Candidates: Caruana misses victory, Kramnik loses again

by André Schulz
3/20/2018 – Fabiano Caruana failed to put an end to Ding Liren's drawing streak today in the Candidates Tournament, and the US Grandmaster missed several good opportunities in the endgame. Vladimir Kramnik showing fighting spirit, sacrificing a while rook against Karjakin, but his queen and bishop pair was not enough to crack the "Minister of Defence", and he went on to lose his fourth game. Who would have predicted that Kramnik and Aronian would be tied for last place!? | Pictured: Lakhdar Mazouz, FIDE President's Assistant for Africa made the ceremonial first move Photos: Niki Riga

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A press conference without Kramnik

After eight rounds, the field at the Candidates Tournament in Berlin reminded one a bit of a Formula One race in Monte Carlo: everyone in a neat row. At the forefront, Fabiano Caruana, who controls the field. He checks the view in the rear-view mirror and sees Mamedyarov following in the slipstream, at a half-point distance, with Grischuk and Ding close behind. If Caruana does not pay attention, someone will make a pass. In the second half of the standings table, there's more of a crowd: Kramnik and Karjakin tied on -1, Aronian and So with -2 bringing up the rear. At least that was the situation before the ninth round.

Lennart Ootes provides interviews on the sidelines of the tournament and found a young chess lover from Hamburg visiting Berlin:

So ½-½ Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk put the kibosh on Vladimir Kramnik's chances for tournament victory yesterday. Before the tournament, none of the experts had Grischuk as a potential challenger to Carlsen — and yet now, who knows? Grischuk met Wesley So today with black and once more honoured the Berlin defence in Berlin. So chose the line with 5.Re1 and thus followed, for example, the playing style of Anand against Grischuk at the Moscow Tal Memorial, played just before the Candidates Tournament. The US Grandmaster, however, seemed to focus on the rapid exchange of as many pieces as possible. The game levelled out and ended on move 34 with a draw in a symmetrical knight ending.


Aronian ½-½ Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov also had first-class chances to overtake Caruana. The Azerbaijani played with black against Aronian, whose confidence might have been rattled by his tournament standing alongside So. In the Catalan opening, Mamedyarov chose the rare and somewhat provocative 7...b6.


At the last World Cup, Hou Yifan played this variation twice against Aronian and drew twice. The move seems to have been made popular by the unfortunately and tragically late Ivan Bukvshin and has its punchline in an exchange sacrifice (after 8.Ne5 Qxd4!?). Etienne Bacrot has taken on the idea in some of his games and Caruana even played this line against Ding in Berlin just ten days ago: 


Aronian, however, avoided 8.Ne5 and simply defended his pawn with 10.Rd1. Although White had a slight initiative in the process, Black was able to cope without serious difficulties. Draw on move 41. 

Karjakin 1-0 Kramnik

Vladimir Kramnik, the (not so) old man of the tournament, is still itching for a fight. After his two wins at the start, he has already gone on to lose three games, overestimating his chances at times. Perhaps one could say the 14th World Champion has been in a gambling mood.

Chess in "the Colosseum"

Against Karjakin there was once again the semi-Tarrasch variation on tap. Karjakin delayed development of his bishops, instead opting for an early Rb1 then played à la Aronian, with 9.h4 and h5 to follow soon thereafter. Modern chess seems to gradually shift from the centre to the wings. Kramnik understood this style of play as a provocation and answered furiously with central pawn advances: f5 and later e5, bringing the queen to the kingside.


The game heated up quickly when Kramnik invested a whole rook for an attack with 20...Rxf2, even while part of his army remained on their starting squares.


Although Karjakin's king was quite naked after the sacrifice, Karjakin isn't known as the Russian "Minister of Defence" for nothing and he parried all threats. The faithful gathered together around their monarch, showing that even with major pieces, one can build a fortress:


Once again, it was not enough for Kramnik, who went down in flames. The former world champion, who had obviously worked hard in preparation for this tournament, seems to be a bit down on his luck. For the press conference, the otherwise obliging and friendly Russian did not make an appearance — the first time we have seen a player avoid taking questions in this event. 

Caruana ½-½ Ding

Caruana faced one of his pursuers for today's ninth round in the form of Ding Liren. The Chinese, like Caruana and Mamedyarov, is undefeated, but unlike them, he has not won a game either. Ding was the drawing-king of the first half.

In the games Caruana has won he has shown great counter-attacking skills. But Ding would hardly take the fight to Caruana, especially not with the black pieces, so Caruana was the one to throw the first stones.

In the Bogo-Indian defence, the US Grandmaster forged ahead with white, bringing his rook to the seventh rank with a double-attack. Black resolved his problems with 19...Nd5, allowing 20.Qxf7+, but with an eye to recoup his pawn moments later.


The b7-bishop would soon find itself on e8, after a whirlwind manoeuvre. After forcing off the invading white rook, an endgame with equal material emerged in which, however, Caruana gradually accumulated advantages. 


Even after the diagrammed position, Caruana had several good winning chances, but he missed them all. And, finally, Ding escaped once more with a draw.

Standings after round nine


All games of round nine


Round-up show with GM Simon Williams

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson


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


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