Reports Mar 21, 2016 | 12:33 AMby Colin McGourty

Moscow Candidates, 8: Caruana strikes

Fabiano Caruana has beaten his great US rival Hikaru Nakamura to move within only half a point of the lead in the Moscow Candidates Tournament. The other three games were drawn, with Levon Aronian and Anish Giri playing out the latter’s eighth draw in eight, while co-leader Sergey Karjakin survived an extraordinary encounter that he was close to winning, then losing, against Peter Svidler. Vishy Anand couldn’t quite find a way to join the leaders against a stubborn Veselin Topalov.

Caruana was quickest on the draw in the all-US shootout

Moscow Candidates Round 8 results

Caruana 1-0 Nakamura

To the delight of most chess fans, the Moscow Candidates Tournament hasn’t been about who can topple the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Variation of the Ruy Lopez has largely been shunned, and even when played people have gone for the Anti-Berlin with 4.d3. That was the case in the all-US battle on Sunday, when instead of a quiet manoeuvring battle we got opposite-side castling and a race to land a killer blow. Given the tournament situation that perhaps suited both players – Caruana was trying to kick-start his event after seven draws, while Nakamura had to play catch-up after a bad start – but in the end it was definitely Fabiano’s day.

If a US player is going to play Carlsen in New York it now looks like being Caruana | photo: Alina Bivol/Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson takes us through the encounter:

Hikaru Nakamura had no problem attending this post-game analysis session, and in fact took the lead in explaining where it had all gone wrong:

Fabiano’s success meant Anish Giri could finally claim to be the only player with all draws in the 2016 Candidates Tournament.

Aronian ½-½ Giri

Levon Aronian searches for inspiration, while co-leader Sergey Karjakin looks on | photo: Alina Bivol/Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

The usual assumption is that in the run-up to an event as big as the Candidates Tournament the players are hiding their opening weapons. It was a surprise, therefore, that until move 14 Levon followed the approach he had used just recently in a rapid (aka “new classical”) game against Giri in the Zurich Chess Challenge. Instead of 14.f4, though, he played the computer’s first line, 14.f3:

The discussion about the move made it very clear that Anish was aware that his run of draws wasn’t enhancing his reputation for aggressive chess:

Giri: At first I was trying to find an advantage with Black… but then I decided to do my usual thing and just make a draw!

Aronian: Thank God you didn’t look for an advantage here!  How were you trying to get the advantage?

Giri: I have the bishop pair...

The play that followed saw Aronian pressing, but Giri displayed his customary precision and never looked in danger of losing – at least not against the opponent he was playing: “It reminds me of some games I could lose to Kramnik, but apparently not against you!”

For more where that came from, see the post-game press conference:

For a while it looked as though that draw might allow Levon to take the sole lead, since there were strange goings on in the game involving his co-leader.

Svidler ½-½ Karjakin

For once this wasn’t an opening triumph for Team Svidler:

Instead it was Sergey Karjakin and his second Vladimir Potkin (and a mysterious extra helper?) who had come better prepared:

Svidler again opened 1.c4 but when he went for a sideline of a variation once played by Karpov and Kasparov he found himself down on the clock against an opponent who just kept on blitzing out moves. Svidler said he decided just to play one move quickly, but 16.c4?! only got Karjakin out of book at the expense of serious positional concessions. After 16…Nde7 it was critical:

Peter took the radical decision to go for 17.g4!?, caging in his bishop on g2, with a heavy heart:

Objectively I evaluated my position as close to lost, but I thought, ok, let’s not get mated and continue playing, because otherwise it’s a bit sad.

Two moves later he pushed the pawn further to g5, which made Ian Nepomniachtchi wonder if Svidler simply wanted to get mated. At this point the 7-time Russian Champion wasn’t overjoyed at how things were going (“let’s not discuss this position too much because it’s painful to look at”), but then strange things began to happen. He somehow persuaded Karjakin to release his bishop from its trap at the cost of a mere pawn – 25…Bxh3!?:

What Karjakin admitted to missing was 26.Qe5!, and suddenly queens were coming off and White was right back in the game. In fact, a few inaccuracies from Karjakin were enough for Svidler to seize the initiative and, up to a point, he was converting his advantage brilliantly (41.g6!! and 42.Rc1!! were a touch of sheer class). Alas, not for the first time in Moscow, Peter failed to bring home the full point, overlooking something simple:

He’d gone for this thinking that 49…Ng6 was Black’s only option, but as in Game 3 of the World Cup final in Baku, against the same opponent, he left the stage only to realise that there was another option – 49…g6!

The draw was then inevitable, and another great chance had slipped through Svidler’s fingers, while incredible resilience may still earn Karjakin a match against Magnus Carlsen. Watch the post-game discussion in full:

If you were puzzled by why official commentator Ian Nepomniachtchi was wishing the players particular good luck in Round 9 it might not be unconnected to the fact that Karjakin is playing Nakamura…

Topalov ½-½ Anand

When things are going badly for you in a tournament as tough as this one, you know that your opponents will go after you with either colour. That was the case in Round 8, with Veselin Topalov slipping into a bad position early on and allowing his pawn structure to be ruined by a knight exchange on f4.

Anand had chances of joining Karjakin and Aronian in the lead | photo: Alina Bivol/Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Vishy scented blood, and it was only a question of whether he could squeeze enough out of the position. One potential chance came on move 37:

Here 37…Qb1!? might have posed White more problems than 37…Qe6, as played in the game, but Vishy explained he “didn’t want to make such a committal decision with three moves to the time control”, and also felt White had enough resources to hold. In the end a draw was agreed on move 51.

That meant Anand is now joined by Caruana in second place, only half a point behind Karjakin and Aronian:

1.Karjakin, Sergey2760½.½.1.½.½½1.½.5
2.Aronian, Levon2786½.½.½.½½½.1.1.5
3.Caruana, Fabiano2794½.½.½.½.½.½1½.
4.Anand, Viswanathan27620.½.½.½.1.½.1½
5.Giri, Anish2793½.½½½.½.½.½.½.4
6.Svidler, Peter2757½½½.½.0.½.½.½.
7.Nakamura, Hikaru27900.0.½0½.½.½.1.3
8.Topalov, Veselin2780½.0.½.0½½.½.0.

With only six rounds to go the margin for error is getting smaller for any player who still hopes to qualify to play a World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen. Tomorrow Jan Gustafsson will be joined by Loek van Wely for our live coverage as the leaders face a tough test with the black pieces: Anand-Aronian and Nakamura-Karjakin.

In case you missed today’s show, which included a guest appearance by Sopiko Guramishvili, you can watch it below:

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


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