In the final round, Karjakin beat Caruana, his top rival for the title
The final round of the 2016 Candidates tournament had a dream match-up: the two tournament leaders — Sergey Karjakin of Russia and Fabiano Caruana of the United States — facing each other and fighting for the chance to become the next challenger for the World Championship. With such a mise-en-scene, people expected a great show, and the players did not disappoint.
As was previously reported, if the Karjakin-Caruana game ended peacefully, Karjakin would be the tournament winner, unless Viswanathan Anand of India won his game. But Anand had the Black pieces against an on-form Peter Svidler of Russia, so Caruana could not count on an Anand victory. Indeed, it was a pretty lackluster affair, as were the other two games of the round — each of them were drawn around Move 30. In light of that, I hope readers will forgive me for focusing only on the game that would decide who would take up the gauntlet and challenge Magnus Carlsen in the championship match in November in New York City.
Caruana, who had Black, clearly was in no mood to mess around — he chose the Rauzer Variation of the Sicilian Defense, a highly risky line that he has almost never played before.
Normally, one would condemn such an opening choice, but in this case it made perfect sense — there are no long forcing variations that end in draws (like there are in the Najdorf Variation, for example) and it’s very hard for White to dry the game up and reach a symmetrical and lifeless position (as he can in the Berlin Defense, which Caruana had been playing up to this point). Still, Karjakin did not play the most challenging line, as he could have. In fact, he missed a clear chance to gain the upper hand:
( 18. e5!This typical
pawn sacrifice would have been very strong at this point. The lines to the black king get
blasted open 18... fxe519. Qg5!and the Black king is already in considerable danger, Bg6 is a mate threat 19... Be720. Qg7Rf821. Rhf1Black cannot
castle long due to the hanging bishop on d7, and his king will likely perish
in the center )
With some less than incisive play, Karjakin allowed Black’s bishop pair and pawn center to promise him decent chances. But soon enough, he realized that he could not play this position passively, and lashed out with the same idea of e5:
1. e4c52. Nf3Nc63. d4cxd44. Nxd4Nf65. Nc3d66. Bg5e67. Qd2a68. O-O-OBd79. f4h610. Bh4b511. Bxf6gxf612. f5Qb613. fxe6fxe614. Nxc6Qxc615. Bd3h516. Kb1b417. Ne2Qc518. Rhf1Bh619. Qe1a520. b3Rg821. g3Ke722. Bc4Be323. Rf3Rg424. Qf1Rf825. Nf4Bxf426. Rxf4a427. bxa4Bxa428. Qd3Bc629. Bb3Rg530. e5!A bit late to the party, but White
finds the correct idea. Strategically Black has a gorgeous position, so White
really has to open some lines to the king 30... Rxe531. Rc4
( 31. Qh7+Is also
fine. The computer claims the game should immediately end in a draw: 31... Rf732. Qh8But Black does not have to play Rf8 now 32... Bd733. Qh6This position is dynamically equal. I like Karjakin's move better )
31... Rd532. Qe2!
( 32. Qxd5This was a decent option, trying to trade into a
drawn endgame, but I like Karjakin's spirit -- when you need a draw, play for a
32... Qb633. Rh4And the attack rages on -- white obviously has full
compensation for a pawn 33... Re534. Qd3Bg235. Rd4d536. Qd2Re437. Rxd5exd538. Qxd5Qc739. Qf5Rf740. Bxf7Qe541. Rd7+Kf842. Rd8+
After this, the position became wild. The computer calls it equal, but probably a draw is the least likely result — both sides have clear trumps and every right to play for a win. This is about as perfect a situation as Caruana could have asked for, but in this wildly complicated scenario, he happened to be the first one to blink.
Karjakin, Sergey vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Candidates tournament |Moscow |Round 14 |28 Mar 2016 |1-0
Re4??In one move, Caruana loses his chance to play for the 2016 World
( 36... Bf3This would keep the game complicated
and dynamically balanced. The computer calls it equal, but anything can happen 37. Rxb4Qc738. Rf1 )
37. Rxd5!Well calculated. This rook sacrifice wins
on the spot and Karjakin can punch his ticket for New York in November 37... exd538. Qxd5The threat of Qd7 mate is just about impossible to stop 38... Qc7
( 38... Rd4This is the only way the computer finds to avoid immediate checkmate, but
after 39. Qxd4Qxd440. Rxd4Black is just a pawn down and with a bad
structure -- a resignable endgame )
39. Qf5!and the queen comes in to h7 39... Rf740. Bxf7Qe5
( 40... Kxf741. Qh7+Would win the queen )
41. Rd7+Kf842. Rd8+And Caruana had seen enough. Congrats to Karjakin on a fantastic final game
to complete the tournament of his life!
Here are a few quick notes on the game between Nakamura and Levon, which was the second most interesting game of the round. It became complicated just after the opening, but eventually simplified to a draw.
1. d4Nf62. c4e63. Nf3d54. Nc3Bb45. Qa4+Nc66. e3O-O7. Qc2Re88. Bd2a69. a3Bd610. h3h611. Rd1dxc412. Bxc4e513. O-OBd714. dxe5Nxe515. Nxe5Rxe516. f4!?This sharp move forces Black to sacrifice a pawn to avoid
the e3-e4-e5 advance 16... Bf5!
( 16... Re817. e4The pawns will crash
straight through )
17. Qb3Re718. Qxb7White has won a pawn but his position
is loose, there are a lot of holes in his structure, and Black has active
pieces 18... Bc2!Well calculated
( 18... Rb8Was less accurate: 19. Qxa6Rxb220. Bc1!A key resource, expelling the rook and leading to a White advantage )
19. Rc1Rb820. Qxa6Rxb221. Nd1Rb622. Qa5Bb323. Nf2Qb8White's
position has too many weaknesses for him to ever make use of his extra pawn --
he soon has to give it back. 24. Bxb3Rxb325. a4Qb726. Qf5Bb4!Removing the defender 27. Bxb4Qxb4With both a4 and e3 hanging, Nakamura pitches a pawn to force an immediate draw 28. e4Nxe429. Nxe4Qxe430. Qxe4Rxe431. Rxc7Rxa432. Kh2Rb233. Rf3
So, when all was said and done, it was one of the more exciting Candidates tournaments in recent memory. It produced a clear winner in Karjakin, who even finished a full point ahead of the field. From start to finish, he played the best chess, making use of the chances he created and fiercely defending when his positions turned sour. He will be the first of the new generation of Russian players to contest a World Championship match, and I am very excited to see what he can do in the match New York in November.
Finally, a side note. I saw one too many negative comments online at literally every single chess site about Anand and Giri, and this rubbed me the wrong way. To paraphrase: “Anand is old and it will just be another boring match, please let someone else win!” And “Giri is so boring, all he ever does is make draws! He drew every game here!” Allow me to rebut such commentary.
Anand has proven time and again that he is a major force to be reckoned with, is still going strong at 46, and was a clear contender for first place up until the very final rounds. His second match with Carlsen was much closer than the first, he won their last decisive encounter, and if he had a chance at a third one, I think it would be even closer still. Plus, it’s very possible that other players would have put up even less of a fight. And to call Anand’s chess boring when he produced the most decisive games of anyone in the tournament, including a tactical blowout against Svidler and one of the best endgame crunches I have ever seen against Karjakin, is pure lunacy.
As for Giri, he may have drawn all his games, but in addition to never losing, he was also never worse. He was very close to wins against Caruana, Nakamura, and Anand. If he had converted a couple of these and gotten a couple more chances, he could have just run away with the tournament, and he will be a major force to be reckoned with next time. So, I will put this as politely as possible, but people should stop writing such nonsense about these elite players.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.
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