In the end, there can be only one
Aaaaaand, just like that the Candidates Tournament 2018 is over. 14 gruelling rounds have passed in a blink of an eye. The players have presented some marvellous, fighting chess, the games were fascinating and interesting, but unfortunately, in the end, there can be only one winner.
In the previous round report, we have speculated about the numerous possibilities and calculating who has the best tiebreaks. In the end, the reality was much simpler - the fabulous Fab ended a tournament in spectacular fashion - outplaying his opponent with the Black pieces, declining a draw offer at the moment when a draw would have been sufficient for the first place and winning the crucial game in the end.
Despite the serious setback in round 12, Caruana displayed strong nerves and ended the tournament on a high note. With the two wins in last two rounds, he got the first place quite deservingly; throughout the tournament, he did display the best chess overall.
Round report and game analysis follow.
Aronian, Levon - So, Wesley
The game between players who probably couldn't wait for the tournament to finish took an expected course. After only 17 moves, they decided to call it a day. So ended with 'only' minus one in the end, but Aronian's 4.5/14 is definitely one of the worst results of his career.
If not THE worst.
Karjakin, Sergey - Ding, Liren
Apart from the afore-mentioned Aronian-So 'non' game, the remaining encounters were highly significant. Karjakin, playing the White pieces, gained optically slightly more pleasant position, but probably underestimated Ding's counterplay on the kingside. After a crude blunder on move 27 (noticed by Caruana), he was lucky he was able to create a fortress. In the end, he managed to salvage a draw.
Kramnik, Vladimir - Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar
Although Kramnik claimed after the game he felt responsibility heading into this game, he stuck to his style in this tournament and played another fighting game. In the Catalan with 7 Ne5, Mamedyarov played the rare and risky 7... Qd6 and Kramnik soon sacrificed a pawn. A tense and exciting battle ensued, during which Kramnik maintained the compensation for a pawn and kept posing Mamedyarov some problems. On move 30, Mamedyarov committed a serious mistake, but Kramnik didn't exploit it and allowed Black to execute a very attractive combination leading to unbalanced, but equal endgame.
It is important to note that, Caruana, due to his own time trouble, wasn't able to see what is happening and had to keep playing. Alas, in the end, a clearly drawn position was reached and Mamedyarov had to relinquish his hopes of challenging the World Champion. This game also finished while Caruana's game was still at progress, so at this moment, Caruana knew he 'only' had to draw to win the tournament.
Grischuk, Alexander - Caruana, Fabiano
This game is probably the game of Caruana's career so far. Let's jump to the analysis straight away:
As in almost every Candidates Tournament, there were winners and there were losers. To conclude our coverage, we would like to take a moment and reflect on the performance of each and every participant.
Considering everyone is interested in only the first place, the only objective winner is Fabiano Caruana. He displayed the best chess in the tournament, he didn't crack under the tension and ended with an impressive +4 score (+5-1=8). He can definitely be happy with his performance and result and we can only look forward to his match against Magnus Carlsen in November.
In all probability, it will be much more fighting and entertaining than the last match against Karjakin.
Due to the fact he hasn't been in sparkling form recently, hardly anyone considered Karjakin as a serious contender this time. Moreover, in the first half of the tournament, he lost two games with the White pieces and it seemed history wouldn't repeat itself.
However, Karjakin once again displayed tremendous character traits and kept on fighting. And once again he had a strong second half of the tournament - with the 5/7 score he kept himself in contention until the very last round. Alas, this time it was not meant to be, but he was once again very close. I think he can be satisfied with his performance. Moreover, he is still young enough not to give up on his dream of becoming the World Champion.
Very recently, Mamedyarov has managed to raise the level of his play quite significantly. According to one interview, it had something to do with the fact he got married and stopped drinking (what do you know?).
In any case, he maintained his good form throughout the tournament. He did reach a couple of unpleasant endgames early in the tournament, but he was never in danger of losing. He was a contender until the very last round and displayed why many people considered him as one of the favourites.
For something more, it would appear he once again lacked a bit of solidity. In the crucial 12th round game against Ding, he overpressed and got punished for it. True, the same approach brought him a win in the next round against Grischuk, but in the end, it was not enough.
To be completely honest, I think he was unlucky in a sense that he played very good, but certain Fab played even better. But this was probably not the last Candidates tournament of his life.
An unknown factor before the tournament proved his reputation of a 'dark horse'. Ding displayed amazing stability and solidity and proved he is incredibly hard to beat when he is in form. He was kind of Giri of this tournament - he drew games with ease but failed to exploit a number of chances he had during the tournament.
He even retained some theoretical chances until the very end, but they were too slight. Still, definitely not a 'bad' performance, especially considering this was his first tournament of such a calibre.
It is very hard to assess Kramnik's performance in this tournament. On one side, he played the most entertaining chess and gained a number of great wins. On the other hand, he lacked stability and safety; he played in a way one would expect from Mamedyarov or Aronian. In the end, his score also wasn't quite brilliant (+3-4=9), but I think the score doesn't reflect the course of the tournament quite truthfully. I think his play was kinda better than that (but I may be biased since I rooted for Kramnik from the start).
Because after his early lead, the game against the ultimate winner Caruana proved to be some sort of a turning point. Had he won that game (and he had definite chances) the whole tournament would have probably gone completely differently. After this loss, Kramnik suffered another one in the next one and entered a rollercoaster. Had he maintained his composure a bit, he would have probably utilized multiple chances he had later in the tournament.
One thing is certain, though.
For a Wild Card, he did indeed play very Wild.
To be completely honest, I wasn't quite certain where to include Grischuk; I wouldn't have probably made a mistake even if I put him among the losers. Still, considering he definitely isn't the strongest player in the tournament and that he still has constant clock issues, his overall result is probably expected - not too terrible, not too brilliant.
On the other hand, his brilliant press conferences have won the hearts of chess fans all over the world... and probably also Anastasia Karlovich's.. So from that standpoint, he might be the winner.
The most obvious category of them all. After his terrible start (2 losses in 2 rounds), Wesley's tournament virtually ended. It seems like during the remaining 10 rounds, he decided to cut his losses and opted for safety first. In the end, he lost another game and managed to score a consolation goal against an even bigger loser - the pre-tournament and fan favourite Levon Aronian.
I think everything has been said about the performance of the Armenian superstar. 4.5/14, completely unrecognizable play, bad handling of tactical positions which are usually his forte. It seems that once again Aronian was let down by his nerves. The most disappointing fact for his fans - he doesn't get any younger.