Candidates 2016 – Rounds 4-6

The tournament entered the phase where the start is behind but the half still hasn’t been reached. The players are already warmed up and the main battles have begun.

The number of leaders decreased, after Anand lost to Karjakin (for the first time in his life) and left the leading group, which now consists of Karjakin and Aronian with 4/6, or +2.

Karjakin’s first win against Anand (in Round 4) showed that he copied Grischuk’s recipe for playing against the former World Champion. The recipe is as follows: it’s impossible to pose Anand problems in normal theoretical lines, his preparation is immaculate, having been honed in decades of tournament and match play; so in order to achieve something it’s best to steer the game clear of normal theory. This doesn’t mean that the less-explored paths aren’t deeply investigated, quite the contrary, but the idea is that these paths should be less familiar to Anand. You can see Grischuk’s ways in the comments to the game.

Then Karjakin survived two difficult positions, against Topalov and Caruana, both with black and both in the Queen’s Indian, an opening under severe pressure in this tournament (more on this below). This bodes well for the Russian, as saving difficult positions is no less important than scoring wins. As things stand, he seems to me the number one contender to win it – he has taken his chances and escaped from all trouble.

Aronian joined Karjakin by beating Nakamura in Round 6. I won’t go into the scandalous end of that game (Nakamura touching the king, then wanting to play with the rook, Aronian reacting, the arbiter forcing Nakamura to play the losing move with the king), nor into Aronian’s pompous claims that the (drawn) rook endgame 3 vs 2 is winning. I will only say that this behaviour from Aronian shows a man determined to fight to the death for the slightest possible chance to win, a man who is (over)confident that his time has come and who won’t stop before anything to take what he believes is his. I cannot know how that will affect his future tournament luck, but it’s something I am looking forward to find out.

After losing to Karjakin in Round 4, Anand came back to +1 with a fine win against his old customer Svidler. For the record: Svidler has never beaten Anand in his life. The way he lost today is perplexing, as he went down a road that was known (to be bad) from before, as the elementary improvement of white’s play was too simple. Svidler said he knew of that game, but wasn’t sure if it was that exact position – failure to remember lines clearly is one of the greatest dangers for today’s players. This is also a punishment for Svidler who missed several good chances in the first rounds. For Anand this is a new lease of life, half a point within the leaders and a wonderful comeback after a loss.

Caruana and Giri are on 50% and both can be dissatisfied with the result. Caruana was winning against Topalov in Round 4 and had good winning chances against Karjakin in Round 6, while Giri was close to beating Topalov in Round 6. There is still time for these two, but they should start converting their advantages and taking their chances.

Svidler was punished for his missed chances (mainly against Nakamura in Round 3) at the first available opportunity. Nice people usually get punished like this, at the first available opportunity. And this usually means that luck is not on their side, against which it’s impossible to fight. I hope he finds a way though.

Sharing last place on -2 are Topalov and Nakamura. Topalov seems to be lost in every second game, his play is very uneven and he even went that far in avoiding Giri’s Grunfeld by playing 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 h4. Really? Months of preparation and to come up with this? His consolation can be that he hasn’t lost a game for 3 rounds, but he cannot count on much if he continues like this. As for Nakamura, a pre-tournament favourite for many (yours truly included), the event is slowly turning into a nightmare. His prepared opening for the event, the Queen’s Indian, is not paying dividents, quite the contrary, he lost a game both times he played it. I know it’s tough for players who prefer the dark square strategy (players of King’s Indian, Benoni, Benko Gambit) to switch to a white square strategy (in this case the Queen’s Indian), but I thought this didn’t apply to the elite. He was OK out of the openings, but in the subsequent play he wasn’t his usual self. Another question is how he’s going to react to his Round 6 loss to Aronian, from a drawn rook endgame, but after the touch-move rule being enforced upon him. He will have a full rest day to ruminate on it and then he gets to play his fellow cellar-mate, Topalov. Both will see this as a last chance for a way out, should be a great fight.

The best is yet to come in Moscow.

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