Grischuk edges Kramnik to start second half

by André Schulz
3/20/2018 – At the beginning of the second half of the tournament, the symbolic first move was played by German IM Elisabeth Paehtz. Grischuk and Kramnik, along with Caruana and So provided most of the entertainment. Kramnik sacrificed a pawn, but then could not hold the endgame. So defended successfully against Caruana, however, despite being down the exchange. | Photos: World Chess

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Another trip around

We've turned the corner to the second half of the Candidates tournament in Berlin. Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov were favourites before the tournament, thanks to their good results throughout 2017. But at halftime, or in chess terms: after the first round-robin, Fabiano Caruana is in the lead, if only just.

Actually, in some sense, Caruana was already expected to be the 2016 challenger to Magnus Carlsen — in New York, that would have been a good fit. Had a US grandmaster been the challenger of the World Champion, the US media would have jumped on the event even more strongly than they did 18 months ago. Instead, with Sergey Karjakin, Russian influence in America went beyond the Presidential election.

Two years earlier, when the match was played in Sochi, Russia, it was an Indian who challenged the Norwegian. Somehow, Agon and FIDE have no luck in timing the media with their challengers. Actually, one might expect Norway to host a world championship fight. Negotiations have been tried, but aborted, before — the ideas of the Norwegians and the Agon / Fide representatives when it comes to financial transparency were too far apart.

But back to the candidates, and the kick-off for the second half. The players are the same, but the colours are all swapped. Does that make a difference? Much more important is probably that the conditions are now completely different. Kramnik's quick start with two wins is not worth much after two defeats. The 14th world champion wanted too much in some games, played too riskily and was punished. Wesley So had a classic false start with two defeats. He did then manage to score, but another defeat gave up his momentum. Levon Aronian — the favourite for many — has lost too many chances and shares last place with So. 

What do the fans in Berlin think?

Kickoff to the second half

The closest follower of Caruana is Shakriyar Mamedyarov, only half a point behind. The Azerbaijani has won two games so far and is still unbeaten. Ding Liren has ridden a wave of draws. Together with Grischuk and Kramnik, he occupies the middle of the field, all one point behind Mamedyarov.

Grischuk 1-0 Kramnik

Against Alexander Grischuk Vladimir Kramnik once again offered the semi-Tarrsch variant of the Queen's Gambit. But Grischuk refused and instead, a variation of the Queen's Gambit Accepted emerged.


Vladimir Kramnik has had an emotional roller coaster | Photo: World Chess


Kramnik, the big fighter in the tournament, later gave a pawn on the queenside and tried to put pressure with his bishop pair. However, Kramnik's compensation fizzled after the queens were exchanged, while Grischuk's remained a pawn up. Grischuk consolidated his position and then slowly began to realize his material advantage. In the course of the defence Kramnik's bishops sometimes presented a strange picture. 


And later:


Finally, Grischuk took revenge for his defeat in the first half. Black is helpless to prevent an exchange of bishops along the a1-h8 diagonal, and the white h-pawn will queen.


Ding ½-½ Aronian

In the first round, Aronian had Ding against the wall but then let the victory slip. In the rematch with reversed colours, we saw a Catalan on the board. On the 11th move, Aronian poured some oil into the hitherto faintly glowing fire with a novelty.


A few moves later, it became clear that neither side would castling in the game:


But Aronian did not manage to prevent Ding from maintaining his perfect drawing streak.

Interview with Levon Aronian

Aronian: "Unfortunately 'interesting' is not the type of chess you should play in this type of tournament"

So ½-½ Caruana

Wesley So chose a Petroff Defence in his game against Caruana, the same variation that Kramnik had already played in round four against the American. Caruana deviated from his game against Kramnik and opted for another setup, analogous to his game against Magnus Carlsen in Wijk aan Zee. Regardless of the early queen exchange, the tension soon ramped up. Just before the 30th move, So had broken into the black position with his knights, on a pawn grabbing errand, but then had to worry about how to extract them back home.


The liberation cost So an exchange and eventually he had to fight for a draw in the endgame with knight and two pawns for the rook. 


So defended deftly and eventually reached a technical draw in the endgame rook against knight.

Mamedyarov ½-½ Karjakin

The game between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergey Karjakin ended early. The Russian GM chose the same setup as in his game against Caruana in round five. Mamedyarov reacted differently but did not get much out of it.


Draw after repetition of position on move 30

Interview with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Standings after round eight


All games of round eight


Translation from German: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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