FIDE Candidates' Tournament R1: Caruana, Mamedyarov, Kramnik Win
The playing hall in Berlin. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

FIDE Candidates' Tournament R1: Caruana, Mamedyarov, Kramnik Win

| 94 | Chess Event Coverage

Fabiano Caruana, Vladimir Kramnik and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov started with wins at the FIDE Candidates' Tournament in Berlin. Caruana beat Wesley So from the white side of a Closed Catalan, whereas Kramnik outplayed Alexander Grischuk with the rare 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.b3!?. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov won against Sergey Karjakin with the black pieces.


The 2018 Candidates' Tournament took off today in the Kühlhaus Berlin with a great first round played in a remarkable playing hall setup. The four boards and tables were placed in four different corners, divided by walls so that the players cannot see other boards from where they are sitting.

Berlin Candidates' Playing Hall

The organizers have come up with a fairly unique design of the playing hall. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Fabiano Caruana, the first winner of the day, said, "It makes it harder to look at other games, which is probably good for our own play!" 

Both Caruana and Wesley So have been in Germany for about a week, to avoid jetlag issues. Caruana stayed at the place of his coach GM Rustam Kasimzdhanov, who lives in Germany.

So said he got surprised by his opponent on move one. He pointed out that Caruana had only played 1.e4 in the previous Candidates'.

Wesley So vs Caruana Candidates 2018

Wesley So got surprised as early as move one. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The Closed Catalan was new territory for both players and maybe that's why it led to a much sharper position than is normally seen in this line. On move 23 So made a mistake, and was swiftly punished in an attack on his king.


Caruana-So Candidates 2018

This is the bird's eye view the spectators get. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Commentator Judit Polgar called Vladimir Kramnik's win over Alexander Grischuk "a brilliant game." It started with the offbeat 3.b3 move, which however has been played by the likes of Vassily Smyslov, Viktor Kortchnoi and Lajos Portisch. "Just another way to reach the normal setup," said Kramnik.

The position out of the opening is one that both players probably liked to play, although they agreed that White was slightly better. 

Kramnik Grischuk analysing Candidates 2018

Kramnik and Grischuk after the game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Kramnik's knight maneuver Nf3-g5-h3-f4 was thematic, and gains more control over the d5-square, but it did allow some active play by his opponent. Grischuk, who got low on time (as usual), had to give up an exchange but was still in the game until he allowed a liquidation to a worse endgame. Grischuk didn't find the best defensive moves and had to throw in the towel on move 48.

Kramnik Candidates 2018 round 1

"As far as I understand my chances mathematically improved," said Kramnik matter-of-factly. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov are good friends and have worked together in the past. But in this tournament "there can only be one," and subsequently in this game there was a fight from the very start.

Mamedyarov's 3...g6 Ruy Lopez led to an interesting middlegame where he was already more than fine around move 20. It should definitely have been a draw, but Karjakin wasn't finding the best moves and got himself into a difficult queen endgame.

Karjakin vs Mamedyarov Candidates 2018

An interesting Ruy Lopez in Karjakin-Mamedyarov. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Karjakin didn't live up to his nickname "Minister of Defense" today, because he strangely gave up his g-pawn in a position where it wasn't necessary.

Karjakin Mamedyarov Candidates 2018

Karjakin couldn't hold the queen ending. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The game between Levon Aronian and Ding Liren, the two finalists of the 2017 World Cup in Tbilisi, started promisingly but then suddenly ended in a repetition of moves. Aronian's opening play was very enjoyable, but Ding reacted wonderfully and then Aronian decided to play it safe.

Aronian Ding press conf Candidates 2018

Aronian and Ding at the press conference with FIDE's Nastja Karlovich. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

As one of the most important events of the chess calendar this year, the FIDE Candidates' Tournament has been highly anticipated. There is no other tournament where more is at stake, and where only one place counts: number one.

After London 2013, Khanty-Mansiysk 2014 and Moscow 2016, this is the fourth time that the tournament is organized by Agon, the company that was given the rights by FIDE in 2012 to organize events in the world championship cycle. By now, chess fans might expect a very decent level of organization as well as a strong online presence of the event.

That's not what they got on this first day.

Spectators FIDE Candidates 2018

Spectators in the venue today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

To begin with, the official website was full of mistakes. For example, a clock that counted down to the start of the first round turned out to be location dependent, so that it would show a different time for viewers in different time zones. At some point it said the round would start in two hours and 50 minutes if you visited the tournament website from Reykjavik, but in Berlin the same page would state: one hour and 50 minutes. For a chess fan in Thailand, at that moment the page suggested that the round had started four hours and 10 minutes ago.

Also, a "Top 10" of players on the home page consisted of nine players and, for some reason, included Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura, Vishy Anand and Veselin Topalov (all participants in the 2016 edition). More importantly, basic information was almost impossible to find, such as the pairings or the start times of the games. On Twitter, users reported that they could not register and pay to watch.

If you tried to register, you would encounter the text: "By registering you confirm that you have read and agreed to the terms of use [hyperlink] and privacy policy [hyperlink]" but both hyperlinks lead to a 404 (page cannot be found).

The chess software developed by WorldChess has often been buggy, and also for this tournament it's still not working properly. As a result, commentators GM Judit Polgar and GM Yannick Pelletier couldn't show analysis of the games during the first 1.5 hours. At some point a chess board from one of the existing chess websites had to be used.

Throughout the day, the official video commentary broadcast was watched by about 300 concurrent viewers. To compare, Wijk aan Zee this year had about 10,000, one of the PRO Chess League Saturday editions had more than 20,000, while Carlsen-Nakamura on 3 January had close to 40,000 maximum concurrent viewers.

Polgar and Pelletier are in fact excellent commentators who deserve a much bigger audience.

Pelletier, Polgar, Ootes

GM Yannick Pelletier, GM Judit Polgar and Lennart Ootes. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The video was not behind a paywall today (Agon has announced that the first three rounds will be available for free), so something else must be wrong if the Reykjavik Open's fifth round got more than double the amount of views of the Candidates'. (The Chessbrahs' coverage of Berlin got about tenfold).

The situation at the Kühlhaus in Berlin also left a lot to be desired. For the spectators, who were paying 40 Euros for basic tickets (they will be 20 Euros tomorrow), there was no Wi-Fi available, and no proper food or drinks. Outside the venue, which is in a bit of a desolate area with only a train track and old buildings around, there's only one cafe nearby.

Coffee and snacks, Candidates 2018

The "bar" for spectators.

All this is not a huge deal if everything is OK for the players; that's the most important. But it wasn't.

Several players complained after their game about the noise. For a tournament of this standard, it just wasn't quiet enough. "It was pretty noisy. Maybe it was the excitement of the first round. Hopefully some measures will be taken," said Aronian. "It's clear there's a problem with noise," said Kramnik.

Grischuk was more candid today, saying: "It's a bad day for me for this question, because I think the playing conditions are absolutely terrible. Now that I've lost, it will sound like an excuse, but believe me it's not. There's not even water in the toilet!"

Karjakin was the most negative of all: "Actually I don't like almost anything in the organization of the tournament. I don't like the hotel, I don't like the venue and also it was a few times very noisy during the game. I don't want to say that I lost because of all these things, but I basically don't like anything."

Agon has a team of young and ambitious people who are determined to improve the situation, so hopefully things will improve for both the players and the fans.

Serzh Sargsyan

Serzh Sargsyan, the President of Armenia and the also of the Armenian Chess Federation, spoke at the opening ceremony... | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Serz Sargsyan Candidates 2018

...and made the first move for Levon Aronian today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Kramnik opening Candidates

Vladimir Kramnik at the opening ceremony: "Perhaps I got the wild card because I made the biggest contribution to advertising the city within the world of chess." | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Players Candidates

All eight players at the opening yesterday. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Round 2 pairings: Grischuk-So, Ding-Caruana, Mamedyarov-Aronian, Kramnik-Karjakin.

Games via TWIC.

The Chessbrahs' coverage of round 1

Previous reports:

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