John Henderson
By John Henderson

In arguably one of the most convincing finishes ever by a player in the long and storied history of the candidates’ series, America’s Fabiano Caruana rallied to bounce back from adversity with two epic back-to-back wins to claim outright victory ahead of a strong field of title contenders in the FIDE Berlin Candidates – and with it, in a date with destiny, Caruana now goes forward to face World champion Magnus Carlsen in a well-earned shot at the title in London in November.

After his upset loss to Sergey Karjakin in round twelve, that gave the Russian former title challenger a big tiebreak advantage over his American co-leader going down the home stretch, a determined Caruana shot back by showing he had the ‘right stuff’ with a show of strength with two monumental wins over Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk, as he took the title by a full point over his nearest rivals.

Overwhelmed with emotion after beating Grischuk in fittingly the final game to finish in the 2018 Berlin Candidates, the Miami-born, Brooklyn-raised Caruana, 25, draped himself in the American flag amid applause and cheers from the gallery at the Kühlhaus, as he finished the worthy winner of the demanding double round-robin with a score of 9/14, ahead of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergey Karjakin, with his only defeat coming against the Russian former title challenger.

“I am absolutely thrilled,” Caruana, the new world #3, said following his historic victory. “Coming into today, I wasn’t sure what would happen. A few days ago, I thought the tournament was out of my hands, but somehow things came together perfectly at the end. I really couldn’t be happier.”

Caruana, who took home to St. Louis the winner’s share of €95,000 ($117,827) with Tuesday’s win, first rose to prominence in 2007, when he bested a Bobby Fischer age-record by became the youngest grandmaster in American history – and still following in those Fischer footsteps, now Caruana has become the first American-born player to challenge for the world title since Fischer in 1972.

“Congratulations to Fabiano Caruana, who wins the #Candidates2018 in style, by a full point!” the U.S. Chess Federation tweeted.And world champion Carlsen was also keenly following the fun and drama of the candidates as a chess fan, also tweeting “Congrats to Caruana on a fully deserved victory, and good luck in November!”

And the world champion also got the challenger he wanted to defend his title against. All along, Carlsen had stated he wanted to play against the strongest player; someone who could really challenge him – and he believed that Caruana would be the ideal challenger. And in winning the Berlin Candidates’, Caruana has seen his rating dramatically spike once again, as he climbs five places in the world rankings to #3, crossing the 2800-barrier at 2804.4.

Final standings
1. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 9/14; 2-3. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbijan), Seregey Karjakin (Russia) 8; 4. Ding Liren (China) 7.5; 5-6. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 6.5; 7. Wesley So (USA) 6; 8. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 4.5.

Photo: Stars & Stripes Caruana | © Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

You can also watch Fabiano Caruana’s Berlin Candidates’ winner’s final press conference by clicking here.

 

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Levon Aronian
FIDE Berlin Candidates, (13)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.d3 Many strong Ruy Lopez players choose anti-Marshall alternatives, most notably Garry Kasparov, who avoided it during his 1993 title defense in London against Nigel Short. And here, it is not a case that Caruana ‘fears’ losing to Aronian’s Marshall Attack, it’s more he fears playing down a well-trodden line that just fizzles out to a draw – and after he lost in round 12 to Karjakin, his Candidates’ hopes dictated that he really had to play for a win here. 8…d6 9.Bd2!? This was the curious move that worked out well for Grischuk in the previous round against Aronian. Although that game was a draw, Grischuk seemed to get the better out of the opening after Aronian played the somewhat tepid 9…Kh8. 9…Bg4 Much more critical than 9…Kh8 played in the previous round encounter Grischuk-Aronian – and this has to be the best gut-reaction response here. It’s also reassuring that it is also the No.1 choice of the engines! 10.c3 d5 11.h3 Bh5 12.Qe2 Rb8 13.Bg5 dxe4 14.dxe4 h6 15.Bc1 Bg6 16.Nbd2 Nh5 17.Nf1 This is a typical Lopez maneuver; the knight is going Nb1-d2-f1-h2-g4 to threaten to attack Black’s kingside. 17…Bc5 18.g3 Also good was 18.a4 where capturing on b5 offers White some play down the a-file for his rook. 18…Kh7 19.Kg2 Qe7 20.Bc2 Rfd8 21.b4 Bb6 22.a4 Nf6 23.Nh4 With just a couple of simple, natural moves, Caruana has begun to take control of the game – and so much so, that now Aronian begins to ‘mix it’ to seek complications rather than looking on as his queenside falls apart. 23…Qe6 24.Bd3 Bh5!? What else is there? With the bishop locked out of the game, Caruana would have a free hand to demolish Aronian’s queenside. But now we take a walk on the wild side. 25.g4 Bxg4 26.hxg4 Nxg4 27.Nf5! Nxf2 It all looks dangerous, but it is all speculative. If Caruana keeps his cool, he has a winning position. 28.Bc2 g6 29.N1e3?! On a human level, this looks a very practical solution to the enemy knight that’s penetrated deep into your camp and threats of …Nh3 (coming to f4) or even a possible …Qh3+. But Caruana should have been brave by playing around the trespassing knight, as both players missed a truly remarkable resource; that sort of remarkable resource quickly found by the cold, unbeating heart of the engines. So with that in mind, better was 29.N5e3! and after 29…Nh3 30.Nd5 Ng1!? where you need strong nerves to find all the right moves to keep your advantage – but after 31.Qd3! Ne7 32.Bb3! c6 33.Nxb6! Rxd3 (If 33…Qxb3 34.Qe3! covers the Nb6 and now the wandering knight on g1 is lost, leaving Black two pieces down.) 34.Bxe6 fxe6 35.Be3 Nh3 36.Kxh3 Rxb6 37.axb5 cxb5 38.Red1 and White has a winning material advantage. 29…gxf5 30.exf5 Qf6 31.Qxf2 e4? Aronian falters at the critical moment! But can you blame him here, as the only way to stay in the game was with a very dramatic engine-inspired counter-sacrifice? He had to find the remarkable 31…Nxb4!! 32.cxb4 Rd4! and suddenly, White’s king is beginning to look very, very exposed to the threat of 33…Qg5+ followed by …Rg8 and …Rh4 – and things now go deeper into the realms of ‘fantasy’ engine mode now with 33.Kh3 Qg5! 34.f6+ Kh8 35.Bd1 Rg8 36.Ng2 Rf4! Only in ‘engine world’ do you see such remarkable resources that a human wouldn’t even consider! 37.Rxe5! Rxf2 38.Bxg5 Bd4 39.Bh4! and, apparently, according to the all-seeing engines, the game begins now to fizzle out to an equal position. 32.Rh1! It’s too late now for Aronian – the threats to h6 are now building on his king after his slip-up. 32…Rd6 33.Bxe4 Rg8+ 34.Kf1 Ne5 35.Qf4 c6 36.axb5 Rg5 37.bxa6 Qd8 38.f6+ Ng6 39.Rxh6+!! [see diagram] 1-0 It’s a picturesque finish from Caruana, and Aronian resigns, not wishing to sit through the further agony of 39…Kxh6 40.Ng4+ Kh7 41.Qxg5 Qf8 42.a7 etc.

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