Penultimate Round in Candidates

by admin on March 27, 2016

Let me start with an apology. I haven’t been following the Candidates’ Tournament in Moscow very closely — in particular, I haven’t been watching the live broadcasts, although I have been reading about the games on Chessbase.com afterwards. I guess my apathy is partly because it seems to be all the “usual suspects” playing, and because there have been quite a lot of draws. (Anish Giri has drawn all of his 13 games so far!)

But I have to say that the penultimate round, even though it looks like another boring draw-fest, served up a lot of drama. The only win was Nakamura (who was second to last) over Topalov (who was in last place), so that had little consequence for the outcome of the tournament. But the games of the two tournament leaders were far from routine! Both of them went more than 100 moves.

In Caruana – Svidler, we got to the infamous R+B vs. R endgame, which I have called one of the “four endgames of the apocalypse.” [Note added later in the day. I should have included a link, and Ill do it now: The Fourth Endgame of the Apocalpyse.] It’s the one relatively common ending that is so difficult that even the very best players routinely botch it, and sure enough, that happened again. First Svidler botched the draw, allowing Caruana to reach a Philidor position, and then Caruana mixed up the move order and allowed Svidler to escape! That may very well cost him a shot at the world championship, as I will explain below.

The other tournament leader, Sergei Karjakin, was holding for dear life, as he went to an endgame with two pawns against a piece. I haven’t done any kind of serious analysis on it; maybe it was obvious all along that Karjakin would hold a draw. One of his extra pawns was a passed pawn on the seventh rank, and even though it was never a threat to queen (because Karjakin’s bishop was on the color of the promotion square), it did cut down the mobility of Karjakin’s bishop. It’s as if the bishop was held down by a ball and chain; it can only move on one diagonal.

Let’s put it this way. Give me Karjakin’s position against a GM and I would probably lose. So he had to do some serious work to pull out the draw.

So with Caruana on the better side of equal and Karjakin on the worse side of equal, there were many ways in which the day could have ended with Caruana in the lead. The fact that they are still tied has to be considered a triumph for Karjakin, especially since he has the tiebreak.

By some miracle, Caruana and Karjakin happen to be facing each other in the last round, with a shot at the world championship at stake. Karjakin will be playing White. According to Chessbase, here are the scenarios:

  1. If Caruana beats Karjakin, he wins the tournament.
  2. If Karjakin beats Caruana, he wins the tournament.
  3. If Caruana and Karjakin draw, it all depends on the result of Anand’s game! (a) If Anand beats Svidler, then there is a three-way tie for first and the tiebreaks favor Caruana. (b) If Svidler draws or beats Anand, then there is a two-way tie for first and the tiebreaks favor Karjakin.

It’s pretty interesting that Peter Svidler could more or less single-handedly deny Caruana a shot at the world championship, first by drawing him in round 13 and then by drawing Anand in round 14. But of course, it would be much better if Caruana and Karjakin could simply decide things between each other. That’s the way that a future world champion ought to qualify for the championship match: not by staggering in by means of a tiebreak (and possibly a third-party result), but by vanquishing their main foe.

One good thing is that we can now be certain that Magnus Carlsen’s opponent will be someone who has not played in a world championship before. Even though Vishy Anand was in good form and showed that he is by no means washed up, I don’t think that anyone really wanted to see him lose to Carlsen for a third time. Carlsen will most likely beat Caruana or Karjakin, too, but at least it will be a new opponent, and a little bit more unpredictable.

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Mary Kuhner March 27, 2016 at 8:35 pm

A couple of your references to “Karjakin’s bishop” should be “Aronian’s bishop.”

I thought of you and your Apocalypse article when Caruana got into the pawnless endgame….

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