The candidates is over and finally we have a new challenger for the world title: Sergey Karjakin. There are and will be many reports in your favorite chess sites on how good his chess was as well as detailed analysis of his games, but in my opinion he simply played his cards better. He had strong nerves to hold when he was pressed, stamina to recover from a loss and ambition to win. Karjakin showed competitive spirit and had a little bit of luck as well. The chess community should be pleased with the winner; Karjakin has been showing top quality chess for some time, extremely well prepared openings, sharp style and hunger for victory. I’m sure he will be a tough contender for Magnus Carlsen and I truly expect a very entertaining match for the world crown.
On the opposite corner was Fabiano Caruana, who could’ve also been a great challenger for Magnus if he had beaten Karjakin in the last round, but the truth is he had an extremely difficult (I don’t want to say impossible) task. It has been tried many times (World Cup knock outs for instance) and not many have succeed. I suppose that being forced to win as black is not something any player can guarantee, especially against such a theoretical player as Karjakin who will find a solid line against anything you try as black. When Caruana was asked the day before about his game against Karjakin for the first spot, his answer leaves no doubt on how difficult this is:
Caruana: Normally I would’nt mind, but I actually have to win the game which is a bit of an issue but I’ll try my best.
Also relevant was his reaction when the journalist told him about his chances of qualifying with a draw in case Anand wins his game against Svidler:
Caruana: ..if he wins with black, (Laughs)
Caruana tried the Classical Sicilian, but he never obtained the kind of position he could win; you could guess that from very early in the game. Of course, there is always room for debate.
I think there is not much to comment on the last game as only one result was valid for Fabiano and that is a massive pressure for his moves selection. Still, it was a great result for him and I’m sure he will come back to this point in the future.
Perhaps Caruana’s fate took a different turn when in the penultimate round he failed to win a “won” position against Peter Svidler, the famous Philidor position:
Caruana,F – Svidler,P Moscow 2016
Position after 103.Kc4!
This position is winning for white but he still needs to make some very accurate moves, strange-looking, only moves that force victory for white. It is not something trivial like mating with Knight and Bishop. After 7 and a half hours of play it’s understandable that fatigue plays its part and mistakes are made. Caruana himself explained what happened very clearly:
Caruana: We got a Philidor position which is a theoretical win, but it is difficult to find the right..there are some weird moves.. I couldn’t remember how to do it and I didn’t calculate. I did not have enough time to calculate over the board
One thing I find amusing, is the load of bashing on Caruana on the internet for not winning this endgame. I won’t reproduce the amount of inappropriate comments and criticism I read about Caruana in just one day. I can only remember the words by Ivan Sokolov in a interview for ChessBase:
My guess is that people didn’t even know what Caruana was doing until +44 popped up on their screens. Curiously enough, haven’t seen much criticism on Svidler, who is also responsible for the fact that this position showed up on the board. Just in the previous move, if instead of 102….Ka4? he plays 102…Ka6, it should stil lbe a draw.
Haters in action after Caruana’s draw.
The critics were so harsh that GM and ACP President Emil Sutovsky felt compelled enough to ask for some respect to the players via Facebook:
The Grandmaster Pavel Eljanov joked around what happened:
All in all it was a great tournament for spectators, thrilling until the last round. There are some arguments about the tie break system being unfair but what can you do.. rules are there and if it was a different winner the people who complain today would be celebrating instead.
The upcoming match promises to be interesting!
Now with Karjakin as a winner, I guess the only doubt that still remains is if the tournament will actually take place in New York or not. Let’s wait and see.