

30...Ke7 31.f4 f6 32.Rc3 Kd7 33.Rh3! h6 34.Rg3 Re7 35.Rg6! 

For now, Anand is doing great, and the g6 rook deprives Black of any counterplay: 35...Kd8 36.Bxb7 Rxb7 37.e5 fxe5 38.fxe5 Rxe5 39.Rxg7 or 35...c6 36.bxc6+ Bxc6 37.e5!

Now Levon has to exchange on d5 and lock his queenside entirely.

35...Bxd5 36.cxd5 Ra8 37.Kf3

The crucial question of endgames for the weaker side: which one to pick, passive or active defense? The winner himself thought it compulsory to play 37...Ke8 38.Kg4 Kf7 39.Kf5 h5 or 37...h5, countering the white king's onslaught. But had Aronian played this way, Anand could have won anyway and then told the journalists that moving the rook to e8 had been a must.

37...Rae8 38.Kg4!

Decisive, strong and very wise! White's actions are simple, and the defending side faces the problem of a hard choice to make just before time control.


Levon's aspiration to remove the piece of White's puzzle on a4 and then push the remote passer forward is understandable, but the capture on e4 loses objectively, so he should have struggled onwards: 38...Rh8!?

39.Rxg7+ Kc8

39...Kd8 40.Rxe4 is worse.

Avoiding a blunder here is key: 40.Rd2 Rxa4 41.Rc2 Re5! 42.Rcxc7 Rg5+! 43.Kf3 Rxg7 44.Rxg7 Rd4.

40...Rxe4 41.Kf5 Rxa4 42.g3 Rb4

There is no salvation after 42...Ra2 43.Kxf6 Rxh2 44.f5 a4 45.Rg8+ Kd7 46.Ra8

43.Kxf6 Rxb5 44.Ke6 Kc8 45.f5 Rb2 46.f6 Re2+ 47.Kf5 Rf2+ 48.Kg6 Kb7 49.f7 a4 50.Rg8, and the white rook has the time to return and face the enemy passers. This is why Aronian brings his king into the fortress to cover the a8 square.


And now there is no 40.Rxe4 Rxe4 41.Kf5 Rxa4 42.g3 Rb4! 


Aronian subjected himself to devastating criticism after the game for not having played 40...Kb7. Objectively, this should not save after 41.Rc2 Rc8 42.Ra2 Rd4 43.Kf5 Rxd5+ 44.Kxf6, but with the king on b7 Black has an important resource, c7-c5 or c7-c6. Given the mistakes that Anand made later, this could have saved Aronian from losing.


Another very strong move preventing 41.Ra2 R8e5.

41...Rc8 42.Ra2 Rd4 43.Kf5 Rxd5+

There is no great difference from 43...Rf8 44.g3 Rxd5+ 45.Ke6 Rc5 46.Rf7.

44.Kxf6 Rf8+ 45.Rf7! Rxf7+ 46.Kxf7 Rf5+ 47.Kg6 Rxf4 48.g3!

Now the h6 pawn falls, and the white king leads the connected passed pawns forward, whereas Black's counterplay is obviously late. It seems that the fight will be over in around five moves, but here the most interesting things start!

48...Rc4 49.Kxh6 

49...d5 50.Kh5?

Nerves, age, fatigue, or relaxing too early? Anand played the endgame in Akiba Rubinstein's best traditions, but in the end was unable to use a typical technique described through dozens of examples in books by Mark Dvoretsky, who once trained the young Vishy before the match versus Garry Kasparov.

50.Kg5! d4 51.h4 d3 52.Rd2 Rxa4 53.h5 Rb4 54.h6 Rxb5+ 55.Kg6 with a win. "I'm pushing the wrong pawn," the world ex-champion smiled at the press conference.

50...d4 51.g4

The h-pawn's march doesn't look so strong without the tempo: 51.h4 d3 52.Rd2 Rd4 – the white king has no reliable cover from the black rook's checks, and his black counterpart will rush to the queenside quickly.

51...d3 52.h4 Rd4

52...Rc2 53.Ra1 d2 54.Rd1 loses.

53.Rd2 Kc8 54.g5 Kd7

Suddenly it turns out that it's not so simple, it looks as if the white king pushed its opponent "with the shoulder" in advance. 55.g6 Ke7 56.Kg5 Rd5+ 57.Kh6 Kf8 leads to a dead draw, which is why Vishy gives away one of his passed pawns courageously.

55.Kg6! Rxh4

The capture is a must since 55...Ke8 loses: 56.h5 Kf8 57.h6 Rd6+ 58.Kf5! (58.Kh7 Rd7+ 59.Kh8? Kf7! with a draw) 58...Rd5+ 59.Ke6! Rxg5 60.Rxd3 Rg6+ 61.Kd7 Rxh6 62.Kxc7.

56.Rxd3+ Ke8 57.Ra3 


The last enigma of this dramatic endgame. Levon defended 57...kf8 at the press conference, insisting it was a draw, but my ChessPro colleagues proved that the position was mathematically won:  58.Rc3! Rxa4 59.Rxc7 Rb4 60.Rb7 Rxb5 61.Kf6 Ke8 62.g6 Rb1 63.Rb8+ Kd7 64.g7. I would only add the highly instructive 60…a4 61.Rxb6 Rb1 62.Ra6 Rxb5 63.Rxa4 Rb6+ 64.Kh7! Rb7+ 65.Kh8!! with a win.

But if we assume that an endgame expert of Vadim Zvjaginsev's level was woken up in the middle of the night, this expert would play 57...Rg4! immediately, blocking the white king away from g7, even despite having been woken at such an hour. How would have Anand won then? For instance, the main line 58.Kh6 Kf8 59.Rf3+ Ke7 60.Rc3 Rh4+ 61.Kg7 Kd6 62.g6 Rxa4 63.Rc6+ Kd7 64.Kf7 Rb4 65.g7 Rxb5 66.Rxc7+ Kxc7 67.g8Q Kb7 leads to a fortress with a rook and pawns versus a queen, and the race of the rook versus the pawns doesn't appear to be won either. Maybe the attentive and rigorous readers will find a win here?

In the game, however, Levon allowed the king to get to g7, and Anand was impeccable afterwards.

58.Kg7 Kd7 59.g6 c6 60.Kf6 cxb5 61.g7 Rg4 62.axb5 Rg1 63.Rd3+ Ke8 64.Re3+ Kd7

Now White builds a bridge while at the same time squeezing the black king. 

65.Re5! Rxg7 66.Rd5+, and Aronian stopped the clock. I think that every coach should demonstrate this endgame in class. It would also be a good idea to publish some books like those by Shereshevsky or Panchenko, but based on modern examples like this one. It's time to stop studying only Steinitz, Alekhine and Rubinstein in the 21st century. But who would take the trouble to write such books?

Aronian didn't give up, of course, and even less so since his next opponent was a suitable one: Veselin Topalov, who had the last place. The Armenian grandmaster outplayed the Bulgarian, but an inexplicable blunder happened at a decisive moment.

Aronian – Topalov
Round 10

The white rook had broken into the last rank, and 30.Qf3! Qd7 31.Rf8 f6 32.Qe2 would have supported the infiltrator, but Levon's imprecision enabled Veselin to equalize the game immediately.

30.Bc3?! Rc8! 31.Rf8 Bc7!

The rooks are exchanged, and it's time to draw.

32.Rxc8 Qxc8 33.Qe7 Kg8 34.h4 h5 35.Bd2 Qd8, and the opponents soon shook hands.

It was too early to despair since after playing White versus Topalov Aronian had another white game versus Peter Svidler. Levon was able to pose problems for his opponent in a critical position of Peter Leko's variation of Slav Defense Accepted, but failed to find the elegant continuation of his attack at a pivotal moment. It was about time to simplify the position in order to secure a draw, but the ex-leader was really reluctant to do that...

Aronian – Svidler
Round 11

Black had a strong compensation for the pawn, and the line deserving attention was 37.Rxg6+ fxg6 38.Qb7+ Kh6 39.Qxc8 Qc1+ with a perpetual check.

37.Qc2 Rb8 38.Qe2?

And now the acrobatic 38.Qb1 Qa4 39.Rg5! was needed to maintain equality. But here Levon got confused and gave away a pawn and then the entire game.

38...Qc1+ 39.Kf2 Qxf4+ 40.Kg1 Qc1+ 41.Kf2 Qf4+ 42.Kg1 Kg8 43.Qb2?!

It's hard to defend the position with the queens on the board, so a rook endgame would have been reasonable: 43.Rf3 Qc1+ 44.Qf1 Qxf1+ 45.Rxf1 Rxb5 46.Ra1 Rb7 (tradeoffs are forced immediately after 46...a5 47.c4 Rb4 48.Rxa5 Rxc4 49.d5) 47.c4 with good chances for a draw.

43...a6! 44.c4?

The last step into the abyss. For better or worse, White should have played 44.Rf3 Qc7 45.Qa3 Rxb5 46.Qxa6 Rb1+ 47.Rf1 Rxf1+ 48.Kxf1 Qxc3 and defended patiently over many moves in this queen endgame without a pawn. 

With so many major pieces on the board, Aronian fails to hold the fort: Svidler prepares a checkmate and delivers it smoothly.

44...axb5 45.c5

The win is much more beautiful if 45.cxb5 Rc8! 46.Rf3 Rc1+ 47.Kf2 Qh4+ 48.Rg3 Rd1 49.b6 Rxd4! 50.b7 Qf4+ 51.Ke2 Re4+! 52.Kd3 Rb4; it's a pity that Peter didn't get the opportunity to play it.

45...Qe4 46.Qd2

46.h3 Rd8 is also bad, but now an immediate capitulation is due.

46...Qb1+ 47.Kf2 Ra8 48.Qe1 Qb2+ White resigned, and the Russian, to his numerous fans' delight, returned to the runners-up group, which had frozen at the 50% mark.

Despite this blow of fate, Aronian kept up his spirits and was able to pressurize Caruana with Black. The white king walked on a thread, but the ruthless Caissa never smiled upon her hero: a draw followed... 

Rustam Kasimdzhanov's current and previous trainees

After Aronian's unlucky streak, only Caruana, Karjakin and Anand stayed in the fray. The American-Italian grandmaster took the first step by defeating the world ex-champion severely with a novelty found by his new second, Rustam Kasymdzhanov. It should be noted that the Uzbek grandmaster and theoretician assisted Viswanathan Anand at several world crown matches and helped Sergey Karjakin afterwards. But when the crisis broke out in Russia and Alpari suspended cooperation with Sergey, his second went away to Caruana. Just think that the chess crown might not return to Russia because of those minor things. Rustam might be showing novelties to the Russian player together with Vladimir Potkin!  

And I wonder what Anand thought when he learned that this cruel gut-punch was delivered by none other than his previous armor-bearer with whom they had been working together for so many years?

Caruana – Anand
Round 10

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4 5.Bg2 0–0 6.0–0 e4 7.Ng5 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Re8 9.f3

The English Opening is definitely all the rage at this tournament, and Vishy is having problems on this turf. 


Anand doesn't repeat Karjakin's 9...e3, keeping in mind his own idea from a game versus Levon Aronian.

10.Nxf3 d5

10...Qe7 11.e3 Ne5 has the reputation of a reliable line, but the Indian grandmaster is determined to defend the solution that was once cursed with bell, book and candle and written off.


During the great Ks' race at the 1988 USSR Championship Kasparov literally routed Ivanchuk after 11...Ne4 12.Qc2 dxc4 13.Rb1 f5 14.g4! Qe7 15.gxf5 Nd6 16.Ng5 Qxe2 17.Bd5+ Kh8 18.Qxe2 Rxe2 19.Bf4 Nd8 20.Bxd6 cxd6 21.Rbe1 Rxe1 22.Rxe1 Bd7 23.Re7 Bc6 24.f6!

11...dxc4 12.Qc2

Here it is, Kasimdzhanov's novelty! White wants to get Kasparov's stance with a transposition. Levon tried 12.Bg5 h6 13.Bxf6 Qxf6 14.e4 Bg4 15.Qa4, but was faced with 15…Qd6 16.Rae1 Rab8! 17.Qxc4 b5: the b-pawn's thrust undermines the white center and brings good counterplay (Aronian ― Anand, 2015).


This is probably not the best move. If 12...Ne4, then White can follow in Kasparov's footsteps ― 13.Rb1 ― or even prefer 13.Ne5! Nxe5 14.Qxe4 Ng4 15.Qf4! Qe7 16.e4. An important line for the new variation is 12...Qe7!? 13.Bd2 Ne4 (it's dangerous to play 13...Qxe2 14.Rae1 Qd3 15.Rxe8+ Nxe8 16.Qb2)14.Rae1 f6 15.Bc1 – new games and studies are required here.

13.Bf4 Ne4

Despite the computer's reassurance, a human would think that after 13...Nd5 14.e4 Nxf4 15.gxf4 Bg4 16.Rae1 White has a strong compensation, but this is still better than what the world ex-champion got in the game.

14.Rad1 Bf5

Attacked from everywhere. Again, a neutral 14...Qe7 might be preferred, whereas 14...f5 15.g4! is in White's favor.

15.Ne5! Nd6?

A second-rate move. After 15...Nxg3 16.e4 Nxf1 (worse is 16...Nxe4 17.Bxe4 Bxe4 18.Qxe4 f6 19.Nxc6) 17.exf5 Nxh2 18.Bxh2 Nхe5 19.Bхe5 Qg5 White's bishops are strong, but the position is still sharp and, most importantly, Black still has a chance for the redemptive sacrifice on e5, keeping the pawns versus the g2 bishop.

And now a straightforward onslaught on the castled king's position begins.

16.e4 Bh7 17.Qe2! Ne7

A sad necessity, but it is bad to play 17...f6 18.Nxc6 bxc6 19.e5! Bd3 20.Rxd3 cxd3 21.Qxd3 fxe5 22.dxe5 Nf7 23.Qc4, and the bishops dominate the position. 


The simple 18.Bc1 was very strong, but given the approaching time trouble and Anand's less-than-perfect psychological condition, Caruana acts with determination.

18...gxh6 19.Qh5

How to defend? What loses beautifully is 19...Rf8 20.Qxh6 Nxe4 21.Bxe4 Bxe4 22.Rf4 Qd6 23.Rf6 (some effort is still needed in the endgame 23.Rg4+ Ng6 24.Rxe4 Nxe5) 23...Qa3 24.Re1 Bg6 25.Nxg6 Nxg6 (or 25...fxg6 26.Rxe7) 26.Ree6!!

The best opportunity seems to be 19...Nd5!? 20.exd5 (the line 20.Nxf7!? Nf6 21.Nxh6+ Kh8 22.Qh3 Rxe4! is not so clear) 20...Qg5 21.Qf3: White retains the pressure, but this is not a decisive attack yet. Anand decides to exchange the queens, but the endgame proves to be very bad.

19...Nef5? 20.exf5 Qg5 21.Qxg5+ hxg5 22.f6!

The powerful pawn wedge paralyses the black forces, and although Vishy was criticized for his next move on the grounds of having a strong position after 22...Rad8 23.Rde1 c6, it's clear that this is hopeless: 24.h4 gxh4 25.gxh4 Bd3 26.Rf4. The pirouette of the knight chasing the c3 pawn speeds up the demise.

22...Ne4?! 23.Rfe1!

An elegant move compared to the straightforward 23.Bxe4 Bxe4 24.Nxc4.


There is no way back home: 23...Nd6 24.Bd5! c6 25.Bxc4 Rxe5 26.Bxf7+ Kxf7 27.dxe5 with a win.

24.Rc1! Nb5 25.Bxb7 Rad8

Again the only way: 25...Rab8 26.Bc6 Re6 (26...Red8 27.Bxb5 Rxb5 28.Nc6 Ra8 29.Rxc4) 27.d5.

26.Bc6 Nxd4 27.Bxe8 Rxe8

The black king is hopelessly bad, but even that doesn't provide any worthy compensation for the exchange.

28.Kf2 Nc2 29.Red1 Be4 30.Nxc4 Re6 31.Rd8+ Kh7 


The last touch.

32...Rxf6 33.Rf1!, and Anand resigned.

After that defeat the great champion played with White versus Sergey Karjakin. The endgame didn't bode ill for Black at first, but Anand's ingenious play created an original pawn pattern on the board and brought the Muscovite into time trouble, which led to a fatal mistake.

Anand – Karjakin
Round 11

Opposite-colored bishops are a harbinger of a draw. And Sergei only had to hold ground! He still had two white games and an encounter with the underperforming Veselin... But Vishy, like in many other pivotal games in his career, tipped the scale in his favor.  

31.b6! a6

Doubling the pawns 31...axb6 32.cxb6 seems to be a bad idea.

32.Rc7 Kf8

For now Black has no reasons to give away material in order to ease the tension: 32...Rxc7 33.bxc7 Rc8 34.Rd7+ Ke8 35.Rxg7 Kf8 36.Rd7 Ke8 37.Rd6 Ke7 38.Rd4 Rxc7 39.Rxe4+. He will however have to part with the e4 pawn, but it would be nice to trade off all the four rooks before that.

33.c4 Be6 34.Rxe4 Kf7 35.f4!

The bishop hurries to the rook's rescue, and any delay is fatal. A great practitioner, Anand took decisive action just before the time control once again.

35...Rxc7 36.bxc7

36... Rc8?

And here comes the mistake! A draw ensued after 36...f5! 37.Re5 (37.Rd4 Rc8 38.fxg5 Rxc7=), and the simplest thing is 37...Bc8 38.Rxe8 Kxe8 39.fxg5 fxg4 40.h4 g6: the bishop only had to get to h5.

37.f5! Bd7 38.h4!

A beautiful tactical resource; a similar position resulted after 38...Rxc7 39.hxg5 fxg5 40.Rd4! (40.Bxg5?! Bc8) 40...Be8 41.Bxg5, and if 38...gxh4 39.Rd4! White retains the nail on с7.

Sergey chose

38...g6 39.Rd4 Rxc7 40.hxg5 fxg5 41.Bxg5 Be8

There is no 41...Bc8 42.Rd8 with the threat 43. Bf4.

42.f6!, and he was unable to save the game.

Meanwhile, Fabio accurately took advantage of Veselin's impulsive game and had every reason to increase the gap between himself and his pursuers to a full point. But the wicked fate kept the intrigue going, bringing all the participants, their close ones and the audience to a condition in which one can't do without some tranquilizers.

Topalov – Caruana
Round 11

White lacks an exchange, and he can only lay hopes on his queenside pawns that might start moving at some point.

36.Bf4 Be7

The easiest way to reach the goal was 36...Bxf4! 37.exf4 Kf8, for example, 38.a4 Ke7 39.b4 Rg1! 40.a5 Rxg3 41.a6 Rgh3 42.a7 Rh8. But nerves and time trouble played their part... The transition of the bishop to c5 gave a pretext for combinations involving the passed pawns' rush.

37.e4 Bc5 38.e5 Re1?

It wasn't late to play 38...Kf8 39.a4 Ke7, but Fabio suddenly blundered, overlooking the fact that Topalov could threaten to sacrifice a second exchange on c5.

39.Rc2! g5

The relaxed 39...Kf8 is already countered with 40.Rxc5!? bxc5 41.Bg5, which is why a forced line is played with hopes to get over time control.

40.Bxg5 Rxe5 41.Bf6 Rd5

Less precise is 41...Reh5 42.b4 Bf8 43.Bd8, but now one has to consider 42.Rxc5! Rxc5 43.Bd8 Rhh5 44.a4.

A long analysis shows that the titanic battle of the bishops and pawns versus rooks ends in a draw, but Fabio decided that it was rather risky in light of the lost advantage. So he offered a draw. To be honest, I never doubted that Topalov would decline. Just remember the Sofia rules ― playing to bare kings ― repeatedly touted by Veselin and his manager.

But the Bulgarian agreed, and without any hesitation. Just like in George Orwell's Animal Farm: All are equal under the Sofia rules, but some are more equal than the others. 

As mentioned earlier, Caruana found himself under pressure from Aronian in round 12, whereas Karjakin used his chance against Topalov. And he proved himself to be a real warrior, savage and with a club. He made the e2-e4 move, without any 'houses' like Nf3, g3, Bg2. And he just tore Black apart.  

Karjakin – Topalov
Round 12

In a current tabia of the Najdorf Variation, Veselin used the interesting idea of occupying the c4 square with his knights, and, as another expert of this scheme said, 17...Bf6! was the right move here.

Black has an excellent compensation for the pawn after 18.gxf7+ Rxf7 19.Nxe6 Qe8 20.Nd4 Rc8;

18.f4 Rc8 looks pretty good;

In the event of 18.h6 fxg6 19.Nxe6 Qe7 20.Nxf8 Bxc3! 21.bxc3 Topalov would have had a plethora of interesting moves: 21…Rxf8, 21...d5 or 21...Bxe4 – each of them with a splendid compensation.

Which is why Sergei should have thought about the modest 18.Qg4. 

17...Nxe3?! was probably worse: 18.fxe3 (18.Qxe3 Bg5 19.f4 Bh6) 18...Qd7 19.Qg4 – the c4-knight's disappearance kills Black's counterplay.

17...Rc8?? 18.h6! fxg6

18...hxg6 19.hxg7 Re8 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.Rdg1 loses.


What a nightmare: later Topalov admitted that he was considering 19.hxg7 Rf6! Now Black is on the brink of collapse, and his desperate attempts to stir up waters are thwarted by Sergey precisely.

19...Qd7 20.Nxf8 Bxf8 21.hxg7 Bxg7 22.Bd4 a5 23.Bxg7

A good possibility was: 23.Nd5!? b4 24.axb4 axb4 25.Kb1 Bxd5 (25...Qb5 loses immediately: 26.Ne7+ Kf7 27.Qf3+ Kxe7 28.Rxh7) 26.exd5 Be5 27.Qd3!, but the Russian demonstrates that he is not afraid of concrete lines.

23...Qxg7 24.Qg4 


There are more practical problems after 24...b4!?, but here there is a very beautiful 25.Qe6+ Kh8 26.Rd3!! Nxb2

If 26...bxc3 27.Rxc3 Ba6 28.Rxh7+! Qxh7 29.Rh3 Qxh3 30.Qxh3+ Kg7 31.Qd7+ Kh6 32.f4, then the black pieces are powerless against the queen.

27.Rxd6 Qxc3 (или 27...bxc3 28.Rd7) 28.Rxh7+ Kxh7 29.Qxg6+ Kh8 30.Qh6+ Kg8 31.Rg6+ Kf7 32.Qh7+ with checkmate. Everything turned out to be much simpler in the game.

25.Qg5 Bc6 26.Qh6! Qh8

Excepting the queens' tradeoff is lethal: 26...Qxh6+ 27.Rxh6 Kg7 28.Rh4 with an easy conversion of the extra material.

27.b3 Nxa3

The other moves also lose: 27...Bxe4 28.Rde1 Nxa3 29.Qh3 d5 30.f3 Qxc3 31.Qxh7+ Kf8 32.Qh8+, 27...Qxc3 28.Qxh7+ Kf8 29.Qh8+. Karjakin thought that 27...Ne5 was better, but there is no salvation even there: 28.Rxd6 b4 29.f4 Nf7 30.Rxg6+ hxg6 31.Qxg6+ Qg7 32.Qxc6.

28.Rh3 Bd7 29.Rg3 Qf6 30.Rh1

The computer wins this game in a straightforward way: 30.Rdg1 Re6 31.f4, but White's choice is no worse.

30...Re7 31.Qh4 Qg7 

32.Nd5 Rf7 33.Qd8+ Qf8 34.Qxa5 Nxc2 35.Qc3, and the Bulgarian grandmaster resigned in light of 35…Na3 36.Rxg6+!

As mentioned earlier, Fabiano Caruana avoided execution from Levon Aronian by the skin of his teeth: shortly before time control, Levon missed an opportunity to sacrifice a rook with great style, getting an endgame with good practical chances to succeed. Vishy Anand was much less lucky: his new game versus Hikaru Nakamura gave the ex-champion nothing but new disappointments.

Nakamura – Anand
Round 12

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4

A new battle in the English Opening. The question is why elite grandmasters don't play 4...d5?

5.Nd5 e4 6.Nh4 0–0 7.Bg2 d6 


Earlier, Topalov tested 8.Nxb4 Nxb4 9.a3 Nc6 10.d3 d5! against Aronian, and Black received good counterplay, winning after the opponent's mistakes. Hikaru is better prepared and has stashed an amazing idea.


It is necessary to create the threat of an intrusion on the d4 square. It's easy and pleasant to play with White after 8...Ba5 9.b4 Bb6 10.Bb2! (10.Nxb6? is bad: axb6 11.Bb2 g5) 10...Bd4 11.Bxd4 Nxd4 12.e3 Nf5 13.Nxf5 Bxf5 14.0–0 Re8 15.f3, opening up the f-line, Nepomniachtchi style.

9.0–0 Re8

The bishop's location on c5 has its own disadvantages: 9...g5? 10.d4.


A strong innovation. 10.b4 Bd4 11.Rb1 Ne7 12.e3 Nexd5 13.exd4 Nb6 was tested in email correspondence, but here Black has no issues. White doesn't let the bishop get to d4, but what to do with the knight on h4?


The solid 10...Be6?! is no good: 11.b4 Bb6 12.Qb3 Ne5 13.Bb2 c6 (13...g5? 14.f4!) 14.Bxe5 dxe5 15.Nxf6+ Qxf6 16.Bxe4, and White is simply a pawn up.

Much more interesting is ChessPro's recommendation: 10...a5! 11.f3 Nxd5 12.cxd5 exf3 13.Nxf3 Ne7 14.Ng5 (14.Nh4!?) 14...f6! 15.Ne6 Bxe6 16.dxe6 d5 with a good fighting position.

11.b4 Bb6?

Almost a decisive mistake, according to Hikaru. The heated fighting continued after 11...gxh4! 12.Bb2 Nxd5 13.cxd5 Ne5 14.bxc5 Bg4, but even there the American had a dozen of further moves noted down. Anand, like in all of his recent games, opted for the endgame, but overlooked the killing blow.

12.Bb2 Nxd5 13.cxd5 Nd4?

Overlooking the response. 13...Ne5! seems to be better: 14.f4 Nc4 15.fxg5 Qxg5

The end is immediate after 15...Nxb2 16.Qh5 Qd7 (or 16...Qe7 17.Bxe4 Qxe4 18.Qxf7+ Kh8 19.g6) 17.Bh3.

16.Bf6 Qxd5 17.Kh1 Re5! (it's necessary to neutralize the bishop 17...c6 18.Nf5 Bxf5 19.Qh5) 18.Bxe5 Qxe5 19.d4 exd3 20.Qxd3 Be6, and the fight continues. 


If 14.Bxd4 Bxd4 15.exd4 gxh4 16.Qh5 Bd7 17.Qxh4 Qxh4 18.gxh4 a5, then Black has every chance to save the game, but now Nakamura has a better way of taking the knight, and Anand's bare king is left with nothing.


The other option is even worse: 14...exd3 15.Nf3 Ne2+ (the alternative is gloomy: 15...Nc2 16.Qxd3 Nxa1 17.Qc3 f6 18.Nxg5) 16.Kh1 Bf5 17.Ne1, winning.

15.dxe4 Ne6

The knight is also caught if 15...Nb5 16.a4, so Black is in dire straits.

16.dxe6 Rxe6 17.e5 hxg3 18.hxg3 Qg5

More resilient is 18...c6 19.exd6 Rxd6 20.Qc2.

19.exd6 Rxd6 20.Qb3 h5

Now the better option was 20...Bg4 21.Qc3 f6 22.Bxb7 Re8, but there is no pawn and the king is bad. Vishy gave up and wrapped the game up before the free day.

21.Rad1 Rh6

21...Be6 doesn't save: 22.Qc3 Kh7 23.Bxb7, and Black's further moves looked like a formal attempt to prolong the game a little more.

22.Rd5 Qe7 23.Qc4 Bg4 24.Qf4 Rg6 25.Re5 Qd6 26.Be4, and Black resigned because of the convincing 26…Rg7 27.Rg5.

Two rounds before the finish, the standings are the following: 1-2. Fabiano Caruana, Sergei Karjakin ― 7 each, 3. Viswanathan Anand ― 6.5, 4-6. Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler, Anish Giri ― 6 each, 7. Hikaru Nakamura ― 5.5, 8. Veselin Topalov ― 4.

Theoretically, six players retain chances to win the tournament, even though Anish Giri has the smallest chances because of his draws, since the first tiebreaker after personal encounter is the number of wins. On the other hand, Giri will be playing as White versus Anand and then Topalov, so if the competitors make it hard for Sergey and Fabiano, everything is possible! Sergey, playing Black, has to withstand Levon Aronian's 'game of last hope', and if all goes well, he will be playing White against Caruana at the final round.  Svidler, who plays versus Caruana in the penultimate round, might also help the Russian leader.

The two suspense-ridden final rounds are ahead, and we will believe in our favorites and, if you wish, pray for them. In an Orthodox Church for Sergey, in a Catholic Church for Fabiano, and in a Buddhist temple for Vishy. Personally, I really hope that the World Champion Magnus Carlsen's forecast will come true (the Norwegian gave an interview just before the competition) and that Sergey Karjakin will win!