Caruana Beats Aronian, Leads Before Candidates' Tournament Final Round
Caruana beats Aronian and regains sole lead. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana Beats Aronian, Leads Before Candidates' Tournament Final Round

| 123 | Chess Event Coverage

Fabiano Caruana is back to being the sole leader with just one round to go at the 2018 FIDE Candidates' Tournament in Berlin. Today the American player beat Levon Aronian after Sergey Karjakin had quickly drawn his game with Wesley So


An already memorable Candidates' Tournament will remain exciting until the very end. Three players are still much in contention (Caruana, Karjakin and Mamedyarov), and even Ding Liren has a theoretical chance. (Find a discussion of possible scenarios at the end of this report.)

As Fabiano Caruana said today: "Basically it’s still a toss-up and it’s probably the most open last round of the Candidates’ since 2013 but even that time only two players could win and now three, maybe even four players have a possibility."

Caruana Candidates 2018

Caruana is the new leader, but anything can happen tomorrow. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

With Karjakin having the better tiebreak, it was crucial for Caruana today to "get a game," a position where he could play for a while and hope for mistakes from his opponent. And that's what he got.

Caruana had prepared 9.Bd2 against Levon Aronian and afterward called it "a brilliant opening invention." The amateurish-looking move was also played the round before by Grischuk, against the same opponent.

"It’s not that it leads to an advantage for White, but it opens at least a small chapter in the Anti-Marshall," said Caruana. "On the rest day we looked at a position that had never been played before, and it was actually pretty enjoyable. I was lucky enough to get my prep pretty much up to move 15."

Caruana vs Aronian Candidates 2018

Caruana and his second, GM Rustam Kasimzdhanov, had looked at 9.Bd2 for a few hours on the rest day. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana got a dream Ruy Lopez, where he controlled both flanks. At some point Aronian decided to sacrifice his b-pawn, which was there for the taking, according to the engines. But Caruana didn't touch it: "I didn’t want to let the game get too out of control, which I managed to do anyway."

A more solid continuation was to trade Black's bishop on g6 and then put more pressure on Black's queenside with 25.Bd3, but Caruana went for 24.Bd3 instead, allowing 24...Bh5. 

"24.Bd3 was more ambitious but it also gave quite a lot of counterplay, which maybe I shouldn’t have allowed," said Caruana, for whom Black's piece sacrifice on g4 was completely normal. "I don’t see any other option for Black to continue the game."


Caruana dealing with Aronian's piece sac. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The players got into time trouble there, with about seven minutes for Caruana and about one for Aronian, with 13 moves until 40. It was in the heat of the battle that Aronian missed a big chance.

Here, engines are suggesting 31...Nxb4! 32.cxb4 Rd4! and suddenly things are highly unclear. Neither player had seen it during the game, and especially Aronian was annoyed: "It’s not that I’m upset that I missed it. It’s that it didn’t even come to my mind, that I can play a slow move."

After that, Caruana wrapped up the game pretty effortlessly, and made chess-loving Americans happy again. (But he's not there yet as the tiebreak situation doesn't favor him; more on that later.)


Caruana Candidates 2018

A crucial win for Caruana? | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Strange as it may seem, Caruana said that his loss to Karjakin had its positive sides: "Losing the last game actually helped my outlook a lot because I was kind of too nervous trying to hold on to my lead and it kind of ruined my play for a few games. I felt much better before today, before this game. Even though my tournament situation was good, I wasn’t in a good mindset."

How he got over it? "We watched a movie which was nice, because for two hours I could just forget about chess, which is what I needed: The Shape of Water, which was excellent."

Caruana Candidates 2018

Some more interviews afterward. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

With this win, Caruana became the sole leader again because Sergey Karjakin had split the point with Wesley So earlier in the day. It wasn't the most inspiring game ever by So, who apparently didn't want to take too many risks in order to help his compatriot. At the same time, it was understandable because So had blundered against Karjakin in a similar drawish endgame in the first half of the tournament.

Karjakin Candidates 2018

A quick draw was fine for Karjakin but will he regret it tomorrow? | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov defeated Alexander Grischuk and is suddenly back in contention after what was a pretty devastating loss vs Ding the other day. "It was a catastrophe. I was awake until 7 a.m. in the morning."

As it turned out, Mamedyarov hadn't lost with the white pieces for 18(!) months. Obviously he didn’t expect it to happen against someone who draws almost all his games.

Today's win was a bit strange, but perhaps influenced by the fact that a draw was a bad result for both players. "It was a stupid situation; we both needed to win. For me a draw was almost the same as a loss," said Grischuk. The Russian GM had seen 34...Nf5, but dismissed it because it looked bad.

Mamedyarov vs Grischuk Candidates 2018

With this win, Mamedyarov is still in contention. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Ding Liren only has a tiny chance left after escaping with a draw today vs Vladimir Kramnik. The Chinese GM fell for a tactic that he wouldn't have missed in the first half, and then was on the defending side. Instead of winning it slowly, Kramnik tried to force the game, and that backfired.

Ding Liren vs Kramnik Candidates 2018

Even Ding can still win after today's 12th draw. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

2018 FIDE Candidates' Tournament | Round 13 Standings

Rk. Fed Name Rtg 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 Caruana 2784 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 8,0 0,0 4 46,75
2 Mamedyarov 2809 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 7,5 1,5 3 48,00
3 Karjakin 2763 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 0 1 7,5 0,5 4 47,00
4 Ding Liren 2769 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 7,0 0,0 1 45,00
5 Grischuk 2767 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 6,5 0,0 2 40,50
6 Kramnik 2800 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 6,0 0,0 3 34,75
7 So 2799 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 5,5 0,0 1 35,50
8 Aronian 2794 0 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 4,0 0,0 1 28,50

Games via TWIC.

Round 14 (final round) pairings, on Tuesday:
Grischuk-Caruana, Aronian-So, Karjakin-Ding, Kramnik-Mamedyarov.

Tiebreak rules:

If the top two or more players score the same points, the tie will be decided by the following criteria, in order of priority:
a) The results of the games between the players involved in the tie.
b) The total number of wins in the tournament of every player involved in the tie.
c) Sonneborn-Berger System.

If there is no clear winner with the above three criteria, there will be a playoff.


We'll see a thrilling final day in Berlin tomorrow. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana has the luxury of a half-point lead going into the final round, but it's not so simple for him. A draw will not be enough if either Mamedyarov or Karjakin (both with a better tiebreak) will win.

The short version of the possibile scenarios is that if there will be a tie for first place, Mamedyarov has the best tiebreak, then Karjakin, and then Caruana. So, the American only wins if he finishes sole first.

Ding can only win in the scenario that he beats Karjakin, Grischuk beats Caruana and Kramnik-Mamedyarov ends in a draw.

Therefore, Ding must win tomorrow, and his opponent Karjakin more or less has to win as well, because a draw for him is only enough if Caruana and Mamedyarov both lose.

With Black against Grischuk, Caruana has enough to draw only when both Karjakin and Mamedyarov do not win. Mamedyarov will need to get a position where he can play for a win against Kramnik who, like Grischuk, can help his compatriot Karjakin by winning.

The Chessbrahs' coverage of round 13.

Previous reports:

More from PeterDoggers
Nepomniachtchi Repeats Levitov Chess Week Victory

Nepomniachtchi Repeats Levitov Chess Week Victory

Nepomniachtchi, Svidler Lead As Levitov Chess Week Becomes Two-horse Race

Nepomniachtchi, Svidler Lead As Levitov Chess Week Becomes Two-horse Race