2016 World Chess Candidates Tournament: The Rollercoaster Begins – Round 4-6!


Novelties! Blunders!! Miscues!!! It’s all happening in Moscow.

The atmosphere in The Kremlin would be full of nervous excitement after Sergey Karjakin scored his maiden classical chess victory over Vishwanathan Anand in a closely contested tense game. This would be a big moment for Russian Chess as, Vishwanathan Anand has been the nemesis for Russian GrandMasters’ for a long time now, and chess lovers worldwide have always speculated, that it was Anand’s rise which prompted Garry Kasparov to retire early and abruptly. This development followed by snatching a draw against Fabiano Caruana from the jaws of an imminent defeat a round later, surely propel the chances of Sergey Karjakin towards becoming the next challenger for the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen.

Please read the first two parts of the series here: Black and White – An insight about FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016, Mesmirizing Mindgames – The story uptil Round 3

2016 World Chess Candidates: The Rollercoaster Begins - Round 4-6! @FIDEchess Click To Tweet

A game of Chess comprises of 3 stages, The Opening, The Middlegame and The Endgame. As the Rounds progress, the action is heating up, the aggression and desire to win is visible in all the players. The players are opting for double edged opening variations, coming up with new innovative ideas in the middle game and strangulating their opponents during the endgame time trouble.

2016 World Chess Candidates Tournament

The pattern of three draws and one win continued at the World Championship Candidates 2016 in Round 4. But it was very close to two decisive games, as Fabiano Caruana squandered a huge advantage against Veselin Topalov. Nakamura-Giri and Svidler-Aronian were sharp and fighting draws. But the game of the day was definitely Karjakin’s first classical victory over Vishy Anand.

Round 4, Tuesday 15 March 2016
Svidler Peter½-½Aronian Levon
Caruana Fabiano½-½Topalov Veselin
Karjakin Sergey1-0Anand Viswanathan
Nakamura Hikaru½-½Giri Anish

Svidler Peter VS Aronian Levon (½-½) – In the English Opening 5.e4 Variation, a line that has been popularized by Anish Giri, Aronian played a new move with the 9…Nc5! But that was an expected novelty as the previous moves that had been played were not so great. Peter had studied this variation really deeply, all the way up to the 18th move. At the start Aronian was up to the task. He managed to survive the opening and took the game into a relatively equal position. An inaccuracy on the 22nd move meant that the Russian was pressing once again. Though the position was pleasant it was not sufficient to carve out a victory. In the end many of the pieces and pawns were exchanged and with rook and three pawns for each side, the game was drawn.

Caruana Fabiano VS Topalov Veselin (½-½) – It was a refreshing change in the opening as Caruana, instead of going for the Ruy Lopez, played the Giuoco Piano as White. Both the players handled the opening phase of the game quite well and the position was relatively balanced. In the middlegame Caruana shut the centre with the move d4-d5 and the game became quite sharp. Fabiano concentrated on queenside play while Veselin tried to create inroads in the kingside with f5 break. In mutual time trouble Topalov went completely wrong and simply blundered.       It was such a superior position for the American that a full point for him was a foregone conclusion. The blunder surprisingly was the 41st move R1b5! The win was no longer apparent, and in the rook endgame the game was simply drawn. A heartbreaking result for Fabiano and quite a favourable break for Topalov.

Karjakin Sergey VS Anand Vishwanathan (1-0) – “I am very happy as today is my first classical win against Anand”, said Sergey said when he was asked how he felt about the game. Karjakin has shown a thorough disdain for theoretical continuations at this event, especially with white. Against Svidler he chose the relatively unambitious 9.Nxd4!? and today against Anand he came up with this highly interesting idea of 8.Qc2 followed by 9.h4!? White’s eighth move was Qc2 which has been played only seven times before. One of the players who has tried it is the Russian Igor Lysyj. It could be possible that the 2014 Russian Champion is working as a second for Sergey. But the move 9.h4 was a complete novelty. The curious thing about the game is the Karjakin castles after a few moves, which makes h4 looks silly. As the Russian himself mentioned after the game, the move h4 provoked Vishy to play f5. This weakened a few of the squares in Black’s camp. After the opening Vishy had a relatively fine position. But after a small inaccuracy (18…Ba6) followed by a bigger mistake (21…Qd6) the Indian player already had a highly unpleasant position. The result ending was so passive for Black that Karjakin could take his own merry time to deliver the final blow. An impressive victory for Sergey.

Nakamura Hikaru VS Giri Anish (½-½) – Everyone in the chess world knows what a powerful theoretician Anish Giri is. However, every once in a while someone tries to test him and most of the times this experiment turns out to be unsuccessful. Today Hikaru Nakamura came all prepared from the white side of the Meran Variation of Semi Slav. Anish on the other hand was treading cautiously. Not because he didn’t know the line, but he was trying to recollect his analysis. He found all the resources for Black and avoided all the pitfalls that Nakamura had prepared. The result was a quick draw in under an hour.

Round 5, Wed. 16 March 2016
Giri Anish½-½Svidler Peter
Anand Viswanathan½-½Nakamura Hikaru
Topalov Veselin½-½Karjakin Sergey
Aronian Levon½-½Caruana Fabiano

Giri Anish VS Svidler Peter (½-½) – Anish surprised Peter with Nf3 followed by g3, and Peter surprised Anish by playing the move 7…a5 in the solid variation of the Grunfeld Defence. Svidler made an inaccuracy in the opening with 13…Bf5 and Anish managed to get an excellent position. White had wonderfully coordinated pieces, but Black’s position was resilient. In the end Peter was able to find some important resources like re-routing his bishop to c6 via d7 and Anish was short on time. The result was a draw in 30 moves.

Anish Giri vs Peter Svidler: (Picture courtesy WORLD CHESS Press Office/Evgeny Pogonin)
Anish Giri vs Peter Svidler: (Picture courtesy WORLD CHESS Press Office/Evgeny Pogonin)

Anand Vishwanathan VS Nakamura Hikaru (½-½) – “My third anti-Berlin in a row! [smiles]. I was trying to play against his doubled e-pawns. Sometimes if White manages to consolidate his structure, it can be a long game and black has to suffer a bit. I got my knight to e3, and he weakened his structure with d5-d4, but it didn’t seem enough.” This is how Anand explains his game against Nakamura. Anand did play the move 10.a4, which was a novelty, but definitely not one of his scary innovations which would bring his opponents in a state of panic. To many of the viewers it seemed like the least interesting game of the day. There was only one open file, pieces got exchanged, there was no pawn tension in the position, no real outposts and no pawn breaks. This was a game where both the payers were fine with a draw and wanted to prepare themselves for the next encounter.

Topalov Veselin VS Karjakin Sergey (½-½) – Topalov has been having a pretty dismal event until now. Prior to the round he had a score of -2. But this was the perfect game to redeem himself. Firstly he was up against the tournament leader Sergey Karjakin and secondly he had the white pieces. Both the players blitzed through their initial moves and they reached the same position that was played between Anish Giri and Sergey Karjakin in the third round. The opening went very well for Veselin as he got a position with strong pressure on the hanging black pawns on c5 and d5! Sergey had won a nice game in the fourth round fighting against these pawns. And now in the fifth round, he was the one defending them! But his alertness and attention to detail was very high. Once the opening phase had passed, Black equalized the game and Karjakin had very little trouble holding the draw. With this, Karjakin maintains his lead by half a point while Topalov remains in the bottom of the table by the same margin.

Aronian Levon VS Caruana Fabiano (½-½) – The most interesting game of round five was definitely the battle between Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana. Aronian opened the game with 1.d4. Caruana seemed like he wanted to go for the Queen’s Indian or the Queen’ Gambit Declined but suddenly shocked everyone with the Benoni! The critical position of the game was reached on move twenty when Aronian, in textbook fashion, sacrificed a pawn with 20.e5 dxe5 21.f5! While this might seem surprising to some, it is in fact a very common positional pawn sacrifice. In this case it is used for an attack, but positionally too it is very sound. The bishop on g7 is shut down and the knight on d7 doesn’t get the e5 square. Meanwhile the white knight gets the e4 square. So all in all this is an excellent idea.  Computers really don’t understand it at first but then realize how strong the attack is. And this position is one example why we consider Aronian to be a genius. Yet, the game ended in a draw.

Round 6, Thursday 17 March 2016
Anand Viswanathan1-0Svidler Peter
Topalov Veselin½-½Giri Anish
Aronian Levon1-0Nakamura Hikaru
Caruana Fabiano½-½Karjakin Sergey


Anand Vishwanathan VS Svidler Peter (1-0) – Viswanathan Anand of India won his second game of the 2016 Candidates with a lightening attack against Peter Svidler of Russia. The opening was a Ruy Lopez and Anand used an anti-Marshall system to avoid the Marshall Attack. Anand seemed to be proceeding slowly, when he suddenly broke in the center with d4. He quickly followed that up with the offer of an exchange sacrifice on e4, which Svidler declined. But then Anand launched a lightening quick kingside attack, supported by having the rook on the fourth rank. Svidler was helpless to resist and resigned after only 24 moves. A vintage Anand win.

Topalov Vesilin VS Giri Anish (½-½) – In the game between Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria and Anish Giri of the Netherlands, Topalov essayed the aggressive, coffee-house move 3. h4. It had been played before, and even recommended as a surprise weapon by some strong players, but Giri is no ordinary player. He responded by turning the opening into a Benko Gambit, in which the move 3. h4 was not necessarily a good one. The game became one of attrition in which Giri gradually infiltrated Topalov’s position. But each time he seemed he might crack, Topalov found a resource. He finally lost a pawn in the endgame, but there was so little material left on the board, it made no difference and Giri finally allowed Topalov to sacrifice his last piece to eliminate his last pawns, thereby sealing the draw.

Aronian Levon VS Nakamura Hikaru (1-0) – The game between Levon Aronian of Armenia and Hikaru Nakamura of the United States began as a theoretical discussion in the Queen’s Indian Defense in which Aronian sacrificed a pawn for an initiative and pressure in the center. Both players followed a known path for a while. Nakamura seemed to navigate the shoals well, but somehow ended up in an endgame in which he was a bit worse. A series of exchanges followed that seemed to put Aronian firmly in the driver’s seat, but he misplayed the rook-and-pawn ending, allowing Nakamura to gain a drawn position. But with both players’ clocks winding down, Nakamura inexplicably grabbed his king when he had to move his rook and wound up in a lost ending once again. This time, Aronian converted to join Karjakin in the lead.

Caruana Fabiano VS Karjakin Sergey (½-½) – If Sergey Karjakin of Russia wins the Candidates, this will be one game that everyone’s look back on as crucial — not because he won it, but because he did not lose it. Facing Fabiano Caruana of the United States with the Black pieces, Karjakin walked into a well-prepared line by Caruana. In trouble just after the opening, he went into a long think and then decided that his best chance lay in sacrificing his queen, albeit for a rook, a knight and a passed pawn. While the position was far from clear, it seemed that Caruana should be able to find a way to break through. But Karjakin’s defense held and then he found an amazing idea, sacrificing a knight to get his pawn rolling and then catching Caruana’s king in an awkward position in the corner. The upshot was that Caruana had to return the queen to achieve a position that he was actually probably a bit worse in at the end. But the players agreed to a draw. No doubt, Karjakin was thrilled with the result, while for Caruana, it had to be a big disappointment.

Leader Board after Round 6

1Karjakin, Sergey4
Aronian, Levon4
3Anand, Viswanathan3.5
4Caruana, Fabiano3
Giri, Anish3
6Svidler, Peter2.5
7Topalov, Veselin2
Nakamura, Hikaru2

Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian are leading the pack at the end of Round 6, closely followed by Vishwanathan Anand who is just 0.5 point behind. Anand more than made up for his loss to Sergey Karjakin by outplaying Peter Svidler in the later game.

Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri have had good chances in the tournament, but haven’t managed to convert the advantage on board to a victory and have played out all draws. Peter Svidler’s play has been expectedly patchy and sub optimal, and the way he was outplayed by Vishwanathan Anand, it will be hard for him to recover.

Hikaru Nakamura (our pre-tournament favorite) is having a forgettable tournament as of now. But we have seen him bounce back in past and it will be too early in the day to write him off just yet. Veselin Topalov is clearly no where near his past peaks anymore, and it would be safe to say that he is not in the running to win this tournament anymore.

We are almost halfway through the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016 and it is poised for a photo finish of sorts!

Watch out for more after Round 9.

Please read previous articles in this series here:

  1. Black and White – An insight about FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016

  2. Mesmerizing Mindgames – The story uptil Round 3

%d bloggers like this: