Reports Mar 25, 2018 | 10:10 AMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 12: A Carlsen-Karjakin rematch?

Sergey Karjakin now leads the race to become Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger after he beat Fabiano Caruana in perhaps the most dramatic day of tournament chess since Carlsen and Kramnik both lost on the final day of the 2013 Candidates Tournament in London. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov also fell as Ding Liren ended his drawing streak to become the only unbeaten player in Berlin. The 2-horse race we saw for most of the event is a distant memory, as Alexander Grischuk is also among the five players within half a point of the lead with just two rounds to go!

Karjakin beats Caruana at the critical moment of another Candidates Tournament | photo: Niki Riga

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

Relive the day's action in Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson's live commentary: 

Karjakin-Caruana 1-0: “I felt ok, I should play like a man"

If Caruana is going to be Carlsen's challenge he now needs to outscore Karjakin in the last two rounds | photo: Niki Riga

If Sergey Karjakin goes on to earn a World Championship rematch there are dramatic turning points we’ll look back on. In Round 7 he won a completely innocuous 4 pawn vs. 4 pawn ending that his opponent Wesley So said even a child could have held. It was hard to imagine it then, but that lit the torch paper for a run of 4 wins in 6 games. In Round 9 Fabiano Caruana missed tricky win after tricky win against Ding Liren until finally missing a win that he really should have seen. And then, of course, there was this game.

Afterwards both players pointed out that it was very different to their final game from the 2016 Candidates Tournament. Caruana explained:

It was just a totally different situation. Two years ago I had to play for a win with Black, which is much more difficult than my task today, which was to… a draw would have been a very good result today. But the result was the same and in neither case was it very good. 

In fact it was hard not to see the similarities, and in both cases it revolved around the d5-square. In 2016, needing only a draw, Sergey Karjakin trusted his calculations to sacrifice a rook:


37.Rxd5! exd5 38.Qxd5 and he went on to win a famous game that earned him a World Championship match. Back then Caruana had played the Sicilian, and understandably the position he got out of the Petroff Defence this time round wasn’t quite so dramatic, but if anything the decision Sergey made was braver. Without the sacrifice in 2016 he would have been worse, while this time he had plenty of quiet options after 16…Bg4!?:


Sergey sacrificed the exchange for a pawn with 17.Bxd5!! Bxd1 18.Rxd1. He explained his reasoning afterwards:

Then I felt ok, I should play like a man. If I don’t sacrifice in this tournament situation, then what else do I need to sacrifice? When? It was a perfect moment for sacrificing!

Caruana wished he’d played a move like 16…f5 instead, since it slowly dawned on him how bad his position was from a practical perspective:

It was only after a few moves that I realised that I really can’t do anything. I was under this illusion that I would have some counterplay, or some way to trade bishops, or some way to get my king safe, but I just couldn’t find a way. White just plays these prophylactic moves, Kb1, Ka2, and the king is very safe. Maybe it’s not so bad, but practically I just thought it was so unpleasant.

Caruana admitted his sense of danger had let him down and revealed he only realised what he’d done away from the board:

Once I went to the rest area and I looked at the monitors and saw it from the white side I started to regret what I’d done, because it looked so beautiful for White.

Don’t miss Peter Svidler’s in-depth analysis of a hugely significant game of chess:

That game left Caruana and Karjakin tied on the lead on 7/12, but since the first tiebreak is head-to-head score Sergey is in the lead and Fabiano will need to outscore his rival in the last two games to earn a match against Carlsen. He kept his cool at the post-game press conference, though he’d suffered a huge blow:

This is the worst thing basically that could have happened, but it’s still two games, so we’ll see.

Karjakin compared his comeback, as we did in our last report, to the 2016 Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, though this time round Karjakin’s position is much better, since back then Vishy Anand never faltered in the lead. 

Watch the players after the game:

Mamedyarov 0-1 Ding Liren: Improving on Kramnik

Ding Liren had a lot to smile about | photo: Niki Riga

Yesterday we mistakenly called the chase to become the challenger “a four-horse race”, writing off the chances of Ding Liren. 1.5 points behind with three rounds to go and facing Shakhriyar Mamedyarov with Black in Round 12, it didn’t seem unreasonable, but suddenly the Chinese no. 1 is 3rd and the only unbeaten player left in the tournament.

Perhaps “suddenly” is the wrong word, though, since Ding has been maturing before our eyes, getting more confident in each post-game press conference and demonstrating impressive calculation and judgement. He’s come a long way since his 5th round game against Mamedyarov, when we wrote, “It seemed in the press conference as though Mamedyarov was giving his opponent a lesson…”. This time it was a role reversal, even though Ding Liren had had a tough night reflecting on his missed chances against Grischuk:

I didn’t sleep well during the night but in the end I managed to sleep in the morning and today I feel refreshed.

The game also showed that Ding Liren had picked up on the wisdom that nothing Kramnik does in the opening is entirely random:

Today I didn’t prepare this line exactly but I just wanted to play quietly. And when he played this line I remembered what Kramnik played and I checked it during the game. I didn’t see where White can improve, so I just followed his idea.

Mamedyarov felt the time had come to show his aggressive side, but it backfired badly | photo: Niki Riga

It was a repeat of the Semi-Tarrasch from So-Kramnik all the way up to 18…h6 (though So and Kramnik repeated the position once):


Here Wesley went for the d5-break but got nothing, instead having to sit for hours as Kramnik unwisely tired himself out trying to nurse a microscopic advantage to victory.

Mamedyarov didn’t seem prepared for the line Kramnik had played and in the post-game press conference thought, incorrectly, that it was Ding Liren who had deviated first. 18.Qh2 already cost Shak 11 minutes, and then his novelty, 19.Ne5, cost him 13 more. Ding Liren returned the favour by thinking for 23 minutes over 19…Nf6, and a double-edged struggle began. Both sides soon thought they were better and were playing for a win, though initially the impression was that it was Shak who was most likely to whip up a dangerous attack.

Nigel Short had had a dream…

...but then started to doubt it:

After the game, though, Mamedyarov regretted his 28.g4!?


He suggested 28.a3 (28.Nxe6!? is also an interesting option), though that was easier to say in hindsight when the power of Black’s play on the queenside had been revealed. The players continued to play on opposite sides of the board until 36…a3! proved to be the decisive idea in the position:


Objectively it seems already lost, and although Mamedyarov didn’t follow the computer’s first line he did go for his best chance of saving the game – a direct attack on the black king. It came very close to working, with the following position reached on the board – and in the analysis of Jan and Peter during the English live show – after 43.Rh5:


It looks as though White is surviving, but what not only the commentators but Ding Liren himself had missed in advance was that Black has the only winning move 43…Qa7+!, forking the white king and bishop. Ding Liren described himself as “very lucky”, but given, for instance, his game against Grischuk the day before, he’s earned some luck!

That result meant that Anish Giri’s record of 14 draws in 14 games in the Candidates still stands:

It also gives Ding Liren a serious chance to play a match against Magnus. As the only unbeaten player he’s not inferior to anyone on the first tiebreaker of head-to-head result and would beat Mamedyarov (admittedly the 2nd tiebreaker of “most wins” is more of an issue!), while his opponent in the final round is a certain Sergey Karjakin...

Grischuk ½-½ Aronian: A chance missed?

Aronian and Karjakin. Do nerves make all the difference when it comes to the Candidates Tournament? | photo: Niki Riga

This was by far the quietest game of the round, but it was still an intriguing battle. Alexander Grischuk played the rare 9.Bd2 in a closed Ruy Lopez and later revealed one point of the move by putting that bishop on a5. It looked promising for White, but Aronian felt he was ok after 18…Nc5 and the game looked likely to end peacefully until Levon allowed 22.Nxe7 Qxe7:


Our commentators and some grandmasters in chat felt 23.c5!? should just have been an automatic move, and Grischuk himself called it “principled”, but he said he “couldn’t find a way” after 23…dxc5 24.bxc5 Rcd8, since 25.Nxe5 is met by 25…Nf4! It’s an awkward position for White to consolidate (e.g. Rxf3 is always a threat), but the computer suggests creeping moves such as 25.Rc2!? and White may eventually emerge with a significant advantage. A win would have taken Grischuk into a share of first place, but as it was after 23.Be3 c5! the game fizzled out into a draw.

For a second day in a row the press conference involving Levon Aronian was short and painless, with no real highlights:

Perhaps that’s as good an excuse as any for sharing some of Grischuk’s greatest hits from the tournament!

Kramnik ½-½ So: A very serious idea

Normal service restored with Kramnik novelties and fine technique from So, but too late for both players | photo: Niki Riga

Vladimir Kramnik quipped when asked about superstitions after the game:

I’m not superstitious at all. My only superstition is that I notice that when I get an advantage out of the opening I have more winning chances, so that’s what I try to do!

It was mission accomplished, with Wesley So commenting:

First of all I want to say it’s an achievement for me, getting a lost position straight from the opening!

The novelty was 8.Qb3:


Peter Svidler toyed with the idea that this was a “mouse slip” from Kramnik, since 8…Qb6, as played relatively quickly by Wesley, left White unable to ignore the threat of a queen exchange, since the g4-pawn would be left hanging. Kramnik’s time usage now perhaps also added some disguise, since he spent almost 8 minutes before playing 9.f3!, a move he described as, “a very serious idea”.

Up to a point, as Kramnik helpfully confirmed after the game, Wesley was playing the correct moves, but after 13…Rxh5?! (13…f5!) and 14…Kf7?! (again, 14…f5 looks better) things soon got critical, until 17…Bxh3 gave Kramnik the chance to do what he’s spent the tournament doing – sacrifice material!


18.fxg5! and after 18…Bd7, with two pawns for the piece and three connected passed pawns on the kingside, Kramnik felt the game was almost over. Wesley was under no pressure by this stage of the tournament, however, and he went on to find almost all the only moves, while Kramnik was constantly unsure of how best to convert his advantage (unplayed options included 20.Rae1 and 25.Rxa6). The former World Champion came very close, though, with his edge perhaps only slipping away on move 32:


Svidler barely had time to explain that since Black isn’t threatening to take on g5 (due to Rh8+ winning the a8-rook) White can simply play a strengthening move like 32.f4, when Kramnik went for the forcing 32.Ne6?!. It later turned out he’d simply missed that after 32…Nxe5 33.dxe5 Re8 34.Nf4 Black had 34…Bc2! Kramnik spent a lot of time on what followed, including an epic 45-minute think on move 41, but he’d exhausted his resources to play for a win. A draw was agreed on move 42.

Kramnik continued the game in the press conference, lamenting how things had gone overall:

I was very happy with the opening. I don’t think I was playing bad, I was seeing a lot, but just somehow it just looks like it’s not my tournament. Just very bad luck. Of course Wesley was defending well, and it’s true it was not given, but still, so many missed opportunities and it’s always not working by one tempi for some reason. It just happens like this, so probably to play well here, to have a good score, to win this tournament - I know as I already play many Candidates - you need at least some luck and somehow I have a feeling it was really against me this tournament. I made my own mistakes, for sure, no doubt, but a little bit of luck – if at least one variation would work in my favour and not in my opponent’s favour that would be nice!

Watch the post-game press conference:

The dream is over for Kramnik, So and of course Aronian, but for everyone else Monday and Tuesday will be some of the biggest games of their lives!


As noted, it’s significant that due to head-to-head results Karjakin has a winning tiebreak if tied with Caruana and Ding Liren would win a tie against Mamedyarov, but there are so many permutations that it’s probably better simply to wait and see whether Monday’s penultimate round brings more clarity to the situation. Here are all the games ahead for the contenders:


First, though, we have a rest day to try and recover – or we do if we’re not called Peter Svidler! The 8-time Russian Champion will be defending his pluralisation of the word “octopus”...

...taking on blitz challenges from 14:00 CEST (Go Premium to play him if you’re not yet!)

Then of course tune in for the concluding rounds of the Candidates Tournament on Monday and Tuesday, live here on chess24!

See also:


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