Reports Mar 26, 2016 | 1:38 AMby Colin McGourty

Moscow Candidates, 12: Karjakin up, Anand down

Vishy Anand’s stay at the top of the Candidates race was again cut short, as an opening disaster saw him lost against Hikaru Nakamura in less than a dozen moves. Sergey Karjakin took full advantage, both of Vishy’s troubles and Veselin Topalov’s poor form, to ease to a victory that crucially puts him ahead of Fabiano Caruana on the "number of wins" tiebreaker. The other two games - Svidler-Giri and Caruana-Aronian - were drawn, but not without long and, at times, enthralling struggles.

Karjakin shrugged off his loss to Anand to regain the lead, a position he's now held after 10 of 12 rounds | photo: World Chess

Moscow Candidates Round 12 results

As guest commentator Robin van Kampen put it, this round featured two games that were surprisingly short and two that were surprisingly long. The overall surprise of the day, though, was that Vishy Anand was yet again comprehensively outprepared in a game where he had the black pieces:

Nakamura 1-0 Anand

Anand has now been involved in no less than half the decisive games in Moscow | photo: World Chess 

It’s often been noted that elite grandmasters hunt in packs and will turn on any sign of weakness in an opponent at an elite tournament. Vishy Anand has played like a chess god with the white pieces in Moscow (6 games, 4 wins, 2 draws), but with Black he’s been unrecognisable, losing three games almost entirely without a fight. Worse, in Round 10 he played the sharp 4…Bb4 system in the English Opening and got hit by a powerful novelty from Caruana on move 12. In Round 12 he repeated that system and walked into an incredibly risky line Hikaru Nakamura had looked at just before the game:

I kind of just prepared this line among many things I was looking at before the game and I was essentially gambling that Vishy would not be prepared for it and would play more human-looking moves.

Nakamura felt Vishy, famously one of the best prepared players in world chess, was “close to lost” on move 11. Jan Gustafsson takes us through the encounter:

In his press conference after that Round 10 loss Vishy only said the single word “thanks” at the very end. You wouldn’t imagine it was possible to beat that, but after Round 12 he managed!

That gave Sergey Karjakin the chance to put right his loss to “the other Vishy” the day before, and he found a willing accomplice in Veselin Topalov.

Karjakin 1-0 Topalov

After this game Topalov was in high spirits as he described his decision to break the players’ habit in Moscow of replying to 1.e4 with 1.e5 and instead go for the Sicilian:

I always get good positions out of the opening, but I always lose. The only guy I beat was Magnus. But in general I’m losing all my games – not only with the Najdorf… Today I couldn’t remember anything, of course!

Sergey merely had to follow a standard attacking plan until Veselin went badly wrong with 17…Rc8?, allowing 18.h6!

The strange thing, though, was that Topalov had seen that hammer blow but dismissed it because he overlooked “a very simple move”. He expected that after 18…fxg6 White would play 19.hxg7, when Black may be fine, but the Bulgarian said he “completely forgot” about capturing on e6. After 19.Nxe6! Qd7 20.Nxf8 Black had lost the exchange and Veselin admitted his position was simply gone. Karjakin’s conversion may not have been perfect, but when Topalov declined the invitation to exchange queens and enter a miserable ending – which he might nevertheless have defended for a long time – the end was nigh.

There were some potentially flashy finishes…

34.Ne7!! was the computer's choice - and it's a fun line to play through in our broadcast system (just make moves on the board!): 34...Rxe7 35.Rxg6+! hxg6 36.Rh8+! Kxh8 37.Qxf8+ and the feast begins...

…but Sergey got the job done in 35 moves with no issues whatsoever.  

Watch the post-game press conference below:

One observer, Russian commentator Sergey Shipov, had been critical of Topalov’s approach during his live show. A member of the KasparovChess forum felt that was unfair to the former World Champion, who simply wasn’t in form. Sergey responded:

It’s not just that he’s not in form, he’s also badly prepared for the tournament. The guy’s simply going through the motions! That’s extremely unpleasant to see – you should approach such a high-level tournament more seriously.  

Or he should have declined to take part in advance. Then his place could have been taken by a more motivated player, who would have shown higher quality play and would have scored more points…

In Topalov’s place Kramnik (and not him alone) wouldn’t have allowed himself such an approach to the tournament.

A fair assessment, too harsh on a player who’s simply having a bad event, or is it instead merely an inevitable flaw of such round-robins that by the end there are players who no longer have anything at stake and lose motivation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Meanwhile two games remained, and it seemed they might finish soon, with neither seriously threatening to end decisively. Nothing of the sort! There were hours and dozens of moves ahead of us…

Caruana ½-½ Aronian

Another Candidates Tournament seems to be slipping away from Levon, while a World Championship match is currently within Fabiano's hands | photo: World Chess

To have a decent chance of qualifying for a World Championship match Levon Aronian really needed to win this game, which may explain why he rejected a drawish exchange on move 16, and instead went for a strange line with 16…d4, leading to an unbalanced position a pawn down where Black’s pawn on c3 is both a thorn in White’s side and a potential weakness.

Caruana first surprised Aronian by choosing a quiet approach (and not the computer and Levon-recommended 20.f4), but then lashed out with the risky 22.a4!?, when holding on to the extra pawn was a valid option:

From this point onwards the players’ evaluation of the position diverged quite dramatically:

Aronian: I thought you would slowly lose this – that was my feeling!

Caruana: I don’t think I was worse in the game.

Perhaps the key moment of the game was over almost before we knew it, since Levon had a fleeting chance to land a very surprising tactical blow:

38…Rxd3!! It turns out that the three black queenside pawns are worth at least a rook, and perhaps a winning advantage (it’s noteworthy that after e.g. 39.cxd3 Qxd3+ 40.Kg1? Black can offer an exchange of queens White can’t accept with 40…Qc4!). Time was short, though, and as Levon remarked later in the press conference about another position (no doubt thinking of his adventures against Anand and Svidler):

I would never do this in time trouble – I’ve learned my lesson of doing strange things in time trouble!

The game itself flared into activity once more on move 45, but Caruana demonstrated his familiar tenacity to correctly calculate some hair-raising variations where the white e and d-pawns ultimately balanced out a passed h-pawn for Black. A draw was agreed on move 67.

Watch the post-game press conference below:

And that left only two players…

Svidler ½-½ Giri

A long struggle to equalise - both the game and the post-game press conference - perhaps wasn't what Peter had in mind before the round began | photo: World Chess

When Vishy was already shipwrecked on the rocks of Nakamura’s home preparation, our commentary duo were holding up Anish Giri’s play against Peter Svidler as an example of what the former World Champion should have done instead – play the 4…d5 mainline and a position where nothing is likely to go too badly wrong in the opening. In fact, Svidler admitted to forgetting why he was aiming for the position that occurred in the game and it was Black who took over, until Giri passed up the chance to simplify into a heavy piece ending a pawn up on move 29.

Svidler returned the favour a couple of moves later when he played 31.Qxe5?!, allowing 31…Qxb5:

He confessed he’d simply intended to play 32.Be7?? here, missing in advance that 32…Qc6! wins on the spot. Instead Svidler had to grovel on into what became a rook ending a pawn down. The general wisdom that all rook endings are drawn was confirmed, though not without Giri trying every trick in the book until move 85, when he had to accept draw no. 12. 

As Giri's friend Robin van Kampen pointed out, when you're the youngest player in such a tournament and your only problem is not converting some winning positions it means things aren't going too badly... | photo: World Chess

As Olimpiu G. Urcan reminded us, Giri had been glad to see Caruana and Adams score 9 draws at the 2015 London Chess Classic – to quote from our final report:

It might slightly contribute to changing my image as the guy who draws all his games. I never, ever had a tournament where I drew all my games, and now we have two guys who are doing it!

Well, Anish (who now plays Anand and Topalov) is two games away from setting a record for the ages by drawing all 14 games of a Candidates Tournament. That elephant in the room wasn’t discussed in the post-game press conference, but there was a great sense of anticipation:

It was perhaps a draw in the end, but there were some great quotes. When Giri suggested he had chances to mate his opponent, Svidler responded with the dead pan:

If you will be able to give mate then you will definitely have a good game.

Peter, as is his custom, pointed out some mistakes he'd made, which encouraged Anish to note:

The problem with this type of game is that even if your opponent plays 20 inaccuracies in a row it’s still difficult to win!

That remark hung in the air, until Svidler later returned to it:

After my 122 inaccuracies in a row (Giri interjects: “I just said 21!”) I feel I should not be expressing any opinions any more – I’m disqualified from expressing opinions today.

Host Ian Nepomniachtchi wasn’t left out of the fun, with the question of rest-day plans turned back on him before another question fared even worse:

Peter Svidler later did answer by stating that, “50% with two rounds to go is not a great platform”, which applies not only to Svidler and Giri but also to Aronian. 

Watch that post-game press conference:

Let’s take a look at the cross table with two rounds to go:

As you can see, the front runners are Karjakin and Caruana, with Anand the next best placed despite his bad day at the office. They now play:

  1. Karjakin: Aronian (Black), Caruana (White)
  2. Caruana: Svidler (White), Karjakin (Black)
  3. Anand: Giri (White), Svidler (Black)

Vishy has the best 2nd tiebreaker of most wins, Caruana has the tiebreaker over Vishy of winning their direct encounter, but probably most critically Karjakin has more wins than Caruana. It's a real possibility that Fabiano will go into the final round knowing he needs to beat Karjakin with the black pieces to play a match against Magnus Carlsen!

Of course it's all more complicated than that, but don't worry - we have a rest day to get our heads around all the possible permutations in Moscow!  Battle recommences at 14:00 CET (clocks seem to go forward in Europe, but not Russia) on Easter Sunday, with Robin van Kampen and Jan Gustafsson again providing live commentary. You can watch their Round 12 show below:

You can also watch the games in our free mobile apps:  


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