FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020
FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020
Tuesday 17th March to Friday 3rd April – Yekaterinburg, Russia
This tournament has been postponed until further notice
The Candidates tournament has been halted at the halfway stage with 7 of the 14 rounds played. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi share the lead on 4.5/7 with the favourite, Fabiano Caruana in the chasing pack a point behind.
IM Malcolm Pein has analysed all the games and these are available as a free download from our shop here. There will of course be in full in depth report in the May issue of CHESS. If you are not already a subscriber, you can get the April issue here or nab a half price first-time subscription here
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Round 7 – Wednesday 25th March
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Ian Nepomniachtchi is now on ‘+3’ after just six rounds of the Candidates tournament. The only other player on ‘+3’ is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and today throws up a huge pairing: MVL vs Nepo! We must admit that we failed to call Nepo’s crushing demolition of Ding in round 6, and also didn’t predict Anish Giri’s first win in the Candidates tournament at his 20th attempt.
MVL will be determined to gain revenge for his loss at the semi-final stage in Jerusalem at Nepo’s hands just before Christmas. There in their second game as White he surprised with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 h4!?, but we surely won’t see that today. MVL has a pretty decent score with the white pieces and Nepo likely won’t repeat the French which he played when determined to win against Alekseenko. 1…e5 or the Sicilian is much more likely.
Prediction: MVL wobbled a little against Wang Hao, but has otherwise seemed in decent shape and he’s often the man for the big occasion, so we’ll go for 1 e4 and a white win!
Two players on 50% meet when Fabiano Caruana takes on Wang Hao. The Chinese no.2’s Petroff survived in the Isle of Man, but will Fabi again go 1 d4 or has he something big in store for that Russian Defence which served him as Black so well in the Berlin Candidates?
Prediction: Caruana has never actually beaten Wang Hao, but badly needs a win to stay in contention, so we’ll gamble on a decisive result.
Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk are both also on 50%, but can you guess which one has drawn all their games so far? Yes, it’s not Giri! The duo have drawn most of their encounters, but Giri did win twice and at classical chess back in 2015.
Prediction: Going for Grischuk running low on time will not come as a surprise, but we’ll also be brave and back Giri to record back-to-back victories!
Continuing to neatly move down the scoreboard brings us to the two cellar dwellers, Ding Liren and Kiriil Alekseenko. Ding needed rapid games and some fortune to get passed Alekseenko in last year’s FIDE World Cup, but did pose problems in both white games.
Prediction: So long as Ding plays something more ambitious than Wang Hao did against Alekseenko, it should really be a white win.
Round 6 – Monday 23rd March
@CHESS_Magazine: Instructive moment in @anishgiri‘s game. After the game’s 46 Qc5 Nxb3 47 Qb5 Black may find a way to go after the white king as the a-pawn falls. Instead, 46 Qb7! Nxb3 47 Nd7 was the way, controlling the h1-a8 diagonal and 47…a4 48 Ne5 hits f7. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Alekseenko’s 44 Nc4 looks natural, but now 44…Qd7! 45 Qxb6 Qd5+ is a fiendish idea, destabilising White’s kingside and going …a4 next. Instead 44 Nb7! Qd4 45 Nd6 was the way to hold things together, preparing to hit f7 if the black queen moves away. #toughfind#FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: MVL maintaining his fortress as action begins to unfold in Grischuk-Caruana. Black has …Nb5 on the way when matters feel a little uncomfortable for White, if all just ‘0.00’ according to the silicon monsters. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Won’t be relevant as @Vachier_Lagrave finds himself needing to be precise, but don’t forget that there is a second time control at move 60 #FIDECandidates, which may well come into play if Giri or Fabi find a way to somehow keep things going! #oldschool#properchess
@CHESS_Magazine: A big call from @Vachier_Lagrave to go …f5 and …Bxf5. After 59 Bd1 Kd6 Black may have a fortress, but still needs to be careful about his g-pawn. White has the right-coloured rook’s pawn after all. Alekseenko still deep in the tank. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Nepo: “Obviously if you see …Re5 [in the amazing 33…Rxb6!! line], you should be disqualified!” All about “the result” for a coughing Nepo, who certainly seems focussed, despite the “whole atmosphere not helping you to seem healthy”. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Interesting body language in the run-up to move 40. Alekseenko no longer looked nervous, whereas Giri was the one unable to sit still in his chair. Will this tournament be the making of a new Russian elite player? Like MVL, Alekseenko should hold fairly easily. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Concrete play from Alekseenko and @Vachier_Lagrave – looks like all that Grunfeld suffering has turned into a draw! Seemingly nobody is in their best form apart from the runner-way leader, @lachesisq. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Again, we tempt fate! Fabi hurried with 38…Nc7? when 38…Bc8 or even 38…Be8 would have been strong. Not only was there no need to rush so close to move 40, but Black could first have expanded on the kingside with no risk. @MVL defending well; can Alekseenko? #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Excellent practical play from Fabi, who doesn’t miss his chance. Here 35 Qc1 would have been sensible; 35 h4 (of course!) also fine according to the engines, but 35 Qe4? allowed 35…c5 when 36 dxc6? Be6 wins. White’s queenside certainly now the weaker of the two. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine:Even as strong a player as Ding can’t spot the hidden trick and goes 33…Rc5. He undoubtedly considered 33…Rxb6!! 34 Rxb6 Qxe2, but likely gave up after 35 Rb8. The key point is 35…Re5 36 Rxd8+ Kh7, threatening …Qe1+ and if 37 Rg1 Qxf2. #beautiful#FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: A dramatic round! Fabi’s game very tense, as is Alekseenko-Giri. And have you spotted what @lachesisq just missed? It’s a tricky calculation exercise, but you may be helped by considering where White is weak apart from just the long diagonal. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Ding stays alive (32 Qxd5 Ra5!), but still in serious trouble. MVL’s position also looks most unpleasant, especially if33 g4, squeezing. Giri just played 21…Re5 quickly, but the subtle 21…Rxe1+ 22 Qxe1 Kf8 looked unpleasant for White; g2 and even a2 targets. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Wonder what Ding missed – possibly somehow just 32 Qe8+ Kh7 33 Qxf7 Rb7 (taking on b6 also very bad) 34 Qxd5? Meanwhile is Fabi playing too quickly with Grischuk low on time? Don’t like 25…b3 allowing White to regroup with Qc3 and the octopus-like Nd4. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Waiting for the @FIDE_chess camera to switch to @lachesisq‘s game. Did Ding really just blitz out 31…Qg4? The engines much preferred 31…Qf5 so that if 32 Nxd4 Qg4 comes with tempo when 33 Qxd5 Bf6 is just very messy. Now, though, it’s maybe just lost! #blunder#FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Giri found 17…Rae8. Game is already heating up! Even Fabi and Nepo now thinking properly. The former again has his desired imbalance with the black pieces, but will it be third time lucky? Can the latter somehow trade b6 for both black d-pawns? #bigdecisions#FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Fabi recalls his prep and pushes the b-pawn. Not sure that even the legendary @Kasparov63 used to wheel out this many moves after a TN quite so often. Some very deep preparation in #FIDECandidates. Wang and Nepo lagging behind @FabianoCaruana on the clock race! #chess
@CHESS_Magazine: Excellent news. Very kind of Jonathan. His views on practical chess issues and the Grunfeld are always worth hearing. And if you somehow didn’t know that he has a new book out, don’t forget to order ‘The Moves That Matter’ from @chessandbridge! [Rowson’s book: The Moves that Matter]
@Jonathan_Rowson: What is this?… OK, I promise I’ll look at the candidates games soon, and maybe even comment on them.
@CHESS_Magazine: Nepo elects to defend with Kh1 and Ng1 – and still has over an hour and a half on the clock! We can’t help but wonder what @Jonathan_Rowson would make of such time management and the Grunfeld ending looming in Wang-MVL? #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Ding (who moved hotel after round 2 – a good policy it seems!) doing his best to prove us wrong, but White should always be able to defend with Qd1 if necessary. @lachesisq rolls on with 27 b5, and not 27 h4? Bxh4!. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: Alekseenko exploits the absence of an early a4 and …a6 (much more common) to go Ba4. The engines think Black is OK, but interestingly @LeelaChessZero liking Nepo’s concept much more than @stockfishchess – same with Wang’s play. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: The Giuoco has been all the rage for a while now, but still there are new paths! Giri’s 9…Ba7 is extremely rare, but Black’s position looks comfortable enough, and will we soon see a transposition? …c6 and …Ng6 now for Black presumably. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: An early if not hugely lengthy dip into the tank for @Vachier_Lagrave, who elects to follow Grischuk and Svidler, not @GMGawain who held with 16…Qe7 @GibraltarChess. 16 Rb2 a new idea from @lachesisq – certainly a man who arrived in Ekaterinburg well-prepared! #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine: And we’re underway! No surprise that once again the move of the tournament has been seen – 11 h4!? and 12 h5 from Wang Hao! 1 e4 e5 fans should also be happy today – a Giuoco and two Lopezes. #FIDECandidates
And so we have a clear leader heading into today’s sixth round: Ian Nepomniachtchi! The online battlegame expert is rarely short of confidence and has so far displayed a combination of excellent preparation and strong practical play. Nepo even has a plus score against Magnus, but we mustn’t get too far ahead of ourselves – after all, Fabiano Caruana is somehow still on a plus score with Anish Giri again seeming to freeze when the goal was beckoning.
Apart from highlighting Nepo’s record against Wang Hao, our predictions didn’t exactly shine yesterday and today there are a number of tricky pairings to weigh up, starting with Ding Liren’s attempt to gain revenge for his compatriot when he takes on the tournament leader with the black pieces. The two played some 31(!) games during the most recent Chess.com Speed super-tournament. Nepo has decent score against Ding, but in recent years the Chinese star has started to gain the upper hand in their encounters.
Prediction: Much will depend on what Nepo has in store for the Marshall, but we’ll go for a fighting draw.
Grischuk-Caruana is another big pairing. The Muscovite got the better of their recent PRO League encounter, but today is, of course, a game played with three time controls! Moreover, Grischuk has often brought out the best in Caruana in classical games – it’s hard not to recall how Caruana defeated him with the Petroff in the final round of the Berlin Candidates when he qualified to take on Magnus.
Prediction: Grischuk appeared unhappy that the tournament was continuing yesterday, so we’ll go for a black win!
Wang Hao and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave have had plenty of draws over the years and the Chinese no.2 didn’t especially impress against Alekseenko’s Grünfeld. Has he an improvement ready there or will we even see Wang shelve his regular early g2-g3?
Prediction: It’s not a new one or hugely exciting, but we’ll plump for a draw.
Anish Giri must be wondering after yesterday if he’s going to win a game in this Candidates. If he’s going to, you might think it would be against Kiriil Alekseenko, but the 22-year-old Russian is slowly working his way into the tournament. The two have only met once before: the St. Petersburg Under-18 Open of 2008, when Giri was rated 2344 and Alekseenko already 2067!
Prediction: Black did win that time, but surely today’s game will be Giri’s favourite result, a draw?
Round 5 – Sunday 22nd March
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Chess is an easy game when you go with the most common result and perhaps even predict four draws! That’s, of course, what occurred yesterday, although both Caruana-Nepomniachtchi and MVL-Grischuk kept us fully entertained.
Ding Liren must have been a bit disappointed that he never had anything against a typically super-solid Anish Giri yesterday, and today the Chinese no.1 may again be ideally aiming for more than half a point, having Black against Alexander Grischuk. Last spring we were entertained by a thriller between the two at the Gashimov Memorial and there may well be fireworks again, especially if a two-way time scramble occurs.
Prediction: We’ll be bold and go for a first ever win for Ding with the black pieces at classical chess over Grischuk.
Another player who is Black but would ideally like more than a draw is Fabiano Caruana, who has a tricky pairing against Mr. Solid and Well Prepared, Giri. The majority of games between the two have been drawn, if, to be fair, quite often only after an interesting struggle.
Prediction: A theoretical duel…and draw.
Dare we say that MVL will certainly go for it with the black pieces? He takes on Kiriil Alekseenko who yesterday showed some of his best chess and will again be looking to get in some good preparation. When the two last clashed at Gibraltar at the start of 2019, Alekseenko was only rated 2639 and was crushed.
Prediction: A win for MVL.
Which Nepo will we see today: the fast mover or the respectably-paced version of yesterday? Prep will be key, especially if play begins 1 e4 e5, and it’s notable just how good Nepo score is against Wang Hao, especially when he has White.
Prediction: Two creative fighters here, but we’ll go for the upset and another black win!
Round 4 – Saturday 21st March
Wang Hao – Alekseenko Draw Brief flurry of activity but Black was only tiny bit worse the whole time.
Ding Liren – Giri Draw Giri’s active plan with h7-h5 was excellent and he held easily
Carauana – Nepomniachtchi White looked good, 31.Qf3 seemed to ruin it. Draw seems inevitable.
@CHESS_Magazine, Nepo buries his head in his arm – is he disappointed somehow or trying to work out a race situation? Fabi at last has an important piece on d4 and will surely draw just by shuffling his bishop up and down the e1-a5 diagonal. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, News re. the Thinkers Berlin book! Will we see 9…a5 if another Berlin endgame is reached? Grischuk not unhappy with his opening, but an hour on 18…Ne7 “was stupid” as he only expected 19 g4, not MVL’s 19 h4. #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, Looks like a good prediction! Ding thought …h5 a good idea and that he needed to avoid 18 Nd4 h3 (Giri confirmed his intention a la AlphaZero), which would have echoed Fabi’s play! #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, Grischuk reaches move 40 and will surely hold. Nepo almost there too and, as @simon_ansell asks, why didn’t Fabi centralise after his long think with 31 Qd4 instead of 31 Qf3? #centralisation#FIDECandidates
@TelegraphChess, Richard gets it right, if anyone is pressing it’s Black now. Back to the old days when the queenside pawns mattered. Fabi will need to avoid king and pawn endgames if the queens come off #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, Grischuk, as so often, keeping us entertained. Not an easy endgame to assess – even after turning on the engines! MVL may wish he’d played a bit slower straight after that lovely 29 a4! idea. Giri will hold, but will we soon see Nepo having to blitz? #FIDECandidates
@TelegraphChess, The Berlin Wall Endgame is fine as long as his’skin’ is intact As soon as White gets inside Black’s disconnected rooks become a huge factor. Grischuk appears to have allowed MVL to get active but with an hour on the clock MVL Blitzes out the wrong move ! #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, Our April magazine is at the printer’s and features this amazing win by @gmmds from @4NCL. We thought that was most @DeepMind AlphaZero-like, but @FabianoCaruana‘s whole concept and play today is no less so. #AlphaZero#FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, Clever play from @Vachier_Lagrave giving Grischuk a number of kingside options (revolving around …g6) to ponder when down to under 3 minutes. Matters now look even more unpleasant for Alekseenko and @lachesisq. Never underestimate Delroy! #passeddpawn#FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, As @TelegraphChess has just pointed out, the best Ding may have is a 3 vs 2 rook endgame, but still looks to the human eye (not SF of course!) like a pleasant edge. @FabianoCaruana and Wang may be even happier; @Vachier_Lagrave less so we guess, bar on the clock! #FIDECandidates
@TelegraphChess, Important point from IM Richard Palliser the Editor of @CHESS_Magazine 25.Rf5! obstructs the Rxg5 idea for Grischuk as White recaptures with the rook rather have his pawn structure finished off completely after hxg5
@CHESS_Magazine, As @TelegraphChess remarks, f7 is weak in MVL-Grischuk, but maybe 24…Nb6 25 Ref1 Bc4 is a bit annoying and if 26 Rf2 Rd8 27 Nxf7? Rd1. Does @Vachier_Lagrave have some very deep idea in mind? #FIDECandidates
Wang Hao-Alekseenko looks level and pretty quiet.
Grischuk deep into the tank in theoretical Berlin Endgame and MVL has sacrificed a pawn, he is likely still in prep and 90 minutes ahead on the clock!!. Position after 21…Na4 Black’s f7 pawn looks vulnerable. Grischuk spent 50 minutes on 18…Ne7
Giri played aggressively against Ding Liren with black and looks fine. Position after 17..Bd7 below.
@TelegraphChess, Giri’s play described as ‘Dubovian’ by @polborta on @chess24com and Jan revealing that Iced Cappucinos are €0.39 at his local supermarket. As soon as this is over I’m off to Hamburg to buy 100 of them #FIDECandidates
Alpha Zero type chess from Caruana against Nepo’s Gruenfeld but Black seems alright even with the pawn on h6.
@CHESS_Magazine, Apologies to all @FIDECandidates fans – we badly tempted fate by going for so many decisive games! There’s no in-running @BetfairExchange market, but we’ll go for two draws and wins for Wang and even Fabi! #chess
@CHESS_Magazine, Kudos to @Vachier_Lagrave for not being a slave to the machine – just look a those light squares! @FabianoCaruana trusting in his h6-clamp and, to borrow @Jonathan_Rowson‘s fine term, Delroy. #dpawn#FIDECandidates
@TelegraphChess, Wow Fabi heading for the endgame with an h6 pawn looks like pure Alpha Zero to me and if that’s good as Magnus says some re-evaluation may be required. Old school always liked the queenside pawn majority #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, Certainly a slow-burner this round; Alekseenko and @anishgiri, who is still in prep, must be pretty comfortable. @FabianoCaruana at least has that AlphaZero-like fish bone on h6. #FIDECandidates
@TelegraphChess, Commentary @chess24com considering Fabi-Nepo Magnus saying Rfd1 may be wasted when rook recaptures on c1. He is right of of course, was worked out in 80s. h4 idea is not new concept 11.Rc1 12.Qd2 13.h4 suggested in my 1981 book, inspired by games of E German GM Knaak
@CHESS_Magazine, No surprise that Grischuk is thinking or that Alekseenko has been out-prepared again, but at least Fabi-Nepo has us gripped here. @Stockfishchess displays its favourite ‘0.00’; no surprise either that @LeelaChessZero likes White – +0.6! #FIDECandidates
Quote Tweet: @TelegraphChess, I’m pretty certain of 13 moves vs Spassky as it was analysis for my book published in 1981 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 O-O 9. Be3 Nc6 10. O-O Qc7 11. Rc1 Rd8 12. Qa4 Bd7 13. Qa3 Bf8! 14. Qb2 Rac8 15. Rfd1 Bg7 16. Qa3 Bf8 draw
@CHESS_Magazine, Both Chinese stars going for slow burners. Meanwhile @Vachier_Lagrave against Grischuk is already on move 18! Our Berlin bible remains John Cox’s, but is this all covered in https://shop.chess.co.uk/The-Modernized-Berlin-Wall-Defense-Kannappan-p/cb07707.htm…@chessandbridge? #FIDECandidates#BerlinWall
@CHESS_Magazine, And we’re underway! 1 Nf3 from Wang makes Alekseenko think; @FabianoCaruana again goes 1 d4 and takes on the Grunfeld with the Exchange and 7 Bc4 against @lachesisq, who typically does not like impressed. #FIDECandidates
In the end we only had the one decisive game in round 3, but what a gripping encounter it was. At one stage Ding Liren was well over an hour in arrears as Fabiano Caruana continued to blitz out the moves after his 9…e5!? TN. Despite being on nil points at that stage, Ding didn’t flinch and it was Caruana who couldn’t handle the tension as the Chinese star powered away to victory, and is now right back in the tournament.
At least we called a decisive result in Ding-Caruana, while we had the draw part of our Giri-MVL prediction right, just not the opening! Grischuk-Wang Hao was also a draw, as called, after the Muscovite missed a trick when once again pressing as low on time, but Nepomniachtchi was unable to win and arguably even fortunate to draw with Alekseenko after taking a number of risks.
The clash of today’s fourth round is arguably Caruana’s pairing. Will Nepo once again take risks with the black pieces and will Fabiano have managed to pull himself together during the first rest day after looking rather demoralised and shocked as he played on for so long in a hopeless situation against Ding? Nepo got the better of Caruana at last year’s World Fischer Random event and actually scored 4.5/5 against him in the various GCT events of 2019. However, playing very quickly against such a master calculator may not be advisable.
Prediction: Yes, you guessed it, we’ll go for our favourite – a decisive result.
MVL against Grischuk is also not an easy pairing to call, but should entertain. Grischuk has looked in good shape, but unusually keeps messing up in his habitual time trouble and Candidates events have rarely been kind to him over the years. He did knock out MVL at the Hamburg Grand Prix, but by November the French wizard was already looking rather exhausted.
Prediction: MVL’s record against Grischuk is a decent one, so we’ll go for a white win!
Ding Liren-Giri pits two players who can both be extremely solid at times, but whereas the Dutch no.1 has been unhappy with his play so far, Ding must feel his mojo is well and truly back. The vast majority of games between the pair have been drawn, but Ding triumphed at both Zagreb and in the Sinquefield Cup last year.
Prediction: A win for Ding.
Kiriil Alekseenko showed some nice ideas at times against Nepo, but must also be worried that he failed to trust himself and go 26 Bxg6. His confidence didn’t seem too high in the subsequent press conference, whereas Wang Hao’s confidence levels should be somewhat higher, despite his undoubtedly feeling a sense of relief at holding against Grischuk.
Prediction: Another white win, so one for Wang.
Round 3 – Thursday 19th March
@TelegraphChess, So Fabi finally resigns, a tragic waste of an astonishing novelty 9…e5 now it’s wide open again. Wang Nepo MVL lead with +1 Other games drawn, Nepo took some risks today after losing the thread, Grischuk’s zeitnot intervened again See you Saturday #FIDECandidates
@TelegraphChess, Grischuk just blundered after he was nurturing his edge nicely. Should be a draw now.
@CHESS_Magazine, Nepo controlling press conference! Alekseenko at least pointed out 16…bxc5 was correct. Nepo – 22…Nb8 “Big mistake” instead of 22…Nb6, and admits 25…g6 a “bluff”. Alekseenko: “Too risky” to take with little time. #interestingthoughts
@CHESS_Magazine, Alekseenko likely deserved a draw there. The critical position (if 26 Bxg6! fxg6? 27 Qxe6+) is below. Much to calculate. One key line is 27…Qe7 28 Qc6+ Kf7 29 h5! and only then Re3; another 27…Kf8 28 Qxg6 Qg7 29 Qd6+ Kg8 30 Re3. #calculationtest
Approaching time control in Ding Liren-Caruana and quite a turnaround 22…h6 coming in for serious criticism and seemed very slow as opposed to forcing 22…Re5 also 21…Re5.
@CHESS_Magazine, Big call from Wang to go 24…Be3 – no more opposite-coloured bishop endgames, but as shown in Giri’s games, R&N do keep holding against R&B! Ding’s queen is well and truly back in the game – very powerful play from him after being so out-prepared. #centralisation
@CHESS_Magazine, Giri in @FIDE_chess interview – “There are 10 ways to equalise against this line and I was sure this wasn’t one.” These guys know so much and have such impressive memories! 25 Bd1 was to stop …Na4-c5. @Vachier_Lagrave: “It’s a new me!” as he’ll prepare tomorrow.
@CHESS_Magazine, Another gamble from @lachesisq and again he’s got away with it! 26 Bxg6! was on, and if 26…fxg6? 27 Qxe6+when Black’s rook’s are loose and Re3-f3/c3 just extremely strong. Alekseenko now down below 10 minutes as, of course, is Grischuk. #tension
@CHESS_Magazine, We wondered if Alekseenko might try to break out with 16 c4!?, but 16 dxc5 bxc5 is just ugly – look at that white queenside! Woah, 16…Qxc5+ preferred! Grischuk’s game likely hinges on whether 20 Bg5 works, and if 20…Bxb2 21 Rb1 and 22 Rxb7. #bishoppair
@CHESS_Magazine, Good move 17 Rb4, Alekseenko! If he now meets 17…b5 with 18 Bd3 things just look completely random; Nd4 and perhaps even Qg4 may follow. Ding-Fabi also looks very random, if with Black still having much the easier position to play.
@CHESS_Magazine, MVL trying to reach a worse but tenable position. Anything might happen in Alekseenko’s game, but have to like White’s comp with that bishop stranded on a4. And wasn’t 21…h6 rather slow from Fabi or does he still have enough compensation? Qh3-g3-f2 is one idea.
@CHESS_Magazine, Both SF and Lc0 now liking Ding’s position. @Vachier_Lagrave is certainly suffering, Giri having the bishop not knight, unlike in round 1! Hard to explain why Alekseenko didn’t first trade knights on c6 and might @lachesisq now go 25…g5!? and boom!
@CHESS_Magazine, Ding’s queen is going to get chased after 20…Bc5 21 Bxc5 Re5. Fireworks! Big decision by @Vachier_Lagrave to go 17…d4, but he is worse after 18 e5, and we called @lachesisq wrong – he’s gone for positional mode and wants to trade the light-squared bishops!
Just in awe of Fabi’s prep here, very deep indeed and he’s flashing out the moves. Black intends Bc5 when White’s dark squares and slightly loose king will be targeted. Of course 2 pawns is 2 pawns but this is most unpleasant for Ding, way behind on the clock and playing Stockfish/Leela or some such.
@CHESS_Magazine, @lachesisq might just castle short, but we did wonder if …g5 ideas were in his mind – and maybe now even 14…Nf6!? to randomise! Meanwhile Ding finally played a move a tempo (18 Qf5) and Fabi is thinking at last, one hour and a quarter ahead!
@CHESS_Magazine, Interestingly @Stockfishchess liking Fabi’s compensation (even after 17 Bd4) more than @LeelaChessZero! Meanwhile Wang might look quite active (…Rc8; potential pressure against f2), but the engines like White after 18 g3 and if 18…Rac8 the uber calm 19 Kg2!?.
@CHESS_Magazine, Liking @lachesisq‘s 12…h6 which prevents 13 Ng5, a move which doesn’t just free the f-pawn, but can lead to awkward pressure after 13…h6 14 Nh3 and Nf4-h5 if allowed. Meanwhile Fabi continues to blitz!
@CHESS_Magazine, Looks like Giri has a fairly pleasant position after 16 0-0 followed by getting in e4-e5. Meanwhile Fabi didn’t go 12…Be4, but surprised again with 12…Bb3 13 e4 Re8. Ding, MVL and Alekseenko all trail notably on the clock.
@CHESS_Magazine, 12 d5 Be4 (13 fxe4?? Nxe4+ forks) 13 g4!? is SF’s crazy idea, but would be hard for Ding to find even if not low on confidence. Wang Hao has broken out along logical lines, but surely White’s bishop-pair must count for something? #FIDECandidates
Today’s round shaping up nicely A Winawer, MVL’s Gruenfeld and Fabi throws an unexploded bomb in the Slav!
@CHESS_Magazine, Early action! Alekseenko’s 10 Be2 was rather meek; @lachesisq must be happy. Looks like good prep too from Grischuk and @anishgiri, although thus far @Vachier_Lagrave has recalled/found theory. Fabi reveals his big idea in 10…Bc2 when 11 Qd2 must be right. #FIDECandidates
@TelegraphChess, Lots of discussion on the commentary channels trying to understand Alexeenko’s play. Simpler explanation is he’s been ambushed by Nepo is unfamiliar and is already struggling 10.Bd3 way better but avoid Ba4 11.h5 cxd4 cxd4 Qc3+ and Qxd3! =+
@CHESS_MagazineTaking @stockfishchess and even Lc0 some time to appreciate Fabi’s 9…e5. Meanwhile Anish Giri is on Moskalenko-approved lines – this whole approach being recommended in @NewInChess’ ‘An Attacking Repertoire for White with 1.d4′!
@CHESS_Magazine, Another big TN from @FabianoCaruana – we couldn’t even find a correspondence encounter with 9 Kf2 e5!?. Fabi immediately strolls away, effectively saying: Deal with that! And, yes, there are two Frenches, Grischuk’s game transposing to an Exchange variation! #FIDECandidates
@CHESS_Magazine, Alekseenko looks to the heavens after 6…Ne7. Not sure anyone expected to see a Winawer #FIDECandidates. Also a big choice for Ding – will we see the piece sacrifice line, 8 e4 Bxe4 9 fxe4 Nxe4? The sidelines aren’t so bad though: 8 Nxc4 and even 8 Kf2, 8 h4 and 8 g4! #chess
@CHESS_Magazine, @lachesisq wants to win – he’s gone for his old favourite, the French and Alekseenko thinking on move 2! @Giri has bravely elected to take on the Grunfeld, but going with the underrated 5 Bd2 variation, while Fabi has also sprung a surprise – the Slav.
We’re only two rounds into the Candidates and there have already been four decisive games! The banning of draw offers before move 40 has played a part, but let us still hope that the players can keep up this level of excitement for the remaining 12 rounds. The number of decisive results can be in part explaining by the poor form of Ding Liren and Anish Giri, although the latter did somehow manage to save a draw yesterday.
That tip of Ding for overall victory is really not looking a good one! Nepomniachtchi might never have looked like winning yesterday, but at least our other three predictions weren’t too bad, although we should really have plumped for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave rather than just gone with ‘a decisive result’.
Poor Ding must be badly looking forward to the first rest day (there is one after every three rounds), but he faces no easy task despite having the white pieces in round 3, having to take on co-leader and top seed Fabiano Caruana, who absolutely demolished Kiriil Alekseenko yesterday. It feels an awful long time since Ding squeezed the life out of Caruana’s slightly cramped position back at the Sinquefield Cup.
Prediction: A draw wouldn’t be bad for either player, but we’ll go with our favourite – a decisive result.
MVL is another player in decent form who would like to keep the momentum going, but also has Black, against Giri in his case. We expect the Dutch no.1 to stick with the 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 he employed in round one, a move order MVL rather struggled against at times last year.
Prediction: Not a Grünfeld…and a draw.
Grischuk-Wang Hao is not an easy pairing to call. Two highly creative players at their best, but based on events in Yekaterinburg so far, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if this encounter was largely decided by events in the run-up to move 40. Grischuk has a decent score against Wang as White, but much may depend on whether he has anything special ready for 1 e4 e5 or if both sides will be happy to continue to uphold the opposing sides of 1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5.
Prediction: A time scramble and a lively draw.
The pairings don’t get any easier for Kiriil Alekseenko, who we shouldn’t forget is only 22 and pretty inexperienced at the highest level. He’s only faced Nepo twice: winning a long rapid encounter as Black, but getting duffed up as White at Blitz.
Prediction: Another black win, so a second of the tournament for Nepo.
Round 2 – Wednesday 18th March
RESULT: Wang, Hao – Giri, Anish -> 1/2 – 1/2
Well that goes down as a miracle save by Anish. It was looking like a potentially catastrophic start for him, now it’s just bad, but he will be buoyed by this I imagine. Wang hao could have been out there on his own 2/2. Scores: Caruana, Wang Hao Nepomniachtchi, Vachier-Lagrave 1.5; Grischuk 1; Alexeenko, Giri 0.5; Ding Liren 0.
WANG-GIRI: This just looks winning for White an extra passed pawn with a rook behind and the better minor piece. He can try and attack e3 but there is no time for Nf5-e3 the b-pawn charges down the board. Position after 42.Bb5-e2
So 2 cracking games already today. Anish Giri is suffering and looks like he may jettison a pawn before the time control. Giri looks in bad shape, betraying a lack of confidence in the first two games in the opening. Against Nepo Qb1 was odd while today 12…a6 was meek when both 12…Bg4 and 12…Ne4 look good. From the board below, Giri, black played 39…Rb7-a7 and b5 is falling
@CHESS_Magazine, Big call by Giri not to go 33/34…b4 – the players are not that low on time yet – but will Wang go b2-b4? @Vachier_Lagrave not “entirely happy” with his conversion, but was happy once he found 34 d6!.
@CHESS_Magazine, Crushing wins for @FabianoCaruana and @Vachier_Lagrave. A lot of press conferences ahead! Will be interesting too to see if Wang Hao can exert any meaningful pressure in the run-up to move 40.
Rather like us @FabianoCaruana didn’t like 15…Re6. Such a nice chap though describing it only as “unusual” before pointing out that 23…Bxd6 (23…Nf6!) was the critical mistake.
@CHESS_Magazine, Nepo-Grischuk has unsurprisingly been drawn. Fabi didn’t go 29 Nxg6!, but has found another win with 29 Nf4 Ng4 30 Nxh5+!. As a certain cricket journalist has just pointed out, the line-up of the Qh3 and Rc8 is most useful for White.
@TelegraphChess, Fabi is about to demolish Kiriil’s kingside methinks
@CHESS_Magazine, If you’re wondering what happened to Grischuk’s seemingly pleasant edge, 28…Nd8 was rather safety-first, with 28…Ne7 surely somewhat better for Black? Elsewhere Fabi appears set to crash through!
@CHESS_Magazine, Grischuk still looks very comfortable; Wang Hao is trying to come up with a good plan; MVL settled for 24 Qg2, which was also good; and Fabi has gone 19 g4. It’s hard to buy the desperate-looking piece sac, but 19…Bg6 20 Bd3 begins to embarrass the black rook.
@CHESS_Magazine, As we saw yesterday, pawn breaks are the key to so many middlegame positions, and here MVL has two available! Which pawn would you push now, the obvious b-pawn or the visually more shocking 24 d4 advance?
@CHESS_Magazine, Ding has been forced to sacrifice b5 and go all-in on the kingside. Unfortunately for him, even Lc0 isn’t that impressed! Now 20 Nh2 is sensible for @Vachier_Lagrave , halting the pawns and preparing to regroup via f1 at some point.
@CHESS_Magazine, Got to like MVL’s 22 g4! Black has collapsed on the light squares on both sides of the board! After 22…h5 White has at least 23 gxf5+ Qxf5 24 Re3.
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@TelegraphChess, Another slightly hidden point of MVL’s 18.c4! is that after a later cxb5 the Nxe5 dxe5 d6+ idea cannot be neutered by c5-c4
@CHESS_Magazine, Ding’s position already looks rather uncomfortable – he is in serious trouble on the light squares. Alekseenko also needs to find some good moves, but will he give up the exchange to pick off the d6-pawn?
@TelegraphChess, MVL’s 18.c4! exposes Black on the a4-e8 diagonal Ding is really on the back foot now
@Vachier_Lagrave has once again gone for an anti-Marshall. Looks like he’s surprised Ding, but Black is, of course, very solid. Grischuk is that too – his game may just be drawn fairly quickly we fear. Wang Hao’s 6 h4 h6 before 7 d4 an interesting twist though.
@CHESS_Magazine, Grischuk still looks extremely comfortable: …Re8 is on its way and note his kingside construction, the pawn on h4 along with the two black minor pieces making it extremely hard for White to get in the key f4-f5 advance.
@CHESS_Magazine, MVL’s 13 Nd5 appears to be an OTB novelty and his 15 a4 the actual novelty. We’ve found 13 games with 13 Nd5 in @ChessBase’s Corr Database 2020 – available from @chessandbridge and a mine of theoretical ideas!
@CHESS_Magazine, Wang Hao is thinking and we desperately hope isn’t about to repeat moves. Caruana’s 13 d6 appears to be a TN – it’s critical, although the engines feel that Black is OK. To the human eye, living with such a fishbone on d6 is never easy.
@CHESS_Magazine, Needless to say Grischuk is late, but today we only have the one English Opening! Most interestingly a calm-looking @FabianoCaruana hasn’t gone 1 e4, but rather is taking on the Nimzo with the sharp 4 f3!?.
What an opening round! Two games became sharp and extremely unclear from early stage, while both 1 c4 e5 encounters always looked like slow burners and didn’t fail to deliver come the time scrambles. And what about our predictions?
Well, Ding Liren looked nervous and our team member who tipped him up must be feeling slightly sheepish. It’s only early days, of course, but Anish Giri has already admitted that “It’s hard to adjust. Probably it’s too late.” At least our bold call that his game would be decisive turned out to be correct and Sasha Grischuk probably would have won had he not been quite so short of time, as usual. Kudos though to rank outsider Kiriil Alekseenko for choosing just the right moment to randomise.
On to today and there are some big pairings. Poor Alekseenko has black again and will Fabiano Caruana exploit his extra 150 rating points and the white pieces to get on the scoreboard? The pair have never actually played.
Prediction: A win for the top seed.
Perhaps more surprisingly, Wang Hao has only met Anish Giri once since 2013. Wang exuded calmness when he triumphed at the Grand Swiss and again yesterday. Giri looked badly out of sorts against Nepo, so will be desperate to put the breaks on and his admission above may suggest that his plan was to draw all 14 games.
Prediction: A draw, although Giri may have to suffer if Wang Hao manages to dodge his preparation.
Giri’s fellow cellar dweller, Ding Liren, has the black pieces against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who is well-prepared in general, despite being caught out by Caruana. Ding caused MVL all sorts of problems when he got the better of him in the final of last year’s London Chess Classic. He’ll probably, though, be happy with a solid draw, but that may not fit MVL’s tournament approach.
Prediction: A sharp game and, let’s be bold, a decisive result!
Ian Nepomniachtchi will be looking to double his score; Alexander Grischuk to bounce back from throwing away a lovely positional effort. The opening round did not suggest that the Russian players have been ordered to draw with each other (it’s not Curaçao!), and Nepo and Grischuk have had plenty of decisive encounters in recent years.
Prediction: A time scramble and win for Nepo.
Round 1 – Tuesday 17th March
@TelegraphChess is doing an excellent job of explaining why Nepo is winning. That’s our lot for the day – and what a great start to #FIDECandidates it’s been! Game annotations will appear later on this page #chess
@CHESS_Magazine, Nepo, as is his wont, is playing very quickly. Wang Hao: “Position was very peaceful” at move 30 when he expected Kf3-e2 and that f2-f4 was “over confident” from Ding.
@CHESS_Magazine, Ding can’t see any way to halt the pawns, so resigns. A decisive result, and we may soon have a second! This doesn’t look like a fortress, so perhaps Giri should have tried 46 Re5+ Kf6 47 Rxe4 Qd5 (otherwise 48 Re3 is a fortress) 48 f3?
@CHESS_Magazine, Unable to escape the checks, even Grischuk didn’t plunge into thought on move 41 (there is a second time control at move 60). So two draws so far. Surely Giri hasn’t a fortress, but will Wang Hao be able to calculate his way to a clear win?
@CHESS_Magazine, Both @Vachier_Lagrave and @FabianoCaruana look calm enough in the press conference, the latter admitting that “It looked tactically dangerous for White after Qd3”, but that he couldn’t find anything he really liked. And 40 d4! is what Ding missed.
@CHESS_Magazine, Grischuk’s decision to trade all the rooks is not looking wise. Suddenly Alekseenko has serious counterplay and we’re still not at move 40! Ding and Giri are certainly suffering.
@CHESS_Magazine, Alekseenko looks worried and with good cause. Grischuk has played a fine game thus far and did whip off that a-pawn a tempo!
GRISCHUK-ALEKSEENKO: Black cannot play 29…b5 30.cxb5 cxb5 31.d5 so Black played 29…a6 and Grischuk bagged it !
@CHESS_Magazine, Fabi spent a good chunk of time on 32…Ng5, but don’t forget that opposite-coloured bishops favour the attacker! Instructive too how both Wang Hao and Alekseenko have met f2-f4 by getting in …f5.
Giri’s home prep supremely handled by Nepo. He’s sacrificed his queen hoping for fortress but looks unlikely to me can’t see how he can stop all possible pawn breaks h5-h4 f6-f5-f5 e5-e4-e3 etc
If 39.Bf7 Qd1+ 40.Kg2 Qb1 41.Rxh5 Qb7+!
Something a bit weird has happened in Ding Liren vs Wang Hao, White seems to have mistimed his f4 break and has an issue with his h-pawn and f-pawn
@CHESS_Magazine, Both Ding and Grischuk have now got in that key f2-f4 break. Always try to be aware of all the potential pawn levers in a position! Grischuk certainly has an impressive central pawn majority.
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@CHESS_Magazine, MVL is also suffering as White, but the white cause is being upheld by Grischuk and Ding. Are we going to see a bloodythirsty opening round, or will things fizzle? Certainly some interesting positions, not a dull draw fest!
@CHESS_Magazine, Despite the a-pawn, @anishgiri appears to be worse – Black’s bishop might come round and sit on f3 after exchanges on c4. Move 30 reached in MVL-Caruana; only up to move 15 in Grischuk’s game!
DING-WANG: White knight headed for d5 or e4 and f2-f4 is in reserve
GRISCHUK-ALEKSEENKO: Grischuk answers 12…Qe8 with 13.e4 he wants it all
@CHESS_Magazine, The predictable time scramble continues to beckon in Grischuk-Alekseenko! To the human eye, MVL’s play after being outprepped (getting in the key f2-f3 break) looked sensible, but can he hold his position together with …b4 and …Qe5 looming?
@CHESS_Magazine , Trying to work out Giri-Nepo without an engine is mindboggling, but also a good challenge! Ding has certainly made some major strategical decisions. His structure isn’t pretty, but in f2-f4 he has the key pawn break.
I like Grischuk’s position the central pawns always come in handy
Anish flashed out 19 moves real fast then had a think, trying to remember analysis or something gone wrong? Looks fine for him – he is not worse and ahead on the clock
MVL-Fabi pretty wild after 17…e4 If 18.Nd6+ Bd5 19.Ndxe4! but 18…Kh8 hard to assess but after 19.Nxb7 Rxb7 Black can play c7-c6 with decent structure and the 2Bs don’t count for too much
A Giri (2763) – I Nepomniachtchi (2774)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 e6 6.g3 Qb6 7.Ndb5 Ne5 8.Bf4 Nfg4 9.e3 a6 10.h3 axb5 [10…Nxf2? 11.Kxf2 axb5 12.Bxe5]
11.hxg4 Nxc4 12.Rc1 d5 13.b3 So this is real interesting, seems like moving the knight is a mistake, but so many other choices like 13…e5 13…Bb4. If 13…Nxd6 14.Bxd6 and Bxb5+
MVL has been out-prepared by Fabi and in an Archangel. The French wizard has now started to burn up some time. No surprise that Grischuk is also behind on time, but is he still in prep or did he not expect 3…Bc5? The most English theoretical dispute is in the Symmetrical where Anish Giri has unveiled a very interesting idea in 12 Rc1 d5 13 b3.
1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 is certainly trendy today! Grischuk himself played it back against Anton Guijarro at the Isle of Man and was crushed, but today we’re seeing an early d3, not the sharp line 4 Nc3 c6 5 Nf3 e4 6 Nh4.
Grand Swiss, Isle of Man 2019
1 c4 e5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 Bc5 4 Nc3 c6 5 Nf3 e4 6 Nh4 d5 7 cxd5 cxd5 8 d3 Ng4 9 0–0 g5 10 d4 Be7 11 h3 Nxf2 12 Rxf2 gxh4 13 Qb3 hxg3 14 Rf4 Nc6 15 Qxd5 f5 16 Bxe4 fxe4 17 Qh5+ Kd7 18 Be3 Qg8 19 d5 Nd8 20 Nxe4 Qg6 21 Qe5 Nf7 22 Rxf7 Qxf7 23 Rc1 Rf8 24 Bg5 1-0
Sasha Grischuk finally showed up and didn’t repeat the ceremonial first move, 1 b3. Instead, it’s been a good day for England! The English Opening has been seen on three boards, if via a 1 Nf3 move order in Giri-Nepo. Only MVL has stuck to his trademark 1 e4 and is engaged in a theoretical dispute with Fabiano Caruana in a Lopez.
Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime (2767) – Caruana,Fabiano (2842)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.a4 Rb8 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6 10.a5 Ba7 [Black cannot take this pawn for example:10…Nxa5 11.Rxa5 Bxa5 12.dxe5 dxe5 13.Qxd8+ Kxd8 14.Nxe5 Forks galore !
Fabi get’s straight to it with the Archangelsk against the Lopez !
@LawrenceTrentIM suggesting on @chess24com MVL’s Gruenfeld has done OK over the years @GMJanGustafsson disagrees. As a Gruenfeld afficionado sadly I have to agree with Gusti. World Cup SF loss to Radja and loss to Nepo at Jerusalem were key losses with Gruenfeld
@Chess_Magazine , Just an hour to go until plays get underway in the Candidates and we’ll finally have some distraction in an uncertain world!
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was until recently on holiday in the Big Apple. Will his break from chess since Gibraltar, apart from a couple of appearances in the PRO League, count for more than his lack of preparation? MVL takes on pre-tournament favourite Fabiano Caruana, who made it to Yekaterinburg after many adventures and was, of course, in such imperious form back at Wijk aan Zee. Last year Fabi defeated MVL at both Norway Chess and in Zagreb.
Prediction: A theoretical duel.
One of our Blog team has his money on Ding Liren, who will be playing his first OTB chess of the year when he takes on compatriot Wang Hao. The latter is without his seconds in person in Yekaterinburg; both Chinese stars have been at separate dachas in Russia for over a fortnight as the organisers and FIDE do everything they possibly can to organise a safe tournament in the era of COVID-19.
Most games between Ding and Wang have been drawn, although the former did manage to win when they met at the 2017 World Cup.
Prediction: A surprisingly interesting draw.
You can always bet on Anish Giri to entertain on Twitter – at the board can be a different issue. Giri predictably finished on 50% at Wijk aan Zee (a loss to Firouzja being offset by a fine win against Kovalev), but he has been in top form in the PRO League of late. The Dutch no.1 kicks off by facing one of the dark horses of the tournament, Ian Nepomniachtchi. Nepo surprised Giri with the Pirc at the 2019 edition of Wijk, going on to record a fairly easy win, but was in turn completely out-prepared and outplayed when he had the white pieces in their encounter in Zagreb.
Prediction: It may seem unlikely, especially in round one, but we’ll side with a decisive result!
The final pairing is between Alexander Grischuk and Kiriil Alekseenko. The former is a four-time Candidate, having competed in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2018; the latter the lowest-rated participant by some margin. Their latest encounter in the Isle of Man was drawn, but Grischuk had previously won both encounters with Alekseenko.
Prediction: a win for Grischuk, but not without seeing his flag rise along the way.
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Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Wang Hao, Alexander Grischuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Anish Giri, Kirill Alekseenko, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Tuesday 17th March to Friday 3rd April, 1 game per day, 11am UK time, Rest day after every 3 rounds.