Elite chess tournaments are sometimes plagued by too many games that end in draws or where there is not much action. In contrast, at least so far, the 2018 Candidates tournament in Berlin is proving to be anything but dull. Friday, in Round 6, half of the games ended decisively as the players continued to take risks. The most consequential result was the victory of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan over Vladimir Kramnik of Russia.
The win moved Mamedyarov into a tie for first with Fabiano Caruana of the United States. Caruana’s compatriot, Wesley So, also managed to record his first win of the tournament, beating Levon Aronian of Armenia, to climb out of the cellar. Caruana and Mamedyarov each have four points (each win is worth one point and each draw is worth a half point), a full point ahead of Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk of Russia and Ding Liren of China. So and Aronian have 2.5 points apiece, while Sergey Karjakin of Russia, the winner of the 2016 Candidates tournament, is in last, with two points. The Candidates is being organized by World Chess, the commercial partner of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), the game’s governing body.
The prize fund is 420,000 euros. The winner will receive 95,000 euros, but, more importantly, he will earn the right to play Magnus Carlsen, the world champion, for the title in the Championship Match in London this November. The venue for the tournament is Kühlhaus (or “cool house” in English), an industrial building in central Berlin that was built in the early 20th century as a cold-storage facility for fresh produce. Among the principal sponsors of the tournament are PhosAgro, a giant Russian fertilizer company; Kaspersky Lab, a global cybersecurity firm; E.G. Capital Advisors, an investment management company; S.T. Dupont, a global luxury goods maker; Prytek, a venture capital firm; and Isklar, a Norwegian mineral water company. Martin Hoffmann, the chief executive of Deutsch-Russisches Forum, made the ceremonial first move on Friday. Mamedyarov, who was White, failed to achieve any kind of advantage against Kramnik out of the opening. Indeed, after 28 moves, the game seemed to be heading for a draw by repetition of moves.
But Kramnik decided to deviate and try for more by pushing his h pawn to probe for weaknesses on the kingside. It turned out to be an ill-advised decision. He eventually lost the pawn and Mamedyarov was able to capitalize after careful maneuvering to promote one of his pawns. Kramnik played on, but the position was hopeless and he eventually resigned as he was down too much material. In the game between So and Aronian, So, who was White, also failed to gain much of an edge out of the opening. But after Aronian inadvisedly seized a pawn on the queenside, it created targets and weaknesses on Aronian’s queen side. So methodically built up the pressure until Aronian’s position finally cracked. So won Aronian’s queen on move 39 and, a few moves later, a piece. From there, it was only a matter of time before So was able to convert his material advantage to victory. The game between Caruana and Grischuk was also quite exciting. For the second time in the tournament, Grischuk, who was Black, chose the Benoni Defense, which is double-edged and can be difficult for Black to defend. Caruana built up pressure until he finally won a pawn. Though Black had some counterplay, Caruana had a clear edge. Instead of pushing on, however, he was concerned about Grischuk’s counter chances and decided to allow a draw by repetition of moves. The shortest game of the round, and of the tournament, was between Ding and Karjakin. In a forced sequence of moves just out of the opening, the players repeated moves as Karjakin’s queen was caught behind enemy lines and could not avoid repeated attacks, while Ding had no chance to trapping the enemy monarch. Saturday is the second rest day of the tournament, which resumes on Sunday with Round 7 at 3 PM, local Berlin time.
The tournament can be watched live at www.worldchess.com, the official site of the World Championship.