Candidates: First American challenger since Fischer

by Macauley Peterson
3/28/2018 – With a confident performance in the last round, Fabiano Caruana secured victory in the 2018 Candidates Tournament in Berlin. He played against Alexander Grischuk with a half point lead, and as the round progressed it became clear that a draw would be enough for the tournament victory. But that wasn't enough for Caruana, who pressed on for the full point and finished with a fantastic 9.0 / 14 score and clear first. | Photo: World Chess

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Mamedyarov second, Karjakin third

All the tiebreak scenarios notwithstanding, one outcome was as simple as can be: If Fabiano Caruana won on Tuesday, he would be Magnus Carlsen's next challenger.

Caruana was able to bide his time, gaining a comfortable position and an edge on the clock, while watching his rivals on neighbouring boards struggle to find any advantage. After the time control it looked unlikely that Mamedyarov could pull off the necessary win with Black, and a critical blunder by Karjakin ended the Russian's winning chances. Two draws in those games would mean that a draw would be enough for Caruana as well, but by then he was already close to winning.

In an admirable show of fortitude and class, he saw no reason to offer a draw, despite the tournament situation, nor was Grischuk in a position to offer one himself. And so Caruana proceeded to cautiously convert his winning advantage, carefully but smoothly, until Grischuk finally extended his hand over six hours after the game began. It was the last to finish and one of the longest games of the tournament.

Grischuk resigns

Grischuk resigns | Photo: Niki Riga

Standings after fourteen rounds


Let's take a look at the results, starting with the shortest and most expected:

Aronian ½-½ So

Lasting barely more than 20 minutes, the players repeated moves and a draw was sealed after just 17 moves. It was a disappointing tournament for both players, and with nothing riding on the outcome of this game, this was easily the least surprising result of the past three weeks.

One small surprise was the emergence after the game of Israeli GM Maxim Rodshtein, who turned up at the post-game press conference for the first time, evidently having been in Berlin working with Levon Aronian, though previously unknown outside his team.

Afterwards, both Aronian and So graciously agreed to a brief debriefing from Daniel King:

Wesley So chats with Daniel King | Power Play Chess


Karjakin ½-½ Ding

Going into the game, Ding was aware of the remote chance of a three-way tie, of course, and tried to have Karjakin's predicament work to his advantage. "I know Sergey will try to win with white and I will wait for my chances."

If Karjakin could win, he would win the tournament provided Caruana and Mamedyarov did no better than draw. If both lost, then even a draw would be enough.


In this position, the black bishop is theoretically bad compared to the white knight, but it's hard for White to breakthrough and make concrete progress. Ding showed that Black also has chances in the position, by locking the queenside and advancing his pawns on the kingside. White managed to bring his knight to d5, but just at that moment, a tactical trick from Ding cost White a pawn, suddenly making Karjakin's position very vulnerable.


Ding played quickly and confidently, but Karjakin also thought for mere seconds before playing 27.Nd5, the natural move, but a "terrible blunder" — as Karjakin later put it — missing an important tactical detail.

Ding checked his calculation for a few minutes before continuing with 27...h3+! The pawn cannot be taken on account of 28.Kxh3 g4+! winning immediately (and the move Karjakin says he "forgot"). Therefore forced was 28.Kg1 but after 28...Rxf3, and a clean pawn for the Chinese, Karjakin was fighting for his life. He could cling to a remote hope with the draw, but only by in case of some freak accident in Caruana's game.

"Today was a bit stupid, but in the end probably I didn't deserve to win it", Karjakin summed up the tournament.

Ding remains the only undefeated player in Berlin. All in all, a great result and a huge learning experience, as he moves into the top ten in the world and solidifies his position as the best Chinese player.

Ding assess his own performance with Daniel King | Power Play Chess


Kramnik ½-½ Mamedyarov

Vladimir Kramnik played the whole tournament ambitiously and the last round was no exception. In a rarely played variation of the Catalan, he sacrificed a pawn in the opening, avoided several offers to repeat moves and secured good chances with an imaginative tactical game.

Polgar preferred Kramnik's position throughout the middlegame. "This game is not going to be a draw." But Kramnik's strong play cost him a lot of time and Mamedyarov capitalised after Kramnik missed a key chance on move 31.


31.Bg5! would have presented Black with serious problems after the forced 31...Nh5 32.Nxc6 giving a clear white advantage. Instead, Kramnik hesitated with 31.h3 and faced the shot 31...Bxf2! which lead to an endgame in which White had to be careful.

Mamedyarov was clearly gutted when he eventually realised that there was nothing left in the position. He took some time to gather his emotions before offering a draw, and was consoled with a sympathetic pat on the back from the former World Champion.

At the press conference, Mamedyarov thanked his opponent for letting him play a full fighting game. Shakhriyar has had a marvelous year, and we'll be hearing more from him soon.


Grischuk 0-1 Caruana

Caruana came out of the opening well, in a Petroff that was very slow to develop with just 13 moves on the board after two hours of play. But with no problems whatsoever, he could watch his rivals' games unfold, while gauging how much risk to take.

Grischuk thought for over 30 minutes on 13.a3, after which we have a balanced position, but one with many options.


13.O-O 14.b4 h6 15.Bg3 Two moves later Grischuk was already down to 13 minutes for his remaining 25 moves to reach time control. Black has a great position.

In the endgame, Caruana did well to keep things simple and under control. A good illustration was the very practical decision to take Grischuk's remaining passed pawn.


The engine opts for 43...Rg1 and Caruana could have calculated a four-move sequence winning a piece, but 43...Rxb4 gives Grischuk no hope to win, barring an almost inconceivable blunder from Caruana. By this point Karjakin had drawn and Mamedyarov was very close to following suit. Caruana knew he likely only needed a draw as well. After move 44.Bc6, Caruana finally took off his sport coat, after five hours of play, and calmly advanced his pawn: 44...c3. The pawn is taboo as 45.Rxc3 Rd2+ would be mate in three.

Caruana's advantage grew

Caruana's smoothly growing advantage, resulting from a 79% precision score



An ebullient new World Championship challenger | Photo: Niki Riga

All games


Replay the last three hours of live commentary on the World Chess Facebook page.

Round-up show with GM Simon Williams


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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