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.