Caruana Hangs On To Candidates Lead

Caruana vs. Ding, Photo Cathy Rogers
The vernal equinox at the Candidates tournament in Berlin on Tuesday was accompanied by snow storms, ice cool defense and a meltdown. US Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, has led the race to find Magnus Carlsen’s World Championship challenger since round four, but missed a golden opportunity to increase his half point lead in the ninth round when he was unable to stop Ding Liren’s drawing streak reaching nine games.
After more than six hours of hard work and 65 moves, the diagrammed position was reached, with both players believing that Black was in touching distance of a hard-earned draw. The game concluded 66.Re5 Be8 67.e7 and Caruana offered a draw, soon accepted. Caruana explained: “I missed 65...Nd8 and I could [be at] risk if I blunder a pawn, so I decided just to offer a draw. I was already dizzy with variations.” Exhaustion probably explains why both players looked at 66.Nf8+! Kg8 67.h6! but missed the simple idea 67...Kxf8 68.h7.
When told about the miss at the post-game press conference, Caruana gave a rueful smile and scratched his ear. Ding, who had been on the precipice of defeat for the last three hours but had stayed cool enough to survive, just smiled. With main rival Shakhriyar Mamedyarov also drawing, Caruana retained his slim half point lead with five rounds to play, with the next two games critical for Caruana. On Thursday the American will sit down against Mamedyarov with Black, knowing that a win would almost wrap up the tournament but any other result would leave the race wide open. The next round Caruana will have to face, to use Boris Spassky’s phrase (describing English GM Will Watson), a drunken machine gunner, who could blow Caruana or himself away with equal likelihood. The drunken machine gunner is, to the consternation of players and pundits alike, former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik.
Kramnik, Photo Cathy Rogers
Just over a week ago, the Candidates’ oldest player – who qualified for the event via a controversial wild card – was confounding expectations. Kramnik led the tournament outright after three rounds, his third game being a memorable demolition of pre-tournament favorite Levon Aronian. Kramnik then had Caruana on toast in the fourth round before a collapse in the sixth hour of play saw Kramnik slumped over the board in despair and headed for his first loss. Kramnik’s reaction was that of the disappointed gambler; attempting to regain his losses at all costs. In game after game Kramnik pushed his position to the limit and beyond, playing for five and a half hours in five consecutive games. From rounds five to eight, Kramnik insisted in pushing for a win in equal positions and was twice punished for taking too many risks. In round nine Kramnik turned up and, perhaps provoked by a hyper-aggressive Sergey Karjakin novelty sacrificed half his army until the following position was reached.
In a fantasy universe, White, two rooks for a bishop ahead, would be so tied up that he would be helpless and Black’s c pawn would eventually advance down the board triumphantly. However instead of the game being spoken of in the hushed tones reserved for another game with the same material imbalance, Gufeld-Kavalek, 1962, there was no escape from reality for Kramnik.

[Event "FIDE Berlin Candidates"]
[Date "2018.03.20"]
[White "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D35"]
[WhiteElo "2763"]
[BlackElo "2800"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "7k/p5p1/2pb3p/3b3P/6q1/5RBR/P5K1/3Q4 b - - 0 32"]
[PlyCount "18"]
[EventDate "2018.??.??"]
[WhiteTeam "Russia"]
[BlackTeam "Russia"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "RUS"]

32... Be7 33. Qe2 Be4 (33... Bc5 34. Rh4) 34. Qf2 a5 35. a4 c5 36. Rh1 Bf6 37.
Re1 Bc6 38. Ree3 c4 (38... Bd4 39. Re8+) 39. Qe2 Qxh5 40. Qxc4 Bd7 41. Rd3 1-0[/pgn]
To compound the fears about Kramnik’s objectivity, after the rounds 5-8 games the Russian gave a series of bizarre press conferences with his opponents after the games and each time claimed that he was better/winning for the bulk of the struggle. Kramnik would justify his opinions with variations that were frequently unsound. His opponents mostly preferred to stay silent rather than offend a former World Champion, though some could not hide their amusement at Kramnik’s irrationality. Kramnik did not attend the press conference after his loss to Karjakin, his fourth defeat in six rounds. However this was not entirely Kramnik’s fault since he had turned up in the Fan Zone for the press conference only to find that Aronian and Mamedyarov, who finished a short time after Kramnik and Karjakin, had zipped in and taken their seats in front of the television cameras. Kramnik stayed around for a few minutes signing autographs before gathering up his coat and leaving, none too happy on multiple fronts. Before the tournament Kramnik, 42, said that this would probably be his final tilt for the world title so he would no doubt be more than pleased to go out with a tournament-deciding victory over the leader, as Ivanchuk did to him in the final round of the 2013 Candidates tournament. The second US player, Wesley So, is running equal with Aronian and Kramnik after the ninth round – a position he would probably have settled for at the start of the tournament. Unfortunately the three stars are currently chasing the wooden spoon though So was still talking – not altogether seriously - about the possibility of winning his last five games at the press conference after his quiet draw against Alexander Grischuk. In the eighth round the two US players had met, with So needing to  recall an ‘injustice pattern’ from a classic American game to hold a difficult endgame.
In the diagrammed position So played 58.b4!, knowing that after 58...Kxb4 (not played by Caruana, so the b pawn just kept running) the players will have reached a mirror image of an Emanuel Lasker versus Edward Lasker game from New York 1924.

[Event "New York"]
[Site "New York, NY USA"]
[Date "1924.03.23"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Emanuel Lasker"]
[Black "Edward Lasker"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C99"]
[PlyCount "206"]
[EventDate "1924.03.16"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3
d6 9. h3 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. d4 Qc7 12. Nbd2 cxd4 13. cxd4 Bd7 14. Nf1 Rfc8 15.
Re2 Nh5 16. dxe5 dxe5 17. Nxe5 Bxh3 18. Nxf7 Be6 19. Ng5 Bc4 20. Bd3 Rd8 21.
Rc2 Nf4 22. Bxf4 Qxf4 23. Nh3 Qe5 24. Bxc4+ Nxc4 25. Qe2 Rd4 26. f3 Rad8 27.
Rac1 Bc5 28. Kh1 Bb4 29. b3 Nd2 30. Ne3 Ba3 31. Rd1 Bb4 32. a3 Ba5 33. b4 Bc7
34. f4 Nxe4 35. Kh2 Rxd1 36. Nxd1 Qe7 37. Rxc7 Qxc7 38. Qxe4 Qc4 39. Qe7 Qc8
40. Ndf2 h6 41. Qa7 Qe6 42. Qb7 Qd5 43. Qb6 Rd6 44. Qe3 Re6 45. Qc3 Qc4 46. Qf3
Qc6 47. Qd3 Rd6 48. Qb3+ Qd5 49. Qb1 Re6 50. Ng4 Re2 51. Nxh6+ gxh6 52. Qg6+
Kf8 53. Qxh6+ Ke8 54. Qg6+ Kd8 55. Qg3 Re8 56. Qf2 Rg8 57. Qb2 Qd6 58. Qc3 Kd7
59. Qf3 Kc7 60. Qe4 Rg7 61. Qf5 Re7 62. Ng5 Re3 63. Ne4 Qe7 64. Nf6 Kb8 65. g3
Rxa3 66. Kh3 Ra1 67. Nd5 Rh1+ 68. Kg2 Qh7 69. Qxh7 Rxh7 70. Kf3 Kb7 71. g4 Kc6
72. Ke4 Rh8 73. Ne3 Re8+ 74. Kd4 Rd8+ 75. Ke4 a5 76. bxa5 b4 77. a6 Kc5 78. a7
b3 79. Nd1 Ra8 80. g5 Rxa7 81. g6 Rd7 82. Nb2 Rd2 83. Kf3 Rd8 84. Ke4 Rd2 85.
Kf3 Rd8 86. Ke4 Kd6 87. Kd4 Rc8 88. g7 Ke6 89. g8=Q+ Rxg8 90. Kc4 Rg3 91. Na4
Kf5 92. Kb4 Kxf4 93. Nb2 Ke4 94. Na4 Kd4 95. Nb2 Rf3 96. Na4 Re3 97. Nb2 Ke4
98. Na4 Kf3 99. Ka3 Ke4 100. Kb4 Kd4 101. Nb2 Rh3 102. Na4 Kd3 103. Kxb3 Kd4+
That game featured prominently in Ed Lasker’s Chess for Fun and Chess for Blood, with Lasker explaining how he was completely convinced that such an endgame with R+P v N must be winning – except it wasn’t.
Photo Cathy Rogers
As mentioned in the first report, the 150th anniversary of Emanuel Lasker’s birth is being commemorated by a small exhibition on the ground floor of the Kühlhaus – a step forward for Germany’s Lasker Society who were refused permission by organizers Agon to put on a more extensive exhibition when Berlin hosted the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in 2015. Organizer Agon’s determination to go it alone has not only resulted in there being, for example, no bookstall and a very limited number of chess boards in the Fan Zone despite offers to provide them, but has even frustrated the manager of the Kühlhaus who fears that the multiple criticisms of the tournament venue will affect the Kühlhaus’ reputation as an event host. The manager pointed out that many of the problems identified in the early days of the Candidates Tournament – from insufficient and inadequate toilets for the players, to noisy doors, to darkness in the press room – could have been solved in advance of causing a public outcry had the venue management been consulted early. With a ten year contract from the world body FIDE to run World Championship events now in its fifth year, one would have hoped that Agon would improve from event to event but, as anyone who tried to register to watch the official paid broadcast for the 2018 Candidates would have discovered, it is one step forward, two steps back. One conversation heard in the press room between a journalist and Agon head Ilya Merenzon epitomizes the problem. “What do you think of the venue?” Merenzon asked the journalist, clearly expecting praise for his choice of the trendy Kühlhaus. “Terrible,” came the honest reply. “Why do you say that?” “Well, look around,” replied the journalist, trying not to shiver from the cold and waving his hands towards the concrete floor and roof, the wires hanging out of the walls, the dismal light and the general grunge. “But that’s just like my apartment in New York!” responded Merenzon. “And that was very expensive,” he added ending the debate. 2018 Candidates Tournament Scores after round 9: 1.Caruana(USA) 6; 2.Mamedyarov(AZE) 5.5; 3.Grischuk(RUS) 5; =4.Ding(CHN),Karjakin(RUS) 4.5; =6.So(USA), Aronian(ARM), Kramnik(RUS) 3.5. The Candidates Tournament continues on Thursday with round 10 starting at 10am AEST. This is Ian Rogers’ final report from Berlin. The next update from Berlin of Caruana’s battle to become the world title challenger will come from Dylan Quercia.