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Reports Mar 26, 2018 | 11:59 PMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 13: Fabi leads thrilling chase

Fabiano Caruana bounced back to beat Levon Aronian and take a half-point lead into what’s set to be an absolutely nail-biting final day of the Candidates Tournament in Berlin. The pendulum swung away from Sergey Karjakin, whose quick draw with the black pieces against Wesley So didn’t look so good when both his rivals won, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov taking full advantage of a late blunder by Alexander Grischuk. Another great escape for Ding Liren, this time against Vladimir Kramnik, means the Chinese star still has an outside chance of earning a match against Magnus.

Caruana is one win away from a World Championship match | photo: Niki Riga 

What a difference a couple of days make! The two players who suffered shock defeats in Round 12 both hit back to win in Round 13:

Relive the day’s events in Jan and Peter’s live commentary:

So ½-½ Karjakin: A fine result?

A draw is generally a good result for the clear leader of a tournament, but in this case it allowed Karjakin to be caught and overtaken | photo: Niki Riga

Let’s first get the quickest game of the day out of the way. Sergey Karjakin went into it on the crest of a wave, not only having beaten Caruana in Round 12 but having seen Mamedyarov lose, so he went from 4th favourite to leader in the space of a single round. He had four wins in six games, but the moment 13.b4!? appeared on the board it never looked likely he would notch up another win:


That novelty concealed a trap. As Sergey showed after the game, 13…Qe5 14.Rd1 b5 would run into 15.Bxc4!, when if Black captures the bishop the knight recaptures and then makes it to d6. There was a straightforward escape, though, and after 13…Qf5!, all but forcing an exchange of queens, the game had soon reached the quietest of endings. There was to be no repeat of Karjakin’s win out of nowhere against So in Round 7, with the players eventually blitzing until a draw was agreed on move 39.

Sergey summed up his feelings afterwards:

I’m completely fine, because I was playing Black and in this tournament situation a draw is fine for me.

Watch the post-game press conference:

The draw didn’t look quite such a good result after what took place on the other boards:

Caruana 1-0 Aronian: Fabi gets his mojo back

Aronian rolls up his sleeves, but the Levon we know and love has been absent in Berlin | photo: Niki Riga 

Immediately afterwards Caruana described losing to Karjakin in Round 12 as, “the worst thing basically that could have happened”, but in hindsight he changed his mind:

Losing that last game actually helped my outlook a lot, because I was kind of too nervous trying to hold on to my lead and it kind of ruined my play for a few games, and so I felt much better before this game. I wasn’t happy to lose, but even though my tournament situation was good I wasn’t in a good mind-set, and that’s really the reason why I lost so convincingly to Sergey.

The fearless Fabi of the first half of the tournament returned, but he was also given a boost by his rest-day preparation having worked out to perfection. Against Aronian he repeated Alexander Grischuk’s curious 9.Bd2 in the Ruy Lopez from the previous round:


Here Aronian had played 9…Kh8 against Grischuk, but this time round he chose the computer’s top line, 9…Bg4

Wesley So checks out how his US colleague is doing | photo: Niki Riga

That didn’t catch Caruana off-guard:

I didn’t come up with this - Grischuk played it the round before. I think it’s not exactly a novelty, but I think it’s a brilliant opening invention. It’s not like it leads to an advantage for White, but it opens at least a small chapter in the Anti-Marshall. I think Levon played in the most critical way. It was kind of fun to look at a totally fresh position on the rest day. We just analysed a position that had never been played before and it was actually pretty enjoyable. I was lucky enough that I managed to get pretty much my prep up to move 15, when White already has what I wanted, just a game I can play and make moves and the game doesn’t simplify immediately.

He even found time to watch “The Shape of Water” at the cinema, but in chess terms he was downplaying what had happened, since a few moves after the surprise 15.Bc1! White’s advantage had grown to huge proportions:

Peter Svidler takes us through that spectacular game:

If one moment deserves to be highlighted separately it’s the position after White played 31.Qxf2:


Levon mentioned afterwards that a friend had pointed out 31…Nxb4!! to him, with Caruana, who had also missed it, commenting, “this is incredibly strong” and adding, “this is beautiful”. Levon would have been right back in the game after 32.cxb4 Rd4!, when the best defence 33.Nd5! is not exactly the first move a human being would consider.

The aftermath | photo: Niki Riga

Instead Levon played 31…e4 and his position was lost, though when asked if he was annoyed at having the missed chance pointed out to him afterwards he commented, “at this point I don’t really care”. His 1.5/8 since Round 6 has been a catastrophic collapse for many people’s pre-tournament favourite:

Watch the post-game press conference:

Aronian won’t have long to recover, since in just five days he’s playing in the GRENKE Chess Classic, alongside the likes of Carlsen, MVL, Vishy and an equally tired but potentially very happy Caruana.

Mamedyarov 1-0 Grischuk: Shak is back

It's only going to get more tense on Tuesday | photo: Niki Riga

Mamedyarov had also suffered a devastating defeat in Round 12, commenting:

When I lost to Ding Liren it was like some catastrophe. It was not easy for me, this day… The problem is before Ding Liren I lost with White 18 months ago, and I lost at a very important moment with Ding Liren – draw, draw, draw, and then he beat me in a very important moment of my life.

What ultimately helped Shakhriyar was that it was also the last chance saloon for Grischuk:

It was a stupid situation. We both needed to win. For me a draw was almost the same as a loss…

Grischuk felt Black was fine after the “strong move” 12…Nf6, and though he later overlooked an idea for White the position was completely equal by move 30:


Grischuk saw that 30…a6 was an immediate draw, but since he didn’t want a draw he played on with 30…Qa5, and while it was still equal even after 33…Kh7 (Grischuk noted 33…Kg7 would have avoided what followed) he’d finally overstepped the mark with 34…Nxb5? (even this late 34…Nf5 should hold)


After 35.Bxb5 the c-pawn is enough to give Black a draw, but Shak’s 35.e6! was a game-winner. After 35…Qa3 Black was able to queen the pawn, but not in time to avoid a mating attack: 36.Qxb5 c2 37.exf7 Kg7 38.Be4 c1=Q 39.Qe8 Black resigns

The World Championship dream is over for Grischuk | photo: Niki Riga

So Mamedyarov was right back in the hunt to become Carlsen’s challenger, while Grischuk was eliminated. Watch the post-game press conference:

Ding Liren ½-½ Kramnik: Still unbeaten

You looking at me? | photo: Niki Riga

The only other player to be eliminated on Monday was Vladimir Kramnik, whose slim mathematical chance had gone even before his own game ended. That didn’t stop Big Vlad having some fun, though, as his Hedgehog setup against Ding Liren suddenly revealed its spikes:

The Chinese no. 1 had played aggressively on the queenside, but was suddenly “caught totally by surprise” (his own words) on the other side of the board:

Our commentators wondered how you even come up with a move like that, though Vladimir afterwards dismissed it as “a typical Hedgehog idea”. The main plan was to play g4, but after 19.h3? Kramnik spotted a move that was too good to resist: 19…f5!! As allowing f4 would be strategic suicide it was a rare case when the full idea behind such a tactic appeared on the board, with 20.exf5 Bxg2 21.Kxg2 Rxa3! 22.Nxa3 Qa8+! all played:

For a dozen moves Kramnik played perfect chess, but the first minor inaccuracy, 30…Nfxg4 (30…Rxe7 is probably better) was all it took for Ding to seize his chance:


31.Qd1!, with the idea of exchanging queens on d5, proved to be a saving resource, though if Kramnik had met 31…Bh6 32.Rc3 with 32…Kg7 or 32…Kh7, to stop the queen exchange, he might have had greater chances. He was in time trouble, though, and instead steered towards a marginally better ending.

The only unbeaten player in Berlin - Ding Liren | photo: Niki Riga

As so often in the tournament it looked as though Kramnik would now play on for hours and hours, and our commentators took the chance to switch to the important topic of which Candidate you would choose to be marooned on a desert island with:

Alas, there wasn’t even time to finish fully before a miracle occurred – Kramnik chose to take a draw by repetition after limiting himself to a mere 25 minutes or so of thought after the time control.

Watch the post-game press conference:

The result of the day’s action was another complete overhaul of the standings at the top:


With just one round left only Fabiano Caruana has his fate in his own hands:

If he beats Grischuk with Black nothing else matters. If he doesn’t, though, he’s extremely vulnerable, since Mamedyarov and Karjakin have better tiebreaks (and Mamedyarov has a better tiebreak than Karjakin). Remember, for reasons no-one can comprehend, there’s no rapid playoff in case of a tie for first place, with the winner determined by 1) head-to-head results, 2) no. of wins and 3) Sonneborn-Berger.

So it’s a tricky place for Caruana to be, with every chess player's dream and hundreds of thousands of euros on the line. A draw gives him excellent chances - Karjakin is up against the still unbeaten Ding Liren and Black against Kramnik won't be easy for Mamedyarov – but no-one would be surprised if either of Fabiano’s rivals won.

It's late and the day has been too long to grapple with the full details of who can win and how, but luckily Eric Isaacson has done the job for us:

As you can see, there’s one complete wildcard – if Grischuk beats Caruana, Ding Liren beats Karjakin and Kramnik draws with Mamedyarov the next challenger for Magnus Carlsen will be… Ding Liren!

Whatever the mathematics of the situation, it’s sure to be a thrilling human drama, and there’s no better place to watch than live here on chess24!

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