Reports Mar 23, 2018 | 10:28 AMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 10: Kramnik does it again

Vladimir Kramnik beat Levon Aronian for the 2nd time in Berlin, and once again it was a masterpiece, with Peter Svidler describing their Round 10 game as a candidate for Game of the Year. Shockingly, though, that was a battle between players in last place, while Mamedyarov-Caruana could almost have decided Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger. Fabi seemed to win the opening battle but missed something in the middlegame and needed to dig hard to secure the draw that kept him in the lead with four rounds to go.

Aronian must have had enough of Kramnik by now... | photo: Niki Riga

You can replay all the games from the 2018 Candidates Tournament in Berlin using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:

Alexander Grischuk explained that when he watches a live stream of the Candidates it tends to be Sergey Shipov’s Russian version, since, “I always try not to watch Svidler during the tournament because he’s too brilliant for me and I start to feel miserable listening!”

Replay the commentary with Jan and Peter below:

Kramnik 1-0 Aronian: “Whatever I do lately it starts to get crazy”

Svidler: "To have this as some kind of side show is so sad - it should decide something!" | photo: Niki Riga

This was a game between two wounded animals, with world no. 3 Kramnik and world no. 5 Aronian tied for last place with world no. 4 Wesley So. Levon had stabilised somewhat with two draws after his World Championship dreams were crushed by losses in Rounds 6 and 7, while Vladimir had lost his last two games. There was a rest day to recover, but Kramnik decided not to go into the game all guns blazing:

As you saw from the opening, I was a bit tired of sharp games and I wanted to play a normal, safe, equal position, and finally it got… it seems that whatever I do lately it starts to get crazy! I don’t know how, why. It’s difficult to imagine out of this opening to get such a mess on the board, but I still managed, so I guess I shouldn’t even try, probably. There’s no chance, because really today you saw the opening, I just wanted to play an equal, solid position and that’s it, but I cannot manage it.

That was in large part down to Levon Aronian, who decided not to play for a draw but to provoke his opponent into a fight, and, in contrast to the one-sided (if beautiful) game in the first round, Levon gave as good as he got until the very end.

It produced what Svidler calls, “a really, really wonderful game”. Don’t miss his in-depth analysis!

Aronian explained afterwards that he had the feeling he was playing for a win at the end, but 36…Qc7??, instead of 36…Rg7!, allowed the exquisite finish 27.Ne8+!

Of course 37…Qxe5 runs into 38.Rxf8+ and mate next move.

Kramnik has now been involved in exactly half of the 14 decisive games in the Candidates Tournament, and now on “only” -1, and with games against the leaders to come, it’s unlikely he’s given up just yet!

Watch the post-game press conference:

Before we get to the key game of the day let’s quickly go through the draws, which while not exactly quiet never flared into life:

Grischuk ½-½ Karjakin: It’s very hard to beat Sergey

Grischuk and Karjakin can still potentially reach a match against Magnus | photo: Niki Riga

After the game Sergey Karjakin said that Alexander Grischuk’s 10.a4 had been an attempt to surprise him, but that he’d countered with a surprise of his own, 10…Ne4. The strange thing was that that move took Sergey almost 17 minutes to play, though it seems he was just recalling his analysis. He noted he’d looked at it from a different move order and knew it was fine for Black.

If Grischuk had an antidote prepared he couldn’t remember it, and though his 15.e4 break looked good, mass simplifications soon followed:


21.Bxf6 Rxc2 22.Bxd8 Rxc1+ 23.Rxc1 Rxd8 and the game ended in a draw on move 28.

You could sense some frustration afterwards from Grischuk that he’d failed to pose more problems with the white pieces, but he knew it was going to be tough:

It’s very hard to beat Sergey, even in this tournament when he’s not in his top form. With Black he made all draws, and actually when he’s White I’m the only person who made a draw with him, because he won two games and lost two games with White.

Grischuk certainly can’t be ruled out of contention to qualify for a match against Magnus, since the result kept him just half a point behind Mamedyarov and a point behind Caruana. He plays the leaders in the last two rounds of the tournament. Karjakin, on 50%, could also mount a challenge, though he probably needs to win three of his last four games.

Watch the post-game press conference:

Ding Liren ½-½ So: A perfect 10

Wesley So seems to have accepted his first Candidates Tournament will end in disappointment | photo: Niki Riga

Ding Liren is in the same position as Karjakin, but in the Chinese player’s case all the focus for now is on the fact that he’s managed to draw all ten of his games so far. 


Even Wesley So joined in at the post-game press conference:

You like Anish Giri, huh? Everyone likes Anish Giri! But Ding, four more – keep up the good work!

Wesley did add, though, that his “goal, a very difficult goal” is to finish on 50%. That would require at least two wins in the remaining games, though for now it seems Wesley is happy to play out the remainder of the tournament quietly and get ready for the US Championship challenge ahead.

In Round 10, Ding Liren sprung a surprise with 9.Be2 instead of the much more common 9.Bd3, sending Wesley into a 23-minute think. Soon White had picked up a pawn on c7, but the well-timed 15…e5 break gave Black more than ample counterplay:


After 16.Bg5 Wesley briefly contemplated trapping the bishop with 16…f6?!, but it seems he rightly judged that the complications after 17.Qb3+ Kh8 18.Qf7 wouldn’t be in his favour:

This is the kind of mayhem that was avoided in the game...

Instead after 16…Bxg5 17.hxg5 exd4 18.Qxd4 Qxg5 (Jan and Peter suggested 18…Nf8 as the one move that might prolong the game) the game soon fizzled out into a draw.

Watch the post-game press conference:

Mamedyarov ½-½ Caruana: To bare kings

The significance of each game for the leaders in the Candidates Tournament now is huge | photo: Niki Riga

This game could have been huge for the outcome of the tournament. It wasn’t just that a winner would be leading with four rounds to go, but that the player winning the mini-match (their first game was drawn) would have the huge advantage of the better tiebreak. If two players finish tied for first there won’t be a playoff, with head-to-head encounter, no. of wins and then Sonneborn-Berger deciding Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger.

In such a scenario it’s easy to expect safety first from the players, but in this game a Catalan soon became razor-sharp, with Fabiano playing 8…e5!?


As Jan and Peter explained live, this looked excellent for Black, since he had a known position except that instead of a black pawn being on a6 he’d developed the bishop to e7 instead – a much more useful move. In fact that other position was well-known to the players, since Mamedyarov had won it with Black against Ding Liren in the IMSA Mind Games Rapid in China in December last year. That was Ding Liren’s only loss in the rapid section, but he got revenge two days later in the first round of the blitz by beating Mamedyarov from the same position with White. Maybe it had an impact, since Shak went on to lose his next four games!

Caruana still leads the chase to play Carlsen | photo: Niki Riga

In both those games in China, Mamedyarov’s h5 with Black was met immediately by f3, which is what happened in Mamedyarov-Caruana as well:


Play continued 13…Qd3 14.fxg4 Bxc4 15.Nxc4 Qxc4 16.gxh5 and Caruana summed up jokingly, “f3 is the most logical move and kind of leads to the position I got, down two pawns”, but he added of White’s position, “probably it’s the worst pawn structure I’ve ever seen.”

There was another option, though, which was a move that wouldn’t have worked in either of those Chinese games, but was at the very least interesting in Berlin – 13…h4!!? After 14.fxg4 hxg3 15.Qf3 (though White has other options) the position is very playable for Black after either 15…Qd3 or 15…Rxh2. It would have been a brave decision to go for it in such an important game, though Caruana pointed out:

I think it’s probably best not to miss moves like h4! At least I should know that this is an option, and then decide.

It was sharp enough in the game, though, and after 25.e4 Peter Svidler wondered at a glance if Black was just lost in this position:


The threat is simply Rxe7 and Bg5+ next move, winning the d1-rook, while 25…Rh5? would lead to a much worse rook ending after those same moves. Fabi was in control at this point, though, and played the only move 25…Rh7, only to then be shaken by 26.h4:

I thought my position should be ok after the opening and I had time, so it wasn’t too uncomfortable, but then when I missed 26.h4 it was an unpleasant feeling. It might sound strange, but I thought I was better here, because I really didn’t see a way for White to prevent this idea.

After a long think Fabi went ahead with 26…Rf7 27.Kh3 Rff1 28.Bg5 Rxa1, winning the exchange, but the ensuing position was one in which it was White playing for the win. The plan looked simple...

...but Black always had resources, and Fabi managed to hold on and draw in 58 moves, with only bare kings left on the board!

Yep, it's definitely a draw | photo: Niki Riga

The draw kept Caruana half a point clear in the lead, but Mamedyarov had no regrets:

I tried and it was a nice try, I think. I tried and he played also good defence. A draw is a good result. More important I try! My feeling is good because I try and want to do my best, and a draw is a draw.

Watch the post-game press conference:

That leaves the standings looking as follows, with a clear bottom three now as well as a clear top three!


In Round 11 we have So-Mamedyarov, Ding Liren-Grischuk and Aronian-Karjakin, but the game to watch looks likely to be Caruana-Kramnik. A win would be huge for Fabiano, and his chances are likely to be boosted by the expectation that Vladimir will also be out to take one last shot at winning the event. He may also want revenge for the game that ruined his good start to the tournament. Caruana was asked what he expected:

What can you expect these days? Vlad is probably the most interesting player now at the top. He sometimes approaches positions in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend. I remember his game against Wesley from Wijk aan Zee and it just looked like the most quiet position ever, and then he sacked a piece for nothing, from a quiet Catalan. I’d never seen an idea like this. Of course he’s a great World Champion, but also one of the most unusual players these days. His talent’s changed so much over the years.

Do you think you can predict who’ll win the Candidates? If you can you’ll get three extra months free per year for which you Go Premium! Hurry, though, as the deadline is 19:00 CET on Friday 23 March:


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