Get ready to shred your vocal cords. Or just clench your jaw and hang on with white knuckles in terrified silence; this ride is not for the timid. That had to be what tournament leader, Vladimir Kramnik, and Fabiano Caruana had to be going through and thinking, as their spectacular roller-coaster ride of a game in round four of the FIDE Berlin Candidates’ entertained the fans and pundits alike by being full of twists, turns, and lots of drama.
And at the end of the near six-hour epic ride, the Russian ex-champion could only hold his head in his hands in utter disbelief for all to see, as he squandered the chance to take a commanding lead at the top, only to instead gift the outright lead over to the US #3, who only missed out on becoming the 2016 candidate by the very narrowest of margins come the last round.
Now a further, second defeat for Kramnik could well see the 42-year-old’s hopes of ever regaining the world crown being dashed. After steading the ship with a fifth-round draw against the US #1, Wesley So, in round six, the Russian went down in flames by also losing to top seed Shakh Mamedyarov.
And the candidates’ heartache continues for Levon Aronian. The perennial favorite – who lost in round three to Kramnik – is also having yet another candidates meltdown, with the affable Armenian also losing in round six for his second defeat, after he was comprehensively outplayed by a resurgent So, who is now beginning to show some good form after his disastrous start.
It’s still early days yet in the marathon double-round all-play-all, but the new frontrunners to emerge as likely challengers for Magnus Carlsen’s world crown is now Caruana and Mamedyarov, with both unbeaten on 4/6, a full point ahead of the chasing pack, and sharing the joint-lead at the Kulhaus playing-venue nearing the end of the first week.
1-2. F. Caruana (USA), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 4/6; 3-5. V. Kramnik (Russia), A. Grischuk (Russia), Ding Liren (China) 3; 6-7. W. So (USA), L. Aronian (Armenia) 2.5; 8. S. Karjakin (Russia) 2.
GM Vladimir Kramnik – GM Fabiano Caruana
FIDE Berlin Candidates, (4)
Petroff’s Defence, Cozio/Lasker Attack
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 The Petroff is a quiet success story in chess – an old and often forgotten variation which can give Black a safe way of working for equal chances in an open game. 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qe2 The Cozio/Lasker Attack. The main drawback is the queens are traded off very early, which makes the normally drawish Petroff’s Defense even more drawish. 5…Qe7 6.Nc3 Nxc3 7.dxc3 Qxe2+ 8.Bxe2 Nc6 9.Be3 Be7 10.0-0-0 0-0 11.Rhe1 Bf6 White’s very small edge comes from his tiny space advantage and his central control with his rooks – but Black has a solid set-up and should easily counter this. 12.Nd2 Re8 13.Bf3 Ne5 14.Bf4 Kf8 15.Bd5 c6 16.Bb3 Bf5 Black just gets “on with the job” of completing his development. He could have tried 16…d5, but after 17.c4 the only thing he’s succeeded in doing is trading off a doubled pawn that White only wants to trade anyway. 17.h3 g5 18.Bh2 Kg7 19.c4 g4 20.Ne4 Bxe4 21.Rxe4 Bg5+ 22.Kb1 gxh3 23.c5? Caruana has easily equalized as he exits the opening and enters into the middlegame – and now Kramnik, perhaps fearing he was going to be saddled long-term with the doubled c-pawns after 23.gxh3 f5 24.Ree1 Rad8 has a sudden rush of blood to the head as he uncharacteristically lashes out with a wild continuation. However, it’s not all bad: it does allow the complexity of the game to now dramatically change, and with it, Caruana – who had invested a lot of time getting his ‘safe position’ – now has to spend more clock time fathoming out the ensuing complications. 23…f5! Caruana takes a greater control of the center, and, after …hxg2, the added threat of …Nf3 looms large over the position. 24.Rb4 hxg2 25.Rxb7+ Kh8 26.cxd6 Nf3 27.Ba4 Nxh2 The game has taken a dramatic and sudden complicated twist, and automatically capturing the piece on h2 was just too tempting. However that said, better first was 27…Re4! 28.Bxc6 and now 28…Nxh2 which leaves Black with a big advantage, and avoids the mess Caruana now finds himself embroiled in. 28.Bxc6 Rad8 It was still not too late for 28…Re4!, leaving the Black pawn on g2 to be the winner. The point is that after 29.Bxe4 fxe4 30.Rg1 e3!! 31.fxe3 Rf8 White can consider resigning anytime soon. So with that in mind, White will have to play 29.Rg1, where now 29…Re6! just picks off the tricky and dangerous d-pawn with a winning position. 29.d7 Of course, we all saw that 29.Bxe8? lost on the spot to 29…Rxd6! 30.Rd7 Rxd7 31.Bxd7 Nf1!, didn’t we? 29…Re2 30.Bxg2 Rxf2 31.Bc6 Ng4 32.Rxa7 A good practical shot, especially with the flag on Caruana’s digital clock metaphorically hanging by this stage. 32…Ne3 33.Rg1 h6? Desperately short for time, Caruana – understandably – goes into automatic pilot-mode by protecting his piece. If he had more time, he would have surely have spotted that the tactics – and the back-rank mating threats – were in his favor after 33…Rxc2! 34.Ba4 Re2! 35.Ra6 Ng4 and he would have easily won from here. 34.Rc7! Not just setting up threats of Rc8, but also clearing a path for the quick push up the board of the a-pawn – and something that Caruana, in his mad dash to make the time control at move forty, fails adequately to deal with. 34…Kg7 35.a4 Kf7 36.Bb5 Ke7 37.a5 Rf4! Remarkably, with little left on his clock, Caruana manages to find the only move that allows him to stay in the game. 38.c3 Forced, as pushing the a-pawn with 38.a6 only allows 38…Rb4! 39.Bc6 Rb6! 40.a7 Rxc6! 41.Rxc6 Kxd7 42.Rc3 Ra8 and Black is out of the woods, with the likely continuation now running 43.Rxg5 hxg5 44.Rxe3 Rxa7 and a draw. 38…Kd6? Black simply had to try to salvage what he could with 38…Rg4! 39.Rh1 and only now 39…Kd6 40.Rb7 Ra8 where the position is a ‘mess’, but Black looks as if he has enough resources to stop White’s pawns. 39.Rb7? Holding onto the ‘powerful’ d7 pawn looked a strong option – but, remarkably, Kramnik missed the win with the tactical sequence 39.Rc6+ Ke7 (39…Kxd7? 40.Rxh6+!) 40.a6! Rxd7 41.Rc8! Ra7 42.Re8+ Kf6 43.Rxe3 Rb4 44.Re6+! Kxe6 45.cxb4 and White’s queenside pawns will soon win. 39…Rg4 40.Re1 f4 Caruana just makes the time-control, but at what cost? 41.a6 h5 42.a7 Ra8 43.b4 h4 44.c4 Kramnik’s pawn armada sailing up the board outweighs Caruana’s extra piece. 44…h3 45.c5+ Ke5 46.Rb8? The pressures of the complexity of the position now takes its toll on Kramnik, who errs badly by missing that 46.Bc6! both threatens (the Ra8) and defends (h1) at the same time, allowing for 46…h2 47.Rh1 and it is difficult for Black to track back with his pieces to stop the queenside pawns, as 47…Nd5 48.d8Q!! Bxd8 49.Rd7 Rg1+ 50.Kb2 Rg2+ (What else is there? If 50…Rxh1? 51.Rxd5+! Kf6 52.Rd6+ Kg7 53.Bxa8 Re1 54.Rd7+ Kg6 55.Rxd8 easily wins.) 51.Kb3 Rg3+ 52.Kc4 and Black will soon run out of check and left with the dilemma of too many pieces hanging. 46…Rxa7 47.Rg8 Bf6 48.d8Q Bxd8 49.Rxg4 Bf6 After an epic roller-coaster ride of Six Flags Batman: The Ride proportions, the chances now look about equal. But there’s more rides still left in the amusement park… 50.Rg6 Rb7 51.Be2 Rxb4+ 52.Ka2 Nc2? Safer was 52…Be7! 53.c6 Ra4+ 54.Kb3 Rb4+ 55.Kc3 (55.Ka2 Ra4+ 56.Kb3 Rb4+ leads to a repetition) 55…Nd5+ 56.Kc2 Ne3+ 57.Kc3 Nd5+ which will also end in a repetition. 53.Rc1 Nd4 54.Bd3?! Kramnik missed another shot at the full point with 54.Bg4! hitting the h-pawn and the threat to push White’s c-pawn. 54…Ra4+ 55.Kb1 Nb3 56.Re1+ Kd5 57.Kc2 Safer was 57.Rxf6 Ra1+ 58.Kb2 Rxe1 59.Kxb3 h2 60.Bc4+ Kxc5 61.Rf5+ Kd6 62.Bd5 and a draw. 57…Nd4+ 58.Kb1? For obvious reasons that will soon become apparent, Kramnik had to play 58.Kc1. 58…Nf3 59.Rd1?? [see diagram] Kramnik had excellent practical drawing chances after 59.Rxf6! Nxe1 60.Bf1 h2 61.Rh6 Kxc5 62.Rxh2 and the worst-case scenario he faces is sacrificing the bishop for the f-pawn and the ‘technical’ draw of R+N vs. R – but he blunders badly into a hopeless lost position. 59…Ra1+ 60.Kc2 If only Kramnik had played 58.Kc1, he could have played here 60.Bb1+ saving the game. 60…Rxd1 The penny finally drops for Kramnik, who by this stage looked quite grief-stricken at what he’d walked into. Unfortunately, he can’t recapture the rook as after 61.Kxd1 h2 62.Rh6 Bh4! cuts the rook off from stopping the h-pawn. 61.Ba6 Rd2+ 62.Kc1 Bb2+ 63.Kb1 Kxc5 64.Bb7 Ne5 65.Rf6 f3 66.Rf5 f2 0-1