Gashimov Memorial 2018 – Draw Fest

All draws so far in Shamkir, but not for the lack of the players’ trying.

Sometimes tournaments go like that. Everybody wants to win, but everbody also wants to avoid losing. And if the tendency to avoid losing is dominant, you get a lot of draws. It happens.

Ding Liren was winning in Round 1 against Wojtaszek. Topalov was winning in Round 2 against Giri and in Round 3 against Ding Liren. Conversely, Carlsen wasn’t even close to a win in any of his games.

The World Champion would very much want to win every tournament he plays in. He must have been very disappointed not to obtain winning chances against the relative outsiders Navara and Mamedov. He was very effectively neutralised in both of these games. That hurts.

On a more positive side, he demonstrated a very convincing way to solve all opening problems with Black in the Fianchetto Variation in the Grunfeld Defence. The line was introduced in practice by Dubov (quite a fertile opening innovator!) and this time it got the stamp of approval of the World Champion. The psychological background of the opening moves is also highly instructive and illustrative of Carlsen’s approach to preparation.

As you can see, even from a superficially “boring” theoretical draw one can learn quite a lot!

On the other side of the ocean, the US Championship is under way. At the time of writing three games of Round 4 have finished – Shankland beat Robson with Black, Zherbukh and Onischuk drew and Nakamura scored his 4th draw, this time against Liang. The leaders Caruana, So and Akobian are still playing.

I wanted to note what is happening to Nakamura. He started with 2 Whites, drew both (against Robson and Zherebukh) without a single chance for even an advantage. Then he was lost with Black against Onischuk with Black in Round 3 and again had nothing at all against Liang in Round 4.

This is a worrying tendency for one of the “big 3” of American chess. He is getting nothing from the openings and is not even getting close to outplaying his on-paper weaker opponents. My impression is that he has lost the energy and aggression in his play.

I see this change as a result of his loss of ambition. He realised he will never become a World Champion. He will not be the one who will “deal with Sauron.” Once the ambition had gone, he comfortably settled in his current situation of a Top-10 player who makes excellent living from playing chess and travelling the world. His Twitter profile says “Professional Chess Player and Investor/Trader.” Yes, he is not only a chess player and he seems to be very good at investing/trading. That is another excellent source of income for him. These changes are his choice, of course, but the player who was once an epitome of energy, aggression and courage is now gone.

Both tournaments have a lot of rounds to play, so things can get very exciting in Shamkir (once Carlsen starts winning!) and the US Championships never fail to entertain.

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Caruana Marches On

Tired and without energy, Caruana won another super-tournament, the Grenke Chess Classic, a full point ahead of the World Champion. The good form continued after Berlin, an important factor was that there was no pause between the tournaments to break his rhythm.

What is notable is that out of his 4 victories 3 were with Black. Plus the Petroff scored another last-round win.

The difference with Berlin was that here he had the World Champion as the main competitor. But even Carlsen couldn’t match the consistency of Caruana’s play. The World Champion had a typical tournament when not in very good form – sole second with 5.5/9 and no losses.

A few words about the other players: Anand had a very bad tournament and dropped way below the Top 10 on the rating list. Next for him is Norway Chess. Can he bounce back? He’s taught us never to write him off, but each time it’s more and more difficult to come back!

Aronian is probably still in shock after Berlin, his +1 score is probably good enough for wound-licking but nothing more. He’s also out of the Top 10.

Vitiugov was the surprise of the tournament. He was invited because he earned it – he won the open last year and was guaranteed a place. He led for most of the tournament with a solid +2 (starting 2/2) and only his last round loss to Caruana spoilt his result somewhat, delegating him to shared 3rd place with Aronian and Vachier.

The Frenchman has had better tournaments, Hou Yifan was winning against Caruana, while the locals did what the locals usually do. The exception was Bluebaum, who beat Anand and scored more than respectable 50%.

Back to Caruana and his 3 wins with Black. Winning with Black is a sign of White overpressing or messing up his preparation badly. Caruana didn’t expect to win these games, but he was ready to take his chances when they were presented. Take the following game as a typical example.

His last-round win against Vitiugov has been compared to his last-round win against Grischuk in Berlin: again the Petroff, again the fxe6 structure, again in a situation when a draw would have sufficed. In fact, the difference is huge in the actual importance of the game – in Berlin what was at stake was a career-changing achievement; in Grenke, a win in a tournament. Consequently, the pressure was incomparably bigger in Berlin.

The novelty 5…Qd7 Caruana introduced against Vitiugov was a result of an engine being left to work and reaching depth that normal laptops cannot reach. This information was confirmed by Leko, who also discovered the move on his own. These guys are not just the best players, they also have the best hardware.

Winning the Candidates is a huge confidence booster. Caruana has always been confident in his own ability and with the victories in Berlin and Karlsruhe he is definitely the best player in the world at the moment. There is a lot of time until November, but this time I think we definitely have the best two players in the world playing a match for the title.

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The Canary Islands

During the last 5 rounds of the Candidates I was playing myself on the very beautiful island of La Palma. It was a small tournament, excellently organised by “El Grande” Isidro Cruz, whom I’d like to thank for all the effort he put in.

Honestly speaking, I was worried how I would play after a prolongued period of inactivity. My main concern was how my head would be working. In order to decrease the chances of “malfunction” I did some training before the tournament. Eventually it didn’t amount to much, but I did string several days in a row when I was doing some calculational work for at least one hour.

I have often written how this type of work is the hardest for me. The brain has grown out of the habit of continuous analytical work and protests when it is forced back again. The secret is to persevere, in spite of all the uncomfortable hours spent trying to visualise a position or solve a study. An embarassing truth: on more than one occassion I have spent almost an hour on a position unable to solve it.

So with some trepidations in my heart I set out on a long journey. When I arrived, this is what welcomed me. A majestic ocean sunset.

Additionally, I arrived two days before the tournament. This was very important, primarily to rest, because the tournament had a very tough schedule of 7 rounds in 5 days. This meant 2 double-round days and a very early last round game (at 9am).

Double-round days and morning rounds have always been some sort of a curse for me. I don’t remember winning two games in a day, ever. It never mattered who I played or the position I got – the maximum has always been 1.5/2, though in the vast majority of cases it was less.

I think the reason for this is the fact that I grew up in times when it was unthinkable to play more than 1 game per day. So I got used to giving it all during that one game. With the introduction of shorter time controls and 2 rounds per day I didn’t manage to adjust so I often would lack the energy for the two rounds. Often a problem can be the previous round when I wouldn’t be able to rest before the morning game.

With all these factors still present, it is no surprise that I scored 1.5/2 on the double-round days and coupled with a draw in the last (morning) round my total of 5.5/7 only sufficed for second place (shared, but second on tie-break). You can see the final standings here.

Generally speaking I was pretty happy with my performance and how my head worked. I was seeing the small tactics quickly and clearly and was feeling comfortable at the board. My best game was from Round 4, not surprisingly a single-round day. Playing with Black was a young local FM.

In retrospect, the tournament was just ideal. The place (Canary Islands!), the result, the atmosphere, my state of mind, all the pieces of the puzzle fit in just perfectly. I wish I have more tournaments like this one in the future!

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Berlin Candidates 2018 – Rounds 10-14

My tournament ended and not too bad at that, I finished 2nd. I will write a separate post on it, now it’s time to round-up the remaining rounds of the Candidates. I will go round by round and give my impressions also with the benefit of hindsight.

In Round 10 the only player to win was Kramnik. It is very important to note when he won a game – in the exact moment when he lost ambition and his over-confidence. This was quite apparent in the press-conference, when instead of his “winning” refrain he was using “I don’t know,” a certain sign of objectivity in chess players. When a chess player is not certain about a position this means that he is careful and caution is objectivity’s best friend. This was Kramnik’s second win against Aronian, who, by his own admission, still hadn’t realised that he had to switch to damage-control mode. He tried to be ambitious in his game against Kramnik, but when in bad form whatever a player does will backfire.

The derby of the round was the clash of the leaders, Mamedyarov and Caruana. It produced a sharp Catalan where Caruana wasn’t in any great danger of losing and relinquishing the lead.

The other two games, Ding-So and Grischuk-Karjakin were tame draws.

Round 11 saw the start of the emergence of Sergey Karjakin. It was again Aronian who paid the price for the only decisive game of the round. He tried to press and play for a win until the end and again it backfired. The position was balanced for a very long time, but it was Aronian who blundered after the time control, on move 42, and the rest was a superb realisation by Karjakin.

The miss of the round was Ding Liren’s draw from +15 against Grischuk. In a way it was a compensation for Grischuk’s missed win against the same opponent in Round 4. But please be aware that if the strongest players on the planet cannot find a clear-cut win in spite of the engine pointing to +15, it simply means that the position was complicated and not at all easy to play. This was Ding’s 11th draw in as many rounds.

This round also saw a very important opening innovation as early as move 5. The innovator was Kramnik in his game against Caruana.

The game So-Mamedyarov didn’t produce much excitement. By now it became clear that So was just trying to make draws as easily as possible and Mamedyarov, playing with Black, didn’t object.

Round 12 saw Karjakin take over the lead in the tournament.  An amazing comeback by the player who started the tournament with two White losses! In the derby of the round he beat Caruana with White in a Petroff. It is very instructive to note what Karjakin’s “secret” was. After losing in the beginning he didn’t set out to make-or-break the tournament like Aronian and Kramnik did, with super-aggressive play and single-minded “play for a win”. No, he tried to improve little by little. First, stop losing games. Second, try to get your preparation in for increase in confidence. Third, keep the level of your play at a constant level. And when the tension in the tournament began to rise, Karjakin’s gradual improvement started to bear fruit. In the previous round he took advantage of Aronian’s stubbornness (of playing for a win at all costs) and in this round he took advantage of Caruana’s burden as a leader. As you can see, he didn’t “go for it”, he was patient and waited for the chances to come and was ready to take them when they did. The game with Caruana was his finest, especially when taken into consideration at what point in the tournament it was played.

An impressive game by Karjakin! On the other hand, as Caruana admitted afterwards, this loss liberated him from the burden of playing too conservatively to hang onto his lead. Now he had to go for it again and he did it in spectacular fashion.

This round also saw Mamedyarov’s first loss. Perhaps he thought that a long series of draws must end in a loss (as it usually is the case), but then again maybe they haven’t heard of this saying in China. The decision to play for a win in a position that didn’t allow it was also uncharacteristic for Mamedyarov’s tournament strategy, which can be summed up by his often-repeated in the press-conferences “draw is good”. Not surprisingly, such an abrupt change in the strategy backfired. In a balanced position Mamedyarov went sharply forward but Ding’s superb counter-attack refuted his attack. This win brought Ding Liren on +1, now together with Mamedyarov and Grischuk only half a point behind the leaders Karjakin and Caruana on 7/12. With 2 rounds to go 5 (!) players had a realistic chance of winning the tournament.

Grischuk introduced a very interesting early novelty against Aronian’s attempted Marshall Gambit but failed to make the most of it. Curiously enough, it will be another player who will make the maximum profit from Grischuk’s innovation in the next round!

Kramnik also introduced a very important idea in the Exchange Variation of the QGD against So. He was winning (this time objectively!) but didn’t manage to convert.

The penultimate, Round 13, saw both Caruana and Mamedyarov bounce back from their defeats with wins over Aronian and Grischuk respectively. Caruana made good use of Grischuk’s innovation in the previous round and took full advantage of Aronian’s disturbed state.

Another game where Caruana was superior to his opponents when it came to calculation.

The game Mamedyarov-Grischuk was headed for a draw, but Grischuk wanted to keep the tension for a tad too long and when he decided to force a draw he blundered and was swiftly punished.

Ding was on the verge of losing to Kramnik, but Big Vlad again failed to keep the level of his play constant throughout the game. After outplaying the Chinese, just like he outplayed So the previous day, he faltered in the phase of realisation of the advantage.

So didn’t give Karjakin any chance as he quickly dried up the game in a forcing line in the 4 Qc2 Nimzo.

Before the last round Caruana was again alone in the lead with 8/13, but he had a worse tie-break than most of the other players. The practice of the last years shows that the players in such situations mostly bank on the games finishing in a draw. After all, wins are so hard to come by!

The last round saw all the candidates for first place adopt the safety-first strategy. Caruana chose his usual Petroff against Grischuk, Karjakin against Ding Liren went for an even more simplified position than in his game against Caruana and only Mamedyarov, playing Black, was forced to go for some risky play against Kramnik’s Catalan. Aronian and So, understandably, quickly drew.

Karjakin tried to repeat his winning strategy from the game with Caruana. He went for the variation in the Spanish that was heavily disputed in his match with Carlsen and Ding chose a line where most of the light pieces are exchanged. Ding also needed a win, yet he chose to sit passively and wait for a possible counterattack. Karjakin was slightly better with a position easier to play, as he was the only one with an active plan, but his plan was marred by a tactical oversight that immediately cancelled any chance to play for a win for either side. A draw.

Kramnik openly went for Mamedyarov’s throat, at the same time allowing Mamedyarov to try his luck in the complications. Unfortunately, he was never in a chance to turn things around, it was rather Kramnik who again missed a few opportunities. Another draw.

These results meant that a draw also suited Caruana. But he played a perfect game. In yet another Petroff he obtained a solid yet playable position, one that can be played for a long time in case he needed to play for more. By the time he discovered that Mamedyarov had also made a draw (as Karjakin’s game finished earlier) he was already winning. His decision to go on and win the game was quite admirable and reminded me of Carlsen’s decision to play for a win against Aronian in the last round in St. Louis even though a draw would have sufficed to win the tournament. This was prior to his match with Anand in 2013 and it showed Carlsen’s supreme confidence going into the match. Carlsen made a similar decision to play for a win in the last game in that same match when a draw would have given him the title. This sole decision by Caruana makes him more than a worthy opponent for Carlsen.

With the highest score in the history of the modern Candidates, 9/14, Caruana displayed the best chess under the conditions of immense stress and tension. He was excellently prepared, mostly playing 1 d4, and generally calculated better than his opponents. This time Carlsen will meet a younger opponent and also one that will not go down Karjakin’s way of playing defensively. It will be an excellent match in November!

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Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 9

Kramnik meltdown continues, not surprisingly. On the other end of the table Caruana missed a huge opportunity to increase his lead.

Karjakin has excellent results against Kramnik and today he even managed to get his preparation in by introducing the very interesting novelty 9 h4 in the Semi-Tarrasch. Kramnik has always been confident in his preparation but repeatedly playing the same opening inevitably makes him a sitting duck and for a second day in row he got surprised in it.

By this point in the tournament Kramnik doesn’t have the patience to continue in a controlled way. He lashed out with 11…f5 inviting immediate crisis. The move wasn’t bad, but it required increased precision by Black later on, something Kramnik wasn’t able to provide. As a consequence, he was lost on move 17. Here’s the game with notes by myself and GM Nedev.

The two players have obviously gone in different directions by now. Karjakin found his way back into the tournament, while Kramnik probably wishes the nightmare finishes as soon as possible. He will still have to suffer for 5 more rounds.

Two games finished in tame draws. So and Grischuk repeated well-known theory in the Berlin with 5 Re1 and shook hands. Aronian didn’t manage to pose many problems to Mamedyarov in the Catalan. It is notable that Mamedyarov also played the trendy 7…b6 in the main line, just like Caruana did in Round 2.

Caruana missed a golden opportunity to increase his lead to a full point before the rest day. He applied continuous pressure on Ding Liren (in yet another Catalan) and managed to get a winning position. Here is the last missed win:

A pity for the American, who would have all but been guaranteed a victory in the tournament had he won it. As it is, after the rest day he will face Mamedyarov with Black in what may turn out to be the decisive game for the final outcome. He will have a rest day to overcome the setback of the missed win. After all everything is still in his own hands.

Unfortunately I will probably stop the daily reports until the end of the Candidates since I am going to play a tournament myself. It is regrettable, as I really enjoy analysing the games, but I will have to concentrate on my own games. Let’s see if the candidates provide inspiration.

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Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 8

Almost all draws, but again we have to thank Vladimir Kramnik for the decisive game.

In the duel of the Americans we saw the Russian Defence (as the Petroff Defence is called in many languanges). I don’t think So and Caruana were influenced by the latest political developments between the two countries, as the defence has proven to be one of the most solid in chess and that is exactly what Caruana needs right now. No, his choice wasn’t surprising, So’s was. Did he really cannot find anything better than repeating Kramnik’s toothless choice of 5 Qe2 and the immediate endgame? If Caruana plays the Petroff, you can be sure that he has prepared for the endgame as well! As it turned out he was again close to win with Black, but So was precise and managed to draw. I think the popularity of the defence will only grow now. In the two games played Black could have won both and in fact scored 1.5/2!

Ding Liren and Aronian played a lively game. White decided to cling onto the c5-pawn and Black obtained active piece play. It seems that White missed a few more promising alternatives along the way. Here’s the game with analysis by GM Nedev and a few comments from me.

Mamedyarov and Karjakin drew in the main line of the Catalan with Karjakin again employing the fresh idea of 7…c6 he implemented in the game against Caruana in Round 5.

And of course, the game of the day, who else if not Kramnik. He employed his beloved Semi-Tarrasch against Grischuk, but this time it was him who was surprised by Grischuk’s rare idea.

And then, as they say, the rest is history. This time history repeating itself. The position was drawn, Kramnik, being a pawn down but with the bishop pair, could have drawn in more than one way on more than one occassion, but he kept on playing and playing and eventually blundered and lost. All this time he was looking for ways to play for a win. But he also admitted he was missing things. Over-confidence coupled with imprecise calculations and loss of objectivity is the worst possible combination in chess. Unfortunately my forecast from yesterday is already coming true as Kramnik is now on -1. And the downward spiral is not finishing any time soon.

Grischuk moved on +1 with the win and now there is no shared place from first to fourth. Caruana leads with 5.5, ahead of Mamedyarov on 5, Grischuk on 4.5 and Ding Liren on 4. Unless Ding Liren wins a game soon, probably the number of candidates to win will shrink to 3. But tomorrow we have Caruana-Ding Liren, which could provide some clarity in case of a decisive result.

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Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 7

This round marked the end of the first half. All players played each other and we have a clear favourite to win the tournament.

That player is Fabiano Caruana. In yet another scintillating display of his fantastic calculating abilities (most clearly demonstrated in the press conferences, I whole-heartedly recommend you watch them and compare his lines with the engine suggestions) he beat Aronian in a very wild game.

Aronian must have felt that after yesterday’s loss he had to go all-or-bust if he was to catch the leaders. Caruana chose the Vienna, a rare choice for him, and I think Aronian was surprised and actually improvised with the insane 16 g4. Others have said that it was most probably preparation, but somehow I felt it wasn’t. In any case, the idea was more dangerous than what the engine would tell you. It is difficult to describe the game, so I’ll suggest you check it out below. What impresses me is Caruana’s cold-bloodedness and his composure under pressure, not only on the board but also from the clock. With such play I think he has much better chances than the other realistic candidate Mamedyarov.

Caruana is now on the coveted +3 (5/7), but with half a tournament ahead and Mamedyarov hot on his heels this doesn’t guarantee anything. But it is apparent that the American has been the best player in the first half of the tournament. Aronian, on the other hand, is now last with a -2 (2.5/7) score and is definitely out of the running for first place. Perhaps this will liberate him and he will play some good games in the second half of the tournament.

Yesterday I mentioned Kramnik’s complete loss of objectivity when showing the lines and giving his opinions in the press conference. And if yesterday Mamedyarov appeared to be somewhat annoyed by Kramnik’s incessant “much better” or “winning” today Ding Liren was just smiling. A few times he was asked if he agreed with Kramnik’s evaluations and he just said “no,” which was followed by laughter in the audience. Just like yesterday, the engine showed completely reverse evaluations from the ones Kramnik gave. It is obvious to me that in such a state Kramnik doesn’t have a chance in this field. It doesn’t cease to puzzle me that Kramnik consciously went into the tournament with a strategy that basically meant a gung-ho approach in every single game. It is as if he didn’t really care about winning the tournament, he just “wanted to play”. Which is fine, as his games are among the most exciting in every round, but it is also sad because I thought that he had a good chance of winning if he had a better and more flexible strategy. Since he doesn’t appear to have an intention of changing, I think he will lose some more games and end up on a minus score.

Karjakin beat So in a most unexpected fashion. In what appeared to be a completely equal (and in more than one way) position, technical and rather dull, So didn’t show his usual precision and little by little encountered some problems which he didn’t manage to solve. Quite surprising because So won a very good game yesterday and it appeared that he was out of the crisis from the start. He looked absolutely dejected at the press conference and understandably so. Karjakin on the other hand managed to win a game he didn’t expect to, so let’s see what he can do in the second half. I don’t expect much, but if more gifts like this one keep coming, who knows… He may even finish on a plus score and then call it a success!

The shortest game of the tournament was a result of Mamedyarov’s excellent preparation in the Ragozin. Grischuk was caught in a rare line and he couldn’t find anything better than a repetition on move 16. Both players are still in contention if we look at how they have been playing so far, just that Mamedyarov has a full point more than Grischuk.

To summarise the first half of the tournament I can say that half of the players – Caruana, Mamedyarov, Grischuk and Ding Liren – are in much better form and play better than the other four. Since Grischuk and Ding Liren are a point and a half behind Caruana, in spite of their good showing it is not very probable that they will manage to catch up. This makes the remainder of the tournament a two-horse race between Caruana and Mamedyarov. Now it remains to be seen if I am proven right or wrong.

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Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 6

Two White wins and two leaders before the second rest day. Plus a fall from grace for Vladimir Kramnik.

Watching the press conference after the game Mamedyarov-Kramnik was painful. Instead of taking a repetition in a position where objectively he couldn’t ask for more, Kramnik tried to play for a win and hallucinated (!) because of fatigue (his own explanation). Which makes my yesterday’s question even more pertinent: why was he wasting so much energy when there were no chances for more? I still cannot understand, it is totally contradictory what he’s doing and what he’s then giving as the reason for his hallucination.

The actual fall from grace was when he was showing the lines he was calculating and almost always accompanying them with the evaluation that he was better while the engine was saying White had a +1, +2 or even in some lines a +3 advantage… Even his hallucinated line was winning for White while he thought it was very good for him. This utter loss of objectivity as a result of his over-confidence is sad to watch.

It was uncomfortable to see Mamedyarov saying he thought he was better and Kramnik pulling faces (as if thinking “what does this guy talk about??”) even though Mamedyarov’s evaluation was correct.

Things have quickly gone wrong for Kramnik in Berlin after such a promising start. I find it difficult to understand how he couldn’t adjust his strategy after the 2.5/3 start – instead of taking it easy and needing only 1 win from the remaining 11 games, he continued to risk recklessly and now he needs to win 3 games from the remaining 8. I’m afraid this is mission impossible for him in his current state of mind.

So scored his first win with a very fine game against Aronian. After yesterday’s missed win Aronian now sank to -1 and the tournament is probably over for him as he cannot realistically hope to win it. So’s preparation was really deep in the Spanish (the first move that he didn’t know was Black’s 21st) and he outplayed Aronian in a complex position where the main theme were Black’s stranded Rb5 and Nb6. This game should give So the confidence he lost at the beginning as he managed to show that he still knows how to beat the best players in the world.

Ding Liren and Karjakin played a short and sharp game that ended in a repetition. Ding tried to improve on Kramnik’s win over Wei Yi from Wijk (or he improvised, because he spent 15 minutes on the deviation), but after Karjakin’s precise taking on b2 he could only force a repetition. It is still unclear to me how Ding is playing this tournament, not getting anywhere with White and being extremely resilient with Black. Karjakin seems content to show his preparation and draw. He can also probably call it a success.

Yesterday’s scare didn’t frighten Grischuk and he went for yet another Benoni today against Caruana. In truth, this one was much better than the one from yesterday as Black was a tempo up compared to the normal lines. I found Caruana’s comment very instructive: he thought that Black was OK, but he felt that White had more chances to be better in the future than Black. Very astute observation! Another thing that impressed me about both players was the precision of their calculations. The lines they showed in the press conference were almost always the ones suggested by the engine and their evaluations were spot on (unlike Kramnik’s!). From this I conclude that both players are in very good form.

Here is the game with comments by GM Nedev and myself.

In spite of the mutual inaccuracies, a game of high quality and one showing both players competently navigating the complications.

With 6 rounds behind us already some conclusions can be drawn. Both leaders Caruana and Mamedyarov are the ones who have shown the most consistent chess. It appears that they will decide it between themselves as they are a full point ahead of the group on 50%.

From those on 50% Ding Liren is still the biggest unknown. All draws after surviving lost positions against Aronian and Grischuk and practically no attempts with White. He seems to be hoping for a counter-attacking win rather than one where he would press from the start.

With his over-confident mindset Kramnik seems to be on the way down. Unless he becomes aware of what he’s doing, he will finish on a heavy minus score.

Grischuk plays exciting chess and calculates well. But he is incosistent (missing a win against Ding, completely lost against Aronian) and that’s why he is on 50%. Can he steady the ship?

Aronian, So and Karjakin are on minus score. Of the three only Aronian is capable of producing wins in a row, but that is not very likely with the way he’s been missing his chances. Most probably these 3 players can forget about winning the tournament.

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Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 5

Like I said yesterday, they couldn’t keep it up. Not that they didn’t try…

The game of the day was undoubtedly the wild affair between Aronian and Grischuk. I don’t really understand Grischuk’s decision to meet 3 f3 with a transposition to a Benoni, it’s such a risky choice at that level and he is a sitting duck when repeating it. I understand that he is seeking his chances in the sharp Benoni, but I still consider the risk a bit too high. I wonder whether somebody else will try to repeat this line against him.

Naturally, Aronian varied from his game against Li Chao from last year and soon enough Grischuk was lost. But it was such a mess… Here are detailed comments, once again courtesy of GM Nedev with a few comments and additions from myself.

A huge missed opportunity for Aronian. By winning a second game in a row he would have been only half a point behind the leader; even more importantly, he would have been riding the wave of self-confidence that he so desperately needs to play well! Now he’s stuck with a bag of mixed feelings.

As for Grischuk, he said it best in the press conference when he noted that he didn’t win yesterday and he didn’t lose today in what was a mirror-like situation of a forced win/loss. I like it how he maintains his philosophycal view even in such situations of high tension!

Kramnik tried to squeeze whatever he thought was in the stone against So by using the Semi-Tarrasch. He has good memories of the opening from the first time he used it back in 2013 in London, when he beat Aronian in a crucial moment. But he’s had quite a few painful defeats there too. He said he was still in his analysis on move 20 and by my estimate it went on at least some 8-9 moves further. As a result he got a drawn position that he tried to win until move 57.

At the press conference he said that he didn’t really expect to win. So why did he try so hard, spending energy that he will desperately need in the second half of the tournament? I mentioned that his strategy is probably to maximise his points in the first half of the tournament, but the position was so dry that he couldn’t even dream of coming close to a win. So we come back to the first question – why did he try so hard?

Caruana was surprised by Karjakin’s choice of 7…dc in the Closed Catalan, a line already successfully tried by his second Riazantsev. For a change, Karjakin got to demonstrate his preparation going well after move 17 (the crucial move that he remembered) in what was effectively a total simplification.

Ding Liren obtained a typical technical position in yet another Catalan against Mamedyarov. He has won several good games in that structure (for example against Wang Hao in the World Cup and against Aronian in the Sharjah Grand Prix) but Mamedyarov was precise and wasn’t in any danger.

All draws means that there is no change in the standings. Tomorrow’s games Caruana-Grischuk and Mamedyarov-Kramnik promise to continue the trend of Wild in Berlin.

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Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 4

The rest day only sharpened the players’ senses. The games were even more electrifying, though I am not sure they can keep up this level of tension for very long.

The first game to finish was Mamedyarov-So. White introduced a novelty on move 16 in the Nimzo-Indian, but the position was rather sterile and So didn’t have problems to keep it safe.

The other games were unexpected, all in their own way.

As I predicted in my preview, Karjakin is already out of the picture. And in a disgraceful way at that. Second loss with White in such a tournament is impermissible. Kasparov used to say that losing with White simply means bad play. If Karjakin played badly in Round 1 when he lost to Mamedyarov, this time he mixed up the move order in his preparation and was immediately lost, as early as move 16. The rest, until move 68 when he resigned, was just agony. And another thing I managed to predict, Aronian bounced back immediately.

The game Grischuk-Ding Liren saw a repeat of the famous game Topalov-Kramnik from Wijk aan Zee in 2008, Grischuk repeating the sacrifice that by now was considered refuted. When going through the game I noticed that his improvement, and novelty, 16 a4, is not highly regarded by the engine at first. This only means that he used really strong hardware to prepare, as the move is actually good, as my own engine soon sees when the moves are manually made on the board. Grischuk’s preparation ended on move 20 and on move 21 he could have won in a couple of moves! Yet he missed this simple win just because he was thinking by analogy with a similar line where White’s queen is on c2 and the defence with …Bf6 works then. Here’s analysis of the whole game, courtesy of GM Trajko Nedev, with a few comments from me.

An incredibly dramatic game! It is pity that it fades when compared to the next one.

I have the impression that Kramnik went into this game with the intention to play it safe. Hence 5 Qe2 against Caruana’s Petroff. He was leading the tournament with +2, common sense suggests that +3 is an outright win, and there are 10 more rounds to play. So a draw with the direct competition makes sense.

And things were going according to plan up to a point. How could they not to, when the queens were exchanged on move 7 and the position was symmetrical? But around move 20 something happened and Kramnik lunged forward. As if he couldn’t control his impulses from the last several years when he was always looking for chances to play for a win, even in the dullest positions. He was taking huge risks as objectively he was lost, but he was posing problems, Caruana was spending time and things got complicated. Caruana started to spoil the winning position before the time control, around move 35, and by move 39 he was now lost.

But then Kramnik relaxed (as he admitted) and didn’t manage to find one clear win. The game dragged on, while still being won for White, but one requiring continuous complex calculations.

A grandiose battle!

I think that Kramnik lost because he couldn’t keep the level of his calculations in the late stages of the game, a problem of mental stamina. I also think that he took this into consideration when he devised his strategy to start strongly, play with more risk and try to create as many chances as possible. The idea was to accumulate as many points in the beginning because he expects to be more liable to mistakes in the later stages of the tournament when he may start to tire. His strategy almost worked, if only he won this game… Now he will have to re-adjust and we will see what that means.

This win brought Caruana on sole first. He showed incredible resilience, both today and in Round 3 against Mamedyarov, his calculational abilities probably at their best. Tomorrow he is White against tail-ender Karjakin.

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