29 March 2018

There is no Scaring Caruana Either by Bishops or Carlsen

Vladimir Barsky's report about the last 14th round of the Candidates Tournament in Berlin 

On the final day Levon Aronian (Armenia) and Wesley So (USA) were the first to finish their game within half an hour.  Both outstanding grandmasters have not had the event going their way, and were no doubt willing to get it over with as soon as possible to start preparing for the upcoming challenges.

The Russian Sergey Karjakin was White against Ding Liren and hoped to score the first goal to the so far undefeated Chinese as allowing him to catch up with Caruana and overtake him by additional tiebreakers.  However, Ding has remained the only unbeatable participant of the Berlin marathon.  Moreover, the latter managed to turn the tables by delivering an unexpected tactical blow to Karjakin in the middlegame, upon which Sergey had hard time staying in the game.

Karjakin – Ding Liren

27…h3+! 28. Kg1

The pawn is invincible: 28. Kxh3 g4+ 29. Kg2 gxf3+ or 29. Kxg4 Qe6+ with a checkmate in two.

28... Rxf3

29. g4!

Sergey managed to pull himself together to find the only defensive resource. In case of the immediate 29. Rxf3 Qxf3 30. Qxf3 Rxf3 31. g4 Kf7 32. Rf1 Rxf1+ 33. Kxf1 Bxa5, and, with the white knight never making it out of d5, Black should win.

29...Kg7 30. Rxf3 Qxf3 31. Qxf3 Rxf3 32. Rf1 Rxf1+ 33. Kxf1 Bxa5 34. Ne7! Kf6 35. Nf5 Ke6 36. Ng3 Bd8 37. Nh1 a5 38. Ke2 d5 39. Nf2

The f2-knight keeps the fortress unassailable.

39…Kd6 40. exd5 Kxd5 41. Ne4 Kc6 42. Kd2 Be7 43. Kc1 Kb5 44. Kb2 a4 45. Ka2 a3 Draw.

Vladimir Kramnik and Anatoly Karpov

A symbolic first move in the game Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) was made by the 12th world champion Anatoly Karpov.  Before the ceremony he addressed Vladimir with a smile:

– Well, will you tell me your secret first move?

Kramnik smiled back and responded loudly in English (probably for his words to be heard by the broadcast viewers):

– Initially, I wanted to play differently, but out of respect for Anatoly Yevgenyevich, I kindly ask you make his favorite move 1.d4!

Having completed his mission, Karpov left for the VIP zone, where an exhibition of his stamps and postal envelopes was put out on display for visitors and journalists, which is actually a minor part of his richest collection.

After the game Mamedyarov thanked his opponent for now shying away from a big fight, which gave winning chances to both sides.  Shakh opted for a very rare, sharp, but not entirely correct line of the Catalan opening, in which White could immediately achieve a big edge should he happen to recall the correct refutation.  Kramnik remembered the evaluation and main ideas, but failed to have the exact order of the moves retrieved from his memory.  Thanks to this, Black was safely out of the opening, and there followed a viscous double-edged struggle with mutual chances.  White pressurized the opponent’s kingside, but Mamedyarov carried out a beautiful trading combination, which resulted in an approximately equal ending.

Kramnik – Mamedyarov

32…Bxf2! 32. Qxf2 Bxh3+ 33. Kg1 Qxf2+ 34. Kxf2 Rxe5 35. Bxe5 Ng4+ 36. Kg1 Nxe5 37. Be2 Kg7 38. Rxa7 Kf6 39. Ra5 Bd7 40. Kf2 Ke6 41. Ke3 Kd6 42. Ra1 h5 43. Rd1+ Ke7 44. Kd4 f6 45. Kc5 Bh3 46. Ra1 Bg2 47. Ra4 Ke6 48. Rd4 Nf3 49. Rd8 Ng5 50. Bc4+ Ke7 51. Rg8 Nxe4+ 52. Kxc6 Nd6+

Initially Kramnik was eager to play for the win after 53. Bd5 Bxd5+ 54. Kxd5, but was in time to spot that 54…Nf5 55. Rxg6? Kf7! drops a rook.

53. Kc5 Nxc4 54. Kxc4 Kf7 Draw.

And the only victory that day was scored by Fabiano Caruana, who was Black against Alexander Grischuk.  The Russian grandmaster got a very promising position out of the opening, but chose the wrong plan at a critical moment, and the the situation equalized.  In the struggle that followed White was, perhaps, too optimistic about the strength of his bishop pair and missed the central breakthrough, which sent him into the defensive.  Caruana was energetic in building up his edge, winning a pawn and gradually bringing the point home.

Grischuk – Caruana

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. dxe5 d5 5. Nbd2 Nxd2 6. Bxd2 Be7 7. Bd3 c5 8. c3 Nc6 9. 0-0 Bg4 10. Re1 Qd7 11. h3 Bh5 12. Bf4 Qe6

13. a3

White maintains initiative with 13. Be2! (aiming at Nd4) 13…0-0 14. Qd2 Bg6 15. Rad1.

13...0-0 14. b4 h6 15. Bg3 b6 16. Nd4

White’s evaluation of the arising endgame must have been faulty: a bishop pair promises him nothing in terms of advantage.

16…Bxd1 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Raxd1 c4 19. Bc2 b5 20. a4 a6 21. f3 Bg5 22. Bf2 Bf4 23. Bc5 Rfd8 24. Bd6 Bg3 25. Re2 g5 26. Kf1 Kf7 27. Bc7 Re8 28. Bd6

In the VIP hall Anatoly Karpov stood by the monitors and discussed the game position with Alexander Riazantsev, Sergey Karjakin’s second.  The computer displayed zeros at that moment, but the grandmasters were of equal opinion that White's position was very difficult.  White had no active plan, while Black could gradually improve his pieces.


Caruana displayed no hesitation in refusing the move repetition.

29. Ra1 Red8 30. Bb1 Rd7 31. Ra3 d4 32. axb5 axb5 33. cxd4 Nxd4 34. Rea2 Nc6 35. Be4

35…Bxe5 36. Bxc6 Rxd6 37. Bxb5 Rd1+ 38. Ke2 Rg1 39. Ke3 Rb1 40. Ra7+ Kf6 41. Bd7 Bf4+ 42. Ke2 Rd8 43. Rc2

The pawn is doomed, for example: 43. b5 c3 44. Rc2 Rb2 45. Kd3 Rxb5 46. Kxc3 Rc5+ 47. Kd3 Rd5+ or 47. Kb3 Rb8+.

43... Rxb4 44. Bc6 c3 45. Rd7 Rc8 46. Be4 h5 47. Kd3 Rb2 48. Ke2 h4 49. Rd1 Ke5

50. Ra1 Rd8 51. Rd1 Rdb8 52. Ra1 Bd2 53. Ra6 Rd8 54. Rc6 Rb1 55. Kf2 Ra1 56. Rc4 Rd4 57. Rc8 Rb4 58. Ke2 Kf4 59. Kf2 Rbb1 60. Rf8+ Ke5 61. Bd3 Rb2 62. Ke2 Re1+ 63. Kf2 Rc1 64. Rxb2 cxb2 65. Rb8 Bc3 66. Be4 Bd4+ 67. Ke2 Kf4 68. Rb4 e5 69. Rb7 Kg3 White resigns.

Fabiano Caruana with his second Rustam Kasimdzhanov and the Candidates tournament commentator Judit Polgar 

When the official awarding ceremony was over, Fabiano Caruana had the following to share with your correspondent:

– Well, I think that I prepared well before the tournament and I came here in good shape. And there were obviously some rough moments, but overall I am very happy with my play and preparation. My best game? They were all sort of different...Maybe my game with Wesley So from round one was the best,  I think today’s game against Grischuk was a good one. In terms of content and excitement I guess my game as Black against Kramnik is by far the best! It was a very important one because Vladimir was in the lead and it kind of turned the tournament trend around.

– What was your strategy going into the last round?

– I thought that there is definitely a chance that Sergey will win and I thought there was a smaller chance that Shakhriyar will defeat Kramnik as Black. I thought that my best chance would be to just play a normal game, and if it is a draw – it’s a draw. I was definitely not opposed to a draw from the start, and if I get a chance I will take it.

– Following a draw in Kramnik – Mamedyarov a draw was enough for you as well, but you decided to play on, right?

– At that moment I had an overwhelming position without any risk.

– What do you think about your opponents?

– I was very impressed again with Sergey. He started very badly, but when he gets his chances he takes them.

Vladimir is such an interesting player these days! He is brilliant, but also completely inconsistent. And he often has very strange evaluations of positions. But still very brilliant indeed, and, I think, one of the most interesting in the world today!

Shakhriyar was consistent and very good, but he had a weak moment against Ding Liren, and it cost him the tournament, I think.

I think Alexander was very disappointed with his performance. He had chances nearly till the end of the tournament, and after his draw against Aronian he was disappointed because he had winning chances in that game. And after that draw he was suddenly losing his both last games. I thought that he came with the most interesting ideas in the opening - his opening against Ding Liren with a piece sacrifice. He also had an opening preparation against Aronian, which I also used; I copied him - it was a brilliant preparation! I thought in terms of openings he was the most creative and industrious.

– How did you recover from a difficult loss to Karjakin?

– It was a difficult moment indeed. Thankfully, we had a rest day. We were able to go out watch a movie and forget about chess. Somehow I was very disappointed and thought it would cost me the tournament, and still I realized that I have a chance and I should fight. And this actually helped me improve my play. In the last two games I played much better than before.

– How do you evaluate your chances against Magnus?

I think it is going to be very close, I would say about fifty-fifty. I do not think he is a big favorite in the match. I think most people will disagree with that, but I still think that I am confident in my chances, and a lot will come down to how well I am prepared.  If I come in good form, feeling good, feeling confident, then I think I will definitely put up a good fight

– You always play a lot of tournaments. Are you going to change your schedule after this victory in Berlin?

– Well, the thing is I am already committed to playing so many tournaments this year, especially since this is an Olympiad year. This is going to be a very crazy and hectic schedule, but I will try to find a few months to just sit down in a camp and prepare with some strong grandmasters.

– And my last question: are you going to play in Russia any time soon?

– I used to play in Russia a lot, but I do not have a chance anymore, usually. This is a shame, because I always enjoy playing in Russia. I very much wanted to play in the Tal Memorial, in the blitz and rapid events, but it was too close to the Candidates, so I couldn’t do it. Hopefully, there will be some events that I can attend, and will do it with pleasure!

The winner's speech 

Final standings:

1. F. Caruana - 9 out of 14; 2-3. S. Karjakin, S. Mamedyarov - 8; 4. Ding Liren - 7.5; 5-6. A. Grischuk, V. Kramnik - on 6.5; 7. W. So - 6; 8. L. Aronian - 4.5.

A matchup for the world chess crown between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana will take place in London in November 2018.

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky and Anastasiya Karlovich