Congratulations to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who is the recipient of the second qualifying spot for the next Candidates' tournament from the 2012-2013 Grand Prix. Fabiano Caruana would have taken that spot if he managed to finish ahead of Boris Gelfand, with whom he was tied for first going into the last round of the final Grand Prix event of the cycle, which concluded today in Paris.
The task would not be easy, as Gelfand was due for the white pieces in his last-round game, against Ruslan Ponomariov, while Caruana had black against Leinier Dominguez. Caruana played a Taimanov Sicilian, and faced a new move early on, 13.Rd2. Caruana thought for about 40 minutes, and then played 13...Rc8, which is a typical move in that line of the Taimanov. The following moves quickly ensued: 14.Bxb5!? axb5 15.Nxb5 Qc6 16.Na7 Qc7 17.Nb5 Qc8 18.Na7 Qc7 19.Nb5 Qc6 and draw.
If the tournament in Paris were an end in itself, that would be a sensible decision, but it wasn't, on both counts. Winning meant qualifying for the Candidates tournament, the gateway to the world championship! If he lost the game, so what?? He'd lose something like six rating points, which he could easily regain in his next tournament. He would some prize money too, and that's not nothing. But he's a very successful tournament pro, and unless he's investing with a Bernie Madoff-type his financial future is bright. The loss is something, but not much in the big picture. And if he wins, he not only wins a bigger prize in the tournament (and maybe from taking second in the overall Grand Prix?), he's also guaranteed a further payday by making it into the Candidates, with a shot at serious money and a match for the world championship.
Now, if refusing the repetition entailed a losing position, I'd be with him. Risk is one thing, pointless risk another. But starting with the position after the move, 13.Rd2, Caruana had several reasonable ways to avoid the repetition, none of which entailed a position that would be more than slightly worse and a few that offered approximately equal chances. Rather than take the slightest risk, however, he bailed out and took the draw. I'm dumbfounded.
He could still take clear first in the tournament if Gelfand lost and Nakamura and Etienne Bacrot didn't win. As it turned out, nobody won in the last round, which meant that Gelfand tied with him for first place in the event (his third super-tournament win over the year - two ties and one clear first), and they were half a point ahead of Nakamura and Bacrot.
Six of the eight spots have been settled for the next Candidates event: Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin qualified through the World Cup, Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin qualified by rating, and Veselin Topalov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov qualified through the Grand Prix. The seventh qualifier will be the loser of the upcoming world championship match between Viswanathan Anand, the champ, and his challenger Magnus Carlsen. The eighth spot is a wildcard, to be determined by the organizer. The only official requirement is that the player have a rating of at least 2725.
Who will get it? The obvious candidates (small "c") are Nakamura (rated #4 in the world), Caruana (#5, one tenth of a point below Nakamura), Alexander Grischuk (rated #6 but less likely to be chosen, I think, unless the Candidates are held in Russia) and Boris Gelfand (#7 in the world; if he gets in it will be because he will have had the best year of anyone not already qualified for the Candidates or better). If Caruana had gone out on his sword today, then he would have been a reasonable pick for that wildcard. If I were an organizer, what I saw would tell me that he doesn't really want it that badly, and so I would give the spot to someone (like Nakamura) who will give it his all, someone who will risk losing when the situation demands it.