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    « 2018 Candidates, Round 7: Caruana Back in Clear First at the Halfway Point | Main | 2018 Candidates, Round 5: The Calm After the Storm »
    Friday
    Mar162018

    2018 Candidates, Round 6: Shakh Catches the Car; Aronian, Kramnik Look on in the Distance

    Please excuse the overly informal subject line, offered for the sake of painting a picture. As Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Fabiano "Car"uana drive away, two of the pre-tournament favorites, Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian, are left behind as their hopes vanish in the distance. It's still not too late - there are eight rounds remaining - but it's not looking good for them, and they're going in the wrong direction.

    The game of the day, at least in the race for first, was Mamedyarov-Kramnik. For the second straight day Kramnik played the Semi-Tarrasch with Black, and for the second straight day managed to equalize. Also for the second straight day, Kramnik was unsatisfied with an easy draw with the Black pieces, and decided to play on. At this point the script diverged. Again Wesley So in round 5 Kramnik never overstepped the bounds of acceptable risk, but against Mamedyarov in round 6 he did so, repeatedly, as if he was still "on tilt" from the loss to Caruana in round 4. A poor mini-plan on moves 23 and 24 could have been punished by 25.f4, with a big advantage for White, but Kramnik got away with that one. A further mistake on 31 could have been punished by 32.Rbc1, with a winning advantage for White...but Kramnik got away with that one, too. On move 34 he went too far, and instead of enjoying full equality and even some small chances of playing for a win after 34...Rxc1 35.Rxc1 Bc6, he uncorked 34...Rdc8?? Three strikes and you're out: Mamedyarov played 35.Rxc7+ Rxc7 36.Rh1, winning the h-pawn for nothing, with a vastly superior position to boot. Kramnik tried valiantly to save the game, coming up with some nice tricks at the end, but they were too simple for an alert Mamedyarov.

    With the win, Mamedyarov caught up Caruana in first place, a point ahead of their closest competitors. Caruana was doubtlessly hoping for more with White against Alexander Grischuk, and he seemed to be better most of the way. The position was tricky though, and in the end Caruana decided that it was better to play it safe and allow a repetition than to take big risks.

    Ding Liren and Sergey Karjakin avoided serious risks; in fact, they avoided almost all risks. Ding played something new on move 11, varying from what had been played by a number of super-GMs - himself included. But after just two more moves, he decided that it was time to allow (and semi-force) a repetition, which was accomplished after 18 moves in total.

    Levon Aronian's event had been disappointing so far, with a bad loss to Kramnik that was mostly an opening disaster and a couple of winning positions he had failed to convert. Despite this, he was still on 50%, and although he was Black in the round his opponent was Wesley So, who was still on -2 and tied for last place. So deserves a lot of credit, though. He lost his first two games, but has rebuilt his confidence and proved that he can compete here. In round 3 he took a safety draw with White, and in rounds 4 and 5 he drew "real" games. Now in round 6, he played an excellent game, showing good preparation and good play after the preparation as well to convincingly outplay his very experienced opponent. Both players are now on -1, but So must feel a lot better about his standing in the event than Aronian does about his own.

    The games, with my comments, are here. Tomorrow is a rest day (the pattern, which continues throughout the event, is to have a rest day every three rounds), and the pairings for round 7 - the last round of the first cycle - are as follows:

    • Grischuk (3) - Mamedyarov (4)
    • Kramnik (3) - Ding Liren (3)
    • Karjakin (2) - So (2.5)
    • Aronian (2.5) - Caruana (4)

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    Reader Comments (3)

    I don't know whether his play can be fairly described as having a curious lack of objectivity for someone of his level, or a devil may care attitude, but it's certainly tough being a Kramnik fan.

    [DM: I would have found that reply more convincing a day or two ago, but some of Kramnik's comments in the post-game presser with Mamedyarov bordered on the insane. (N.B. I hadn't seen those comments when I wrote the post.) I mentioned Kramnik's presser to a peer and fellow Kramnik fan, and he not only agreed, he added that some of Kramnik's comments were "verging on slightly incorrect behavior". Top chessplayers and sports psychologists agree that it's better to be somewhat overconfident, but the operative word here is "somewhat". The nuttiest claim I came across was his remark that after 50...Rc6 he had reasonable drawing chances. If a player my strength had claimed that, GMs would assert that I was either joking, a fool, or bat[guano] crazy - and they'd be right.

    Alternatively - as was half-jokingly suggested during Svidler's and Gustafsson's round 5 commentary - Kramnik's post-game press conferences are a kind of performance art. In all the years I've seen Gustafsson's commentary, I can't recall ever seeing him laugh - he has the jaded, sarcastic millenial routine down to an art form. But when Svidler jokingly wondered where Kramnik would claim there was a line in his game with So where So "escaped by a miracle", even Gustafsson was forced to laugh.]

    I know the common wisdom is that players have to take risks in this "winner takes all" tournament, but I'm far from convinced that the levels of aggression we have been seeing are anywhere near justified. I strongly suspect that the optimal strategy for the serious contenders is close to staying solid, conserving your energy, and taking your chances if and when they arise. In other words, "let's you and him fight". If I was a top player spending a ton of money on seconds, I'd certainly have an applied game theorist on my team.

    March 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavid McCarthy

    "I strongly suspect that the optimal strategy for the serious contenders is close to staying solid, conserving your energy, and taking your chances if and when they arise" -- The kind of thing Vishy would do - and Shakh and the Fabi Cabi are doing! Of course you also have to be physically fit to last such a long and intense tournament.

    8 to go but I can't see Lev coming back. Oh well. Was this his last chance at a world title? He is 35 now. At what age do GMs reach their peek this days?

    Happy St. Patrick's Day!

    [DM: I don't think we can answer that question now; we have to wait another 10-15 years and look back on their subsequent results to know. But given the successes of older Gelfand, Anand, and sometimes Kramnik, and Kasparov at the end of his career, there's no reason why Aronian's chances of threatening for the title in the future should be at an end. The biggest problem for him in the next few years will probably be motivation, family responsibilities, and more contenders to deal with.)

    March 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenternimzobob

    It's a relief for me that Kramnik looks unlikely to win now. I guess I initially thought a wildcard spot couldn't do much harm to the idea of a fair qualification cycle, but I may be changing my mind. No doubt, Kramnik's been a very strong player at times, but I don't think that's a good enough justification for granting him the spot. I just don't like seeing politics, power or money being factors in who appears in the Candidates tournament.

    March 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteranon

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