Reports Mar 21, 2018 | 9:58 AMby Colin McGourty

Berlin Candidates 9: Fabi close as Vlad loses again

Fabiano Caruana missed a win as late as the penultimate move of a nail-biting game against Ding Liren to remain only half a point clear of Shakhriyar Mameydarov with five rounds of the Berlin Candidates to go. That meant the only decisive game of Round 9 was a fourth loss in six games for Vladimir Kramnik, whose tournament has fallen apart after a dream start. It was Sergey Karjakin who delivered the latest blow, unleashing a novelty on move 9 and finding some fantastic defensive moves to resist a counterattack and claim the full point.

Caruana was a move away from taking a 1-point lead into his game with Mamedyarov | photo: Niki Riga

You can replay all the Berlin Candidates 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:

For once it wasn’t Vladimir Kramnik’s fault, but for a sixth round in a row the commentators were working hard into the seventh hour of play. It’s enough to drive anyone insane, and perhaps that’s how Jan and Peter got from here…

…to here 

Replay the full day’s commentary:

Karjakin 1-0 Kramnik: From bad to worse

The Berlin Candidates has become a nightmare for Kramnik | photo: Niki Riga

When it rains, it pours, and after five long games featuring three losses the last thing Vladimir Kramnik needed was to play Black against Sergey Karjakin – a player who had a 5 wins to 1 classical record against him. Not only that, but for the second day in a row Kramnik’s faithful Semi-Tarrasch was hit by a novelty, with 9.h4 a display of sheer aggression that couldn’t be ignored:

Karjakin explained afterwards:

It was the idea of my second Alexander Riazantsev. The move is quite interesting and also it’s important that the computer doesn’t really show it, so my opponent wasn’t ready for it.

Kramnik immediately sank into a 12-minute think to decide on 9…cxd4 10.cxd4 Nc6 11.h5 and then spent 22 minutes on 11…f5!? Sergey commented:

I think if we played a game in the third round he wouldn’t have played f5, but maybe after yesterday’s round he was not in the mood to play a slow game.

That counterstrike got Sergey thinking on his own, but he didn’t believe it was good, and the later break 16…e5?! seems objectively to have been the losing move. By this stage, though, Kramnik had little more to lose, and we can only thank the former World Champion for taking the game in a direction that led to some fantastic variations. In fact, he had a good chance to survive in what followed. Peter Svidler has all the details:

One of the reasons that the Candidates is tougher than most super-tournaments is that losing players are also obliged to attend the post-game press conferences, but for the first time in Berlin one player failed to appear. Or rather, it seems Vladimir Kramnik showed up, but like Magnus Carlsen in New York was unwilling to wait for Sergey to arrive…

…and another pair of players to talk first:

It remains to be seen if that will save him from having to give up 10% of his winnings as a fine (5% to FIDE and 5% to Agon), though at the moment those winnings aren’t likely to be substantial. The world no. 3 at the start of the tournament is now tied for last with the world no. 4 Wesley So and world no. 5 Levon Aronian!

Karjakin is back on 50% and could still get back in the hunt for a Carlsen rematch | photo: Niki Riga

Watch the post-game press conference with Sergey Karjakin and Anastasia Karlovich:

There was little doubt Kramnik had still gone into that game with faint hopes of mounting a recovery to become the World Championship challenger, but Wesley So seemed to harbour no such illusions:

So ½-½ Grischuk: Black survives by a miracle

Wesley was in good spirits afterwards | photo: Niki Riga

He would say afterwards when asked about fighting for first, “Never give up - I just need to win my next five games!” It was more of a joke than a battle cry, though, and his decision to play the 5.Re1 Berlin against Alexander Grischuk was an acknowledgement that the race was over. The game followed the non-event of the final classical game of the 2016 World Championship match and also a game from Anand-Carlsen in Chennai, with Grischuk joking at Kramnik’s expense that, “Black survives by a miracle”.

The press conference was much more interesting than the game, with Grischuk referring to his win against Kramnik the day before,

After today’s game I’m much, much happier than after yesterday’s. Yesterday I was just so tired. Really it was an extremely exhausting game.

Grischuk consolidated after his marathon win over Kramnik | photo: Niki Riga

Grischuk clarified what he meant when he said he wasn’t fit, “I’m not LeBron James or something!”, and when he talked about the tradition of pre-arranged draws in chess Wesley commented, in the spirit of Bobby Fischer, “I wasn’t born in Russia!” Watch the press conference below:

Aronian ½-½ Mamedyarov: Shak avoids a slip-up

Aronian-Mamedyarov always has an extra edge, but ended peacefully | photo: Niki Riga

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had talked the day before about how another player would have had good winning chances with White in the endgame he got against Sergey Karjakin. A day later, and he was on the black side of a very similar Catalan position, and found his opinion confirmed:

I told if like Kramnik for White it will not be easy for me and now Levon plays this position! After the game it’s easy to say I was right. It’s not easy to play this way.

Mamedyarov regretted his 20…Ke7?! instead of 20…f6, and on move 30 there was a sudden tactical shot:

30.Nd5+! exd5 31.Bxc5+ Ke6 32.b3?! Aronian described this move as “a terrible blunder”, as he could have held on to the e5-pawn with 32.Bd4. What he’d missed in the game was that after 32…Rxc1 33.Rxc1 Kxe5 34.Kd3 the black king could simply retreat to e6 and d7. On the other hand, it’s unlikely anything too bad would have followed after 32.Bd4, with Mamedyarov maintaining his solid approach to the tournament. He’s still excellently placed, since in Rounds 8 and 9 Caruana has fallen just short of increasing his lead.

Watch the post-game press conference:

Caruana ½-½ Ding Liren: The draw curse continues

Most chess fans would love to see a Carlsen-Caruana match, but we're not there yet... | photo: Niki Riga

It’s strange to say of a game with enough missed wins to fill an entire tournament, but the overriding impression of this 7-hour thriller was that both participants played exceptionally well. Spanish GM Pepe Cuenca has now analysed the game:

It was enthralling right from the start, with a tactical skirmish starting on move 13:

13.Nxd5! didn’t come as a surprise to Ding Liren, who quickly blitzed out 13…Nxd4 14.Nxe7+ Qxe7 15.Qc4 Bxg2 and only started to think after 16.Qxd4. There were plenty of options for both players, but eventually an endgame was reached where White retained a strong pull, with Fabiano Caruana’s 31.h5! seizing space on the kingside after Black missed the chance to put a pawn on h5 himself in the preceding moves:

It was an extremely comfortable position for Fabiano, but he struggled to find a path to victory. He wasn’t helped by some brilliant defence from his opponent, with Peter Svidler describing Liren’s 49th move as one you might not even consider:

49…Ne7!! exploits the fact that after 50.Nxe6 Re8! the pin on the e-file introduces all kinds of tactical tricks into the position. Caruana commented:

Already I’d lost the plot, because I think 49…Ne7 was an excellent move. I had overlooked it and it was pretty much leading to a draw in a few ways.

He went for the quiet 50.Bb2, but just when the Chinese no. 1 seemed on the verge of wrapping the game up he faltered…

…and the madness began!

It’s not really possible to make a quick summary of all that followed (check out the game with computer analysis and the ability to make your own moves), but even Caruana admitted to “getting dizzy with all the variations”. The greatest drama was reserved for the very end, when 65…Nd8? had an effect in inverse proportion to its objective strength:

Black is threatening not just the pawn but a fork, and Fabiano commented, “I saw I could blunder a pawn and I decided just to go for a draw”. He played 66.Re5? and after 66…Be8 67.e7 the game was agreed drawn. It was only in the post-game press conference that Caruana learned he’d missed a huge chance to play 66.Nf8+! and if 66…Kg8 there’s 67.h6! Kxf8 68.h7 and the pawn queens.

Caruana had 4 minutes 9 seconds on his clock at this point, and commented:

It’s kind of silly because I was looking at 66.Nf8+ Kg8, and I was trying 67.Bxg7 Rxg7 68.e7, and I was trying 67.h6 Kxf8 68.hxg7 Kg8, and somehow 68.h7! just completely slipped my attention. Once you see it, it’s very obvious. It’s a pretty simply tactic and I had a few minutes, so I should have found it.

Watch the post-game press conference:

That meant that Ding Liren is still in the hunt to repeat Anish Giri’s 14 draws in the Candidates Tournament, while Fabiano remains half a point ahead of Mamedyarov:

First we have a rest day, but then on Thursday it’s the big one – Mamedyarov-Caruana. Will Shak feel he needs to go all-out to win with the White pieces, or will it be safety first, since a loss would put Fabiano on the verge of winning the tournament? Grischuk-Karjakin may be a big game to decide whether a 3rd player will join the hunt for 1st place, while Kramnik-Aronian will be an unusual battle between last-placed players. By this stage neither player has much to lose!

The Caruana-Mamedyarov head-to-head is coming on Thursday | photo: Niki Riga

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