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26 Mar

The Long Good Friday

Just like the cult British gangster movie with the same title of the early 1980s that witnessed stunning breakthrough performances from Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren, who went into an Easter weekend that promised a big million dollar  pay-day from New York, the Moscow Candidates’ Tournament is becoming more tense and intense the closer we get to the final scene, with no one really knowing what’s going to happen and just who is going to be left standing.  

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Yesterday, it was Fabiano Caruana holding all the aces as he was joined in the lead with veteran Viswanathan Anand. Now, at the end of a long - and good for some - round 12, Caruana can count himself lucky to still be “hanging around” after Levon Aronian missed a golden opportunity late in game; Anand’s tournament hitting the buffers yet again with a third defeat with Black; all of which left frontrunner Sergey Karjakin holding the advantage as the new co-leader going into the final two rounds.

In today’s diagram, after Caruana had just played 38.Ra1, Aronian played 38…Qc5 and the game eventually ended in a long draw. But here Aronian missed the killer move 38…Rxd3!! that would have poleaxed Caruana. The (full) point being that if 39.cxd3 Qxd3+ 40.Ke1 (If 40.Kg1 Qc4!! 41.Qd1 c2 wins) 40...Qxe4+ wins, as after 41.Kf1 Qd3+ 42.Ke1 Qd2+ 43.Kf1 c2! the pawn can’t be stopped, as 44.Qb2+ Kh7 45.Rc1 Qd1+!! is mating.

Caruana was thus joined back in the lead with Karjakin, as the Russian showed no mercy as he ripped through the kingside defences of tail-ender Veselin Topalov’s Sicilian - remarkably, the only Sicilian so far of the tournament (how time and trends change!). That result left Karjakin and Caruana tied on the lead on 7/12; but the crucial tiebreak balance has now switched to Karjakin with the most wins of the two - and they will meet in the final round, where at stake is a $1m title match later this year against Magnus Carlsen in New York.

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Five-time ex-champ Anand has certainly had quite a ride in Moscow - but his quest for  Anand-Carlsen III looks to have finally hit the buffers as he was massacred by Hikaru Nakamura, as the American finally came to life as he tore apart his opponent’s pet-line against the English Opening.  But what a roller-coaster for Anand through rounds 9-12: Win-Loss-Win-Loss. 

Photo © | Moscow Candidates Tournament

Round 12
Karjakin 1-0 Topalov
Svidler draw Giri
Nakamura 1-0 Anand
Caruana draw Aronian

Standings
1-2. Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 7/12; 3. Viswanathan Anand (India) 6.5; 4-6. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Peter Svidler (Russia) 6; 7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 5.5; 8. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 4.

Rest day Saturday 26 March.

GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Viswanathan Anand
FIDE Moscow Candidates, (12)
English Opening,
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4 5.Nd5 e4 Anand has made a reputation out of being thoroughly well-prepared in the opening - but it surely now has to be a concern for the five-time ex-champ that his last two games with Black has seen his favoured line against the English being ruthlessly torn apart by the two Americans. 6.Nh4 0-0 7.Bg2 d6 8.a3 In round 3, Topalov-Aronian continued with 8.Nxb4 Nxb4 9.a3 but it gave White nothing. And much in the same vein as the game, White can also play 8.0-0 g5 9.d4! gxh4 10.Bg5 which is winning - but instead, after 9...h6 10.a3 Ba5 Black is doing OK. However Nakamura had worked out a cunning plan that involves diverting first the bishop to c5 to gain a tempo against the critical …g5, so that in certain lines he can play d4. 8...Bc5 9.0-0! Re8 The immediate 9...g5 is strongly met by 10.d4! Nxd5 11.dxc5! which is good for White. 10.e3 g5 If 10...Be6 11.b4! Bb6 12.Qb3 Ne5 13.Bb2 and White stands well. 11.b4 Bb6 Nakamura hinted that this line was risky and allowed an equaliser - but difficult to find over the board. I suspect it is here with 11...gxh4! 12.bxc5 dxc5 13.Nf4 and White still has an edge with that long diagonal threat, but crucially Black is not being killed here as happens in the game. 12.Bb2 Nxd5 13.cxd5 The long diagonal b2-h8 is going to be a killer - and Anand now try's his best to block it to avoid the carnage. 13...Nd4 This has to be the critical line now; and Nakamura himself commented in the post-game press conference that this was what concerned him the most as he and his team prepared this line for Anand - but it gave him enormous satisfaction when he discovered what to do here. The other option clearly favours White: 13...Ne5 14.f4! Nc4 15.fxg5 Qxg5! (Not 15...Nxb2? as after 16.Qh5! Qd7 (16...Qe7? 17.Bxe4!) 17.Bh3! with a winning attack.) 16.Bf6! Qxd5 17.Kh1 leaves White with a winning attack on the Black king. And no better was: 13...Nb8? 14.Qh5 gxh4 15.Qh6! f6 16.Bxf6 Qd7 17.Qg5+ Kf8 18.f3! with the f-file opening forcing Black to resign or be mated. And likewise 13...Ne7 14.Qh5 Nxd5 15.f3! again opening the f-file and carnage. 14.d3! gxh4 15.dxe4 Ne6 The only option, as 15...Nf5 goes down quickly to 16.Qg4+ Kf8 17.exf5 and White is easily winning. 16.dxe6 Rxe6 17.e5! Cruel. Nakamura voluntarily blocks the b2-h8 diagonal - but it is only temporary, and now he's brought his other bishop into the game by opening another diagonal. 17...hxg3 18.hxg3 Qg5 19.exd6 Rxd6 20.Qb3! h5 Now we see the reason for 17.e5 unleashing the other bishop. If 20...Be6 21.Qc3 f6 22.Bxb7 and White easily wins. 21.Rad1 Rh6 22.Rd5! The final nail in Anand's coffin - the rook comes into the game and removes a vital defender for the vulnerable Black king. 22...Qe7 23.Qc4 Bg4 24.Qf4 Rg6 25.Re5 Qd6 26.Be4 1-0 There's no defence: After 26...Rg7 27.Rg5! Qxf4 28.Rxg7+! is hopeless.

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