Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 3


Probably that would be an appropriate comment on a game that is already a classic, mere hours after it has finished.

It started with Aronian’s surprise first move of 1 e4, something he very rarely plays. He was obviously expecting Kramnik’s Berlin and the former World Champion obliged. So Aronian must have been happy to get his preparation in. This happiness lasted only for 7 moves. On that fateful 7th move the world was stunned with 7…Rg8!!! You cannot get more blunt than that, with the obvious threat to push …g5-g4 and mate. And it came in one of the “dullest” openings, the anti-Berlin! As long as there are ideas like these, there won’t be any dull openings.

Kramnik said he had this idea prepared for quite some time. Upon checking the database I discovered why he said so – the first time the move was played was in 2012 in a correspondence games and there are few more correspondence games with it. The real novetly was the next move, 8…Nh5. Kramnik was going for the throat. The rest of the game was such a tour de force that it’s better just to look at it.

Incredible game, especially at a tournament as the Candidates, where everybody is so well prepared. To beat Aronian with Black in 27 moves in such a fashion (24…Bd5!!) is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The win brings Kramnik on +2 and makes him the sole leader after 3 rounds. His play is excellent, but I would still not jump to conclusions. In a long event like the Candidates his stamina may become a factor in the second half of the tournament.

What of Aronian after this shock? Usually he started his previous Candidates well, early coming to a plus score and often leading the tournament. Now for the first time he’s on a minus score and he has the history of never managing to come back and losing his stability after setbacks. I wouldn’t write him off though and I sense that this time he will come back.

The game Caruana-Mamedyarov was a pleasant surprise for me. They played a line in the Najdorf that I successfully played from the mid 90s to the late 00s. I was more or less the only player to play it as in those times other lines were popular against the English Attack. I always had faith in the dynamics of the Black position and now, exactly 10 years after my last game in the line, I see it played at the highest level. Feels good to have been so ahead of the time!

The game was incredibly complex, as it can usually happen in this line where White is playing the queenside where his king is and Black is playing on the kingside where his king is!

An incredibly complex game between two confident players! I see both Caruana and Mamedyarov on good form, each trying to win the game and pushing the limits to the maximum. Together with Kramnik for now they are the players who seem to have the best combination of factors (cumulatively called “form”) on their side.

So and Ding Liren drew in a Marshall Attack. A good choice to make a draw with White, something So desperately needed after the abysmal 0/2 in the first two rounds.

Karjakin was again on the defensive after the opening in spite of having White against Grischuk. With the odd 5 Nc3 in the Giuoco Piano, followed by h3 and a3 he did win the bishop pair but allowed Black comfortable development. He didn’t have any problems to steer the game towards a draw though.

Tomorrow is the first rest day. The players on plus score, Kramnik, Caruana and Mamedyarov are deservedly leading. They have shown the best chess so far (preparation, determination, energy, resilience). From the rest, it will be curious to see three things: whether Karjakin will wake up, whether Aronian will find it in himself to bounce back and how will Grischuk continue. As for Ding and So, well, perhaps the Chinese will come up with some interesting novelty.

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