Caruana Sole Leader Halfway Through FIDE Candidates' Tournament
Aronian resigns his game with Caruana. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

Caruana Sole Leader Halfway Through FIDE Candidates' Tournament

| 62 | Chess Event Coverage

At the halfway mark of the 2018 FIDE Candidates' Tournament, Fabiano 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 Rubinstein, Paul Keres and, who knows, maybe at some point in time we have to include Levon Aronian as well.

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 for Magnus Carlsen to face 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, the Armenian 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."


Aronian-Caruana Candidates 2018

The view from above, as seen by the spectators. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

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/

Here's Caruana's take on 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." interviewed Caruana after the game.

"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 So managed 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 toward 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 Barsky

Karjakin interviewed by Vladimir Barsky for the Russian Chess Federation. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

The game between Alexander Grischuk and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was the shortest in the tournament so far. After 16 moves the game ended with a three-fold repetition, with 40 minutes left on the clock for Grischuk vs 1 hour 36 for Mamedyarov.

Indeed, Mamedyarov hardly needed any time today, and that was probably the most frustrating part of it for Grischuk. At first he called it an "opening disaster," although he then tried to tone that down a bit. It was clear that the game was not what he had planned, but Grischuk didn't want to elaborate. "I will not go into details."

Grischuk Candidates 2018

A rather unfortunate opening phase for Grischuk. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

Mamedyarov said he played the move 5...h6 for the first time, and suggested that might have surprised his opponent. He had a very easy day at the office, as he had seen everything in his preparation. "I know this line. It's just home preparation."

So, how long did Grischuk prepare for this game?
"My whole life!"

Mamedyarov Candidates 2018

Successful home prep by Mamedyarov today. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

The longest game of the day was again played by Vladimir Kramnik, vs Ding Liren. As we've seen before this week, the opinions of the players about several positions were quite different: Kramnik was optimistic as always and felt he was better or winning or completely winning, wheras Ding kept on throwing him moves (which were refuting Kramnik's evaluations, if you run the computer).

Kramnik Candidates 2018

Kramnik said he much preferred to reach 3.5/7 this way than in London five years ago, when he started with seven draws: "Nice wins, painful losses, it's life. Emotions!" | Photo: Peter Doggers/

2018 FIDE Candidates' Tournament | Round 7 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts
1 Caruana,Fabiano 2784 2945 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 5.0/7
2 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2809 2884 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 4.5/7
3 Ding,Liren 2769 2788 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.5/7
4 Grischuk,Alexander 2767 2788 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 3.5/7
5 Kramnik,Vladimir 2800 2784 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 3.5/7
6 Karjakin,Sergey 2763 2739 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 3.0/7
7 Aronian,Levon 2794 2683 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 0 2.5/7
8 So,Wesley 2799 2682 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1 2.5/7

Games via TWIC.

The Chessbrahs' coverage of round 7.

Round 8 pairings, on Monday:
Grischuk-Kramnik, Mamedyarov-Karjakin, Ding-Aronian, So-Caruana.

Previous reports:

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