The World Chess Candidates Tournament is a tournament which determines the challenger for the World Chess Championship Match (Carlsen M. is the current defender). Eight players
In the 2018 edition, which takes play in Berlin, Germany, between March 10-28, 2018, the participants are:
- Levon Aronian - Winner of the 2017 World Cup
- Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Qualified via FIDE Grand Prix 2017
- Alexander Grischuk - Qualified via FIDE Grand Prix 2017
- Fabiano Caruana - Best average rating between January and December 2017
- Wesley So - Best average rating between January and December 2017
- Sergey Karjakin - Runner-up in the 2016 World Chess Championship
- Ding Liren - Finalist of the 2017 World Cup
- Vladimir Kramnik - organizer wild card
As customary, there has been a number of pre-tournament discussions and predictions. Aronian, Kramnik and Mamedyarov were often mentioned as the main favourites (with hindsight, it would appear that the results of the first round confirmed the validity of those predictions, but of course, it is kinda early to tell).
I think the best pre-tournament prediction was given by none other than Maxime Vachier Lagrave on his own blog. I will not even try to surpass it, I can only recommend you to read it because it offers a unique perspective of an (almost) 2800 player.
The first round of the 2018 Candidates couldn't have ended better for chess fans. In contrast to the previous editions, it seems like players have decided to throw their caution to the wind from the very start. Already in the first round, we have seen some sharp and risky opening variations, and the staggering 75 % of the games (3/4) ended with a decisive result.
GM Kramnik, V. 1 – 0 GM Grischuk, A.
The game between Kramnik and Grischuk, in Bruno's opinion, was quite a boring one (Although Vjeko completely disagrees with this). Kramnik, who has been playing a lot of 1 e4 recently, decided to start the tournament with his pet Reti and already in the 3rd move he employed the rare 3 b3!?, entering some sort of Larsen- Simagin set-up. He did get a small and stable advantage. More importantly, it seemed that Grischuk didn't feel comfortable since he entered his customary time trouble and gave up an exchange.
Although the conversion was not very easy, Kramnik's technique, arguably the second best in the world, allowed him to stabilize the position and ultimately gain a convincing win.
GM Karjakin, S. 0 – 1 GM Mamedyarov
In the 2016 World Championship Match, Mamedyarov worked as Karjakin's second, so this game was extremely interesting from the psychological point of view. Shakh decided to employ the very rare g6 variation in the Ruy Lopez. Karjakin entered a sharp variation, but his opponent seemed to be better prepared. Shark equalized quite convincingly. A further error by Karjakin allowed Black to start pressing for the win. Mamedyarov missed a chance to finish the game earlier but kept on playing for the win.
Karjakin, on the other hand, didn't live up to his reputation this time (Minister of Defence), since he inexplicably decided to give up his g-pawn, after which Mamedyarov's king took a walk to the queenside and helped to escort the passed pawn to a queen.
GM Caruana, F. 1 – 0 GM So, Wesley
The most difficult game to asses. Caruana surprised his opponent with the move 1 d4 (in the previous edition, he played only 1 e4 with the White pieces). Wesley defended with a Catalan and got quite a good position after the opening. However, in the middlegame, he handled the complications uncertainly, and his position suddenly went rapidly downhill.
Judging solely by this game, Caruana has once again arrived in good form (it has to be remembered that in the previous edition of the tournament, he came short only after losing with the Black pieces in the decisive, 14th round).
GM Aronian, L. ½ - ½ GM Ding, Liren
Aronian is considered as one of the main favourites. However, in the previous editions of the Candidates tournament, he always somehow came short; it would appear he is unable to deal with the tension and that his nerves often betray him. We will see whether he will be able to cope with high stakes this time, but in the very first game, it seemed like he is not mentally prepared for the full-blooded struggle.
Although this game was the only one not to end with a decisive result, it was extremely interesting, so we have decided to pick it as the game of the round. We can only regret that the players decided to call it a day just as the battle was starting to get intense.