Marathon Round 13 Leaves Uncertainty
by GM Maurice Ashley
After 13 rounds, the Candidates Tournament in Moscow, an epic event that has seen its ample share of head-spinning twists and turns, will come down to the dramatic last day. Both leaders, Fabiano Caruana of the USA and Sergey Karjakin of Russia, failed to make any headway in their respective bids to become the next challenger to World Champion Magnus Carlsen. However, the draws in their individual contests and lack of decisive results from the trailing pack means that it is a mathematical certainty that only one of the two has a chance of emerging as the victor of the event.
Caruana, who has missed many golden opportunities to win games in previous rounds, came marginally close to doing so as White against Peter Svidler. After a long battle that was equal throughout, the young American managed to pocket a pawn in the endgame to give his growing legion of fans some hope that he would take home the full point. The crescendo became even louder when he nabbed a second pawn, but soon it became clear that Black could sacrifice his bishop for the two foot soldiers and instantly steer the position into a theoretically drawn rook and bishop vs rook endgame. Caruana tortured Svidler for many moves and prompted his opponent to finally blunder into a lost position, leading GM Eric Hansen and myself to do a little dance (not with each other) in the studio. However, the partying stopped when Caruana immediately faltered and the game ended in a deflating draw in 116(!) moves. To be fair, even the precise continuation would not have sealed the deal due to Black being able to claim a draw based on the 50-move rule despite having a lost position on the board.
The other key game featured the jovial Armenian Levon Aronian, playing White, making his final bid to win the event by defeating co-leader Karjakin. The seemingly ever-present English opening exploded into wild complications when Black decided to greedily grab a pawn only to soon realize that his pieces had become precariously placed. However, as has been his want throughout the entire event, the stalwart Russian dug deep and threw up intense resistance that left the commentators shaking their heads in respect to his greatness as a defender. While Aronian tried valiantly to breach the Black position, it was not to be. This left him to see yet another Candidates event pass without him having a shot at the title.
That leaves a vintage last round match-up featuring the tournament leaders playing for all the marbles. Due to a ridiculous tiebreak system that simply has to be changed for future events, Caruana faces the herculean task of having to win with the Black pieces to assure himself of emerging on top of the event. Due to the vagaries of the tiebreak formula, Fabi could also win the tournament if the game ends in a draw and Anand manages to win as Black against Peter Svidler to join the leaders in a three-way tie for first. That would be a sad way for any tournament to end as millions of fans from at least two countries would be outraged that their player would have to miss out on a world title match just because of some bureaucratic formula. Of course, the players have themselves to blame as well for agreeing to let the system stay in place before the tournament even began.
The rules notwithstanding, the dramatic final round will decide it all. The winner of one of the most exciting tournaments in years will rise to take its place in history. It will be a round not to be missed!