Aagaard on the Candidates: Round 2

For the second installment of his “Candidates Game of the Day” series, GM Jacob Aagaard has analyzed Fabiano Caruana's crushing round 2 victory over Kirill Alekseenko as only he could – deeply, extensively, definitively. This is the analysis that the experts will be quoting tomorrow, and we have it exclusively here at Chess Life Online. Below we provide Aagaard’s analysis in replayable format. For those who prefer paper, boards, and pieces, we have created a pdf version. You can also check out an alternative replayable version posted in the ChessBase Cloud.

[Event "FIDE Candidates Tournament"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2020.03.18"]
[Round "2.1"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Alekseenko, Kirill"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E20"]
[WhiteElo "2842"]
[BlackElo "2698"]
[Annotator "Aagaard"]
[PlyCount "67"]
[EventDate "2020.??.??"]
[WhiteTeam "United States"]
[BlackTeam "Russia"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "USA"]
[BlackTeamCountry "RUS"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 {This is one of the most ambitious lines
for White. The upside is that it leads to active play and for once the dark
squared bishop is likely to be a strong piece, which is not always the case in
the Nimzo. The downsides are the many different lines Black can play here,
according to Carlsen's chief second GM Peter Heine Nielsen, who helped Anand
prepare this for one game in the 2008 World Championship match in Bonn against
Vladimiar Kramnik. In that game Kramnik managed to surprise Anand with a
novelty on move nine and got a good position.} d5 5. a3 Be7 ({A very
interesting game in this line was played recently.} 5... Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7.
cxd5 Nxd5 8. dxc5 Qa5 9. e4 Ne7 10. Be3 O-O 11. Qb3 Qc7 {[#] This position is
one of the main tabiyas of the Nimzo and probably THE main tabiya of the 4.f3
Nimzo-Indian. The Indian number two won in very impressive style, suggesting
that things are maybe not as easy for Black here as used to be the opinion.}
12. Bb5 Nec6 13. Ne2 Na5 14. Qb4 e5 15. O-O Na6 16. Bxa6 bxa6 17. Rad1 Be6 18.
Rd5 Rab8 19. Qa4 Bxd5 20. exd5 Rb5 21. d6 Qc6 22. Ng3 Rxc5 23. Qg4 $1 Rc4 24.
Nf5 $1 Rxg4 25. Ne7+ Kh8 26. Nxc6 Rxg2+ (26... Ra4 27. Nxa5 Rxa5 28. c4 Rxa3
29. Bxa7 Kg8 (29... Rd3 30. c5) 30. Rd1) 27. Kxg2 Nxc6 28. Rd1 Rd8 29. d7 Nb8 {
[#]} 30. Rb1 $3 Kg8 (30... Nxd7 31. Rd1 Kg8 32. Bc5 $1 {and White wins.}) 31.
Bc5 {1-0 (31) Vidit,S (2707)-Vaibhav,S (2599) Xingtai 2019}) 6. e4 dxe4 ({
Black has also tried} 6... c5 {immediately, but it seems that it is not a good
line on account of} 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e5 Nfd7 9. Nxd5 cxd4 10. Nxe7 Qxe7 11. f4
f6 12. Nf3 fxe5 13. Bc4 $1 Nc6 14. O-O $16 {with an advantage for White, which
has been known all the way back from Beliavsky – Spassky, Linares 1990.}) 7.
fxe4 c5 (7... e5 {is another main line, but it used to have a poor reputation,
despite some impressive games back in the 1980s.}) 8. d5 exd5 9. exd5 O-O 10.
Be2 {A typical small finesse. It is possible that Black has nothing better
than ...Re8 after 10.Nf3 Bg4 11.Be2, but why would you want to offer him the
flexibitility.} Re8 (10... Bd6 11. Nb5 a6 12. Nxd6 Qxd6 13. Nf3 Bg4 14. O-O
Nbd7 {was played in Matlakov - Predke, Izhevsk 2019. White can improve upon 15.
Nh4 with the inclusion of} 15. h3 $1 $146 Bh5 16. Nh4 Bxe2 17. Qxe2 {and White
has the advantage. If it is just a small edge or something serious would
require a lot of work and/or some practical examples. However, I cannot see
anyone entering into this position on purpose.}) 11. Nf3 Bg4 12. O-O Nbd7 $1
$146 {The first really new move of the game.} (12... Bd6 {has been played a
few times, but here too White should be better after} 13. Nb5 a6 14. Nxd6 Qxd6
{, where the strong dark squared bishop should give White real chances for a
long term advantage.}) {[#]} 13. d6 $5 {Caruana decided to enter a critical
continuation. The key point is that Black is ready to play ...Bd6-b8. White no
longer has the Nb5 resource.} Bf8 14. h3 Bh5 15. Nb5 {[#]} Re6 $2 {"Very sharp
and concrete, but even unusual moves are not necessarily bad," was Caruana's
diplomatic evaluation of this move. Actually, it is just bad. The rook is not
seriously threatening the d-pawn, but the rook is just not well placed here or
on e4.} ({The prophylactic move} 15... Rb8 $1 {was best. It is not easy for
White to press for an advantage here.} {The critical move is:} 16. Nc7 $1 (16.
Nxa7 $2 {would be a blunder because of} Bxd6 $1 {and Black is taking over the
initiative.}) ({The engine also considers} 16. Bf4 {a serious move, when after}
a6 17. Nc7 Re4 {we almost have the position from the game. The only exception
is that the rook is not hanging on a8, meaning that Black is entirely equal.}
18. Bg3 Bxf3 19. Bxf3 Rd4 20. Qe1 Nb6 21. d7 Qxd7 (21... Nbxd7 $2 22. Nd5 Rc8
23. Nxf6+ Nxf6 24. Bxb7 {would heavily favour White.}) 22. Nd5 Re8 23. Nxb6
Rxe1 24. Nxd7 Rxf1+ 25. Kxf1 Rxd7 {The position is objectively equal. White
has nice active pieces, but Black has an extra pawn. The two will cancel each
other out.}) 16... Re4 $1 17. Bd3 Bxd6 (17... Rd4 $2 {fails on account of} 18.
Nb5 $1) 18. Bxe4 Qxc7 {, when Black has a lot of compensation for the exchange.
A possible space bar monkey line is the following:} 19. Bf5 {White is probably
going to be better after slow play:} Ne5 (19... b5 $5 {An interesting
Stockfish idea.} 20. cxb5 c4 21. Bxd7 Rd8 $1 22. Be3 $1 Rxd7 23. Qc1 {White
has an extra exchange, but Black is very active as well. Only White can be
better, which should probably be the evaluation of decent preparation from
both players...}) 20. g4 Bg6 21. Nxe5 Bxf5 22. gxf5 Bxe5 23. Qf3 Rd8 24. Bf4 {
where we are likely to enter into a technical phase, where Black could be OK
if the knight was on d4, but here where it is far from there, he will have to
find a number of decent moves to avoid ending up in a worse ending.}) 16. Bf4
a6 17. Nc7 Re4 18. Bh2 $6 (18. Qd2 $1 Rb8 (18... Bxf3 19. Bxf3 Rd4 20. Qe3 Rb8
21. Rfd1) 19. Rad1 Nb6 20. b3 Bxf3 21. Rxf3 Nbd7 22. b4 $18) 18... Rc8 $6 (
18... Rb8 $5) 19. g4 $1 (19. Qc2 Ne5 20. Rad1 Bg6 21. Nxe5 Rxe5 22. Qd2 Re4 23.
Qe1 Bh5 $13) 19... Bxg4 (19... Nxg4 20. hxg4 Rxg4+ 21. Kh1 Rg6 22. Rf2) 20.
hxg4 Nxg4 21. Bd3 $1 Nxh2 22. Bxe4 Nxf1 23. Qxf1 {Fabiano correctly evaluated
his position as better at this point, mainly due to the control of the
d5-square, while after his opponent's next move, he dialed his expectations up
to "winning."} Bxd6 $2 (23... Nf6 24. Re1 (24. Ng5 $5 Qxd6 25. Nd5 Qg3+ 26. Qg2
Nxe4 27. Nxe4 Qh4 28. Qh1 Qxh1+ 29. Kxh1 Rc6) (24. Bf5 Rb8) 24... Nxe4 25. Rxe4
Qxd6 26. Nd5 Qg6+ $6 (26... b5 27. b3 bxc4 28. bxc4 Rb8 {is probably a better
fighting chance for Black, but his position i still very unpleasant. For
example:} 29. Kf2 $1 $14 {, when the king is safe from all counterplay.}) 27.
Qg2 Qxg2+ 28. Kxg2 $16 {Caruana evaluated this as better for White, as three
pawns for the pieces is not enough compensation for the strong knight on d5,
as it is hard/impossible for him to advance the pawns at all.}) 24. Nd5 g6 ({
Caruana gave the following beautiful variation in his post-game commentary:}
24... Ne5 25. Nxe5 Qg5+ 26. Qg2 Qxe5 (26... Qxg2+ 27. Kxg2 Bxe5 28. Ne7+ {
is not an option.}) 27. Qh3 $1 Qd4+ 28. Kf1 f5 $5 (28... Qxc4+ 29. Bd3 $1) 29.
Bxf5 Qxc4+ 30. Kg1 Qd4+ 31. Ne3 {and there are no more useful checks, making
the double attack the most important thing in the position.}) 25. Qh3 Kg7 {
Caruana said that he saw no defence for his opponent. I doubt there is one.} (
25... Rc6 $5 {was a small trap that would not have worked on this level.
Obviously Caruana would not fall for 26.Qxd7?? Bh2+! when Black wins. Instead
after} 26. Rd1 {White would keep a strong attack going.}) (25... Ne5 26. Nxe5
Bxe5 {would bring a lot of relief, if it was not for} 27. Qxc8 $1 {.}) {[#]}
26. Kh1 $1 ({Stockfish gives a feverish and wholly unnatural move at this
point:} 26. Bf5 $6 {However, it is definitely flashy! The tactics are very
bizarre and not all trustworthy when you are sitting at the board.} gxf5 27.
Kf2 Nf8 $1 28. Rg1+ Ng6 29. Ng5 Qh8 30. Qxf5 Qf8 {White has a win here, but it
is ridiculous.} 31. Qd7 Re8 32. Rh1 $1 h6 {[#]} 33. Nh7 $3 Kxh7 34. Nf6+ Kh8
35. Qxe8 {and the endgame should win, but only if you get here. The key point
to understand is that there are a lot of possibilities for something you could
have missed on the way. When this is the only path, you accept it. When there
are many options, you go for something that is easily controlable.}) 26... Ne5
27. Nh4 $1 {The exchange of knights would reduce the pressure against the
black king.} h5 $6 {Objectively this is the losing move, but in practice I
consider the black position entirely unplayable.} (27... Rc6 {was potentially
more resilient, but we are near the end all the same. After} 28. Rg1 Bf8 29.
Nf4 Rb6 30. Bd5 $16 {White is dominating. A key thing to understand is that}
Rxb2 $6 31. Nf5+ Kg8 32. Qc3 $1 {wins the exchange as a minimum and that is
after} Qf6 33. Qxb2 Qxf5 34. Rf1 {.}) 28. Rg1 Bf8 ({Caruana was no doubt
enjoying himself at this point. While his opponent is desperately looking for
anything, just anything, that can give him a glimmer of hope, Caruana was
enjoying himself looking at variations like this:} 28... Ng4 29. Nf5+ $1 Kg8 (
29... gxf5 30. Bxf5 {and wins.}) 30. Rxg4 $1 hxg4 31. Qh6 Bf8 32. Nde7+ Qxe7
33. Nxe7+ Bxe7 34. Bxg6 {. Yes, the final move is not necessary, but when you
are there, you may as well enjoy yourself.}) 29. Nf4 (29. Nxg6 $5 {and 30.Nf4
also wins quickly. White only needs one way to win.}) 29... Ng4 30. Nxh5+ gxh5
31. Bf5 Be7 32. Bxg4 hxg4 33. Qxg4+ Bg5 34. Qh5 {Black resigned. Mate or a
fate worse than mate is coming.} 1-0

Previous "Aagaard on the Candidates" installments: Round 1 - Giri-Nepomniachtchi Round 2 - Caruana-Alekseenko