28 March 2018

“The Shape of Water” Brings Fabiano Caruana into Shape

Vladimir Barsky reports from Berlin about penultimate round 13 of the Candidates Tournament 

After round 13 the American Fabiano Caruana is again on clear first after having defeated Levon Aronian (Armenia), whose play in this tournament is falling apart completely. The Russian Sergey Karjakin was unable to stir any fight as Black with Wesley So - the American grandmaster confidently killed all fighting potential in the position to fix a draw.  Going into the final round, Sergey is half a point behind the leader, and he has also been caught up by the Azeri Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who had outsmarted the Russian Alexander Grischuk.  In addition to the leading trio, purely theoretical chances of winning the Candidates tournament are also with Ding Liren (China).

The closer the finish of the Candidates tournament, the more people gather in the spectators hall and in the press center.  Coming here to get into the thick of the last two rounds is the famous Russian-French grandmaster, Anatoly Vaisser – a many-time world senior champion, journalist and coach. The first impressions are the brightest, as you know, and your correspondent asked Anatoly to share them with the reading audience.

Grandmasters Anatoly Vaisser and Artur Jussupow

– Unlike other big tournaments I've been to, press conferences in Kuhlhaus are open to everyone.  Hundreds of people are here today on the fourth floor, including children.  This idea has apparently been in the air from the very beginning, but it means that journalists are not part of it... It's somewhat unusual, I would say.  Video recording and Internet enable watching this press conference quietly afterwards.

And the round has been amazing, I am so full of emotions!  Volodya Kramnik was doing a great job and stood quite well at a certain moment of the game, but, unfortunately, he went astray in time trouble and the opponent got away with a draw... He is no longer in contention, but the creative winner is definitely Vladimir Kramnik!

Grischuk played very solid chess and was doing well in terms of time management.  His tournament situation called for a victory, and he was after his chances, but the water was too muddy ... Sasha is known to perform brilliantly in time trouble, but not always.  During the press conference it became clear that he knew how to make a draw easily, but kept looking for more.  There followed Mamedyarov's brilliant rejoinder, and Grischuk, having little time on his clock, committed an error and went down.

Now let us move to the central game of the round.  To be honest, I'm very sorry for Levon Aronian, who is a brilliant player.  Today I have arrived at the playhall before the start of the round and have had a careful look at the players.  Levon seemed somewhat lost to me, carried away with something.  It felt like he was easily put into a much worse position.  But then the board was on fire, all of a sudden: even though a piece sacrifice, undertaken by Black, looked completely out of this world, it could lead to an incredible draw! Down two pieces, Black could develop a dangerous attack, and certain lines were such as to require White to bail out already!  The game is exciting and, in my opinion, very interesting for fans.  Had Aronian had some 20 minutes left, he would, of course, have found the right idea 31...Nxb4, at least out of despair...

Sergey Karjakin’s game was a calm draw as Black.  The tournament intrigue has reached its peak: both leaders, Caruana and Mamedyarov, victims of the previous round, have won today, which puts as many as three or even four players in contention. 

Levon Aronian, Anastasiya Karlovich and Fabiano Caruana

Several journalists asked Fabiano Caruana to go up to the press center for an interview in a calm environment.  The American grandmaster noted, "Losing that last game actually helped my outlook a lot. I was kind of nervous trying to hold onto my lead and it ruined my play for a few games. My mood was not as good as my tournament situation!  I felt much better going into today's game with Aronian“.

According to Fabiano, his second and he spent a rest day going to the cinema, "We watched a movie that turned out to be excellent, because I managed to put chess aside for as long as two hours, which was exactly what I needed.  Shape of Water was excellent!" 

Caruana – Aronian

The engine recommends that White switches attention to the queenside: 24. Nxg6 fxg6 25. Bd3, but Caruana believed the sacrifice seen in the game (which he was also aware of) to be harmless for White.

24. Bd3 Bh5 25. g4 Bxg4

This is a desperado, according to A.Vaisser, but there is simply nothing better for Black.

26. hxg4 Nxg4 27. Nf5 Nxf2 28. Bc2 g6 29. N1e3

Stronger is 29. N5e3, but from a human player’s point of view the text is more natural.

29... gxf5 30. exf5 Qf6 31. Qxf2


Going from the playhall into the press conference Levon Aronian was informed by his friends that he could have drawn the game by 31... Nxb4!, which disappointed him a lot because this move had never even crossed his mind. Meanwhile, after 32. cxb4 Rd4! it was already up to White to come up with precise play to maintain equality: 33. Kh3! Rg8 34. Nd5 Rxd5 35. Qf3 or 33...Qg5 34. f6+ Kh8 35. Bd1 Rg8 36. Ng2, with a likely draw.

Now White has no problem consolidating and going into counterattack.

32. Rh1 Rd6 33. Bxe4 Rg8+ 34. Kf1 Ne5 35. Qf4 c6 36. axb5 Rg5 37. bxa6 Qd8 38. f6+ Ng6

39. Rxh6+ Black resigns.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Alexander Grischuk

Mamedyarov – Grischuk


30... a6 31. Qxc3 axb5 32. axb5 Nxb5 was a simple draw, but Black keeps looking for more.

31. Qc5 a6 32. e4! axb5 33. axb5 Kh7

It soon became clear that 33... Kg7 was more precise.

34. e5 Nxb5?

Now Black does not mind a draw, but overlooks a powerful intermezzo. Balance was maintained by 34. Nf5, for example: 35. e6 fxe6 36. Bd7 Nd6.

35. e6!

Grischuk counted on 35. Bxb5 c2 36. Qxc2 Qxb5, and it is time that a draw be agreed.

35... Qa3

Black was saved neither by 35... c2 36. exf7 Kg7 37. Qxe7, nor by 35... fxe6 36. Qxe7+ Kh6 37. Qf8+ Kh7 38. Qf7+ Kh8 39. Qf6+ Kh7 40. Be4.

36. Qxb5 c2 37. exf7 Kg7

After 37...c1Q 38. f8Q Black has not a single check at his disposal.

38. Be4 c1Q 39. Qe8 Black resigns.


According to the regulations, in the case of the shared first, the winner of the Candidates tournament is determined by tiebreakers, and they are as follows (given in the descending order of importance):  1. Head-to-head encounters, 2. number of victories 3. Sonneborn-Berger score.  If all tiebreakers are equal (and the probability of it happening gravitates to zero), a rapid tie-break matchup is to take place.  Here is how Anatoly Vaisser commented on this situation:

– Following the 2013 Candidates tournament in London, I heard no other opinions (which I share as well) but that in the case of the shared first a tie-break must be carried out.  It is evident that the additional tiebreakers’ idea does not come from chess players - others have simply opted for something easy to calculate.  The tie-break match is to take place only in the unlikely event that all three additional tiebreakers are equal.  Excuse me for this comparison, but this is an incompetent person’s approach!  It comes from a person who has absolutely no idea about chess tournaments, tension-filled struggle, or world championship matches!  Five years have passed since the London event, at which Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik shared 1-2 places and these absurd regulations landed Carlsen first without having to play a tie-break match, but nothing has changed.  Decisions are made by functionaries, only a few of whom have had anything to do with chess.  They should have at least consulted competent people on the issues of crucial important for the chess world!

The tournament standings after round 13:

1. F. Caruana – 8 out of 13; 2-3. S. Karjakin, S. Mamedyarov – 7.5; 4. Ding Liren – 7; 5. A. Grischuk – 6.5; 6. V. Kramnik – 6; 7. W. So – 5.5; 8. L. Aronian – 4.

Round 14 is scheduled on Tuesday, March 27, and features the following pairings: Grischuk - Caruana, Karjakin – Ding Liren, Kramnik - Mamedyarov, Aronian - So.

Pictures by Anastasiya Karlovich and Vladimir Barsky