The three most important events in the World Chess Federation calendar are the World Championship match, the Olympiad and the Candidates tournament, all of them biennial. The last of these is now in progress in Berlin and the winner will go on to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the supreme title in London later this year. The first round witnessed some typical nerves which tend to afflict even leading players at the commencement of career-determining competitions. The former challenger Sergei Karjakin started off by losing with the white pieces to the highest-ranked contestant, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while the popular favourite, Lev Aronian, a three-times Olympiad gold medallist, obtained an excellent position against the Chinese grandmaster Ding Liren, only to lose his courage at the critical juncture.
Aronian-Ding: Fidé Candidates, Berlin 2018
(See diagram 1)
White’s next move creates huge complications. 15 c5 Bxc5 This move, exploiting the pin along the d-file, is essentially forced. 16 Rb5 Qa6 17 Rh3 White protects the d3-bishop with a view to unleashing a deadly discovered attack by the rook on b5. Black now takes drastic action. 17 … Bxd4 18 Be2 18 cxd4 Rxd4 19 Ne2 Qxa4 is good for Black. 18 … Rd6 This is a mistake. Black should play 18 … Ba8 to create a flight square for the queen on b7. 19 Rb1 Much better is 19 Rb2, to protect the bishop on d2. After 19 … Qa5 20 cxd4 Qd5 21 dxe5 Nxe5 22 Nf3 White is a piece ahead although the situation remains complex. 19 … Qa5 20 Rb5 Qa6 Black could try 20 … Bxc3 which leads to the following extraordinary variation: 21 Rd3 Rxd3 22 Bxd3 Ba6 (22 … Bxd2 is also possible) 23 Bxc3 Qxc3 24 Ne2 Qa3 25 Rb3 Qxa4 26 Bf5+ Kb8 27 Rxb6+ cxb6 28 Qxa4 Bxe2+ 29 Kxe2 Nd4+ 30 Kd3 Nxf5 31 Qd7 and White stands better. 21 Rb1 Qa5 22 Rb5 Draw agreed
Karjakin-Mamedyarov: Fidé Candidates
(See diagram 2)
Black’s passed b-pawn is a huge asset in this position and he would normally expect to be able to shepherd this home with his queen without too much trouble. However in this position it is not so easy. For example, after 50 … Qe2+ 51 Kg3 b2 White can play 52 e6! when Black’s king will become exposed and a draw by perpetual check will be inevitable. Instead, Mamedyarov hits on a plan of freeing up his king to aid the promotion effort on the queenside. 50 … g5! 51 hxg5 hxg5 52 fxg5 Qe2+ 53 Kg3 Qxe5+ 54 Kf2 Qh2+ 55 Ke3 Qg1+ 56 Kf4 Qc1+ 57 Kg4 Qe3 58 Kg3 Qxg5+ 59 Kf2 Qd5 60 Ke3 Kg6 61 Ke2 Kf6 62 Ke3 Ke6 63 Qb6+ Kd7 64 Qa7+ Kc6 65 Qa6+ Kc5 66 Qa4 Qc4 67 Qa5+ Kc6 68 Qa1 Kb5 69 Qb2 Kb4 70 Kd2 Qf4+ 71 Ke1 Qh4+ White resigns
As a warm-up for the Candidates, several players attended the quickplay Tal Memorial in Moscow. The blitz was won by Karjakin and the rapidplay by Anand. This week’s puzzle is a finish from Moscow by former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, who started well in Berlin.