- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump may find that one of his first post-victory chores will be delivering the world chess championship — back to the Russians.

With a thrilling last-round game capped by a devastating rook sacrifice against U.S. GM Fabiano Caruana, Russian GM Sergey Karjakin on Monday won the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Moscow, earning the right to take on reigning world champ Magnus Carlsen of Norway in a 12-game title match starting Nov. 11 in New York City. There’s already talk that The Donald’s Trump Tower may be the venue, with the match kicking off just three days after the U.S. presidential vote.

Karjakin is likely to be a significant underdog against Carlsen, who enjoys a 3-1 edge with 15 draws in head-to-head classical play, but he proved the steadiest player in Moscow, and has a rich tradition of Russian chess greatness to draw on.

The 26-year-old Russian was a noted prodigy and still holds the record for the youngest player ever to earn the grandmaster title at 12 years, seven months. He played for his native Ukraine until 2009, when he switched his allegiance to Russia.

But despite his lengthy tenure as an elite player, Karjakin was not considered among the favorites in Moscow. He ranks only 13th on the latest FIDE world ratings list and was the second-lowest rated player in the eight-grandmaster candidates field. But he scored 2½ points in the final three rounds, finishing alone in first at 8½-5½.

The drama was palpable in Monday’s final round. Karjakin and Caruana — bidding to become the first American champion since Bobby Fischer was stripped of his title in 1975 — were tied for first, but the tiebreaks virtually forced Caruana to play for a win with Black. He managed to created a sharp, double-edged position out of a Rauzer Sicilian, but the price was high — Black’s king was left in the center of the board and constantly exposed to a White counterattack.

Black appeared to be the aggressor as both sides built up their attacks, but Karjakin showed he was ready to mix it up with the line-opening 29. Bb3 Rg5 30. e5!? Rxe5 31. Rc4, giving up a pawn to pressure the Black position.

Caruana’s need to play for a win cost him in the end, as the Russian found a killer combination in the final minutes before time control: 35. Rd4 d5 36. Qd2 Re4? (see diagram; better was 36…Be4 37. Rxb4 Qc7 38. Rb5 Rc8 39. Qb4+ Ke8 40. Rb7 Qc5, though it’s unlikely Black can win this position) 37. Rxd5!! (the only winning move: 37. Rxe4?! Bxe4 38. Qh6 Qc7 39. Qxh5 Qc3, and Black has the edge), blasting open the d-file with devastating effect.

Karjakin punched his ticket to New York after 37…exd5 38. Qxd5 (threatening mate on d7) Qc7 (Rd4 39. Qxd4 Qxd4 40. Rxd4 just leaves White a pawn up in the ending) 39. Qf5! (with a second brutal threat of a queen check at h7) Rf7 40. Bxf7 Qe5 (Kxf7 41. Qh7+ picks off the queen) 41. Rd7+ Kf8 42. Rd8+!, and Black resigned as 42…Kxf7 (Kg7 43. Qg6 mate; 42…Ke7 43. Qd7 mate) 43. Qh7+ Ke6 44. Qd7 is checkmate.

The final leaderboard: Karjakin 8½-5½; Caruana, Anand 7½-6½; Hikaru Nakamura (U.S.), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Peter Svidler (Russia) and Levon Aronian (Armenia) 7-7; Veselin Topalov (4½-9½).

Karjakin-Caruana, FIDE Candidates Tournament, Moscow, March 2016

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. O-O-O Bd7 9. f4 h6 10. Bh4 b5 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. f5 Qb6 13. fxe6 fxe6 14. Nxc6 Qxc6 15. Bd3 h5 16. Kb1 b4 17. Ne2 Qc5 18. Rhf1 Bh6 19. Qe1 a5 20. b3 Rg8 21. g3 Ke7 22. Bc4 Be3 23. Rf3 Rg4 24. Qf1 Rf8 25. Nf4 Bxf4 26. Rxf4 a4 27. bxa4 Bxa4 28. Qd3 Bc6 29. Bb3 Rg5 30. e5 Rxe5 31. Rc4 Rd5 32. Qe2 Qb6 33. Rh4 Re5 34. Qd3 Bg2 35. Rd4 d5 36. Qd2 Re4 37. Rxd5 exd5 38. Qxd5 Qc7 39. Qf5 Rf7 40. Bxf7 Qe5 41. Rd7+ Kf8 42. Rd8+ Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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