FIDE Candidates' Tournament R3: Kramnik Beats Aronian In Brilliant Style
Aronian resigns as Kramnik wins a great game today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

FIDE Candidates' Tournament R3: Kramnik Beats Aronian In Brilliant Style

| 117 | Chess Event Coverage

Vladimir Kramnik defeated Levon Aronian in brilliant style today at the FIDE Candidates' Tournament in Berlin, and in a Berlin. This time as Black, he played an early ...Rg8 and ...g7-g5 and just blew his opponent away.


It doesn't happen very often that publishes a "flash report" of a tournament before the round has even finished. Today was one of those days.

It wasn't just Vladimir Kramnik's obliterating win over Levon Aronian that prompted us to publish it right away on our site—it was the way Kramnik played this game that was truly enjoyable for just about any chess fan on the planet, except Aronian and his dearest fans.

Kramnik Candidates 2018

A game for the history books by Kramnik. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The brilliancy, a strong first candidate for Game of the Year, was widely praised in the Twittersphere, but also by one of the participants. "One of the greatest games I have seen. Amazing from start to finish, absolutely unbelievable," said Alexander Grischuk—and he has seen a game or two in his life.

Kramnik himself, by the way, toned it down a bit. "Maybe this game will be published in many books and magazines, but in reality it was not an incredible achievement, as I consider as a professional—I was better out of the opening, and all moves were natural."

So, what happened? First of all, after fighting the Berlin Ruy Lopez with the white pieces, Kramnik played it as Black. Yes, Aronian went for 1.e4. And there's a story behind that too.

It was special guest Francesco Tristano, a piano player and composer from Luxembourg, who made the ceremonial first move for Aronian, and it was him who pushed the king's pawn two squares.

Kramnik: "I was expecting the pawn to go back to e2 and then something normal to come."

Francesco Tristano Candidates Aronian Kramnik

Tristano is about to make the first move 1.e4 for Aronian. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

However, it was silly to think that Aronian had not intended to play it, and that he had decided, right then and there, to leave the pawn on e4. For instance, it was against Kramnik, in their 2012 Zurich match, that Aronian successfully played the king's pawn forward on move one.

Aronian losing to Kramnik Candidates

"I thought to play 1.e4, but it wasn't a good decision," Aronian said. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In what became an Anti-Berlin, Kramnik got the opportunity to play a most remarkable rook move as early as move seven.

In this position, Kramnik went 7...Rg8! and at the press conference he explained the background behind this not-so-mysterious rook move:

"The thing is, Black wants ...Bg4 after Nbd2. I always considered 7.h3 as a very serious move and I actually spent a lot of time analyzing it, and it was not so easy. But then, a couple of years ago, I found this very strong resource 7...Rg8. I think it's just a killer. Black is just better now."

"I was waiting for the moment to use it," Kramnik said, "and of course it came at the most unexpected moment, in the Candidates', against Levon, who doesn't play 1.e4. I was lucky."

The move, which had been played once before in a correspondence game, was already in Kramnik's files long before he started working with Anish Giri. The Dutch player, now a second for Kramnik during the Candidates', is known to have a solid playing style, but when it was suggested that he would laugh at a move like 7...Rg8, Giri was quick to point out that he already played something very similar himself!

Whereas Kramnik had expected to play 7...Rg8 against someone like Vishy Anand or Magnus Carlsen, it was Aronian who was the unlucky one. But his initial reaction was not too bad.

The first error was his attempt to trade queens. "It was an oversight on my part," Aronian said. "I didn't realize that Black doesn't have to exchange the queens after 14. Qd4. I was hoping to get a slightly worse position and then fight for a draw."

Aronian sad Candidates 2018

Aronian was basically defending from move seven. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Only two moves later another mistake followed, and a decisive one. Aronian: "[16. Qc4] was a terrible blunder; I forgot that Black is threatening ...f5. It was extremely stupid to go for this. I just didn't realize how bad my position is after 15...c5."

It was the key move 18...f5! that did it for Black.

The main point is 19.exf5 Nxg3+! 20.fxg3 Bd5+ 21.Kg1 Qe2 and wins. Just beautiful.

The remainder of the game was right out of the 19th century, including the stylish move 24...Bd5!. "Black could win in many ways, but Vladimir chose the most impressive one," said Grischuk.

Kramnik was continuously walking back and forth in that final phase, showing perhaps some nervousness (which is a good thing, at least according to Grischuk!).

Kramnik walking nervously

Kramnik walking back and forth, in a winning position. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"I just wanted to finish it in a beautiful way; of course it was not necessary," said Kramnik at the press conference. Later he told our photographer Maria Emelianova that he was "only trying not to screw it up," taking 10 minutes for each move and making sure the opponent has no way to escape.
"Normally when you have such a position, it’s very easy to 'fall asleep' and let the advantage slip."


Aronian-Kramnik Candidates 2018

The players and arbiter right after the game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Alexander Grischuk vs Sergey Karjakin was the third all-Russian clash in a row, and that's not a coincidence. According to the regulations, players from the same federations are paired against each other in the early rounds to avoid possible collusion in the decisive phase of the tournament.

Grischuk said it didn't matter very much to him, but Karjakin said it's a big difference to play compatriots, because it's not so easy to surprise them anymore. "But now I am thinking maybe I should be very proud that I managed to draw with Kramnik!" Karjakin said.

Grischuk, at the press conference: "Today there was one of the best games I have ever seen, Aronian-Kramnik, now a very exciting game Caruana-Mamedyarov... I don't think we should even speak about our game!"

Eventually, his opponent did: "I got the two bishops but his position was extremely solid," said Karjakin, who already disliked his position at move 16 and went for a forcing variation to hold the draw there.

For the first time in his career, Ding Liren played the Marshall Attack of the Ruy Lopez in a classical game. If White goes for the main line, these days at top level this usually means the game ends in a draw, and that was obviously fine for Wesley So, who had started with two losses.

"After my first two losses it's quite difficult to have the mindset for an all-out game," So said. "I have to take what I can. I am prepared to be more ambitious, but as is clear from my first two games, having great ambitions can also backfire."

Interestingly, in his first outing Ding proudly managed to improve upon some games of Aronian, the biggest Marshall expert of all. Where the Armenian number one exclusively plays 18...Rfe8, Ding put that rook on d8 instead. "Maybe Levon will also play 18...Rfd8 in the future," said So.

Ding Liren Candidates 2018

Not a bad first Marshall for Ding Liren. | Photo: WorldChess.

It would have been a novelty, if the same move hadn't been played two weeks ago by Maxim Matlakov in his game with Kirill Alekseenko at the Aeroflot Open in Moscow. Great chess minds think alike.

"My position was bad pretty much the entire game, so it's a good result," said Fabiano Caruana after drawing a fascinating battle with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. It started as a Najdorf, English Attack, and ended with a crazy endgame where White's rook was fighting a bishop and two passers. "It's a miracle that White is surviving this position," Caruana said.

Before that, the American GM had managed to create some threats toward the black king in quite an original way, bringing his queen to c7 via a5 and putting his knight on d8. Computers show a moment where White was doing extremely well, but neither player had noticed that.

All in all Caruana won't be too happy with his play today and perhaps also before, while Mamedyarov has had a fine start of his Candidates' so far.

Caruana-Mamedyarov, Candidates 2018

A highly entertaining Najdorf between Caruana and Mamedyarov today. | Photo: WorldChess.

2018 FIDE Candidates' Tournament | Round 3 Standings

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 Kramnik,Vladimir 2800 3054 1 ½ 1 2.5/3
2 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2809 2900 ½ 1 ½ 2.0/3 2.5
3 Caruana,Fabiano 2784 2912 ½ ½ 1 2.0/3 2.25
4 Ding,Liren 2769 2792 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 1.75
5 Grischuk,Alexander 2767 2787 0 ½ 1 1.5/3 1
6 Karjakin,Sergey 2763 2672 ½ 0 ½ 1.0/3 2
7 Aronian,Levon 2794 2673 0 ½ ½ 1.0/3 1.75
8 So,Wesley 2799 2494 0 ½ 0 0.5/3

On a final note, we seem to be dealing with a new version of Toiletgate. After yesterday's remarks, some journalists again asked about the situation with the bathrooms in the Kühlhaus. Has it improved?

Grischuk: "As I said, now we have water."
Karjakin: "But at the same time, the water is very strange. I mean, it's not the normal water. Seriously, it's like water with soap."

To be continued?

Games via TWIC.

Round 4 pairings, on Wednesday: Grischuk-Ding, Mamedyarov-So, Kramnik-Caruana, Karjakin-Aronian.

The Chessbrahs' coverage of round 3.

Previous reports:

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