Reports May 26, 2015 | 8:40 PMby Colin McGourty

Khanty GP, Rd 11: Caruana & Nakamura!

Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura will represent the USA in the 8-player 2016 Candidates Tournament to decide the next challenger for World Champion Magnus Carlsen. They both qualified from the FIDE Grand Prix series with final round draws, although Anish Giri’s wild attack wasn’t what Caruana’s fans will have wanted to see.

Fabiano Caruana won the 2014-15 Grand Prix series, with Hikaru Nakamura joining him in the 2016 Candidates Tournament | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

All kinds of crazy permutations were possible before the final round of the 2014/15 FIDE Grand Prix series, including both Evgeny Tomashevsky and Dmitry Jakovenko qualifying at the expense of Caruana and Nakamura, but in the end we got the outcome the odds predicted:

The first draw of the day was a spectacular Sicilian, but it was a line of theory long since known to be a draw. 

Dominguez - Grischuk was the first game to finish, though Alexander still managed the impressive feat of ending up with only 8 minutes on his clock | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

The press conference opened with Leinier Dominguez being asked how he’d made Alexander Grischuk think so long in the opening. Grischuk took over:

By playing the main line… the absolute main line!

Neither player could be overjoyed with how their Grand Prix series had gone, although Dominguez at least improved after a terrible first tournament. Grischuk summed up:

For me the whole series was disastrous and all three tournaments were bad. I was not fighting for anything in any of the tournaments. I’m not sure why, but that’s the case.

Nakamura - Jakovenko was the game all the attention was focused on, but Jakovenko's chances of qualifying with a draw meant he wasn't ready to burn any bridges | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

That draw had some significance for the overall standings, since it removed the tiny chance that Nakamura could draw and still not qualify for the Candidates. Soon afterwards his game against Dmitry Jakovenko came to an end. Mass simplifications had left Jakovenko, playing Black, with a nominal edge…

…but it was never likely to be enough. After the game the players explained their strategy:

Nakamura: I just played chess, but it’s more difficult because I thought that maybe Dmitry would try and play something aggressive. I wasn’t so sure if he would play solid or he would try something crazy to create an imbalance.

Jakovenko: The problem for me was that I have something to lose because, for example, if Giri would beat Caruana I’m qualified. The third place also gives some chances – I hope Hikaru will play the World Cup!

It was a career landmark for Nakamura, who at 27 has never yet come close to challenging for the World Championship title. It was also the culmination of a wonderful sequence of results in 2014 that have taken Nakamura above 2800 and made those who mocked his claims to be a real rival for Carlsen think twice. 

He also got in some subtle product placement:

The post-game press conference also turned to the question of where the Candidates Tournament would be held, with Nakamura doubtful it would take place in the US:

First of all, this is a big rumour – as far as I know there’s no actual bid.

He put the chances of it taking place in the US at 5%, pointing out that neither the Candidates nor the World Championship itself (for which a US venue was announced at the closing ceremony of the 2014 World Championship match) would be held in St. Louis.

Watch the full press conference:

Fabiano Caruana had a much tougher day at the office. 

Giri - Caruana turned into the real game of the day, with Fabiano facing a wild attack and the knowledge that a loss would see him fail to qualify for the Candidates | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

He came into the last round game against Anish Giri knowing a draw would definitely suffice, and felt things were going to plan… up to a point!

Back of my mind I had this idea that a draw is quite a good result and it all seemed to be heading for that… and then 22.g4 came.

Giri explained:

I thought I don’t risk to lose this game today since Fabiano will be extremely happy with a draw, so I decided to see if he’ll have a heart attack!

Caruana kept his cool, perhaps because it was nothing new for him in this tournament:

After the g4 I played against Tomashevsky everyone has played it against me… in any position!

Giri followed up with 23.g5!? and Caruana was soon far behind on the clock, but he kept churning out good moves that dismayed Giri with their solidity. Caruana didn’t lose sight of the real goal, and after 33.Ba1 he took a sensible decision:

33…Be5! Sergey Shipov, commenting on the official Russian commentary at this point, exclaimed, “doesn’t he want to win a game of chess?” Caruana could have gone 33…f4 or 33…c4, and could also have played on in the final position, but he settled for doing the job.

Fabiano was also self-critical afterwards:

But it seems unjustified. As the results panned out an "accidental loss" to Giri would have seen Jakovenko qualify in Caruana's place. He expressed his relief in the press conference:

I’m glad that I qualified at the first moment, so this tournament isn’t hanging over my head for the rest of the year. I think (the Candidates) is an important event and I’m going to try and prepare seriously for it.

He summed up how the Khanty-Mansiysk Grand Prix had gone:

The first half of the event went very well for me, and then I pretty much ruined quite a bit with my game against Jakovenko. The end was pretty shaky – I had plenty of chances to win more games, but it was still a pretty decent result.

Indeed, Caruana finished in joint first place in Khanty-Mansiysk, clear first place in the series as a whole and is currently live-rated no. 2 in the world. Like Nakamura he suffered a tough period – after his fabulous win in St. Louis – but also like Nakamura he seems to have put that behind him now.

Watch the enjoyable press conference:

Anish Giri tweeted:

The games that continued after that inevitably suffered from a sense of anti-climax. 

Boris Gelfand never stopped fighting and finished unbeaten in Khanty-Mansiysk | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Sergey Karjakin played the rare 7.a4 line against the Najdorf that he noted Robin van Kampen (whose chess24 series on the Taimanov Sicilian has just been published!) had used to draw against Grischuk. Both players burned up a lot of time in a fiendishly complex position, but were unable to upset the balance in their favour. The press conference, though, was worth a look, with Gelfand giving his views on the tournament:

I want to say here generally, since I have an opportunity, that I’m very glad this Grand Prix series exists, because there’s too much criticism sometimes. Of course the last cycle was organised better than this one (a point Grischuk had made earlier, wondering if the much lower prizes were a sign FIDE was growing tired of the event) but the idea is great and sometimes it’s just political criticism for no reason whatsoever, even from players who qualify. This is surprising. I remember Veselin Topalov said it’s his worst nightmare that the Grand Prix would take place, and he qualified (later Boris and Sergey add Nakamura and Caruana to the list of critics). And also the whole cycle he curses organisers and curses the lack of tournaments – this time four great tournaments for top players. So many good games – good for players, good for the public. I don’t understand why so much criticism.

Gelfand said he’d felt good but somehow hadn’t even managed to get any winning chances in Khanty-Mansiysk. Karjakin, meanwhile, put all the blame on one bad move:

The problem was when I played against Grischuk. It was a very fighting game and basically all around equal, but I blundered with my final move. Then when I lost the game I had to try and win against Jakovenko, and I lost. So it went wrong all because of this stupid move against Grischuk. But it happens – I can only blame myself.

Replay that press conference:

The next game to finish, Svidler-Jobava, took literally hours longer until Peter Svidler ended up winning his third rook ending of the Khanty-Mansiysk Grand Prix. If you have half an hour to spare in the next few days don’t miss Peter’s explanation of what actually goes on in a grandmaster’s mind during a game. 

For instance, in the 14 minutes he took to play 8.Neg5!? Svidler pointed out that he’d managed to make a huge “internal” blunder calculating the consequences of 8…h6 9.Nxe6!? and later even 9.Qxe6??!

Sadly, to borrow a phrase from Svidler's chess24 Banter Blitz, "chess doesn't work like that, Lawrence"!

He summed up, “I’m an old and infirm man with mental frailties,” and explained that if Baadur had played 8…h6 he would have played 9.Ne4 and pretended the plan all along was to provoke the “weakening” 9…h6 – the kind of bluffing he says is common in chess! Later Baadur could have played safely but the Georgian number one explained, “for me, lose or draw is the same given my tournament situation”, so lose it ultimately was.

Jobava was simply glad to have taken part in the Grand Prix series, while Svidler's verdict was less rosy:

Horribly disappointing for me. I had a half decent tournament in Baku, a complete disaster in Tbilisi and here the first six rounds I felt like I was playing like a human being for the first time in a very long time. And of course the first time I feel like that something like what happened happens (three losses in a row). Not too many fond memories, somehow.

As we said, watch the press conference!

The last game to finish dragged on so long – 115 moves and over 7 hours – that the players had no time to give a press conference before the Closing Ceremony. We can imagine, though, what they might have said.

Oops, I did it again! | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would just be glad to see the back of the tournament after finishing bottom with no wins and that horrific four losses in a row sequence. It could have been even worse on the last day, since he stumbled into an ending two pawns down.

Evgeny Tomashevsky, the least lucky man in Khanty-Mansiysk | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Evgeny Tomashevsky, in turn, has every reason to wonder just why Caissa has deserted him. As the Grand Prix series leader he didn’t need a spectacular result in Khanty-Mansiysk to make it into the Candidates Tournament, and was pressing in all his games with the white pieces - against Grischuk, Jakovenko, Nakamura, Dominguez and now Vachier-Lagrave. He won none of them and could finish only 10th.   

Instead it was Caruana, Nakamura and Jakovenko who took the top places in the Khanty-Mansiysk Grand Prix.

Jakovenko was actually nominally given first, Nakamura second and Caruana third, but it made no difference to the share either of Grand Prix points or prize money | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

You can click any result in this final cross table to replay the game with computer analysis:

Mixed emotions for the players at the closing ceremony! | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

What mattered, though, were the final Grand Prix series standings, where Caruana and Nakamura took the two qualifying spots available.

Jakovenko edged out his compatriot Tomashevsky for the potentially important third spot:

Rank Player Baku Tashkent Tbilisi Khanty-Mansiysk Total
1 Fabiano Caruana 155 75 140 370
2 Hikaru Nakamura 82 125 140 347
3 Dmitry Jakovenko 30 140 140 310
4 Evgeny Tomashevsky 82 170 30 282
5 Boris Gelfand 155 15 85 255
6 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 35 125 75 235
7 Sergey Karjakin 82 75 55 212
8 Teimour Radjabov 50 50 110 210
9 Dmitry Andreikin 20 170 10 200
10 Alexander Grischuk 82 40 55 177
11 Anish Giri 40 75 55 170
11 Leinier Dominguez 10 75 85 170
13 Peter Svidler 82 20 55 157
14 Baadur Jobava 75 40 20 135
15 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 75 40 10 125
15 Rustam Kasimdzhanov 35 15 75 125

Caruana and Nakamura will represent the USA in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, so both get their chance to play for a match against Magnus Carlsen | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website 

We now know that Vishy Anand, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura will play in the 2016 Candidates Tournament. We’ll know the next two players after the World Cup in Baku this September.

Who else would you like to see in the Candidates? Who can win it? And who would be the best challenger for Magnus?

See also:

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