Caruana Sole Leader Halfway FIDE Candidates' Tournament
Chess Events Coverage

Caruana Sole Leader Halfway FIDE Candidates' Tournament

Mar 18, 2018, 9:59 PM |

At the halfway mark of the 2018 FIDE Candidates' TournamentFabiano Caruana is back to being the sole leader. Today the American grandmaster beat Levon Aronian, whereas Shakhriyar Mamedyarov drew quickly with Alexander Grischuk.

Sergey Karjakin won his first game, against Wesley So, whereas Vladimir Kramnik and Ding Liren drew an exciting game.


Vassily Ivanchuk, who turned 49 today, is known to be one of the strongest grandmasters of his generation. The Ukrainian genius is also a member of the club of players who should have challenged a world champion, but never made it that far. Other names include Akiba RubinsteinPaul Keres and, who knows, maybe at some point in time we have to include Levon Aronian as well.

Because, yet again, Armenia's number one is stumbling on that last hurdle. While he has won just about every tournament there is, and is seen as possibly the hardest opponent to face for Magnus Carlsen in a title match, Aronian just keeps on doing badly in the Candidates'.

Theoretically he is still in contention, but to have a chance he basically needs to win five out of his remaining seven games. It is possible (Karjakin did exactly that in 2014!), but unlikely.

Levon Aronian Candidates' 2018

It looks like Aronian is missing another chance to win a Candidates' Tournament. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

In today's game against Fabiano Caruana, he put the board on fire with his daring pawn push 16.g4!?, which came as a "complete surprise" to his opponent.

"At first I couldn't believe White would have enough compensation but it wasn't easy to find a way to consolidate after," said Caruana.

Aronian was building up a kingside attack while weakening his kingside and sacrificing two pawns along the way—that's the spirit! And it was definitely tricky for black.

Afterward Aronian felt 22.h5 was impractical, and 23.Kh2 "a terrible move," but as the game annotations show, even after that, there was more than one opportunity for Aronian to draw today.

"Somehow I wanted to keep the game going," he said. "The position was interesting and then I just butchered the position, in the usual style."

Asked whether his play today was the result of his earlier games in this tournament, Aronian replied:

"It's not really affecting me. I'm not 12 years old, I've been losing games before, and having disastrous tournaments. I just try to play, try to fight. OK, I'm probably not in the best shape to do so because the results probably suggest that but OK, I can't really change my nature, I'm going to try and win a game, despite not really playing my best chess. I hope to bring the luck back."

Aronian Candidates 2018

Aronian will need all the luck he can get. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

Caruana, about the pressure of being the leader: "Each Candidates' is different. In 2013 with plus four Kramnik had to try and win with Black in the last round, so sometimes plus four might not even be enough. I'm definitely not relaxed just because I got plus three. First of all it's seven very tough games, it's not at all certain that I won't lose some games but overall I'm happy with my play so far. The games have been tough, with a lot of mistakes, but even despite the mistakes I played pretty good fighting chess and I feel like I'm in good form. I kind of approach the second half with confidence but I also don't think it will be easy."

Caruana press conference Aronian Candidates 2018

These days this is what a post-mortem looks like. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

Yours truly was in the playing hall, a few meters away from the players during their time trouble. To my horror I saw several spectators having their mobiles with them (due to very weak security measures), and one of them was even trying to make a picture with the flash light shining in Aronian's face. He looked up and was clearly irritated.

When I asked about it, Aronian said, with a wry smile: "When you play badly then your play is affected by everything but when you play well it's not!"

Aronian vs Caruana Candidates 2018

After first spending some time at their board, Caruana and Aronian discussed some more lines before starting their press conference. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

Sergey Karjakin was happy with his first win, but not happy with his play in the opening. Wesley Somanaged to surprise him with 7...cxd4 in their Nimzo-Indian, and despite getting the bishop pair in an endgame, White had nothing after 14 moves.

With accurate play from both sides, the game seemed to be steering towards a draw but just before the time control So's knight was wandering in the wrong direction, and then a king move was suddenly fatal.

Spectators Karjakin-So

Spectators watching from above. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

It was a tough blow for So, who had just played a great game against Aronian and seemed to be on the way back. Karjakin's win means he can still hope.

Karjakin, Sergey (2763) vs. So, Wesley (2799)
FIDE Candidates 2018 | Berlin GER | Round 7.1 | 18 Mar 2018 | ECO: E51 | 1-0";) 0% 0%;border:none;width:360px;height:360px;">
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O5. Nf3 d5 6. Bd2 c5 7. a3 cxd4Karjakin was surprised by this. (7... Bxc3 8. Bxc3 Ne49. Rc1 Nxc3 10. Rxc3 cxd4 11. Nxd4 dxc412. Bxc4 Bd7 13. O-O Nc6Riazantsev,A (2671)-Inarkiev,E (2709) Doha 2016) 8. axb4dxc3 9. Bxc3 dxc4 10. Bxc4 Qxd1+11. Kxd1 N (11. Rxd1 Bd7 12. Ne5 Rc813. Be2 Ba4 14. Ra1 Be8 15. Nc4 Nbd716. Nd6 Rcb8Sandipan,C (2569)-Visakh,N (2389) Kolkata 2015) 11... Bd7 12. Ke2 Rc813. Bd3 Nd5 14. Ne5 Be8"I realized I don't have anything." (Karjakin) 15. Bd2 f616. Nc4 Rd8 17. Rhc1 Nc6 18. Be4 Ndxb4(18... a6 19. b5!?Karjakin) 19. Bxb4 Nxb420. Bxb7 Rab8 21. Rxa7 Rd7 22. Na5 Nd323. Rd1 Nxb2 24. Rxd7 Bxd7 25. Bc6 Bxc626. Nxc6 Re8 (26... Rb6 27. Nd4Nc4seemed easier to Karjakin.) 27. e4 Nc428. Kd3 Nd6 29. f4 Kf8 30. e5