Candidates 2016 – Rounds 10-12

It’s amazing how fast things change in Moscow. Every round brings new (or old) leaders and it seems the ups and downs have only begun.

Anand has been considered as one of the best defenders ever, but I am afraid this is no longer the case. In the last 3 rounds he lost twice with black, both times in the English Opening, and won once. In the games he lost he never got out of the opening, and, what’s more surprising, he never offered resistance. Very similar to his loss against Karjakin from Round 4 – when things started to go wrong he simply stopped resisting. This is not the same Anand that was impossible to beat. I think I know the reason for this, and no, it’s not age. With his perfect opening preparation he almost always gets excellent positions out of the opening, whether that be an advantage with white, or a safe or equal position with black. And this has been going on for quite a while. When you get accustomed to starting the game from a favourable position you grow out of the habit of fighting from a position with a disadvantage. And in those rare cases when he gets surprised in the opening (the losses with black in Rounds 10 and 12) he simply cannot adjust and goes down easily. If you recall my analysis of Karjakin-Anand from Round 4 you will remember that I called this the Grischuk strategy – getting Anand into unfamiliar terrain early on. But both Caruana in Round 10 and Nakamura in Round 12 modified this strategy by going for main lines (in the English) and preparing a rare continuation there.

Another point may be that once Anand understands he’s lost he stops trying, probably because he believes he cannot save the game and saves energy and time by playing shorter games. But that is not the attitude he used to have.

The game Anand won was a masterpiece. He punished Karjakin for his cynical play by playing a wonderful endgame. Bear in mind that in Round 11 it was a must-win situation for Anand as he was trailing Karjakin by half a point and had already lost to him in the first half of the event, thus losing to him in a possible tie-break in case of a draw.

It is notable that the players came to the conclusion that 1 c4 is the move to play, as more and more games start with this move. It has the merit of avoiding the Grunfeld and the Berlin and it leads to playable positions.

Karjakin played a theoretical draw with white against Giri in Round 10 and was then punished by Anand for throwing away the white pieces. He was lucky to play Topalov in Round 12 as he practically got a point very easily in view of Topalov’s atrocious handling of the Najdorf. Topalov may be in last place, but he is directly influencing the standings – if Caruana fails to win the tournament then he only need to look at his games against Topalov – he was winning in both and yet managed only 2 draws.

Giri keeps trying and keeps drawing. It’s strange that he didn’t manage to finish Nakamura off in Round 11, after increasing his advantage to a point where he thought he was winning by force:

The players look at each other’s preparation during the tournament, so Giri chose the a4 plan in the Giuoco Piano (even though he’s not an 1 e4 player) that brought success to Anand against Aronian in Round 9 and Caruana against Topalov in Round 4 (even though Caruana didn’t win being a piece up!) So far black hasn’t managed to show a clear-cut way to equalize against this plan, so expect to see it more in the future!

Svidler caught Aronian on 50% by beating him in their direct duel in Round 11. Only a second black win in the whole tournament, courtesy of Aronian’s very unstable play after his loss to Anand in Round 9. Aronian should have bounced back from that loss to Anand as he got a winning position against Topalov in Round 10, but what he did in that game is difficult to explain:

Add to this his game with Svidler, where he had an almost decisive attack and we get the same Aronian who botched all the previous World Championship cycles he participated in. It’s incredible how his level of play drops so dramatically in the course of a single game!

Svidler was getting a lot of opportunities in the previous rounds, thanks to his excellent preparation, but only won when he got problems out of the opening. Some people need to suffer and only suffering brings the best out of them! Compare this mental setup with Anand’s habit of getting good positions and capitalizing on them – different people have different preferences, obviously!

As I wrote in my previous post, the players who no longer have a chance to win may heavily influence the outcome of the tournament. Nakamura busted Anand in Round 12, Topalov gave Karjakin an easy win also in Round 12 and this affected the standings yet again. They play each other after the rest day and in the final round Nakamura is white against Aronian while Topalov is black against Giri.

A possible decider could be the last round game Karjakin-Caruana. For now Karjakin has the better tie-break (bigger number of wins) which means that most probably Caruana will have to try and use his last white against Svidler in Round 13. Karjakin is black against Aronian in Round 13 and that is the last theoretical chance for Aronian, as in case of a win he will catch Karjakin. Anand is white against Giri in Round 13, a chance for both actually, and he’s black with Svidler in the last round. Perhaps the man who holds everything in his own hands is Svidler, because he gets to play the players above him and if he beats them then he can easily come off a winner.

Six players still have chances to win and this makes the tournament quite unique. I wouldn’t dare predict how all this will pan out.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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