2018 Berlin Candidates

Font Size
Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

FIDE Candidates Tournament 2018
Berlin, Germany
March 10-28, 2018

Standings (3 of 14)

1. Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2800, 2.5/3

2-3. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2809, Fabiano Caruana USA 2784, 2.0/3

4-5. Ding Liren CHN 2769, Alexander Grischuk RUS 2767, 1.5/3

6-7. Sergey Karjakin RUS 2763, Levon Aronian ARM 2794, 1.0/3

8. Wesley So USA 0.5/3

Average Rating: 2786 Category 22

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves followed by 15 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1.

The Berlin Candidates’ tournament has already started. Whoever wins this will play a match for the world championship title against defending titleholder Magnus Carlsen in a 12-game match in London in November of this year.

The first round will take place on Saturday, March 10th, starting at 10:00 p.m. Manila time. After every three rounds, there is a rest day, with the final 14th round scheduled for March 27th.

The prize fund is huge: €420,000 (P27 million). Of this, the winner gets €95,000 (P6 million), second place receives €88,000 (P5.6 million), and third, €75,000 (P4.8 million). The eighth and last of the tournament will take home €17,000 (P1 million).

The candidates are:

The losing finalist of the previous world championship match, Sergey Karjakin RUS 2763.

The top two finishers in the Chess World Cup 2017, Levon Aronian ARM 2794 and Ding Liren CHN 2769

The top two finishers in the FIDE Grand Prix 2017 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2809 and Alexander Grischuk RUS 2767

The top two players with the highest rating not otherwise qualified Fabiano Caruana USA 2784 and Wesley So USA 2799

The organizers’ nominee Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2800

Last month the New in Chess publishing house released a pamphlet inviting its readers to “Place your bets for Berlin.”

GM Jan Timman points to Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana as his favorites to win the event. You will notice that the wildcard entry Vladimir Kramnik, who did not qualify for the tournament but was directly invited by the organizers, is considered a favorite — it is not logical but I confess that “BigVlad” is also my pick to win all the marbles. As to Wesley So Timman writes that “So is first and foremost a solid player who relies on his strong technique. He is a year younger than Caruana and has every possibility to develop further. At this point, I don’t think he has the punching power to secure a large plus score.”

Anish Giri, writing in the same publication chimes in about Wesley: “I think this Candidates tournament covers just a little too late for him to be able to peak in it, but if everyone will blow themselves to pieces he will be there to calmly pick up the pieces and cruise to first place.”

Hmm, not a very optimistic prediction either, Giri is saying that if everyone else plays badly Wesley may win. Sheesh.

Another assessment, this time by the top French player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in his blog: “He is a typical counterattacking player, that’s where he feels at ease. If he doesn’t succeed in finding more aggressive ideas in the opening, in setting more problems to his opponents, it will not work in Berlin. Of course, he gets positions he could possibly win, but it might not be sufficient at the Candidates tournament level, where everybody arrives armed to the teeth.

“By the way, he already had difficulties adapting to his new status in 2017 (Wesley So was world #2 from March to August — Ed.). That being said, I noticed that he recently tried to develop his style, to take a bit more risks, and I feel this is the right direction. He certainly had enough time to make the same diagnosis than me, namely that he has the technical level to win the Candidates, but that a little something is still lacking.

You will notice that both Timman and Vachier-Lagrave think that Wesley should play more aggressively and accept the risk associated. Well, that is exactly what let him down in the first round. At the same time I should say that the game also highlights Caruana’s strength — a sudden attack out of nowhere. As Wesley describes, “Things went really bad real quick.”

Caruana, Fabiano (2784) — So, Wesley (2799) [E00]
FIDE Candidates 2018 Berlin GER (1.4), 10.03.2018


This first move came as a surprise to Wesley as in the previous Candidates “Fabiano played only 1.e4.”

1…Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Be7 5.Bg2 d5 6.Nf3 0–0 7.0–0 c6 8.Qb3 Nbd7 9.Bf4 a5 10.Rd1 Nh5 11.Bc1 Nhf6 12.Nbd2

GM Dejan Bojkov in the Web site points out that “the more natural” 12.Nc3 is strongly met by 12…a4! 13.Qc2 (13.Nxa4 dxc4 14.Qc2 b5 transposes to the same position) 13…dxc4 14.Nxa4 b5 “with a comfortable position for Black.”

12…b5 13.c5

This is a common motif. The b5–pawn cannot be taken because of White’s weakness on e2. 13.cxb5 cxb5 14.Qxb5 Ba6 15.Qa4 Bxe2 16.Re1 Ba6 Black is doing fine.

13…b4 14.Qc2 a4

Black has completely equalized.


Planning e2–e4.


After the game Wesley wondered is this move was an inexactitude. I don’t think it is — the mistake comes later.


[16.dxe5 Ng4 17.h3 (17.e4? Bxc5 18.Rf1 Ba6 Black is winning some material) 17…Ngxe5 is a favorable version for Black of what actually happens in the game]

16…Nxe5 17.dxe5 Nd7 18.Nf3 Bxc5

Some commentators pointed out after the game that 18…Nxc5 might be better. I believe Wesley was afraid of 19.Be3 Ra5 20.Nd4 Bd7 21.Rac1 Black’s position is uncomfortable.


The start of a whirlwind attack.

19…g6 20.Bf4 Qb6 21.e4 b3 22.axb3 axb3 23.Qe2 Ba6?!

In games between ordinary mortals like you and me, both of us make several mistakes during a game and the one who makes the next-to-last mistake wins. Not so in these elite circles. You make one tiny mistake and you are done for. Now Fabiano organizes an attack at the enemy king — he manages to lure one of Wesley’s defender away from the defense of his monarch and the attack really becomes full-flown.

[Correct was 23…Ra2! Caruana intended to respond with 24.Rab1 Ba6 25.Qf3 but during his deliberations noticed that Black has 25…Bd3!? 26.Qxd3 Bxf2+ 27.Kh1 Bxe1 and everything is a mess.

24.Qf3 Bc4 25.Rxa8 Rxa8

This is the reason why 23…Ba6 was bad, the Black rook leaves the defense of his king.

26.e6! dxe4

[Since 26…fxe6 27.Bb8 (threatening mate via Qf3–f7xh7) 27…Ne5 28.Bxe5 Rf8 29.Qg4 resigns]

27.exf7+ Bxf7 28.Nxe4 Bd4 29.Nd6 Bd5 30.Qe2 Nf8

Not 30…Bxg2 31.Qe6+ Kh8 32.Nf7+ Kg8 33.Nd8+ Kg7 34.Qxd7+ Kf6 35.Qf7#.

31.Bxd5+ cxd5 32.Qf3 Qa5 33.Re7 1–0 After 33.Re7 there is forced mate coming up: 33…Ne6 34.Be3 Rf8 35.Re8! Rxe8 36.Qf7+ Kh8 37.Qxe8+ Kg7 38.Qf7+ Kh8 39.Bxd4+ Nxd4 40.Qf8#.

The candidates showed up in Berlin with their seconds:

GM Alexey Dreev for Mamedyarov. He is the world’s greatest openings expert in several lines, most notably the Slav and Semi-Slav systems. Back in the ’90s he himself was a world championship candidate but his nerves let him down. His role as a coach perfectly suits him.

Vladimir Potkin for Sergey Karjakin. Potkin is one of the coaches of the Russian national team and his most famous student is Ian Nepomniachtchi. As a player he is not so bad either — in the 2011 European Championship he accompanied his student Nepomniachtchi to the competition and decided to take part himself. Nepom did not do so well but Potkin wound up winning the tournament!

Rustam Kasimdzhanov is with Fabiano Caruana. Rustam is the 2004 world chess champion. He is much sought-after as a second/coach and has previously handled Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana. He is most well known for seconding Vishy Anand in his 2008, 2010 and 2012 world championship matches.

Vladislav Tkachiev is Grischuk’s second, Ding Liren had Wei Yi with him and Anish Giri is seconding for Kramnik.

Wesley So is currently without a second, having split with Vladimir Tukmakov last December. He is accompanied by his adoptive mother Lotis Key.

Wesley had a bad start with 2 losses in the first 2 rounds (to Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk) followed by a draw with Ding Liren. Let us hope he can recover. The prayers of the entire Philippine nation go with Wesley So.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant, he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.