Fabiano Caruana Wins Berlin Candidates in Style

Fabiano Caruana at the final round of the Candidates Tournament in Berlin. Photo Brian C. Glover

 Fabiano Caruana will represent the United States as challenger to the World Chess Championship, the first time in 46 years that an American will play for the title in a unified match*. The 25-year old Saint Louis resident won the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2018 in Berlin in style. Fabi only needed a draw in the 56th and final game of the tournament, but he won to finish a full point ahead of the field. "I thought it would be a shame to not play this position especially since it was so automatic," Caruana said of his final round victory over Alexander Grischuk.


[Event "FIDE Berlin Candidates"]
[Date "2018.03.27"]
[White "Grischuk, Alexander"]
[Black "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C43"]
[WhiteElo "2767"]
[BlackElo "2784"]
[PlyCount "138"]
[EventDate "2018.??.??"]
[WhiteTeam "Russia"]
[BlackTeam "United States"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "USA"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. dxe5 d5 5. Nbd2 Nxd2 6. Bxd2 Be7 7. Bd3 c5 8.
c3 Nc6 9. O-O Bg4 10. Re1 Qd7 11. h3 Bh5 12. Bf4 Qe6 13. a3 O-O 14. b4 h6 15.
Bg3 b6 16. Nd4 Bxd1 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Raxd1 c4 19. Bc2 b5 20. a4 a6 21. f3 Bg5
22. Bf2 Bf4 23. Bc5 Rfd8 24. Bd6 Bg3 25. Re2 g5 26. Kf1 Kf7 27. Bc7 Re8 28. Bd6
Rac8 29. Ra1 Red8 30. Bb1 Rd7 31. Ra3 d4 32. axb5 axb5 33. cxd4 Nxd4 34. Rea2
Nc6 35. Be4 Bxe5 36. Bxc6 Rxd6 37. Bxb5 Rd1+ 38. Ke2 Rg1 39. Ke3 Rb1 40. Ra7+
Kf6 41. Bd7 Bf4+ 42. Ke2 Rd8 43. Rc2 Rxb4 44. Bc6 c3 45. Rd7 Rc8 46. Be4 h5 47.
Kd3 Rb2 48. Ke2 h4 49. Rd1 Ke5 50. Ra1 Rd8 51. Rd1 Rdb8 52. Ra1 Bd2 53. Ra6 Rd8
54. Rc6 Rb1 55. Kf2 Ra1 56. Rc4 Rd4 57. Rc8 Rb4 58. Ke2 Kf4 59. Kf2 Rbb1 60.
Rf8+ Ke5 61. Bd3 Rb2 62. Ke2 Re1+ 63. Kf2 Rc1 64. Rxb2 cxb2 65. Rb8 Bc3 66. Be4
Bd4+ 67. Ke2 Kf4 68. Rb4 e5 69. Rb7 Kg3 0-1[/pgn]
Grischuk in the final round of the Candidates, Photo Brian C. Glover

The situation going into round 14 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2018 was far from clear. There were four players with a statistical chance of winning, stemming from a strange tiebreak system. With his round 13 win, Fabiano Caruana with 7.5 points stood the best chance at around 52% or higher. Close on his heels were Mamedyarov (7) 26% and Karjakin (7) 18% with both needing a win AND a Fabi loss or draw to clinch. Ding Liren (6.5) had the tiniest sliver of a 4% hope needing a Fabi loss, a Shak draw and a Karjakin loss. All of the options were so dizzying and the pairings made it less clear.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played Black against Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik had been playing wild chess fit for the wildcard, with mixed results. But, despite our fear that he would do something crazy he said, “I felt some responsibility… I thought I shouldn’t blunder... (if I lose) that’s fine but if I blunder it would be very painful for other players.”

Vladimir Kramnik, Photo Brian C Glover

In the middlegame, Kramnik was the one pressing but missed a nice tactic, 31…Bxf2!, by Shak. Kramnik defended the resulting endgame well for a peaceful finish.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Berlin Candidates"]
[Date "2018.03.27"]
[White "Kramnik, Vladimir"]
[Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E05"]
[WhiteElo "2800"]
[BlackElo "2809"]
[PlyCount "108"]
[EventDate "2018.??.??"]
[WhiteTeam "Russia"]
[BlackTeam "Azerbaijan"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "AZE"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 d5 4. g3 Be7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O dxc4 7. Ne5 Qd6 8. Na3
Rd8 9. Naxc4 Qa6 10. Qc2 Rxd4 11. Bg5 Nbd7 12. Rfd1 Rxd1+ 13. Rxd1 Nxe5 14.
Nxe5 Qa5 15. Bf4 Nd5 16. Be4 g6 17. Bh6 Qc5 18. Qd2 Qb4 19. Qc2 Qc5 20. Qd3 Qd6
21. Nc4 Qc5 22. Qf3 c6 23. Bd3 Nf6 24. e4 e5 25. Be3 Qb4 26. Nxe5 Qxb2 27. Bf4
Be6 28. Rb1 Qxa2 29. Rxb7 Bc5 30. Kg2 Re8 31. h3 Bxf2 32. Qxf2 Bxh3+ 33. Kg1
Qxf2+ 34. Kxf2 Rxe5 35. Bxe5 Ng4+ 36. Kg1 Nxe5 37. Be2 Kg7 38. Rxa7 Kf6 39. Ra5
Bd7 40. Kf2 Ke6 41. Ke3 Kd6 42. Ra1 h5 43. Rd1+ Ke7 44. Kd4 f6 45. Kc5 Bh3 46.
Ra1 Bg2 47. Ra4 Ke6 48. Rd4 Nf3 49. Rd8 Ng5 50. Bc4+ Ke7 51. Rg8 Nxe4+ 52. Kxc6
Nd6+ 53. Kc5 Nxc4 54. Kxc4 Kf7 1/2-1/2

The other game Karjakin – Ding featured the other two challengers.

The main question on our minds was how would Fabiano would play, considering all the possible outcomes.

Ding Liren of China was undefeated at the Berlin Candidates, but fell 1.5 points short of Caruana's dazzling 9/14. Photo Brian C Glover 

In the final press conference Fabiano said “Going into this game, I thought a draw would be a good result. I didn’t want to do anything crazy and have a higher chance of losing... only after Ding played 27...h3+! did I feel safe.”

[pgn] [Event "FIDE Berlin Candidates"]
[Date "2018.03.27"]
[White "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Black "Ding, Liren"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C84"]
[WhiteElo "2763"]
[BlackElo "2769"]
[PlyCount "90"]
[EventDate "2018.??.??"]
[WhiteTeam "Russia"]
[BlackTeam "China"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "CHN"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3
O-O 9. Nc3 Bg4 10. Be3 Nd4 11. Bxd4 exd4 12. Nd5 c5 13. a4 Be6 14. Nxf6+ Bxf6
15. Bxe6 fxe6 16. Qe2 Qd7 17. b3 e5 18. Ra2 b4 19. Nd2 Rae8 20. Raa1 Bd8 21. g3
g5 22. Nc4 Re6 23. a5 Ref6 24. f3 h5 25. Nb6 Qf7 26. Kg2 h4 27. Nd5 h3+ 28. Kg1
Rxf3 29. g4 Kg7 30. Rxf3 Qxf3 31. Qxf3 Rxf3 32. Rf1 Rxf1+ 33. Kxf1 Bxa5 34. Ne7
Kf6 35. Nf5 Ke6 36. Ng3 Bd8 37. Nh1 a5 38. Ke2 d5 39. Nf2 Kd6 40. exd5 Kxd5 41.
Ne4 Kc6 42. Kd2 Be7 43. Kc1 Kb5 44. Kb2 a4 45. Ka2 a3 1/2-1/2[/pgn]

In the end, a draw would have clinched as Kramnik held Shak to a fighting draw while Karjakin built a fortress to hold off Ding’s attack.

The only player to defeat Fabiano Caruana was Sergey Karjakin. Photo Brian C Glover

Yet Fabiano played on!

We all wondered if Fabi wanted to send a message to Magnus Carlsen. When asked why he didn’t just take a draw to clinch the title he said, “If my position wasn’t completely winning, I would offer a draw...there was no counterplay there either.” Fabi played the position and won in World Champion style.

In the post-game press conference, Fabiano was all smiles. When asked if he had dreamt about this moment as a kid, “The dream is more about winning the World Championship, so I am about halfway there… if before the tournament, you would have told me I would win like this, I would not have believed it.”

Fabiano Caruana post victory, Photo worldchess.com

He believes it and we all believe it now! Our director of photography, Brian C Glover, asked a great question about studying the games of past American World Champions. Fabi responded with a resounding endorsement of Bobby Fischer saying “He was one of the greatest, if not the greatest chess player of all time.” He recognized how important Fischer’s achievements for American chess are. He said, “I really hope that chess becomes more popular in the U.S. The popularity is growing, it has been for the past ten years but there is still a very long way to go. Hopefully, me playing in London will boost the popularity.”

A dramatic shot of two great rivals in Berlin, Caruana v. Mamedyarov Photo Brian C Glover 

As for our documentary, Berlin2018, our Director, Gloria Iseli, called “That’s a wrap”!

Unless we decide to follow Fabi to the US Championship in April in St. Louis and the World Championship in London!

It has been quite amazing witnessing this special chapter of chess history. I want to thank all the Candidates for doing interviews with us and being so candid about their feelings about the tournament. It was quite a wild event with decisive results in every round save one.

*The last American to compete for the world championship was GM Gata Kamsky, who lost a match to GM Anatoly Karpov in 1996. The last American to compete in a unified World Championship cycle was Bobby Fischer in 1972, who defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. Fischer held the title until 1975 when he chose not to play against his challenger Karpov.

Look forward to a short teaser from Berlin2018 soon, and follow writer Dylan Quercia on twitter. 

Look for more information on Fabiano Caruana's victory on uschess.org and Chess Life Magazine, and see the press release issued earlier today here.