John Henderson
By John Henderson

American chess fans are rejoicing this week, with the dramatic big news being that Fabiano Caruana proved to be the impressive and overwhelming victor of the recent FIDE Berlin Candidates Tournament in the German capital, and the 25-year-old is now set to become the first US-born player to challenge for the world crown since Bobby Fischer back in 1972, who memorably went on to wrest the title from the Soviets after beating Boris Spassky in Reykjavik.

Throughout the marathon and demanding 14-round candidates’, Miami-born, and Brooklyn-raised Caruana demonstrated meticulous preparation, steely-strong nerves when it was needed, and that very vital ability to immediately bounce back after suffering adversity – all of which are essential qualities that will make him a very serious challenger for the crown.

When asked how he recovered after what could have been a crushing loss to the previous title challenger, Sergey Karjakin, going down the home stretch, that handed the Russian a big tiebreak advantage, he replied, “We watched a movie, which was nice, because for two hours I could just forget about chess, which is what I needed. [We watched] ‘The Shape of Water,’ which was excellent.”

Caruana, who collected 95,000 euros ($118,000) for winning the tournament, will now face World champion Magnus Carlsen in a 12-game world title match that’s scheduled to take place in London from Nov. 9-28 – but the fans and pundits won’t have to wait long to see the two title contestants do battle, as they meet in the big opening round marquee clash of the Grenke Chess Classic that starts tomorrow in Baden-Baden, Germany!

Carlsen and Caruana head the field that also includes Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand, Nikita Vitiugov, Arkadij Naiditsch, Hou Yifan, Georg Meier, and Matthias Bluebaum.

Who will get the upper hand in the psychological duel between Carlsen and Caruana? Find out by tuning in to the live coverage on the official site, with play getting underway at 3 pm local time (9 am EST, 6 am PST).

GM Alexander Grischuk – GM Fabiano Caruana
FIDE Berlin Candidates, (14)
Petroff’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 Despite his round 12 loss to Karjakin, Caruana stays faithful right to the end of the Candidates with the Petroff’s Defence – and here, after reclaiming the tournament lead going into the final round, it showed he was more than ready to take the draw with it. 3.d4 Grischuk avoids the line used by Karjakin with 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3, no doubt rightly assuming that Caruana would have ‘fixed’ what had gone wrong against Karjakin. 3…Nxe4 4.dxe5 d5 The Max Lange-like line with 4…Bc5?! 5.Bc4 Nxf2 6.Bxf7+! isn’t exactly what you want to see explode on the board when you are looking for a draw! 5.Nbd2 Nxd2 6.Bxd2 More common is the recapture 6.Qxd2 – but this isn’t what you’d describe as a worry for Black after sensible developing moves like 6…Be7 followed by …c5, …Nc6 and …0-0. 6…Be7 7.Bd3 c5 8.c3 Keeping the tension, as the alternative with 8.c4 Nc6 9.Qb3 dxc4 10.Bxc4 0-0 11.0-0-0 Qb6 12.e6 fxe6 13.Bxe6+ Kh8 14.Rhe1 Bxe6 15.Rxe6 Qxb3 16.axb3 leaves Black with a little better in the equality stakes, as seen in Smirin-Alterman, Israel 1998. 8…Nc6 9.0-0 Bg4 10.Re1 Qd7 11.h3 Bh5 12.Bf4 Qe6 13.a3 0-0 14.b4 h6! Prophylaxis; Caruana just wants to prevent any tactical tricks with a possible Ng5 threat, one immediate one being 14…Bg6?! 15.bxc5 Bxc5 16.Ng5! Qe7 17.e6! where, suddenly, it has all gone ‘awkward’ for Black. 15.Bg3 b6 16.Nd4!? But as ever, Grischuk takes the creative path to equality with another knight trick. And this is better than 16.Qc2 where there now comes 16…Bg6!? 17.Bxg6 fxg6 and the open f-file offers Black easy equality with excellent counter-attacking chances. 16…Bxd1 17.Nxe6 fxe6 18.Raxd1 c4 19.Bc2 b5 Grischuk may well have the bishop-pair, but Caruana’s pieces are well placed – and, if anything, his pawns may well be strategically better placed in the long-term in the ending. 20.a4 a6 21.f3 Bg5! It’s now evident that Caruana has the upper hand with this move – and even more so when he says that he also considered the bold sacrificial shot with 21…Nxb4!? 22.cxb4 Bxb4 but didn’t take it too seriously. The threat of the Black queenside pawns running down the board looks dangerous enough to me, but I’m sure White’s pieces can contain them. Even so, with that possibility, and Caruana’s preference for the more measured 21…Bg5! taking control of the dark squares, and also annexing the e5-pawn, shows that with just a few simple and clear moves, he has seized the advantage now. 22.Bf2 Bf4 23.Bc5 Rfd8 24.Bd6 Bg3 25.Re2 g5 26.Kf1 Kf7 27.Bc7 Trying to take control of the a-file looked the most obvious try for White – but that is not without its dangers. If 27.Ra1 Rac8 28.axb5 axb5 29.Ra6 Ra8! and Black is in full control, as White can’t take on c6 due to the back-rank mate made possible by the dark-squared bishop on g3. 27…Re8 28.Bd6 Rac8! A strong contender for inclusion in the annals of ‘mysterious rook moves’.  Why there?  Why now? We’ll soon have the answers. 29.Ra1 Red8 30.Bb1 Rd7 31.Ra3?! It has to become obvious to all now that Grischuk has lost the plot in this position, being outplayed and outwitted completely by Caruana, who has strategically placed all his pieces on the ideal squares to make a potentially winning breakthrough now. 31…d4! [see diagram] Now we see the reason for the mysterious rook move: with the Black rooks on c8 and d7, they will strongly support the game-winning passed c-pawn. 32.axb5 axb5 33.cxd4 There’s no alternative now – Grischuk has to lose a pawn and cope with the passed c-pawn, all in a desperate effort to save the game by activating his pieces. 33…Nxd4 34.Rea2 Nc6 35.Be4 Bxe5 36.Bxc6 Rxd6 37.Bxb5 Rd1+ Even a quick glance with the human eye can tell what the engines are indicating – Black’s active pieces and passed c-pawn means Caruana is winning. 38.Ke2 Rg1 39.Ke3 Rb1 40.Ra7+ Kf6 41.Bd7 Bf4+ 42.Ke2 No better was 42.Kd4 Be5+ 43.Ke3 Rd8 and again Black is easily winning here. 42…Rd8 43.Rc2 Rxb4 44.Bc6 c3! White is being strangled on the dark squares. 45.Rd7 Rc8 46.Be4 h5 Caruana continues his relentless squeeze the dark squares with ..h4 coming – and with it, White’s position is just simply going to crack. There’s no defense to the agony, it just takes a little time for Caruana to make the breakthrough. But effectively, the game is over here and now. 47.Kd3 Rb2 48.Ke2 h4 49.Rd1 Ke5 50.Ra1 Rd8 51.Rd1 Rdb8 Around here, Mamedyarov had agreed a draw with Kramnik, meaning Caruana only need to draw this overwhelming position to book his golden ticket to London. But like the hardened title challenger he’s matured in to, Caruana wanted to finish on a high with a second successive win to be the resounding Candidates winner. 52.Ra1 Bd2 53.Ra6 Rd8 54.Rc6 Rb1 55.Kf2 Ra1 56.Rc4 Rd4 57.Rc8 Rb4 58.Ke2 Kf4 Aesthetically, it might look like the ultimate dark-square throttling if Caruana were to follow up with ..e5 – but Black has to be careful not to allow himself to fall into a help-mate by trapping his king, so it is important for now the e5-square is kept free. 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 The dark-square domination is complete now! And with it, the g2-pawn now falls. 69.Rb7 Kg3 0-1

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