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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imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 3/30/2018 05:06
"but he never played at such a level since this 2014 tournament - 3 full years without any similar achievement."

Has Carlsen? In anything other than blitz or rapid... (If the answer is "no", which I suspect it is, because I would have probably noticed, then one could even argue, as an alternative to the "one-off" theory about the Sinquefield 2014 result - which is, of course, a very good theory as well -, that Fabi's peak potential in classical chess is maybe higher than Magnus', at least 2014-2018. Even though, consistency-wise, it's no-contest in the latter's favor. Neither of which is necessarily particularly relevant for the upcoming match.)

"Perhaps Caruana will succeed in beating Carlsen (if he manages a "Sinquefield 2014" performance)"

I highly doubt he needs to perform anywhere near that well to beat Magnus. Karjakin got a 6-6 against him while playing much less impressively than that.

Of course, whatever level IS needed in order to get the win could still be slightly beyond his powers, who knows - but that's why we have the match. To find out whether that's the case or not. I, for one, am predicting a Caruana win. (At least right now. I might change my mind later, if new information is forthcoming...) Carlsen might objectively be the favorite (his rapid & blitz strength alone is a pretty serious advantage) - I'm not sure -, but I'm obviously not obliged to predict the favorite. I would be, if I was sure he was the favorite, though. But I'm not, I think it's actually unclear.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 3/30/2018 04:14
@ blueflare : Caruana's performance in the Sinquefield 2014 tournament was excellent, but this was a "one-shot". It is true that if he managed to find once more such a playing level for his match against Carlsen, he would probably be the favorite, but he never played at such a level since this 2014 tournament - 3 full years without any similar achievement.

And, as for Carlsen, he is World n° 1 since July 2011 (more than 6 years as World n° 1), and a 2800+ player since November 2009 (more than 8 years as a 2800+ player). Caruana was never World n° 1, and was only a 2800+ player for 16 consecutive months (in 2016 - 2017) and 11 consecutive months (in 2014 - 2015). Not much, compared to Carlsen's 101 consecutive months (!!) as a 2800+ player...

Last of all, Carlsen's best rating was 2882 (May 2014), while Caruana's best rating was 2844 (October 2014) : such a 38 points difference is quite significant (and on the last official list, the difference was even slightly greater : 59 points - Carlsen lost some points, but Caruana lost more points than Carlsen, so the difference rather increased).

So, globally, I think that the last sentence of your last post ("And you're calling into question his competency for the world title. SMH") is rather ridiculous ; to say "SMH" about someone who says that Carlsen is much above anyone else is absurd. Perhaps Caruana will succeed in beating Carlsen (if he manages a "Sinquefield 2014" performance), but there certainly isn't anything so obvious as you think about Caruana's level being globally comparable to Carlsen's level.
blueflare blueflare 3/29/2018 04:56
bostonian: "No matter who would have won the candidates, unfortunately none of them are a close match to Carlsen."

Sinquefield 2014, strongest tournament ever by category, with carlsen a participant then....

Caruana blasted the tournament with 7-0 start...

And you're calling into question his competency for the world title. SMH.
gainsbourg gainsbourg 3/29/2018 04:35
I have heard that the match Carlsen versus Caruana maybe moved from London to Sant Louis.
Rex would like to sponsor it.

Has anyone information on this?
Karbuncle Karbuncle 3/29/2018 03:15
Quote from 'Bostonian':

"Just another Immigrant who became 'American'. "

Fabiano was born in Miami, and learned chess to a master lever in New York. He moved to Europe to improve his chess on the difficult European circuit of tournaments, learned from many GM coaches, and then moved back to the United States. He is therefore by NO STRETCH of the imagination an 'immigrant who became American'. He already was American to begin with. When you watch interviews with him, he has an American accent. Checkmate to all the butt-hurt Europeans that want to act like Fabiano doesn't 'count' as an American chess player.
conjurana conjurana 3/29/2018 09:25
Response to a earlier questian ..I have spoken to Fabiano Italo-Americano... 3 yrs ago here at the London Classic .. he signed my book and I asked him does he speak Italian Yes he does so we had a conversation in Italian and Yes he does regard him self as an Italian but plays for the US flag ...dual natoinality..just like myself Italo- Sudfricano both parents the way America is rich in All culture that makes the country a great nation ! Founded believe it or not by an Italian explorerer . .Americo Vespuci hence the name not the so claimed Columbus.
AIekhine AIekhine 3/29/2018 08:30
I'll take 100 draws over the repetitive and boring comments about whether he's Italian or American. He's both. Drop it.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 3/29/2018 06:08
so now viking versus caesar/morphy!
shadowleaf04 shadowleaf04 3/29/2018 03:41
Candidates: First Natural-born American challenger since Fischer. I believe this would be more accurate.

Congratulations Fabiano!
melante melante 3/29/2018 03:30
@Macauley: "An analogy could be if one were to imagine that GM Daniele Vocaturo were to qualify for a World Championship match, say in 2022. Would it be wrong to say that he was the "first Italian to qualify for a World Championship"? It's debatable, but personally, I would not find that to be particularly sensationalist a headline, even though Caruana does have an Italian passport. "

Yes, that would definitely be wrong because in this case Caruana is an Italian citizen who played for the Italian national team and was Italian champion a few times too so he is definitely the first "Italian" to be a world title challenger. Besides, the World Title is an individual competition, it's not the Chess Olympiads so it is actually the person who gets the title, not the country. Now let's root for Daniele in 2022 too! :)

Fabiano has dual citizenship and did actually play for both countries at different times so it's just natural that people in both countries are proud of him. Trying to belittle one side or the other is just silly (though it makes for some entertaining comments, I have to say!)
Bostonian Bostonian 3/29/2018 02:50
Just another Immigrant who became 'American'.

Goodluck for the title match against Carlsen!

No matter who would have won the candidates, unfortunately none of them are a close match to Carlsen.
kyi kyi 3/29/2018 02:16
@fgkdglkag. I will not dispute the fact that native Red Indians in USA and Indians from India are different races as evidenced by modern day DNA analysis which can trace the ancestry and migration patterns. Before Christopher Columbus set sail west from Europe, he did not know that Americas existed. He knew that the earth is round and that by sailing west in Atlantic ocean, he thought he might reach India in a short cut route. To his surprise, Columbus discovered America. Anyway, the European settlers called the indigenous people who already had settled before them in Americas as, " Red Indians" . Up to this day the name Indians still persisted as if we have two Indias in the east and west. Similarly, there are West Indies which include Caribbean islands and East Indies which include Indonesian and other islands. Strictly speaking, Asians discovered and settled in Americas first and not European whites.
ember7 ember7 3/29/2018 12:37
We will have to ask him if he considers himself Italian or American.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 3/28/2018 11:38
@kyi, what do you mean by native American Indians? I think you are referring to what is more correctly termed today "Native Americans"? I do not think there is any closer connection between Native Americans and the people from the Indian subcontinent today than any other groups of people?
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 3/28/2018 10:38
kyi - you are correct. FC was born and raised in the US and his first language is English - he had endeavoured only as an adult to learn Italian as a second language, and I am not sure of the level he reached - culturally an American from Italian ascent.

But even if this would not have been the case, he is a US citizen and that should be sufficient. He also has the Italian citizenship (one of his parents had the nationality), did represent the Italian Federation in the past but currently represents the US federation. It still technically would be true to mention that he is the first Italian citizen to contend for world title.

But really, is any of the above important?
conjurana conjurana 3/28/2018 10:09
Bravo ! Fabiano ..... he is Italo-Americano dual passport and 100% italian ! Congrats ! well deserved and ..Boca in lupo... for the World Chanpionship.
qiqiangzhu qiqiangzhu 3/28/2018 06:51
congratulation, American player!
kyi kyi 3/28/2018 06:40
Caruana won the candidate matches with clear one point ahead of the other players. Although he has both dual citizenship, Italy and US, this time he played for US. America is the land of immigrants. Even the native American Indians migrated from central Asia during the ice age when there was an ice land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. We Americans are proud for his achievement.

As the saying goes, " Does it matter whether the cat is black or white if it catches the mice ? " Caruana plays for USA and won. It is irrelevant what underlying nationality he belongs.
CallMeSnake CallMeSnake 3/28/2018 06:28
Caruana can win world match only if he plays as he did in Sinquefield 2014. Imho, the match would be much more interesting if played in 24 games, not in 12, that favors too conservative play.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 3/28/2018 06:11
@ macauley and EfstratiosGrivas : In my opinion, here, there is, on one side, Legitimity (macauley) and, on the other side, The Law (EfstratiosGrivas).

Following the purely legal point of view, it is in my opinion more or less obvious that EfstratiosGrivas is right.

But, as for legitimity, if we admit as an example that the FIDE World Championship would be at one point in the future completely deserted by the GMs and IMs, and that the title would be played between ≈ 2300 FIDE masters, while another, completely independent, world championship would be played between ≈ 2800 GMs, wouldn't it be rather obvious that the FIDE World Champion would only be a "legal" World Champion, and that the sole really "legitimate" World Champion would be the other World Champion, the 2800 World Champion ? I know that, at the time of the "split titles", the difference wasn't at all as extreme as that, but I think nonetheless that the "legitimy" side of the problem cannot completely be obliterated either...
macauley macauley 3/28/2018 05:59
@ EfstratiosGrivas - Fair enough -- I mean the history of beating the reigning World Champion in a match, not a reference to the time control. I would be happy to discuss further, though this article's comments section is perhaps not the best medium. For now, I'm with "KrushonIrina". :)
KevinC KevinC 3/28/2018 05:26
For the record, I did not look it up, and I was wrong about Caruana getting his GM title while in the U.S.
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 3/28/2018 05:22
Can we just be happy for Fabi, please? He's the AntiFischer: Courteous, friendly, accessible, a gentleman. He's the best and brightest of what chess should be in the early 21st Century. If he can beat Magnus, he will make a magnificent World Champion.
EfstratiosGrivas EfstratiosGrivas 3/28/2018 05:15
Mr. Macauley, it is your right to believe in different formats of WC or whatever. But Caruana won the tournament-preliminaries of the FIDE World Championship and in this case you have to take into account the history of the FIDE WC, which indicates that there was Kamsky in 1996, representing USA. World Championships are not for who was the strongest player but for who participated, played and won - this is standard in every sport and has nothing to do with our personal beliefs. And I do not really understand your statement of the 'classical world championship' - is it a new organization or what? Did Karpov and Kamsky in 1996 played blitz or what? No offence to you by no means - I am just trying to offer my (unimportant) opinion in this matter.
jonkm jonkm 3/28/2018 05:04
I come down on the side that Fabiano is American enough, since he was born here and played here for quite a while. More American than many expatriate Russians anyway.
EfstratiosGrivas EfstratiosGrivas 3/28/2018 04:47
You are missing the point. Caruana is representing what he decided to represent and in this certain moment it is United States - period. Rooys is something different and shouldn't be confused.
macauley macauley 3/28/2018 04:34
@ greeneyed - I'm really not forgetting that, as I covered Fabiano extensively during his period playing for Italy while reporting for ICC, Chess Life and chess24. There's a distinction to be made between cultural heritage and chess federation affiliation, and I can fully understand taking the position - as for instance the US Chess Federation does - that "the last American to compete for the world championship was GM Gata Kamsky, who lost a match to GM Anatoly Karpov in 1996." But my view on this is that: A) The Kamsky – Karpov match is not part of the “classical world championship” match history as Kasparov was the (disputed, though widely recognised) World Champion at that time. B) There’s a difference between cultural affiliation and chess federation affiliation. Caruana is unquestionably American. Kamsky, in 1996, was a recent immigrant, although he had already won the US Championship. I’ll admit this is a grey area, particularly given the USA’s rich history of welcoming immigrants, and would only emphasise that this is a secondary point to (A), when it comes to the headline of the article. An analogy could be if one were to imagine that GM Daniele Vocaturo were to qualify for a World Championship match, say in 2022. Would it be wrong to say that he was the "first Italian to qualify for a World Championship"? It's debatable, but personally, I would not find that to be particularly sensationalist a headline, even though Caruana does have an Italian passport. @fgkdjlkag - Frankly I don't know Kamsky's US citizenship status in 1996 (I guess he would have been granted citizenship by then) but had in mind more his chess cultural upbringing, which was largely separate from his time spent in the USA at that stage. He came to the USA in 1989 when he was 15 and earned the GM title the following year. But, to be clear, I've no intention of downplaying Kamsky's own fantastic chess achievements - he was just 20 when he qualified in 1994 to play Karpov, which is just astounding!
mc1483 mc1483 3/28/2018 03:43
It is important to clarify that Caruana has both citizenships, italian and american, so he is the first american since Fischer but also the first italian to compete for the world title. He plays for US federation, but that's another matter (btw, I'm italian but think of him as american, as he was born and raised in the USA and does not speak italian).
Kamsky was american in 1996, but of course he played for Fide title, not "classical" title.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 3/28/2018 03:15
I do not see that it is relevant whether Kamsky had connections to the US as long as he was a citizen, but I agree with macauley that it was not part of the classical line, and Kamsky did lose to Anand in a match who played Kasparov for the other title, although I think Kamsky defeated Anand in the other cycle. But still, since Kamsky lost to Karpov who was not as strong as Kasparov, it does not seem right to consider him #2 at that time.

Is the world championship in November really scheduled for 12 games? I, like many others, do not agree with that format. Imagine the first 6 games are drawn and a player wins game 7. Now the player will aim for all draws and force the other player to take undue risk. The player who wins first is rewarded, instead of the better player. Whereas if draws were discounted, both players would have to play aggressively at all times.
basler88 basler88 3/28/2018 03:09
What's the point -Italian, USA, Italian?? He is the new World Champion challenger who cares where he was born as long he is NOT Russian!!!!!! Bravo Fabiano great play and you're a World Citizen and that's it!
greeneyed greeneyed 3/28/2018 01:59
you forgot that Caruana played for many years with the Italian national team!
macauley macauley 3/28/2018 01:55
Thanks for reporting the bug in the standings table. This is a relatively new feature generated from, and in some cases the round isn't updated properly. Of course the scores and the story of the round are discussed at length elsewhere, so it should have been clear, but we're sorry for any confusion caused, and will work to see that such mistakes are not repeated. As for the substantive critiques on Fabiano Caruana's citizenship, this is quite interesting and often misunderstood. I'll paraphrase GM Maurice Ashley who faced a similar comment on Facebook yesterday: Caruana was born in Miami, moved to Brooklyn at 4 years old where he learned chess and lived until age 12 when the family made the difficult decision to leave home so he could readily access European tournaments and trainers. His mother is an Italian citizen so he was able to play under an Italian flag, despite never living in Italy and speaking almost no Italian. As an adult, at 22-years old, he chose to return to the land of his birth to play for his native country. Regarding Kamsky: Obviously, I am referring to the "Classical World Championship" history of matches. He played in a FIDE World Championship, but A) this was during the schism between Kasparov and FIDE, when Kasparov played Short and then Kramnik for the title that is more widely recognized, and B) Kamsky emigrated to the USA just a few years earlier and had no particular chess or family connections to the country at that time. Yes, he went on to spend decades living in and representing the USA and of course is a multi-time US Champion. Were he to play a World Championship match now, we could have this debate. But I absolutely stand by the headline which is not remotely "sensationalist" in my view. Thanks for your comments.
VVI VVI 3/28/2018 01:53
For some morons on this blog who think Fabiano was born in Italy because of his name; be mindful he was born in Miami and lived in the US until 12 yrs old. He is an American citizen with an Italian heritage; like many of us.

So now we have the next challenger after Robert James Fischer.
KGan KGan 3/28/2018 01:50
Garuana really deservs!!!
But regarding: "First American challenger since Fischer":
Garuana is as American as Mango-Djerry
KevinC KevinC 3/28/2018 01:37
@greeneyed, He was BORN in the U.S., RAISED in the U.S., became a GM in the U.S, and despite a brief period playing under the Italian flag for financial purposes, he again plays under the U.S. flag. Grow up.
neilparker62 neilparker62 3/28/2018 01:03
Congratulations to Fabiano - extremely well deserved especially after the disappointment of the previous candidates where he certainly had his chances. Will we see the "Caru-can" vs Magnus ;-)
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/28/2018 12:27
Karjakin was in no real danger of losing. 41... c4 isn't winning, neither after 42 Kd1 c3 where white just gets his king to b1 and does nothing [after a later a5-a4 simply Ka1], nor after 42... cxb3 43 axb3 when after a later a4 and axb3 Kxb3, I see no way white can get into Zugzwang.
Bill Alg Bill Alg 3/28/2018 11:19
The quality of the ChessBase reports is dropping like a stone. Error (later corrected) in the result of the most critical game, error (still uncorrected) in the final standings, sensationalist titles. They shoud just hire german journalists, stick to the facts. At least get the facts correct.
benedictralph benedictralph 3/28/2018 10:57
His name suggests he's Italian. He was also born in Italy. So, to me, he's Italian.
greeneyed greeneyed 3/28/2018 10:37
Compliments to an ITALIAN challenger for the world championship