Reports Mar 16, 2018 | 10:11 AMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 5: Aronian misses open goal

Levon Aronian missed a golden chance to win a second game in a row in Round 5 of the Berlin Candidates Tournament, with four draws leaving Fabiano Caruana as the leader. Levon’s game against Alexander Grischuk was utterly wild, but at the critical moment he had 50 minutes to his opponent’s one and a number of paths to victory. Instead he rushed a move he later couldn’t explain, and had to fight to hold a draw. Elsewhere there was little to report, with not even Vladimir Kramnik claiming he came close to a win after his game against Wesley So was the longest of the day.

Aronian-Grischuk was destined to be a fascinating struggle from the very first moves | photo: Niki Riga

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

Replay the day’s commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson

There was just one game that drew all the attention on Thursday in Berlin:

Aronian ½-½ Grischuk: “I lost my cool”

Alexander Grischuk had gone for the sharpest possible approach in Round 4 with White and continued that maximalist approach in Round 5 with Black, setting up a Benoni-type structure against Levon Aronian. Black takes on serious strategic risk (White’s space advantage) in return for the promise of piece activity:

The game followed last year’s Aronian-Li Chao from the Geneva Grand Prix until Levon played not 11.Be3 but the more immediately aggressive 11.Bf4:


That already had Grischuk thinking, and the next five moves took 45 minutes from his clock. It was again clear that Alexander’s time trouble would be a topic of the day, and when Jan Gustafsson questioned Peter Svidler about Grischuk’s attitude to that it provoked one of the day’s funnier moments!

There really was a huge amount to think about, though, since Grischuk’s aggressive play on the kingside and centre led to sheer mayhem on the board. Vladimir Kramnik would later comment:

It looked like Aronian was winning and then it was very unclear. Such a position is like Fischer Random – I couldn’t understand how the pieces got where they were! I was just witnessing it with admiration that the guys could play like this.

The position after 23…exf4 was one that only our silicon friends could fathom:


The players were startled to learn after the game that according to the engines 24.0-0-0 is winning for White, while 24.Rd1, as played by Aronian, is merely a draw. He commented, “I felt the other way around!” The decision to go with 24.Rd1 could be understood, since for instance after 24...fxe3 White is better with 25.Qxd7! Qxd7 26.Bb5! (needless to say this is the kind of position where you should got to our broadcast page and try making the moves on the board). After 24.0-0-0 fxe3, though, 25.Qxd7 Qxd7 26.Bb5 runs into 26…Bxb2+! and it turns out Black is winning. As Grischuk pointed out, the natural move is of course 24.0-0-0, but you look for other options when you see moves like Bxb2 or Qxa2, which can also threaten mate in some lines.

It seems that 24.0-0-0 fxe3 and then the quiet 25.Nxe3!! was completely winning for White, but there was no way you could criticise a human being, even one as gifted as Levon Aronian, for failing to spot or calculate the consequences of that.

Svidler commented of the position after 24.Rd1, “apparently it's equal, but it's this kind of equal when you just laugh at the evaluation and continue playing!” Grischuk invested 9 of his remaining 13 minutes to find 24…Ng5!, but after 25.c8=Q+ Bxc8 26.Qd8+ Kf7 27.Qc7+ he finally stumbled with 27…Kg8?, played with 58 seconds left on his clock (27…Qe7! and Black may even be better).


After the game, we learned that this is where Levon felt he threw away the win by failing to play 28.Rxg4, when after 28…fxg4 29.Rd6 Black can’t play 29…Qf7 due to 30.Qxc8+ Kh7 31.Bd3+ (there’s no longer an f-pawn to block that diagonal). He commented, “I saw it, that’s the saddest part”, and asked of the move he played in the game, “28.Rd6 was a very big mistake, right?”

There were shocks during the game and after for Levon Aronian | photo: Niki Riga

In fact, though, it was the best move in the position, and after 28…Qf7 he simply needed to compose himself and use his abundant time on the clock to find a clear-cut path to victory. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, though, with Levon lamenting:

I think I lost my cool. When I missed 28…Qf7 I just got really angry. Of course it’s unacceptable in such a tournament, but I saw that I had this win and then I thought it’s gone. I should have spent more time after Qf7.

The move Levon played, 29.Qd8+??, was spectacularly bad. You don’t need to understand any Spanish to follow the reaction of our Spanish commentators!

White wasn’t even better after 29…Qf8 30.Bxf4 Ne6 31.Bc4 Qxd8 32.Rxd8+ Kh7 33.Rxh8+, and one hypothesis is that Levon had planned 33.Rxc8 but missed a fatal flaw (or had he missed something as trivial as that 29...Qf8 20.Qxg5 doesn't pick up a piece as the d6-rook is hanging!?):

Aronian could only echo the views of observers: “I don’t understand how I played Qd8”.

What made the blunder more glaring was that the correct move was the one that was crying out to be played - 29.Qxc8+, taking the piece with check (though 29.Qxc5 would likely also win). One line after that “obvious” move was very far from trivial: 29…Kh7 30.Qxc5 Ne4:


And now Black would be ok if not for 31.Rxg4!! Nxc5 32.Rxh4+! Kg8 33.Rd8+ Bf8 34.Rxh8+! Kxh8 35.Bxc5! That was a beautiful line that our commentary team spotted during the game, but as Grischuk pointed out in the press conference, it wasn’t necessary. 30.Qd7! would simply have left White material up, and was certainly the kind of move Aronian would have found with little trouble in the time available to him if he hadn’t been beating himself up for “missing a win” on the previous move. Perhaps as well, though he didn’t mention it, Levon had one eye on his opponent’s clock and didn’t want to give him too long to think.

A great escape for Alexander Grischuk | photo: Niki Riga

Grischuk noted his Round 5 game was a mirror image of Round 4 against Ding Liren. There he’d missed a win and then been slightly worse, while here his opponent had missed a win and now Grischuk was slightly better, though given the swing in evaluations it felt like more than that:

At first, especially with the contrast with the position I had, it felt almost winning!

Grischuk added that with all the minor pieces and the material imbalance, “it’s actually one of the hardest types of positions to play”, and it was tough for both players to get their bearing:


It might still have been interesting if Grischuk had picked up the b-pawn here, but he was down to under a minute and the game fizzled out with 39…Nc1+ 40.Kd1 Nd3 41.Nd2 Nf6 42.Bf3, when Levon had seen enough and offered a draw.

So it was a huge chance missed for Levon to crown his recovery after a loss to Kramnik by climbing to second place. He concluded:

I thought that it’s the usual, having a completely winning position and ruining it.

He hadn’t entirely lost his optimism or sense of humour, though!

I generally don’t analyse my games after I play them. You normally know what went wrong, or when you win a game you don’t want to dwell on the feeling of your greatness!

Watch the post-game press conference:

An unofficial rest day

We’ve been spoiled so far with action in the Berlin Candidates, but on Thursday we saw some of the inevitable draws we can expect in such an important event with heavily booked-up players.

The sole leader, Fabiano Caruana | photo: Niki Riga

Caruana-Karjakin was the quickest game to finish, with Fabiano Caruana’s surprise 6.Qb3 in a Catalan not having the impact he’d hoped for. Sergey got to demonstrate he has done some work going into the event (10…c5! seems to be an equalising novelty):

6.Qb3 was a surprise for me, but fortunately we switched to the line we knew and finally I’m quite proud that I got someone to my preparation, because after yesterday’s game I wanted to show that at least I have some ideas in the opening. Actually I knew all the line to 17…Nxc5, I was just trying to remember it.


This move effectively ended the game, since the one try for an advantage, 18.Nd4, runs into 18…Bg5!

Sergey has an uphill struggle ahead to earn a rematch against Magnus Carlsen | photo: Niki Riga

Fabiano wasn’t too disappointed with a draw that kept him in the lead, commenting:

Actually I wanted to play, but I was also happy that for the first time in a few days my opponent didn’t have any passed pawns. I had to fight against 4 connected passed pawns, 3 passed pawns… Today I was pretty sure that I would never lose at any point.

Watch the post-game press conference:

Ding Liren-Mamedyarov was another quiet game for Mamedyarov, while, despite some truly wild games, Ding Liren is the only player who can still hope to match Giri’s 14 draws at the last Candidates. 

Mamedyarov has looked confident so far in Berlin | photo: Niki Riga

Their Round 4 encounter wasn’t a thriller, and though 13.Bc1 was a novelty by the Chinese player he confessed he hadn’t expected the line in the game and had only superficial knowledge of what to do next. It seemed in the press conference as though Mamedyarov was giving his opponent a lesson, as he explained how White has an advantage in such positions only as long as he retains the bishop pair. 16…Ba3 dealt with that:


Shak pointed out a concealed tactical point, as after 17.Bxa3 Qxa3 18.Nb5 Qe7! White can’t play 19.Nxc7 as he loses material to 19…Nb6 or 19…Rac8. That was about as exciting as it got, but Mamedyarov noted there was little for chess fans to worry about:

We will have nine more games, so we’ll have some time to play fighting chess.

Ding Liren, meanwhile, had second thoughts about the draw he’d offered at the end:

Today’s game much quieter, but also less interesting, and I feel maybe the draw offer was not a good idea, not only because the position was not too clear, but also I need to try for more.

Watch the post-game press conference:

Vladimir Kramnik certainly can’t be accused of failing to try for more, but his attempts to win against Wesley So, one of the world’s best technical players, were at times verging on the absurd:


Kramnik managed to play on here with Black for another 20 moves, reducing Jan and Peter to despair…

…and reflections on what we could expect from the post-game press conference. The consensus was that we might hear about White surviving “by a miracle”, with Svidler describing Kramnik’s often wildly over-optimistic press conferences as “one of the wonders of the modern world”. It turned out, though, that even Kramnik never felt he had any realistic winning chances. He admitted, “It’s not the first time I’m doing something ridiculous!”

Wesley So has stabilised with three draws in a row after his terrible start | photo: Niki Riga

Like our commentators, the players did bring up the game Matlakov 0-1 Kramnik, Qatar Masters 2015, when the hustle had worked. Wesley So was a tougher customer, though, and in fact the most interesting moment in the press conference was when Kramnik returned to the loss to Caruana the day before. He revealed that Fabiano’s 52…Nc2?! had been accompanied by a draw offer:


Yesterday the draw offer after Nc2, I think it won the game… It was a fantastic decision to play a bad move and offer a draw!

Indeed the move saw the computer evaluation jump from 0.00 to 1.12, and it took Kramnik over 2 minutes of his remaining time to correctly reply 53.Rc1!. Of course he then went on to blunder in time trouble, while he reflected that a draw offer accompanied by any normal 52nd move would have been accepted! On such margins Candidates Tournaments may turn.

Replay the press conference:

The standings therefore remain essentially unchanged after Round 5, with over a third of the tournament now behind us:


The highlights of Round 6 are likely to be the potentially explosive Caruana-Grischuk and Mamedyarov-Kramnik, while So-Aronian and Ding Liren-Karjakin feature players who have had mixed fortunes so far. Watch all the Round 6 action live here on chess24!

See also:


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