In my Preview I said that unless Karjakin reinvented himself he wouldn’t stand a chance to win. He won, so what did he do? What I see is not so much a reinvention, but rather a sharpening of his best qualities – excellent technique, infinite resilience and thorough preparation. He saved quite a lot of unpleasant positions (Giri in Round 3, Topalov in Round 5, Caruana in Round 6, Aronian in Round 7, Svidler in Round 8 and Aronian in Round 13) while he missed very few opportunities: a win against Svidler in Round 8 and a draw in his only loss in the tournament, against Anand in Round 12. This difference of chances taken versus chances missed is what won the tournament for him.
Caruana came close, but unlike Karjakin he spoilt too many chances. Like I said in my previous post, he only need to look as far as the games with Topalov, both of which he should have won easily. The fact that he came that close in spite of all his misses shows that there is fantastic potential in him.
Anand was the most exciting player in the tournament, he had the most decisive games, exactly half of them! With white he was a dominant force, +4=3, but with black things went wrong with him in the English Opening, with two bad losses against the Americans in Rounds 10 and 12 and a very bad +0-3=4. This was unexpected for me, as I have grown accustomed to see him excellently prepared, but the new generations have found ways to dodge his preparation and this caused him trouble. Nevertheless a fantastic result for the oldest participant.
As expected (!) Giri drew all his games. He should have won several and was never in danger of losing. I read that Kasparov said this was due to “bad psychology.” I don’t know what he meant exactly, but there’s work to do for Giri in that area, as chess-wise he’s almost impeccable. On a lighter note, I heard that there is a new engine coming out called Deep Giri 0.00. And that Giri is considering change of career and becoming a rapper because he already has the perfect name, 50 Percent.
The other three players on 50% were Aronian, Svidler and Nakamura. The happiest of the three is probably Nakamura, who came back after an abysmal first half of the tournament. Unfortunately he was never in contention and he only started to play well when he realised that, when there was no more pressure and he could play normally. Svidler was plagued by his inability to finish things off in the first half of the tournament and his only win, against Aronian, came from a dubious position. This is a common trait of counter-attacking players: when the momentum is with them from the beginning they cannot sustain it and spoil their advantage; but when the momentum switches to them during the game they are unstoppable. Aronian saw another chance slip. The loss to Anand in Round 9 was the turning point for him as then he spoilt a winning position against Topalov in Round 10, even lost a very promising position against Svidler in Round 11. Then he didn’t make the most of his good positions against Caruana in Round 12 and Karjakin in Round 13. Notice how he had chances in every single round after his loss to Anand, but he didn’t take any of them.
Nothing much to say about Topalov, who finished dead last, whole 2.5 points behind with -5. In my Preview I said I wouldn’t be surprised if he repeats Khanty 2014 and so he did, the only difference being that in Khanty he scored 6/14 and here he scored 4.5/14. He was obviously in bad form for the whole tournament and he didn’t manage to change that.
In Round 13 Caruana had a wonderful chance to get ahead as he had a winning position against Svidler. He missed that and a theoretical endgame R+B vs R appeared and as expected Svidler defended well for a long time. But even the greatest can slip in these endgames and Caruana had one final chance. Yet he slipped again, returning the favour. Now, it’s easy to criticise the players of mistakes in theoretical endgames, but in the penultimate round of a high-tension Candidates tournament, after almost 7 hours of play and a winning method that isn’t that easy to reproduce, perhaps we should cut the players some slack. Although, to be honest, I’m sure Carlsen would have nailed it.
The only decisive game of the round was Topalov’s second loss to Nakamura, after he again messed things up in the opening. The game is typical of Topalov’s play in the tournament: sloppy from start to finish.
The game of the tournament was the last round struggle between the leaders. But the chances were heavily in Karjakin’s favour, as he had white and draw odds. It’s next to impossible to play for a win with black on this level, yet Caruana managed to obtain a complex position with long-term prospects. That is the maximum a black player can hope to obtain and I am surprised Karjakin allowed it.
The winner is always a deserved one. Karjakin proved himself to be a fighter par-excellence, both in Baku (remember that tie-break against Svidler) and here. Carlsen won’t have it easy.