There used to be a time - and a long one, at that - when it seemed as if you couldn’t get ahead at the very top of the world championship cycle unless your surname happened to start with the letter “K”. It was called “The K Factor”, and leading the charge was Karpov, Korchnoi, Kasparov and Kramnik, all legends of world championship battles from the mid-1970s right through to the new millennium.
And leading Russian commentator GM Sergey Shipov also harked back to this era, as he penned an insightful preview of the Moscow Candidates in the latest New in Chess magazine. Shipov said Magnus Carlsen somewhat restored the order with his K sounding surname, and believed the time was right to reestablish ‘The K Factor’ by tipping Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana to fulfil their early promise as the favourites to emerge as Magnus Carlsen’s challenger.
Shipov believes this to be the moment of maturity for former prodigy Karjakin and - with the backing of the Russian federation, not to mention the legendary chess resources in that country - he could well have what it takes to challenge Carlsen. And certainly so far in Moscow, he’s been the player that’s impressed me the most - and he turned in yet another impressive performance in round four to squeeze (a lá Petrosian) five-time ex-champion Anand off the board, to now take the sole lead in the tournament on 3/4, a half point ahead of Levon Aronian.
While it was Karjakin’s day again, fortune didn’t favour Caruana, who missed a certain win against hapless tail-ender Veselin Topalov as he failed to convert a won double rook and pawn ending. Meanwhile in the other exciting game of the round, Hikaru Nakamura - still looking for his first win - was involved in a spectacular skirmish in the Semi-Slav with the well-prepared Anish Giri, who quickly defused the pyrotechnics to secure the draw.
Caruana draw Topalov
Svidler draw Aronian
Nakamura draw Giri
Karjakin 1-0 Anand
Standings: 1. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 3/4; 2. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 2.5; 3-6. Viswanathan Anand (India), Peter Svidler (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 2; 7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 1.5; 8. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 1.
GM Sergey Karjakin - GM Viswanathan Anand
FIDE Moscow Candidates, (4)
1.Nf3 Again Reti's Opening that Karjakin has had so much success with in this Candidates Tournament. And if he goes on to win and challenge Magnus Carlsen, and continues playing the Reti they way he has been, then there could well be some interesting strategic tussles ahead. 1...d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.b3 Be7 5.Bb2 0-0 6.Nc3 c5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.h4 Just as we saw in Karjakin win in the Reti against Hikaru Nakamura, the Russian is looking to play Ng5 to induce ...g6 that will in-turn weaken the long b2-h8 diagonal. 9...b6 10.a3 First preventing a ..Nb4 before deciding on a future Ng5. 10...f5 With ...f5, Anand prevents Ng5, as he can simply take twice on g5 as there's no Qxh7 mate to worry about - but this is a radical solution, as long-term it could (and does) create pawn weaknesses. 11.Bb5 Bb7 12.Nxd5 exd5 13.d4! It's amazing how easily and how quickly Karjakin gets a good advantage from the position, as his opponent is left with the hanging pawns on c5 and d5 and several weaknesses that will be a liability going into an endgame with. 13…Rc8 14.dxc5 bxc5 15.0-0! Despite h4 on the board, Karjakin now simply castles to safety and sets about haranguing those hanging pawns by bringing his rooks to d1 and c1. And note that for now Anand can't take on h4 as Karjakin would capture the more important pawn on c5. 15...Bf6 16.Rfd1 Ne7 17.Bxf6 Rxf6 18.g3 Just as Karjakin did against Nakamura, he's left his opponent with a structural weakness and awkwardly placed pieces - and in many ways in both of these decisive Reti Openings Karjakin's play has been a little reminiscent of the great Tigran Petrosian. 18...Ba6 After the obvious punt of 18...d4, there comes 19.Qe2! and eventually Black will lose his d-pawn. 19.Bxa6 Rxa6 20.Qc3 Rb6 21.Rac1 Qd6 22.Ne5 Karjakin's knight is also much better than Anand's. And, much like his little edge here and there against Nakamura, the position may well be materially equal, but Karjakin stands better as with his more centrally-developed pieces and his opponent's pawn weaknesses to nibble away at. 22...Rb7 23.Nd3! The knight dominates the hanging pawns - and look how difficult it is for Anand to get his knight into the game to compete to defend them. 23...c4 Anand opts the practical solution by seeking to exchange off one of the hanging pawns, thus limiting his liabilities - a lesson we should all take note of. 24.bxc4 Rxc4 25.Qe5! (See Diagram) Forcing the queens off, and with it the better endgame for Karjakin. However with the material being equal, Anand is seeking exchanges to again lessen his liabilities - the theory goes that the more material that comes off, the easier it is to achieve the draw with there being reduced material now left on the board. 25...Qxe5 26.Nxe5 Rxc1 27.Rxc1 It's not just the weak pawns on a7 and d5 that's the problem for Anand, it's also what to do about Karjakin's dominant knight on e5? (that coincidentally also keeps up the pressure with threats of back-rank mates by covering f7). 27...g6 28.Rc5! Not just hitting d5, but looking to play Ra5 to also keep tabs on a7, all of which ties up Anand's pieces to defending. 28...Kg7 29.Ra5 Kf6 30.Nd3 Rc7 31.Ra6+! Another nice little creeping move from Karjakin, as the check forces Anand's king back down the board. This is a form of torture for Black trying to defend this - and a torture made all the worse by the fact that he simply cannot co-ordinate his pieces to make a fight of it. 31...Kg7 32.Nf4 Rd7 33.Kf1! The intended winning plan for Karjakin is simply to bring his king into the game now - with an easy route of Kf1-e2-d3-d4, if Anand doesn't do anything - and then pick his moment to pick off the weak pawns on d5 and a7. 33...Ng8 34.Ne6+! Now that Anand has been forced into moving his knight further back to try to find a way into the game, Karjakin brings his knight over to attack the pawn on a7, the furthest away for the wayward knight to defend from its original starting square. 34...Kf7 35.Nd4 Ne7 36.Nb5 Nc8 37.a4 Anand is not far from being in Zugzwang here, as he can't make any constructive moves that will help him to defend. 37...Rb7 38.Rc6 Ne7 39.Ra6 Nc8 40.Rc6 No, not a tacit offer of a draw, just safely repeating the position for a couple of moves to get to the time-control at move 40, where he'll have the luxury of the added time to workout the win. And this is a good tip from the pros that amateurs can use in their own games - rather than rushing to find the win, if you can repeat the moves in the position a couple of times to get you closer to the time-control, then you should do so. 40...Ne7 41.Rd6 Rb6 42.Rd7 The agony for Anand goes on and on - he's still equal in material, but he's so pinned back with his pieces being ineffective that when one pawn falls off, then his game collapses. 42...a6 43.Nc3 1-0 Now d5 cannot be defended; meanwhile there’s also now the added threat of 44.Rxe7+! and taking the pawn on d5 forking the king and rook. This was yet another über-smooth performance from Karjakin - and if he can keep this level of play up, he could well win the Candidates to play Carlsen in what would be the first all-millenials world championship match.