Reports Mar 17, 2018 | 12:17 PMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 6: Mamedyarov and So strike

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov joined Fabiano Caruana in the lead going into the second Berlin Candidates rest day after Vladimir Kramnik over-pressed and then “hallucinated” in what should have been a drawn ending. The other decisive result of Round 6 saw a resurgent Wesley So outplay Levon Aronian to climb out of last place and join Levon on -1. The remaining two games were drawn, though Ding Liren-Karjakin was a sharp opening skirmish while Caruana-Grischuk was another full-blooded struggle in the Benoni.

Mamedyarov followed Caruana's plan - beat Kramnik and take the lead! | photo: Niki Riga 

After a day of draws in Round 5 it was normal service restored in Round 6, as some of the biggest names in chess of the last two decades fell to damaging defeats. You can replay all the action using the selector below – click a game to open it with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:

Replay the day’s live commentary with the one and only Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler:

Let’s start with what was unquestionably the game of the day:

So 1-0 Aronian: Wesley is back

The view from above | photo: Niki Riga 

It would be easy to frame this game in terms of Levon Aronian’s fragile Candidates Tournament record, pointing to the huge missed win against Alexander Grischuk the day before and suggesting that once again, when things are going badly, Levon has been unable to handle his nerves. As Peter Svidler put it when Jan Gustafsson asked him why the stress level is so much higher in the Candidates than in a regular supertournament: “It’s the final step before the ultimate dream for many of these people.”

One top player remarked:

However, it was largely about Wesley So on Friday in Berlin. Aronian himself rejected the idea that he’d been affected, while Svidler noted of Wesley’s play:

It’s not every day that you see someone first outprepare and then outplay Levon in what is his main opening with Black, and an opening that he understands perhaps better than anyone else in the world (or certainly in the Top 3).

Don’t miss Svidler’s analysis of the game:

Afterwards Wesley confirmed that he’d been prepared all the way up to 21.Ra2, when he was expecting the Nd7-b8-c6 manoeuvre rather than Aronian’s 21…Qb7. The other interesting piece of information was that Levon had in fact seen the potential brilliancy Wesley could have played on move 33:


Levon described 33.Rd6!! as “very interesting”, with the threat of Bf4. What makes it possible is that 33…Bxd6 runs into 34.Ng5! and 34…Qh2+ is only a couple of checks. Black is forced to play 33…c4, but would be fighting to survive. Wesley had to double check he’d heard right when Levon mentioned the move, but soon agreed, “33.Rd6 is probably more annoying – very strong, very fun to play!”

Levon had also been looking at 33.Nd8!?, but was surprised when Wesley took 6 seconds to play the quiet 33.Nf4:

That’s the point where I just relaxed. All these difficult moves I had to calculate… 33.Nf4 was a very strong move, of course, from a practical point of view.

33…Kg8! is the computer’s choice as the only move for Black to equalise, while after 33…Rf8 34.Re2 Qc3? Wesley could have won on the spot with 35.Qa2! (again, Levon said he’d seen this and “was already panicking”), though 35.Qb1 was also strong and proved sufficient to pick up the full point.

Reports of Wesley's death had been exaggerated...

Replay the post-game press conference:

That point proved enough for So to catch Aronian and also climb out of last place, which is now occupied by the bottom seed, but also the winner of the last Candidates Tournament, Sergey Karjakin.

Ding Liren ½-½ Karjakin: Principled chess

What a difference two years makes for Karjakin and Caruana| photo: Niki Riga

It would be easy to glance at this game, an 18-move draw by repetition, and conclude it was a simple grandmasterly draw, but in fact both players spent 50 minutes on moves 11-14, when things suddenly flared into life. Svidler noted that Karjakin’s meeting 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 with 2…g6 was a principled choice he’d more often avoided in the past, while on move 11 it was Ding Liren’s turn to avoid the “very boring ending” (Karjakin) that would have arisen after 11.Be3 (Ding Liren had drawn that with White against Anish Giri, while his second Wei Yi had managed to lose it with Black against Kramnik in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year) with 11.Nd4.

After 11…Bxb6 12.Be3 Karjakin took up the challenge:


12…Qxb2 He explained his choice:

I felt that I am playing in the spirit of this line, because this is not some very solid stuff. If you go for this line you have to play active, because otherwise it’s very dangerous.

As so often with sharp lines in top-level chess, though, the excitement didn’t last long. After 13.Ncb5!? Ne6 14.Rb1 Qxa2 15.Ra1 it was a draw by repetition. That didn’t do much for Karjakin’s tournament standing, as he remains last on -2, but events elsewhere made Ding Liren’s 6th draw in 6 look nothing to complain about – he’s in joint third place with Kramnik and Grischuk, ahead of So, Aronian and Karjakin.


Check out the post-game press conference:

Looking at the other games, Karjakin commented:

Somehow people go with Kramnik to this endgame, but I think he’s like a fish in the water – he’s completely fine!

That was enough to jinx it for his Russian compatriot…

Mamedyarov 1-0 Kramnik: Hallucinations

Kramnik made a strong bid to win the press conference, but it was too late by then... | photo: Niki Riga

Sergey’s assessment wasn’t exactly wrong, of course, and in an alternative, less painful universe for Kramnik he would have continued repeating moves on move 28 and gone into a well-deserved rest day level with Mamedyarov and just half a point behind Caruana:


28…Na5 29.Bd3 Nc6 was the likely repetition, but instead Kramnik spotted the “very powerful resource” 28…h5!? In itself it was at least playable, but when combined with a later h4 it left Mamedyarov with a clear path to an advantage, even if he didn’t go for that line (32.Rbc1) but tried the more committal 32.g6. Both players felt they were better, while the logical outcome was probably still a draw, but all logic went out the window on move 34:


34...Rxc1 35.Rxc1 Bc6, or 34…Nc4+, as pointed out by Kramnik, look good enough to hold a draw, but the former World Champion was looking for more. What followed, after over 10 minutes’ thought, was the losing blunder, 34…Rdc8?? The obvious 35.Rxc7+ Rxc7 36.Rh1 Nc4+ 37.Kf4 left Black losing the h-pawn for no compensation.

The pressure seems to be getting to the players | photo: Niki Riga

What on earth could have gone wrong? Well, as Kramnik explained (and Svidler correctly guessed during the live show):

In this position I just had a hallucination. I thought my rook is on c8… I just gave a pawn for free – it’s absolutely ridiculous!  

How could such a mistake be explained? Well, Kramnik himself talked about the long games he’d been playing, though that was of course partly self-inflicted, since he could have finished his game against So the day before a couple of hours earlier. The other suspicion was that after a good start to the tournament Kramnik had yet to get over the devastating loss to Caruana in Round 4 – Svidler labelled it “delayed tilt”.

The evidence for that second diagnosis (though the first also comes into it), is that by this stage in the game Kramnik seemed to have lost control. Even if the rook had been on c8 in the line he gave, it turns out the check on f8 still leaves Black in serious trouble after the king goes to g5:


When Mamedyarov pointed that out Kramnik wouldn’t accept it, and for the remainder of the press conference it was the classic situation in which Kramnik felt he was either drawing or just one unlucky tempo short in a position in which the objective evaluation seems to be that White was always winning, but just didn’t find the fastest path to the full point.

A different player might have fallen for it

There are advantages to optimism, though, and it did help Vladimir to fashion a fine final trap:


The plausible 63...Qd8+?? would actually be a losing move! White is easily winning if Black blocks the check, but after 63…Kc4! White has a queen for a bishop and pawn but can’t stop the threats of both Bc6+ and Bc2+ with mate. In fact there are only two winning moves for White, the messy 63.Rg3 and the elegant 63.Rg2!. Mamedyarov had of course seen that, and though Kramnik spent another 12 minutes on 63…Bf3 even he had to resign after 64.Qd8+.

Watch the post-game press conference:

It was yet more evidence that Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, now almost 20 points clear of Kramnik in the world no. 2 spot, is a very serious contender to play a match against Magnus. From Kramnik’s point of view it’s more evidence of what he said in the pre-tournament press conference: as much as he intends to play pragmatically, he can’t stop the “artist” taking over. It’ll be time to try and regroup on the rest day.

The other leader is Fabiano Caruana, who in Round 6 did show the self-discipline to end a game when he understood he would be running risks to continue:

Caruana ½-½ Grischuk: Son of sorrows

Time trouble has feature in most of Caruana's games, and here it was Grischuk who was up on the clock at the end | photo: Niki Riga

Alexander Grischuk chose once again to go for a Benoni structure, despite almost getting blown off the board by Aronian the day before. He explained:

Benoni means son of sorrows, and I like everything that is connected with sorrow... I cannot say I played that greatly, but I enjoyed it. Even yesterday, I could resign immediately but I was enjoying the game very much!

He had an unusual source of sorrow in the game, though, since his opponent played 4.e3 and only later 11.e4, which turned out to be Grischuk’s own pet line:

Actually it was a bit strange to fight against what I consider to be one of my best opening inventions, because it’s me who started to play e3, Be2. First I played it twice in some rapid and blitz against Nepomniachtchi, then the first classical game I was White against Caruana…

Nigel Short reminded us:

Once again Grischuk was sinking into deep thought in the opening, explaining that in these positions even seemingly trivial decisions can require calculating complex 10-move deep lines. The consensus was that things went about as well as they can for Black in the Benoni, though it would have been even better if en passant worked the way the official website thought:

Grischuk in fact had chances to go for some sacrificial lines. For instance, after 26.Nb2:


Here both 26…Nxe4!? and 26…Nxg4!? were possible, with 27…Nc3! a nice follow-up. Fabiano was only half-joking when he commented, “If the computer’s showing zeros it’s probably winning for Black!” Grischuk had been looking at such ideas, but wasn’t satisfied with the positions he was getting, and pointed out that in any case he managed to sacrifice a pawn, commenting of one of his later positions:

Practically it’s very nice, and against a computer you are going to lose any position, so it doesn’t matter!

In the end it was Fabiano who was in the more serious time trouble:


He chose to repeat moves with 33.Bd6 Rb6 34.Bg3 Rb4 and so on, rather than playing on with Rc1. As he explained:

Sasha had 7 minutes, I had like a minute. It would be pretty optimistic to think that in such a messy position I would somehow manage to outplay him. I wasn’t even sure if I was better. If I was sure I was better I would play on.

Grischuk: "I like everything that is connected with sorrow" | photo: Niki Riga

It was an enjoyable press conference, with both players getting in some good lines. Fabiano was asked if Garry Kasparov had been accurate when he described the playing venue as being like the Colosseum: “It’s an unusual venue, but I don’t think they had bananas and dates in the Colosseum!”

Earlier in the day Grischuk’s second Vlad Tkachiev had described him as a “perfectionist”. Anastasia Karlovich asked Grischuk which of his games so far he considered the most perfect:

Today’s is the closest one, definitely. I don’t see mistakes, even after the game, for either of the players.

A perfect game is one without mistakes?

Or only by your opponent, it’s better!

Watch the post-game press conference:

So the two players so far who have managed both to win and avoid losing games are Caruana and Mamedyarov, who lead by a full point as we’re about to reach the half-way mark of the tournament:


That could all change very fast, though, since after the rest day the leaders both have the black pieces, with Aronian-Caruana in particular a chance for redemption for Levon. Mamedyarov has Black against Grischuk, while Kramnik-Ding Liren and Karjakin-So are games in which both Russian players will be hoping to use their opening cunning to improve their tournament situations. Watch all the Round 7 action live here on chess24!

See also:


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