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    Entries in 2018 Candidates (24)

    Friday
    Mar302018

    Caruana's First Reaction

    Here's a nice mini-interview of Fabiano Caruana by Macauley Peterson, almost immediately after the former's win over Alexander Grischuk won the Candidates and the right to face Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship title.

    Wednesday
    Mar282018

    The Chess Mind Live on The Beat of Sports

    If all goes well I'll be on The Beat of Sports, an Orlando, Florida-based sports talk show, at or around 11:17 a.m. ET this (Wednesday) morning, talking about Fabiano Caruana's performance in the Candidates tournament. You may be able to tune in here; hopefully I'll do a good job representing our great game to the general public.

    And for those of you who discovered this blog through my radio "appearance", you're welcome here. Please leave a comment either here or via the Contact link on the right sidebar. If you have a question about Caruana, or the game in general (for instance, how to find chess communities in person or online suitable for yourself, for your kids, etc.), that's welcome too.

    Wednesday
    Mar282018

    538 With Early Match Odds

    Here's a short piece on Fabiano Caruana from the stats-nerds at FiveThirtyEight.com. The links add to its value, and they offer some early odds, for what it's worth, giving Caruana around a 30% chance of winning his coming world championship match against Magnus Carlsen.

    Tuesday
    Mar272018

    2018 Candidates, Round 14: Caruana Wins! **UPDATED with Analysis**

    Congratulations to Fabiano Caruana, who defeated Alexander Grischuk in the last round of the Candidates tournament! He won the event by a full point, as his closest rivals, Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, drew their last games (against Ding Liren and Vladimir Kramnik, respectively), and now moves on to fight Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship title in London this coming November.

    Remarkably, Caruana played the Petroff, trusting either that he'd somehow have a chance to fight for a win, in case Karjakin looked likely to win against Ding Liren (Karjakin would win the event on tiebreaks in case of a two-way tie for first with Caruana), or he trusted that Ding would hold with Black. Or perhaps he felt that playing something sharper would increase his losing chances to an unacceptable degree. Whatever the case, he played the Petroff for the fourth time in the tournament, and for the third time found himself with an advantage early on. As the game went on he maintained control and increased his advantage, and in the meantime Karjakin and then Mamedyarov drew their games. Caruana could have offered a draw at any moment to guarantee tournament victory, but there was no need to - his advantage was decisive by then, and more importantly there was no risk in playing on. (Besides, Grischuk's position was so bad that if Caruana had offered a draw, Grischuk might have separated his shoulder by reaching for Caruana's hand too quickly.)

    Karjakin's game with Ding was very instructive. He seemed to have a position where he could play for a win forever without any risk, and indeed there was a Motylev-Eljanov game that very clearly demonstrated White's strategic concept. But Ding found a remarkable concept with 17...e5 and 18...b4, and showed, amazingly, that it was White who had to be careful. Karjakin did his "Ministry of Defense" thing and held, barely.

    Mamedyarov took some serious chances in the game, starting with the opening, and was in serious trouble more than once against Kramnik. There were also some moments when he had a small advantage too, but unlike the Kramnik we saw earlier in the tournament, this time he mostly maintained his sanity and steered the ending to a draw.

    The fourth game was a pro forma affair between Levon Aronian and Wesley So, the tournament tailenders. (Especially Aronian.) They initiated a known repetition on move 13, calling it quits after 17 moves and clearing the stage for the games that mattered.

    I'll have the games later; for now, here are the final standings. 

    • 1. Caruana 9/14
    • 2-3. Mamedyarov, Karjakin 8
    • 4. Ding Liren 7.5
    • 5-6. Kramnik, Grischuk 6.5
    • 7. So 6
    • 8. Aronian 4.5

    Do come back later, for the annotated games, and I will also spend some time blogging today and over the next few days to catch up on some other events and topics.

    P.S. Congratulations too to the very clever people who predicted a Caruana win - all two of us. (I didn't write "send him home!" for all those years to forsake him now.) And while we're at it, I'll save time by offering my prediction now: Caruana will beat Carlsen in November. (And if he doesn't this time, he'll beat him next time, a la Smyslov vs. Botvinnik and Spassky vs. Petrosian. This does seem to be Caruana's pattern: the first time he comes close, and the second time he crashes through. He barely missed the 2014 Candidates, then made it in 2016. In that event he came very close to winning, and this time he did it. So if Carlsen defeats Caruana by some sort of Kramnikian "miracle" this time around, it will be the reverse in 2020.)

    **UPDATE** The games, with my analysis, are here.

    Monday
    Mar262018

    2018 Candidates, Round 13: Caruana Regains the Clear Lead

    Perhaps the rest day helped, or maybe it was good preparation. Or, maybe it's that Fabiano Caruana's opponent, Levon Aronian, is so out of form at the moment that it was enough for Caruana to play a decent game to obtain good winning chances. Whatever story we invent in all of its ex post facto glory, the facts are that Caruana rebounded from his painful loss to Sergey Karjakin on Saturday with an almost entirely clean and convincing victory over Aronian today. Since Karjakin was only able to draw his game against Wesley So, Caruana is in clear first, half a point ahead of both So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who was given a massive present by Alexander Grischuk. Ding Liren is a full point behind after a lucky draw against Vladimir Kramnik. Amazingly, he's not yet mathematically eliminated from the race for first. But more about this below.

    First then, Caruana's win over Aronian. Caruana repeated the Anti-Marshall line 8.d3 d6 9.Bd2 played by Grischuk (also against Aronian) in the previous round. Aronian varied first, but it looked like either Caruana's preparation or just his feel for the position was better than his opponent's, and soon he was outplaying the great Armenian. On the verge of getting rolled up, Aronian made a good practical decision to sacrifice a piece. It shouldn't have worked, but Caruana's 29.N1e3?? needlessly endangered the win. (I recognize that the double question mark is pretty harsh; I defend that evaluation in the game file.) The problem wasn't easy to spot, however, and once Aronian missed his chance Caruana finished most convincingly.

    As for Karjakin, he never had a chance. When So has White and is determined to be solid, it's almost impossible to get a position where one can play for a win. Magnus Carlsen has managed to do it against him, but that's about it. Besides, Karjakin's classical style doesn't help much either when it comes to must-win situations with Black. He did try to get a sharp line against So's 4.Qc2 anti-Nimzo-Indian line, but So kept it safe and the draw was never in doubt.

    Meanwhile, Mamedyarov joined Karjakin in second. His game with Grischuk also looked like an inevitable draw, and had looked that way for a long time. Mamedyarov did just enough to keep the game from becoming a dead draw, and finally at move 34 Grischuk had to find the right move. He thought he had found a way to achieve an instant draw, but White's reply proved otherwise. Grischuk was tied with Mamedyarov entering the round, so if he had won he'd have had a shot. Not any longer.

    Finally, Kramnik showed how to play for a win with Black, and up until his 30th move had played a great game. Ding would have been lost after 30...Rxe7, and even after 32..Kg7 (or 32...Kh7) Kramnik probably would have won thanks to White's weak king. Instead, Kramnik allowed White to trade queens, and then his king wasn't an issue. The resulting ending was only a little better for Black, and Ding held the draw without much trouble.

    Caruana has 8 out of 13, Mamedyarov and Grischuk have 7.5, and Ding has 7. This site (HT: Chuckles) offers the odds of tournament success for each of the four, and (sacrificing a few decimal places) they are:

    • Caruana: 56.4%
    • Mamedyarov: 20.9%
    • Karjakin: 20.7%
    • Ding: 2%

    The site's author has more information and an explanation of his method, so you're encouraged to check out the full details there.

    Rapping things up over here...the games (with my notes) are here; and the final pairings, to determine the identity of Carlsen's challenger this coming November, are:

    • Grischuk (6.5) - Caruana (8)
    • Aronian (4) - So (5.5)
    • Karjakin (7.5) - Ding (7)
    • Kramnik (6) - Mamedyarov (7.5)

    Saturday
    Mar242018

    2018 Candidates, Round 12: The Tournament gets Karjaked

    Yes, it's a bad pun, and yes, I know the "j" in Sergey Karjakin's name is pronounced like a "y". I'm sticking to the dumb pun anyway. Who'd have thought that Karjakin, -2 after four rounds, would lead the tournament eight rounds later? What's that, you say, he's only tied for first? Incorrect. By beating "co-leader" Fabiano Caruana, Karjakin has the better tiebreaks, and given the tournament rules it means he would win the event if it finished right now. (Just as Magnus Carlsen advanced and Vladimir Kramnik didn't when they finished London 2013 with the same number of points.)

    Amazing. Karjakin has won four games in seven rounds, going from worst to first, and for the moment he has the pole position for a second straight title tilt with Magnus Carlsen. With White against Caruana and the latter's Petroff, Karjakin avoided nonsense like 5.Qe2 and went for the main lines, choosing 5.Nc3. After 10.a3 and 11.Nd4 there was a new position on the board, and it seems that he obtained an advantage. The critical idea that probably won him the game, and possibly a second shot at the title, was 17.Bxd5, sacrificing the exchange for a pawn and a nuclear bishop on d5, radiating power in every direction. Caruana didn't manage to cope with this piece, and by the time Karjakin picked up a second pawn for the exchange on move 31 Black's position was hopeless.

    Caruana's loss could have been Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's gain. Like Caruana, he had been undefeated all tournament long and had been in first or just half a point behind for a long time. Had he won with White against Ding Liren, he'd have been in sole first. Even a draw would have been acceptable: he'd have been in a three-way tie for first, and then he'd have been ahead on tiebreaks given his plus score against Karjakin and even record vs. Caruana. If, if, if. Ding didn't lose, and despite drawing all 11 of his games up to this point he didn't split the point either. Instead, he won, and now he's even with Mamedyarov, half a point behind the leaders.

    Ding took a page out of Kramnik's book (why not? Everyone else copies his openings) and played the Semi-Tarrasch. He equalized, and when Mamedyarov pushed to create a kingside attack Ding was able to push his queenside majority, make a second queen, and win.

    So four players lead or are within half a point of the lead. Did I say four? Make it five: we shouldn't forget Alexander Grischuk. If had defeated Levon Aronian he'd have been in the tie for first. He had a big chance on move 23, but rejected it for some reason and Aronian escaped with a draw. Still, Grischuk is within half a point of Karjakin and Caruana, so with two rounds to go more than half of the field still has a great shot at winning the tournament.

    The last game featured two players who are out of the running. Vladimir Kramnik had a winning advantage against Wesley So, but for the umpteenth time in the event left half a point (or more) on the table, and the game finished in a draw.

    The games (with my notes) are here. Sunday is a rest day, and the penultimate round will be played on Monday, with these pairings:

     

    • Mamedyarov (6.5) - Grischuk (6.5)
    • Ding Liren (6.5) - Kramnik (5.5)
    • So (5) - Karjakin (7)
    • Caruana (7) - Aronian (4)

     

    Saturday
    Mar242018

    2018 Candidates, Round 11: Lots of Excitement, but Caruana Still Leads Mamedyarov by Half a Point

    Only three rounds remain in the 2018 Candidates, and Fabiano Caruana is still ahead, inching to the finish line half a point at a time. He has drawn his last four games, and that's good enough for him to keep his half point lead over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who has drawn five in a row.

    Caruana had White against Vladimir Kramnik, whose own hopes of winning the event took a first critical bruise in their round 4 clash. Having won in the previous round Kramnik may have retained some tiny hopes of competing for first place, and to that end played the sharp Triangle System of the Slav. When Caruana played the principled 4.e4, Kramnik uncorked the amazing 4...dxe4 5.Nxe4 c5?!! Caruana didn't put this line to a severe test, but he kept things under control on the way to a draw that was well played on both sides.

    Mamedyarov didn't get any closer, but that wasn't surprising as he had Black against the super-solid Wesley So. After 14.Nxd7 Rxd7 15.Ne4 So might have had some hopes for an edge; instead, he played the safe 14.Nxd5, and it was soon clear that a draw was inevitable.

    The other two games were marathons. Alexander Grischuk was in third place coming into the round, while Ding Liren had drawn his first ten games. Afterwards, Grischuk was still in third place (though in a tie), while Ding was 11 for 11 (just three rounds from joining Anish Giri in infamy). That it finished in a draw, however, was almost unfathomable given how insanely winning Ding's position was in the middlegame. He had a mating attack, a material advantage, and a serious lead on the clock, but somehow squandered it one bit at a time. He may not have felt as sick about it as Kramnik surely did after losing to Caruana, but it was probably pretty close.

    Finally, there was one winner on the day, and that was Sergey Karjakin. When Levon Aronian played 11.Ne5, Black gave himself a queenside majority by taking the knight. While there wasn't anything wrong with 11.Ne5, it gave Black a long-term asset, one which Karjakin eventually exploited. Karjakin has been sneaking up the tournament table, and after being on -2 after four rounds (after losing to Aronian in the first cycle) he has won in rounds 7, 9, and 11, and now he's sharing third place with Grischuk. With White against Caruana in round 12, he is not out of the race!

    The games, with my notes, are here, and these are the round 12 pairings:

    • Grischuk (6) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Karjakin (6) - Caruana (7)
    • Kramnik (5) - So (4.5)
    • Mamedyarov (6.5) - Ding (5.5)

    Thursday
    Mar222018

    2018 Candidates, Round 10: Mamedyarov-Caruana Drawn, Kramnik Wins Another Tactical Slugfest vs. Aronian

    Once again, for the third round in a row, play in the Candidates resulted in three draws and a decisive result in Vladimir Kramnik's game. Kramnik's results since round 3 have been atrocious - two draws and four losses. His last win was in round 3, against Levon Aronian, and now he has reprised it with a second win over Aronian. In fact, like the first game, this too was a thrilling tactical slugfest, but with some differences.

    For starters, Kramnik got a great position in the opening of the earlier game, but this time his opening play was poor while Aronian's was excellent, and Kramnik was in trouble even early on. He went all-out for a kingside attack, and after an Aronian inaccuracy on move 22 the position was unclear. Both players kept the balance in the Mikhail Tal-style middlegame that followed, and as often happened in Tal's games, the defender would stay alive for a pretty long time before collapsing on a relatively simple point. Aronian's mistake on move 36 wasn't the sort of thing one only spots on a good day or with an engine; normally one would expect Aronian to see the problem with his move in a blitz game. It's just the pressure of calculating move after move, hour after hour, exerting one's imagination to the utmost that gives rise to the occasional lapse, and alas for Aronian, he slipped. Kramnik is now at -1, not yet mathematically eliminated from the race for first, but - as he might way - it would be a "miracle" if he could win.

    The two players with the best chance to win faced off, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov playing White against Fabiano Caruana. It was a Catalan - the theme opening for this tournament - but a very sharp line for a change. Had Caruana played ...h4 on moves 13 or 14 it would have been utter chaos on the board. Instead, after setting the fire with his play on moves 5-12, he called the fire department and ran around with an extinguisher, playing not for middlegame sparks but a drawish semi-middlegame, semi-endgame a pawn down. Mamedyarov may have missed a chance on move 17, but that aside it was a very well-played and interesting game from beginning to end.

    The other two games weren't particular interesting, and were drawn quickly. Though Alexander Grischuk had White and was within a point of Caruana, he didn't seem to have anything special prepared against Sergey Karjakin, and by move 15 it already seemed that he had given up on the game, which was drawn by repetition in 28 moves. Ding Liren vs. Wesley So was also drawn quickly. Surprisingly, while both Mamedyarov-Caruana and Grischuk-Karjakin were Catalans, the most devoted Catalan addict in the field, Ding Liren, avoided it against So, entering a conventional Queen's Gambit Declined. So went for an unusual pawn sac on move 9, and it worked perfectly. If there's an advantage to be had for White, it had to be demonstrated somewhere between moves 12-14. After 14.Kg1 Bxf3 15.Bxf3 e5 Black had completely equalized, and the remaining moves were necessary only for the sake of reaching move 30. White made his 31st move and offered a draw in a dead rook + three pawns vs. rook + three pawns ending.

    (All four games, with my comments, are here.)

    Four rounds remain, and Caruana still leads Mamedyarov by half a point; Grischuk is a further half a point behind, followed by Karjakin and tournament drawmeister Ding Liren. (He's 10 for 10, just four games away from joining the immortal Anish Giri.) It's not too late for any of them, but it's getting close. Here are the pairings for round 11:

    • Ding Liren (5) - Grischuk (5.5)
    • So (4) - Mamedyarov (6)
    • Caruana (6.5) - Kramnik (4.5)
    • Aronian (3.5) - Karjakin (5)

    One would expect the first two games to end in solid draws and the second two to be anything but. The first time around, both Kramnik and Karjakin lost to their rivals with White, in both cases - especially Kramnik's - doing great damage to their tournaments. If they win with Black - which won't be easy, especially for Kramnik - they're back in the hunt.

    Wednesday
    Mar212018

    2018 Candidates, Round 9: A Round 8 Encore - Three Draws and a Kramnik Loss

    There were three draws on the day, just as in round 8, but once again the games were (mostly) hard-fought. Wesley So's game with Alexander Grischuk was a damp squib, a 5.Re1 Anti-Berlin with what looked like a harmless novelty on move 23. All the previous games had been drawn, and it doesn't look like Grischuk broke much of a sweat in adding another half-point to the pile. By contrast, the other three games had plenty of life.

    Fabiano Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov entered the round in first and second place, respectively, separated by half a point. They could have finished the round a point, or even a point and a half, apart. In the longest game of the round Caruana outplayed Ding Liren and was clearly winning - at least twice. Unfortunately for the American, he faltered at the last hurdle, and Ding escaped with a draw. As for Mamedyarov, he had Black against Levon Aronian, and while he was never in as much trouble as Ding was against Caruana, he was under pressure. If Aronian had anything serious, it was over after 32.b3, when his pawn sac left him with sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn but nothing more. They agreed to a draw right after the first time control, leaving Mamedyarov half a point behind Caruana (and Grischuk half a point behind Mamedyarov).

    Finally, there was poor old Vladimir Kramnik - but this time it was his opponent who won the game, not Kramnik who self-destructed. Sergey Karjakin found a very interesting new idea against Kramnik's beloved Semi-Tarrasch: 7.Rb1 Be7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.h4!? Kramnik chose a very combative response with 9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Nc6 11.h5 f5!?, but went astray on move 14. After this Karjakin played very well, and even an inaccuracy on move 20 wasn't enough for Kramnik to save the game. Kramnik did have one extraordinary opportunity to give Karjakin some serious trouble, though - be sure to have a look at the note to Black's 23rd move for the details.

    Wednesday is a rest day, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the round 9 games (here, with my comments). Here are the pairings for round 10, on Thursday; Mamedyarov-Caruana is the key matchup, which could very well determine Magnus Carlsen's challenger this November:

    • Grischuk (5) - Karjakin (4.5)
    • Kramnik (3.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Mamedyarov (5.5) - Caruana (6)
    • Ding Liren (4.5) - So (3.5)

    Tuesday
    Mar202018

    2018 Candidates, Round 8: Three Draws and Another Kramnik Loss

    The second cycle of the Candidates got underway in round 8, and the outcome was more peaceful than in round 1. In that round, with the same pairings (with colors reversed), three games finished with a decisive result. Not this time: three games were drawn, and the one decisive result should have been the fourth draw.

    The leader coming in was Fabiano Caruana, who defeated Wesley So with White in round 1. He came reasonably close with Black, too, as for the second time in this event the lame 5.Qe2 against Caruana's Petroff resulted in a very poor middlegame position for White. To So's credit, he defended exceptionally well and saved the game, using an endgame trick famously discovered by Emanuel Lasker in 1924.

    Shakhriyar Mamedaryov also defeated his opponent, Sergey Karjakin, in their first round game - and that was with the black pieces - but like Caruana, he only drew in the rematch. He obtained a small advantage in a Catalan sideline, and a slight inaccuracy enabled Karjakin to achieve full equality. Wisely shepherding his strength, Mamedyarov decided to call it a day after just 30 moves.

    Ding Liren and Levon Aronian drew their game in the first cycle, and drew this one, too. Their first game was a short draw, but Aronian was much better, even winning had he chosen not to repeat. This time it was Ding who failed to maximize his chances, misplaying an ending with a clean extra pawn.

    Finally, Vladimir Kramnik's bizarre self-destruction continued. He defeated Alexander Grischuk in round 1, but this time nothing more than a draw was on the cards. The simplest way to achieve it was with 31...Bxc3, when the pin after 32.Bxc3 Rxc3 was of no consequence. Instead Kramnik let Grischuk keep his extra pawn, and found himself lost after the first time control. Both players were tired, however, and the evaluation kept switching between equality and a serious advantage for Grischuk. After playing one long game after another - something which was entirely Kramnik's fault the past three rounds - he was tired and by his own admission "couldn't see anything". The result was another loss, in 91 moves. It was better to spend a few extra minutes making sure 31...Bxc3 worked, and then he'd have saved himself 3+ hours of play and half a point in the tournament table. As for Grischuk, he's at +1 now and in the running for first place.

    The games, with my comments, are here; here's what coming up in round 9:

     

    • So (3) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • Caruana (5.5) - Ding (4)
    • Aronian (3) - Mamedyarov (5)
    • Karjakin (3.5) - Kramnik (3.5)