Reports Mar 15, 2018 | 11:16 AMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 4: Caruana leads after thriller

Fabiano Caruana is the new sole leader of the 2018 Candidates Tournament in Berlin after winning a game of wild swings against Vladimir Kramnik, who was at times in touching distance of moving to 3.5/4. On another day Grischuk-Ding Liren would have taken all the plaudits, with Alexander Grischuk reviving a famous sacrifice, but missing a findable win and ultimately needing to fight for his life to draw. Levon Aronian bounced straight back to beat Sergey Karjakin, who mixed up his lines in the opening, while only Mamedyarov-So was nothing to write home about.

Kramnik-Caruana was pure drama, and may have a big impact on chess history | photo: FIDE

We almost saw three wins for Black on another exciting day’s action at the Berlin Candidates Tournament. You can replay all the 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 results and pairings:

Replay the live commentary by Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler:

Kramnik 0-1 Caruana: Not a game for the faint-hearted

Before the start of this game, Peter Svidler was idly looking at the Stockfish evaluation of the starting position and was amused to see the innocuous Petroff line that it gave as White’s best chance for an opening advantage. He joked about it to his co-commentator Jan Gustafsson, then noticed shortly afterwards that the key game of the round had followed that path:

In fact the players reached the same position as Stockfish after move 10, with our commentators joking that perhaps this is what Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik’s home preparation consisted of: glancing at the Stockfish 8 evaluation at a depth of 21! The expectation was that Kramnik would push for a while in a position he couldn’t lose, but that he’d also fail to win with such a meagre advantage.

This is the new play-for-a-win-at-all-costs Kramnik, though, and it didn’t take long before his attempts to liven up the game led to an insane encounter packed with brilliancies, blunders and time trouble mayhem. Peter Svidler tries to make sense of it all in a 50-minute video:

Let’s just briefly give a few significant moments from a game with too many to list. Here’s the position after Kramnik’s 33.Rg1:


There was nothing to stop 33…Rxc2!, picking up another pawn and leaving Black completely on top, with the b2-pawn a future target. Instead, in time trouble, Fabiano needlessly defended the bishop with 33…h6, and after 34.Rc7! Kramnik was suddenly back in the game for the first time in 10 moves.

The former World Champion went on to build up a big advantage before the time control, and it looked only a matter of time before his passed pawns would queen and decide the game. He’d move to 3.5/4, become the world no. 2 on the live rating list, and have a wonderful chance of earning a match against Magnus Carlsen if he could just play solidly for the remainder of the tournament. He thought he’d spotted a clear path to a win with 47.Rg8, but it ran into the brilliant refutation 47…Bf6!!


If White plays 48.Rxg4? then 48…Kf5! hits the rook, threatens mate on a1, and wins the game!

The fat lady hadn’t sung yet, though, and the only move 48.d8=Q saved White’s bacon, with Caruana admitting that the objectively correct choice soon afterwards would have been to take a draw. Kramnik still had another passed pawn on the board, and for a brief moment it looked as though it might make it all the way. Svidler was probably not alone in commenting: “I don't think I can handle another turnaround in this game!”

Of course we got that final turnaround!

Vladimir’s time was running out as he tried to navigate his way to the next time control at move 60. A position he felt he couldn’t lose soon became tricky, and with two seconds left on his clock, after spotting a flaw in the 59th move he’d wanted to make…

I panicked and just made the first move that came to my mind.

After the exchange of rooks there was to be no stopping the h-pawn, with Kramnik instead playing on in a position where he was a piece and two pawns down. He suddenly had plenty of time, but there was nothing on the chessboard left to think about:

It was a disaster for Kramnik and a triumph for Caruana that was hard to put into words:

One photo, however, said more or less everything that needed to be said:

Check out the post-game press conference:

Karjakin 0-1 Aronian: Luck in chess

Tough times for Sergey Karjakin | photo: FIDE

Vladimir Kramnik talked about luck in chess when an Anti-Berlin novelty he’d been storing up for a couple of years was suddenly able to be used against Levon Aronian in a crucial tournament, despite the Armenian not being a 1.e4 player. After the rest day it was Levon’s turn, as he commented:

As Vladimir said in the game with me, sometimes you’ve got to get lucky. It’s not like we’re not trying, we are trying, but if you don’t get lucky you’re not going to get a better position with Black.

Sergey agreed:

It was terribly bad luck for me, but it’s completely my fault because I mixed up the line that I was preparing.

What happened? Well, on move 14 Sergey sank into thought, and instead of playing the immediate 14.Rh3, as had happened in So-Aronian and Giri-Harikrishna last year, he played 14.Rb1!? Credit should be given to Levon for playing fast here, as he quickly played along with Karjakin with 14…Qd6 15.Rh3 a6 and here the Russian went astray with 16.Be2?, running into 16…Nc5!


This is exactly the same position as had been reached in multiple games with 14.Rh3 a6 15.Be2 Ne5 16.Rb1 Qd6, with the crucial difference that Aronian’s knight is now on c5 not e5!

Aronian pointed out that Black is threatening the double attack e5, and it was a bitter moment for Karjakin:

And after 16…Nc5 I felt like Levon in the game against Vladimir after Rg8. Instead of fighting for an advantage you are clearly worse with White in ten minutes and it’s just a terrible feeling.

Sergey tried to take refuge in an ending, but it was only his defensive reputation that gave him any chances:

Levon wasn’t going to miss this chance to bounce back and played energetically, with 38…e3! a dagger blow to the white position:


39.fxe3 Rc2 wins a piece, but after 39.Nf3 Rc2 in the game the f2-pawn was soon falling with check, and although Sergey came close to establishing an unlikely fortress it wasn’t enough.

Levon revealed the secret of how he managed to recover on the rest day:

I visited my parents and my sister. We played scrabble and I won. So at least winning in something is a good start! You have to play the games where you can win – this is the trick.

He also has a big fan club:

Replay the press conference:

As we mentioned in our previous report, when Aronian lost in Round 1 of the 2014 Candidates Tournament he went on to win three of his next six games. The other curious fact is that Karjakin lost twice in the first four rounds back then, before going on to finish second to Anand! The way the tournament is going, anything could happen...

Only one game didn’t include much for fans to cheer:

Mamedyarov ½-½ So: A fantastic game

"Old man chess" from Shak, but he's just half a point behind the leader | photo: FIDE

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov half-joked after this game, “I played a fantastic game today, no mistakes”, but it turned out his opponent Wesley So was well-prepared for the 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian (check out Jan’s video series), even if he was unaware 16.Rxd2 was an improvement on a Bareev-Ivanchuk game. Shak quipped, “they played when you were not born”, though the date was actually 2006. In any case, it only took one accurate move, 17…Re6!, for So, and the game fizzled out into a 31-move draw.

At first it looked like a chance lost with the white pieces for Mamedyarov, with Svidler commenting that in such an important tournament Shak might feel obliged to play, "a normal person's repertoire, which may not be playing to his strengths". Soon, though, all three other players with White were tottering on the brink of defeat, and the draw didn’t seem such a bad outcome!

Replay the press conference:

That leaves what on most days would have been the game of the day:

Grischuk ½-½ Ding Liren: Mr Ding withstands AlphaZero

Both players were glad to survive another thriller | photo: FIDE

Veselin Topalov turns 43 today, and as if in homage to him Alexander Grischuk revived one of the Bulgarian’s finest moments – a 2008 bombshell in the Anti-Moscow variation that saw Topalov get some revenge against Kramnik for the 2006 World Championship defeat – 12.Nxf7!

Back then Ljubomir Ljubojevic managed to refute Jan Timman playing the same sacrifice the very next day, while Shirov ½-½ Karjakin later that year was the last top-level outing for the move… until now! Grischuk joked:

It is an idea of AlphaZero… Stockfish thinks it’s very stupid!

Coming up against something like this is perhaps the worst nightmare of any chess player, since if a guy like Grischuk plays it in a Candidates Tournament it means he’s subjected it to very serious analysis. Ding Liren confessed, “I’m very lucky to survive this game”, and admitted he couldn’t remember how to respond to the way Topalov had played, never mind what to do after Grischuk played a novelty with 16.a4. Liren said he was literally shaking, but he dug deep and kept finding strong decisions, until he threw it all away with 21…gxf4?


As Ding Liren pointed out to his opponent after the game, 22.Bh4+! Bf6 23.Qg4! was simply crushing for White (e.g. 23…Rhg8 24.exf6+ Kxd6 25.Qxf4+ e5 26.dxe5+).

English GM Nigel Short commented:

Spanish GM Miguel Illescas went further, stating that if you miss such a move you can’t win a tournament like the Candidates.

But what had the players missed? Well, Ding Liren only noticed after he made his move that 23…Qxd4 24.Bxf6+ Nxf6 (or 24…Rxf6) loses to 25.Qg7+. For Grischuk it was one of the pitfalls of having excellent home preparation for a game. He considered the main line to be not Ding Liren’s 20…Bc6, but 20…Ba6, and a line like 21.f4 b4 22.Qc2 gxf4. He knew that 23.Bh4+ wasn’t a winning move there… but there was a simple reason for that: the queen was on c2 so couldn’t physically make it to g4! That was why he barely considered 22.Bh4+ at all.

Round 4 of the Candidates saw the kind of games where the gods look down and laugh at mortals | photo: FIDE

The other reason he played quickly was that he thought White was winning in any case, but the Chinese no. 1 again and again came up with brilliant defensive resources, until it was no longer merely about defence. The tactics that followed were mind-boggling, such as the position after 38…Nc5:


Grischuk took the bait with 39.Qxg8, but lived to regret it, needing to find a very narrow path to stop the black pawns and draw the game. Instead he wished he’d liquidated with 39.Qxc6 Kxc6 40.Nxc3 and the game might have ended with less drama.

It wasn’t only at the board that Grischuk struggled, as he explained:

I had 5 minutes and I wanted to go to the bathroom and it was closed. Ok, so I ran back, made one more move and then went again, and then just some random person went out of it, so already we have only one toilet and some people using it apart from the players. Hard to comment.

The organisers hit back, though as usual their communication strategy was just to make a bad situation worse:

That wasn’t quite the last memorable quote from the press conference, since Grischuk was asked about how he sleeps after difficult games:

I don’t like such questions – how do you sleep, with whom do you sleep?

As always with Grischuk, the press conference is a must-watch!

The standings after 4 rounds therefore see Caruana in the sole lead, and while Kramnik would probably happily have taken +1 at this stage before the event, it’ll be hard for him not to dwell on what might have been.


A no doubt exhausted Kramnik now starts a run of four games with Black in the next five against Wesley So, with So having beaten him with White in Shamkir Chess last year. The leader Caruana could take a huge step towards becoming the challenger if he beats Karjakin and gains revenge for the last Candidates Tournament, while Aronian-Grischuk and Ding Liren-Mamedyarov also promise exciting struggles.

If you want to support great shows with the likes of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson – and save 25%! - don’t miss the chance to Go Premium before 17:00 CET today (two hours into the games).


And of course don't miss Round 5 of the 2018 Candidates Tournament live here on chess24!

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