29 Mar

The Battle of the Millennials

With a devastating rook sacrifice to beat his American co-leader Fabiano Caruana in a tense but thrilling cliffhanger to the Moscow Candidates' Tournament, held over three weeks in the historic Central Telegraph building, close to the Kremlin, Crimea-born Sergey Karjakin of Russia has fulfilled his early childhood destiny by now going forward to claim the right to challenge an age-old rival in world champion Magnus Carlsen in a title match this coming November in New York City.  


In what proved to be a nerve-wracking clash between the leaders, Caruana paid the price for making a bad blunder in a must-win tiebreak situation that allowed Karjakin a brilliant sacrifice to win  - and with it also the tournament and a title challenge, as the Muscovite was thrust immediately into the media spotlight following his win.


Karjakin not only played some impressive chess at the Candidates, but he also showed he had nerves of steel and tenacity by salvaging a few key games that many thought were simply lost - and this made the difference between winning and not.  And anyone who wins both the Fide World Cup and Candidates’ Tournament is a very worthy challenger for the World Championship.

Photo © | Moscow Candidates Tournament

And Karjakin’s victory also now signals the likely end of the ‘old guard’ left over from the Garry Kasparov era - five-time ex-champion Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian - as his forthcoming title match with Carlsen will be seen as heralding in a new generational ‘Battle of the Millennials’. Many have predicted for years that the there would be a title match between the two child prodigies born in 1990; and now it is set to finally happen.

Round 14
Karjakin 1-0 Caruana
Svidler draw Anand
Giri draw Topalov
Nakamura draw Aronian

Final Standings
1. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 8.5/14; 2-3. Fabiano Caruana (USA), Viswanathan Anand (India) 7.5; 4-7. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Peter Svidler (Russia) 7; 8. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 4.5

GM Sergey Karjakin - GM Fabiano Caruana
Fide Moscow Candidates, (14)
Sicilian Richter-Rauzer
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0-0-0 Bd7 9.f4 h6 10.Bh4 b5 11.Bxf6 gxf6 The Richter-Rauzer is a good choice for Caruana, given his likely "must-win" scenario due to his bad  tiebreak score: Its unbalanced, no early liquidation, big latent activity with the bishop-pair if White drifts. 12.f5 Qb6 13.fxe6 White can almost pick and chose his time to exchange pawns on e6 - but exchanging this early allows Black to set his stall out now that the decision has been made. 13...fxe6 14.Nxc6 Qxc6!? Recapturing with the bishop would most likely just be a waste of time, as it will likely have to return to d7 to defend e6. 15.Bd3 h5 16.Kb1 b4 17.Ne2 Qc5 Earlier, many found it difficult to consult their datbases on this opening, as they couldn't see any games associated with this line - but shortly the game does, by transposition, reach a critical position. 18.Rhf1?! 18.e5! is a typical shot in this position as this pawn sacrifice opens all the lines and Black is in big trouble - and it proved to be decisive in the game Prandstetter-Kozul, Tbilisi 1988, as White ripped through the Black defences - and this is a portent of what comes much later in the game. 18...Qxe5? (Black has to play 18...fxe5 19.Qg5 Be7 20.Qg7! Rf8 21.Rhf1 Rxf1 22.Rxf1 Bc6 23.Rf7 and tough it out from here. It looks very dangerous, but with careful play from Black then White will only have a small advantage.) 19.Rhe1 Bh6 20.Qxb4 Ke7 21.Nd4 Be3 22.Rxe3 Qxe3 23.Re1 as in Prandstetter,E (2415)-Kozul,Z (2505) Tbilisi 1988. 18...Bh6 19.Qe1 a5 20.b3 Played not just to halt the pawn advance, but also to put his bishop on the menacing diagonal of c4. 20...Rg8 Another option was the immediate 20...Ke7 and keeping open ideas of perhaps ...Rag8 instead. But given the circumstances, Caruana no doubt wanted to threaten Karjakin's king. 21.g3 Ke7 The king is perfectly safer here for the moment, as he's shielded by the pawns. 22.Bc4 Be3! Bringing the bishop into play and also at the same time preventing White from getting in the awkward Nd4. 23.Rf3 Instead, 23.Nf4 might be objectively better, but Fabiano probably had in mind sacrificing the h-pawn with 23...Bd4! 24.Qd2 (24.Nxh5 Bc3 25.Qe2 a4 and Black has generated serious winning plans.) 24...Bc3 25.Qd3 Be5! A very resourceful move, as it stays on the attack on the diagonal, but now it also covers all the defences around the Black king, and it has stopped any ideas from White of playing e5. And it goes without saying now, that after 26.Nxh5 a4! Black has the makings of a promising attack on White's king. 23...Rg4 24.Qf1 Rf8 Caruana had to be feeling good here, as he has the bishop-pair and the better rooks and queen. However, it isn't all that much to work with, and Karjakin soon finds his way out of his minor difficulties. 25.Nf4! This more or less forces Caruana to exchange off his good bishop; now things begin to ease for Karjakin. 25...Bxf4 If 25...Bd4 26.Qe2 suddenly White has big threats of Rfd3 and Nxh5 (if Black plays ...Be5). So unfortunately Caruana has to exchange off the bishop he really would have liked to have kept on the board. 26.Rxf4 a4 27.bxa4! Courage! The bishop coming to b3 defends White's king wonderfully. Of course, things might not look so good in case of an endgame; but Karjakin rightly concentrates first on nullifying any possibilities of Caruana having an attack to work with. 27...Bxa4 28.Qd3 Bc6 29.Bb3 Rg5 30.e5! Remember what I said in the earlier note about the dangers of this being played in the Prandstetter-Kozul game? Sergey rightly realises he needs to get this break in now to open all the lines for his pieces, before Fabiano plays ...Re5, ...Rg8 and ...Rg4. 30...Rxe5 The only move: 30...dxe5? 31.Rc4 Qd5 32.Qh7+; 30...fxe5? 31.Qh7+ Ke8 32.Rxf8+ Kxf8 33.Rf1+; 30...Qxe5 31.Rc4!? with excellent attacking prospects. 31.Rc4 Rd5 32.Qe2 Qb6 Caruana tries to keep his major pieces on the board for obvious reasons. He can play here 32...Rxd1+ 33.Qxd1 Qd5 and claim that even exchanging queens gives him the better endgame - but the reality is that Karjakin will easily find a way to draw this. 33.Rh4 Re5 34.Qd3 Bg2 35.Rd4 d5 36.Qd2 Re4?? Fabiano probably believed he could hold on to his pawn and hopefully chance at winning this - but tragically he'd overlooked a wonderful sacrificial bolt from the blue that rocks his world and his chances of a world title match. However, after such a long tournament full of tension, such oversights are forgivable. Instead, he had to play 36...Be4 37.Rxb4 Qc6 and the fight was definitely still on, as Black is quite dominant in the centre. 37.Rxd5!! (See Diagram) Karjakin was likely lost without this remarkable shot that turns the tables completely. But what a wonderful sacrificial way to get to a world championship match! 37...exd5 38.Qxd5 Karjakin has a myriad of mating attacks now - and timed to perfection, because Caruana was desperately short of time; not that any extra time would have saved him here. 38...Qc7 When going for Re4, Caruana had stopped calculating prematurely. And as 38...Rd8 allows 39.Qf7# His only salvation was 38...Rd4! 39.Qxd4 Qxd4 40.Rxd4 but this is clearly a better ending for White because of the extra pawn. 39.Qf5! The threat of Qh7+ is impossible to parry. And short of time, Caruana expected 39.Qxh5. 39...Rf7 If 39...Qc6 40.Qh7+ Ke8 41.Qxh5+ Ke7 and now the move Karjakin admitted he hadn't seen yet, but probably would easily have found on the board, is 42.Bd5! and wins. 40.Bxf7 Qe5 41.Rd7+ Kf8 42.Rd8+ 1-0  Fittingly, this was the final game to finish at the Moscow Candidates' Tournament.

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