The sixth round of the Candidates tournament saw a new co-leader as Mamedyarov beat a struggling Kramnik to join Caruana in the lead. Wesley So righted his ship with a victory over Levon Aronian. The other two games of the round were drawn.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Vladimir Kramnik
Despite many pieces being traded off early, the game still had a lot of play left in it. The players disagreed about the evaluation of the resulting endgame in the post-game press conference, as both seemed to think it was to their advantage. However, after 34...Rdc8 Kramnik admitted that he was just down a pawn. After this move, Mamedyarov slowly converted his advantage without incident. Only 4 days ago, Kramnik was soaring as he won a brilliant game against Aronian to take the tournament lead. Since then, he has lost two games in a row and now appears to be struggling.
Yet again, poor Grischuk was denied the opportunity to play a mainline Gruenfeld or Kings Indian, as Caruana went with the more circumspect 4. e3. The result was a Benoni structure where black can argue that the moves e3 and e4 waste a tempo for White. Caruana won a pawn, but there was plenty of counterplay on the queenside for Grischuk. With his time running out, Caruana prudently decided to take a draw by repetition. After the game, Grischuk continued his tradition of being the star of the postgame press conference. He pointed out that he had popularized Caruana’s opening in this game and considered it “one of his best inventions.” When asked about the Benoni pawn structure he cleverly showed off his impressive biblical knowledge by saying that Benoni means “son of sorrow,”
After a somewhat slow Ruy Lopez opening, the game suddenly exploded as Wesley So made a positional pawn sacrifice. Aronian got an extra pawn but several of his own pawns became shaky, especially the e6 pawn. The pawn eventually fell, and with the position turning against him, Aronian turned to desperate measures. He sacrificed his queen for a rook and minor piece, but it wasn’t enough to save the game.
Wesley So deserves credit for continuing to play aggressively in a tournament that didn’t start well for him. On the other side of the board, the never-ending monkey on Aronian’s back, that he’s unable to play well in the Candidates, seems to manifest itself again.
Such a huge fan of watching Lev play when he's on, but it's incredibly frustrating to see him always melt down in this one single event.
At the moment Aronian’s performance rating in this tournament is about 70 points below his actual rating, which certainly qualifies as underperforming. However, these things can change quickly as Vladimir Kramnik has experienced recently.