Alexander Grischuk is now just a point behind Candidates Tournament leader Fabiano Caruana with six rounds to go, after taking full advantage when Vladimir Kramnik insisted on playing on in a position a pawn down instead of taking an easily available draw. That 7-hour game overshadowed the draws on the other boards, though So-Caruana saw Fabiano come close to opening up a bigger lead, while Ding Liren-Aronian suddenly exploded into life after an opening that promised little.
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For the commentators Round 8 was the fifth round in a row where Kramnik stood in the way of an early dinner:
Relive Jan and Peter’s live commentary:
There’s only one game we can start with…
After losing to Kramnik in the first round, Alexander Grischuk has been in good form in Berlin. He returned to 50% by beating Wesley So in a beautiful game in Round 2 and then safely navigated a run of three games in four with Black, scoring four draws. When he got nothing with White against co-leader Mamedyarov in Round 7 his clear disappointment was evidence of his ambition actually to go on and win the tournament. How seriously he’s approached it could be seen in Round 8, where he won the opening battle, later commenting:
For the first time in like ten classical games against Vladimir with White I was better prepared in the opening than him. It’s a great idea of my helpers.
7.Bb3 already had Kramnik thinking, while after 7…b5 8.e4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 it was a scary position for Black:
If you play 9…Nbd7 here, is 10.Bxe6!? lying in wait? We never found out, since after 21 minutes Kramnik went for 9…Bb7 (he said 9…Bd6 was the other option taking up most of his time), and it has to be said he played the remainder of the opening and early middlegame excellently. He gave up a pawn but seemed to have ample piece play to compensate. It was rational, strong chess, but Vladimir’s demons came to the fore on move 22:
Kramnik has done his job and in previous iterations would surely have played 22…Bxd4! here in a heartbeat. After 23.cxd4 Nf5! White wins back the pawn, since 24.h5 is met by 24…Rb4 and d4 falls. It would have been a good draw with Black after being surprised by a strong opponent in the opening, and Kramnik could finally get some rest and prepare for the next game.
Instead 22…Be4?! was the start of what would become a slow-motion train wreck of a game for the former World Champion:
To be fair, he wasn’t claiming a win at this point in the post-game press conference, but there was more of the muddled logic that had led to trouble in earlier games:
I wanted to try any small chance… I can always hold it normally, even if something starts to go wrong… I just didn’t want to force it immediately.
And so it began… Perhaps the last clear point at which he could have bailed out subsequently was move 31:
Here at least it was easier to understand why Kramnik didn’t play 31…Bxc3:
I was not really playing for a win – I didn’t like there was a pin: 32.Bxc3 Rxc3 33.f3… I thought it’s equal anyway… I was already missing everything. I played quite badly at some point. Then it was still actually quite difficult to win.
However, it was a bad decision, since as Grischuk and the commentators pointed out there was nothing lethal about the pin, while after 31…Bf5?! it was just a question of whether Grischuk would untangle and consolidate. He was down to around a minute on the clock – surely a factor, even though Kramnik didn’t mention it – but by the time control White’s king had completed a remarkable journey and Alexander was ready to play for a win:
The hours that followed where totally unnecessary self-inflicted punishment for Kramnik, with the internet unable to resist:
Up to a point, he defended well, with Grischuk struggling to find a way to break through, and in fact after Grischuk followed up 63.f5! exf5 not with 64.gxf5! (as pointed out by Kramnik after the game 64...f6 is well met by 65.Rb6!) but 64.Nxf5?!, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel. Once again, though, that was a liability, as our commentators realised:
Kramnik later said, “After 64.Nxf5 Black is not worse already… I was not still playing for a win but after 65.Bb2 I started to get excited…”. That optimism once again dissuaded Kramnik from going for drawing lines. He explained he didn’t play 67…Bxe5! since, “I thought I’m not worse”, while the position was also getting out of hand in mutual time trouble. 70.e6! would have won for Grischuk, but he had to spot a brilliant resource after Kramnik’s planned 70…Rb3+:
71.Bc3!!, and if 71…Rxc3 72.Kd2 there’s no stopping the e-pawn. That was hard to find, but not impossible, since Grischuk did spot it a move later with 70.exf6 Rb3+ 71.Bc3! leaving Kramnik the only move 71…gxf6! to stay in the game. That move cost Kramnik 7 minutes, and though objectively he was holding the draw once more, Grischuk’s 75.Ne7! pushed him over the edge. Vladimir called it, “a very unpleasant resource in time trouble”, and after Black responded inaccurately 79.Bd2! was the final nail in the coffin:
h6 is falling and if Black captures a minor piece the resulting ending is lost. That’s what eventually did happen in the game, and though Kramnik tried a last valiant, “it’s lost just by one tempi, I think” in the post-game press conference, it wasn’t close. The end of the road came on move 91:
That means that after starting with 2.5/3 and being a whisker away from 3.5/4 Kramnik has now suffered three easily avoidable losses and dropped to -1. After the physical and emotional energy he’s expended in the last five rounds he must be absolutely exhausted, but before the next rest day he still faces Black against a difficult opponent for him, Sergey Karjakin.
For Grischuk, meanwhile, anything is still possible, especially as he comes up against Mamedyarov and Caruana in the final two rounds! Watch the post-game press conference:
It’s been an interesting trend of the Berlin Candidates that Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, traditionally one of the most combustible players on the circuit, has had the quietest tournament so far. That’s played to his advantage, of course, since wins from innocuous positions against Karjakin and Kramnik have taken him to an unbeaten +2.
In Round 8 he had the white pieces against Karjakin, but this time he got nothing, instead coming up against what Jan and Peter in the live commentary labelled as the only really notable opening innovation of the Candidates so far. 5.Qe2 against the Petroff has also stood out, but they’re hoping it won’t catch on...
The innovation is the move 7…c6 in the Catalan:
As Jan explained, for over half a century 7…a6 was considered the move here, then the late Ivan Bukavshin popularised 7…b6 in 2015, and now theory seems to have moved again to 7…c6, with Karjakin’s second Alexander Riazantsev playing the highest profile game before the Candidates against Nikita Vitiugov in the Russian Championship in December 2017.
Karjakin had used the same setup against Caruana in Round 5, but still it caught Mamedyarov off-guard:
My home preparation finished after 7…c6. He played against Caruana like it, but I think he’ll never play it again… For me it is a new move.
The game after that wasn’t a thriller, though. Mamedyarov’s 12.b3!? had the virtue of getting Karjakin out of book, with the 36-minute think he put in there ultimately leading nowhere. The players repeated moves just as they would also have been able to offer a draw at move 30. White was slightly better in the final position, but Shak didn’t think it was the kind of position in which he could pose Karjakin any problems, even if he noted Kramnik would play it for “minimum 7 hours”!
Replay the post-game press conference:
The other games were much more exciting:
Levon Aronian had lost his last two games, and revealed in the post-game press conference:
I promised my team to play solidly today! I was trying at least to make solid decisions…
It looked at the start of the game that a very early draw by repetition might follow, but Ding Liren and Levon both showed that they’d come to play a game, and some bold decisions (11…Ng4!? 12.b4!) led to the spectacular position after 17.Qc4, where with both kings still uncastled pieces and pawns were hanging everywhere:
There were lots of possibilities, but the game continuation 17…Bxc5 18.Qxe6+ Kf8 19.Qxg4 Bb4+ 20.Nbd2 Bxd2+ 21.Nxd2 Bxg2 22.Rg1 Bd5 was one of the sanest:
Aronian was critical of his last move, feeling 22…Bc6 would have kept his team happier, and admitted to missing that after 23.Rd1 Qc7 White had 24.Ne4!, when after 24…Rd8 25.f3 it was no longer possible to play 25…Kf7? due to 26.Ng5+! Instead Levon went for 25…Qe5 and an ending a pawn down. Ding Liren had hopes of picking up his first win – and first decisive result of any kind in Berlin – but a couple of inaccuracies saw Aronian hold with ease. That didn’t do anything to improve Levon’s tournament situation, while Liren could still be a dark horse if he finally does pick up a win or two in the remaining games.
Replay the post-game press conference:
This game could almost have decided the 2018 Candidates Tournament, with Fabiano Caruana looking close to winning a third game with Black in a row, a fourth game in total, and opening up a 1-point lead with just six games left to play. Once again, Fabiano played the Petroff, the go-to method for drawing a top level chess game before Kramnik introduced us to the joys of the Berlin. Once again, like Kramnik in Round 4, Wesley So played 5.Qe2, once again we got an innocuous looking ending and once again Black had a serious advantage by move 20.
15.d5!? had a nice point:
If now 15…Ne7? White has 16.Bxa6!, as the e7-knight is hanging, but Fabi was able to reroute the knight via a7, c8 and b6 to attack the weak d5-pawn. White was clinging on, but then it was the turn for Wesley to demonstrate some knight mastery of his own with 25.Nb7!
It’s hard to imagine at this point in the game, but the knight would
evade capture for the next 39 moves and heroically save the day!
32.Rxe5! fxe5 33.Nd6 got it out of a tough spot at the cost of an exchange.
Finally Wesley managed to steer the game towards a fortress:
There’s nothing Fabi can do.
There had been notable predecessors to the game e.g.
But Wesley revealed he’d worked it all out on his own, joking when asked if he'd seen the games, “No, I wasn’t born yet”, and adding:
I used to study old games, but I then realised they’re getting older and the computers are getting stronger.
Fabi gave Kramnik a tip as he explained why he didn’t play on and “torture” his opponent with rook vs. knight:
Who am I torturing? I think I’m torturing myself more.
Wesley was asked if he would have played on:
Only if I’m playing Sergey Karjakin, because he keeps torturing me in these silly endgames. Yesterday I think only a kid would lose that ending 4 against 4!
He added what might have been a controversial statement if he’d lost the game:
I have nothing to lose. If Fabiano beat me then it’s good for the USA, and if I draw it’s not bad either.
As it was Wesley had ensured we retain maximum intrigue before a potential decider on Thursday, when Mamedyarov has White against Caruana.
Replay the post-game press conference:
Though Round 8 made no difference at the very top we saw the players who had been on 50% go their separate ways: Grischuk is now clear third, Ding Liren clear fourth and Kramnik is down on -1 with Karjakin:
Before Mamedyarov-Caruana on Thursday we have Round 9 (and a rest day), with So-Grischuk, Caruana-Ding Liren, Aronian-Mamedyarov and Karjakin-Kramnik. Kramnik’s fans may fear more pain (not to mention the ordeal ahead for the commentators!), while it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Caruana and Aronian win with the white pieces and suddenly Fabiano will be in touching distance of a match with Magnus.
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