Aagaard on the Candidates: Round 5

For the fifth installment of his “Candidates Game of the Day” series, GM Jacob Aagaard has analyzed Ian Nepomniachtchi's big Round 5 win over Wang Hao 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. Aagaard writes:
In order to understand this game fully, there are three concepts I would like to introduce. 1. Plus equal. One player has a slight advantage and will be able to pose the opponent continuous problems throughout the game. Only once the problems have been fully solved the draw will become obvious. A lot of players in the elite aim for this in their opening preparation, but it is not always so easy to achieve it. 2. The four types of black openings. The first type are bad openings. If White knows what he is doing he will get a real advantage out of the opening. Think of the Alekhine. The second type are the ones where one player have to show an inordinate knowledge and Precision in order to achieve equality. Then there is the third type, the one Wang Hao went for, where one player makes some minor concession in order to achieve solidity, with the intention of slowly neutralizing the pressure. Finally, we have the critical variations, where Black takes on the danger of losing the game horribly, but if he does not, he will get a fully equal game and often a lot of winning chances. Here we could think of the Najdorf. Alekseenko - Vachier-Lagrave today is a perfect example. 3. The principle of the worst placed piece. In simple positions (where there is minimal tactics) this is often an important factor. Improve the worst placed piece and your positions improve.

[Event "FIDE Candidates Tournament"]
[Date "2020.03.22"]
[Round "5.4"]
[White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"]
[Black "Wang, Hao"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C42"]
[WhiteElo "2774"]
[BlackElo "2762"]
[Annotator "Aagaard"]
[PlyCount "85"]
[EventDate "2020.??.??"]
[WhiteTeam "Russia"]
[BlackTeam "China"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "RUS"]
[BlackTeamCountry "CHN"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bf5 {This is the
current trend in the Petroff.} 7. O-O Be7 8. Re1 O-O 9. Nbd2 Nd6 10. Nf1 Bxd3
11. Qxd3 c6 {[#] Black has achieved a solidity in a symmetrical structure. But
his development is a bit behind and White is more active. White will continue
to apply pressure and it will then be up to Black at some point to play a few
good moves in order to equalise. In short, both players were heading here and
knew what they were heading for. It is quite common that players want to apply
pressure with White and are OK trying to neutralise it with Black.} 12. Bf4 Na6
{Almost everything has been played here. Nepomniachtchi plays an obvious
novelty, recommended by Stockfish.} 13. h4 $5 $146 {A generally sensible move.}
Nc7 ({Black's other natural move} 13... Ne4 {is met with a nice refutation:}
14. Ng3 $1 f5 {Without this move it makes no sense to play ...Ne4.} 15. Qb3 $1
Qb6 16. c3 {White has a nice advantage. He will continue with Ne2, h5, Ne5
with a nice advantage. There are several reasons why White is better. Most
obviously that he will be able to play f3, while Black cannot repair the
damage done to the e5-square.}) 14. Ng5 $1 {[#] The key idea. Black will have
to make a concession of some sort.} Bxg5 ({The real alternative was} 14... g6
15. Ne3 h6 16. Nf3 h5 17. Re2 $14) (14... f5 $6 {looks bad, on account of} 15.
Qg3 $1 {, when White has managed to create tactical threats already.} Rf6 16.
Re2 {leads to a big advantage for White. You can easily see things go wrong
for Black tactically. There are too many threats.} h6 $6 17. Rae1 $1 hxg5 $2 (
17... Bf8 18. Nf3) 18. hxg5 Ne4 {[#]} 19. gxf6 $5 {This queen sacrifice is not
necessary, but it is very compelling.} ({The simpler} 19. Rxe4 {just wins a
piece.}) 19... Nxg3 20. Rxe7 Nxf1 21. Rxg7+ Kh8 {[#]} 22. Ree7 {Threatening
mate in three.} Ne8 23. Rh7+ Kg8 24. f7+ Kxh7 25. f8=Q+ {With mate looming.})
15. Bxg5 f6 {The necessary concession.} 16. Bf4 Qd7 {This is a typical
scenario in the plus equal mode. White has to work out how he can improve his
position and keep up the pressure. The worst placed pieces are the a1-rook and
the f1-knight. As Black is planning to play ...Rae8 and exchange rooks, there
is little point to playing Re2. So White needs to bring the knight to f5. But
which path it takes is not obvious.} {[#]} 17. Ng3 $6 {An incurracy of no
importance to the course of the game, but it did offer Black a chance to
equalise immediately.} ({The correct path for the knight to f5, was} 17. Ne3 $1
{, when Black should play 17...Rae8, transposing to the game, as} g6 $6 {
does not work here.} ({And} 17... Ne4 $2 {would leave Black under pressure
after} 18. f3 Ne6 19. Bh2 Nd6 20. Re2 $16) 18. h5 {and after} Kg7 {or} (18...
Kf7 {White has} 19. Ng4 $1 {, when the Black position is crumbling.})) 17...
Rae8 $6 {Allowing White to occupy the f5-square with the knight.} ({Black here
had a chance to reduce the pressure with} 17... g6 $1 18. h5 Kf7 {. White has
no serious way to apply real pressure here. As we shall see, Black has a
number of chances to defend in this game, but the failure to take the easy
ones, means that he will later have to defend difficult positions.}) 18. Bxd6
Qxd6 19. Nf5 Qd7 20. Qh3 {Threatening Nh6+, gaining an important tempo to make
it possible to apply pressure. [#]} Kh8 $1 {The only move. Nepomniachtchi said
he remembered his preparation to around here.} (20... Re6 {could be considered.
Black is intending to play ...g6 or ...Rfe8.} 21. h5 $1 g6 {Without this,
nothing makes sense.} (21... Rfe8 {also} 22. Re3 $1 {does not allow Black to
relieve the pressure.}) 22. hxg6 hxg6 {[#] Black is threatening to take the
knight and retreat would relieve the pressure. White has to find a way to
increase the pressure.} 23. Re3 $3 Qh7 (23... gxf5 24. Rg3+ Kf7 25. Qh5+ Ke7
26. Rg7+ {wins the queen.}) 24. Rg3 Rfe8 (24... Qxh3 {is met with an
intermediate move.} 25. Rxg6+) 25. Rf1 $1 Re1 26. Nd6 Qxh3 27. gxh3 $16 {
Black is under serious pressure with two pawns currently hanging.}) ({Black
had another option.} 20... Ne6 $2 {, which is unpleasant for Black after} 21.
h5 g6 22. Nh4 $1 $14 {Putting pressure on the weak squares g6. The best move
is to take on h5, but this has clearly gone wrong.} Kf7 $6 {is the critical
move. [#] Here the strongest move is:} 23. f4 $1 {One of the most important
attacking techniques is to bring more wood to the fire whenever you can. Black
now has to play the very sad} (23. Re3 Qd6 24. Rae1 Ng5 {holds, althogh Black
is still under some pressure.}) 23... gxh5 {, when after} 24. Re3 {Black is
unlikely to resist the pressure.}) 21. h5 $1 {Keeping up the pressure and
preventing ...g6.} Rxe1+ 22. Rxe1 Re8 {[#]} 23. Rxe8+ {This move seems
entirely natural, but a deeper investigation of the position reveals that both
kings are currently out of the game and that both players should have aimed at
improving them.} ({Strongest was therefore} 23. Kf1 $1 {, when after} Rxe1+ 24.
Kxe1 Ne8 25. Kd2 {White has a serious advantage. Against 25...Qf7 White has 26.
Qh2! and after} Qe6 26. b3 $5 Qe4 27. f3 Qf4+ {[#]} 28. Kd3 {White is
threatening h6 and also Ne3 followed by an invasion of the white queen.} Qc7 {
is therefore forced, after which} 29. Ne3 $16 {White is ready to increase the
pressure. Next comes Qe6 or Qc8.}) 23... Nxe8 24. g4 $2 {This move looks
entirely natural, but the logic has not changed since the previous move. White
is better after} (24. Kf1 $1 Qe6 (24... Nc7 {does not work. White has} 25. Qa3
$1 Kg8 26. Qxa7 $1 {and White is on his way towards the full point, although
there is a lot of play left.}) (24... a5 $5 {is possible though.}) {[#] White
has a number of decent moves here. I quite like} 25. b3 {, just slowly
improving the position. White has a real advantage, but it is not clear to me
how serious this advantage is. A key point is that the counterplay does not
work for Black.} Qe4 $6 26. Ne3 $1 Qxd4 (26... Qe7 27. Qc8 $16 {is very
unpleasant.}) 27. Qd7 Qa1+ (27... Qe5 28. Qxb7 {gives White a winning
advantage. Black has too many weaknesses.}) 28. Ke2 Qe5 {[#]} {White will
first remove the counterplay, then start picking out the weak pawns one by one.
} 29. f4 $1 Qe4 30. c3 $1 h6 31. Qxb7 Qxf4 32. Qxc6 Nc7 33. Qd7 {White has a
winning advantage. Long term he will advance the pawns on the queenside.}) (24.
Qa3 {is premature. After} Kg8 {Black is OK.}) {[#]} 24... a6 $2 ({In the same
way Wang Hao fails to equalise.} 24... Kg8 $1 {improves the worst placed piece.
The king, which is not only not contributing, but also in risk for his life in
the corner.} 25. Qh2 (25. g5 Qf7 {is not dangerous. More about this below.})
25... g6 $1 {Black is able to push back the knight and thereby equalise.} 26.
hxg6 hxg6 27. Ne3 Qc7 28. Qh6 Qg7 {and it is easy to see a possible draw by
repetition arising.}) (24... Qe6 25. Qa3 {would however be good for White.})
25. b3 $6 ({Nepomniachtchi explained after the game that he played too rashly
here, missing the necessity for playing} 25. Kf1 $1 {. The key idea is that 25.
..Kg8 has been prevented. After 26.g5! the Black king is forced back into the
corner, which is hardly ideal. The tactical point to justify 25.Kf1 was 26...
Qf7? 27.g6!, when the pawn cannot be taken with check, meaning White wins.} Qe6
{is therefore better. After} 26. Qh2 Kg8 27. Qb8 g6 28. hxg6 hxg6 29. Nh4 Qf7
30. Ng2 {White retains just a little bit of pressure.}) 25... Qe6 (25... Kg8 $1
{would have equalised. After} 26. g5 Qf7 $1 {[#] White no longer has g5-g6, as
the pawn would be taken with check. Instead White would probably try} 27. f4 {
, but after} Kf8 {Black is fully OK.}) 26. Ne3 Nd6 $6 ({Both Nepomniachtchi
thought that White would be better after} 26... h6 {. Nepomniachtchi had
considered playing 27.Qg3 Nd6 28.Qf4 with a slight pressure. Wang Hao had
considered the following variation:} 27. Nf5 Qe1+ {This was Wang's idea.} (
27... Nd6 $5 28. Qe3 Qd7 $1 {was also possible. After} 29. Qe7 Qxe7 30. Nxe7
Nb5 31. Nf5 Na3 32. c3 {Stockfish says that Black draws with any which move,
but in reality he will have to play a good deal of decent moves to do so.}) 28.
Kg2 Qe4+ 29. Qf3 Qxc2 30. Qe3 Qe4+ $1 31. Qxe4 dxe4 {[#] But he felt that the
endgame was risky. It is, but Black can hold a draw with extremely accurate
play.} 32. Kg3 Nc7 33. Nd6 b6 34. Kf4 Nd5+ 35. Kf5 $1 e3 36. fxe3 Nxe3+ 37. Ke6
Nxg4 38. Nf5 Kh7 39. a4 (39. Ne7 f5 $1 40. Nxf5 Nf6 41. Ng3 b5 42. Kd6 g6 {
gives Black enough counterplay on the kingside.}) 39... g6 40. Nh4 $1 {Keeping
the Black king out of the game.} gxh5 41. Kd6 {[#] White's position looks very
dangerous. For example 41...c5 42.a5! with a breakthrough.} Ne5 $3 {This piece
sacrifice saves the day.} 42. dxe5 (42. Kc7 b5 43. Kb6 bxa4 44. bxa4 Nd3 45.
Kxa6 c5 {with a draw is another line.}) 42... fxe5 43. Kxe5 Kg7 {Black draws.
If the white king eliminates the kingside, Black will eliminate the queenside.}
) ({Although this draws, it is a very straight and narrow path. Much better
is for this reason} 26... Kg8 $1 27. h6 g6 {with a decent position, based on}
28. Qg3 Qd6 $1 {and Black is fine.}) 27. h6 $1 {This leads to an advantage
quite similar to the games by AlphaZero and later Magnus Carlsen. The latters
coach, Peter Heine Nielsen wrote a nice article about the strategy behind this
idea in the latest New in Chess magazine. Yesterday Caruana used the same idea
of advancing the h-pawn against Nepomniachtchi and missed a chance to win the
game at an opportune moment.} g6 28. c4 {[#]} dxc4 ({If you look at the
computer evaluation, you may think that} 28... Kg8 29. cxd5 cxd5 30. Qf3 Ne4
31. Qf4 Qd6 32. Qxd6 Nxd6 33. Nxd5 Kf7 {equalises. Well, you are both right
and wrong. White's best try is probably} 34. Kg2 $1 {, with ideas such as} Nb5
35. Kf3 Nxd4+ (35... Ke6 $2 {does not work here because of} 36. Nf4+ {, but it
can be played on the previous move.}) 36. Ke4 Nc6 37. f4 Ke6 38. f5+ gxf5+ 39.
gxf5+ Kf7 {This knight ending is a draw, but Black still have to play some
accurate moves to prove it.}) 29. bxc4 Kg8 $6 (29... Nxc4 $2 {would lose
directly to} 30. Nxc4 Qxc4 31. Qh2 $1 {, where the queen plans to penetrate
the black position, while keeping the defence of the h6-pawn up.} Kg8 {The
only move.} (31... Qg8 32. Qd6 $1 {leads to a direct mate.}) 32. Qb8+ Kf7 33.
Qxb7+ Ke6 34. Qxh7 Qxd4 35. Qxg6 {and White wins.}) ({The best way to
neutralise the pressure was} 29... Nf7 $1 {. The knight is ready to deal with
the main problem in Black's position, which is the strong h6-pawn. If White
plays Qh2, Black has ...Qd6 with full equality. Thus the most dangerous option
is} 30. c5 $5 {, where Black is entirely OK in many ways. The most direct is}
Qxa2 31. Qh2 Qa1+ 32. Kg2 Qxd4 33. Qb8+ Qd8 34. Qxb7 Qe8 {and White has no
advantage at all.}) 30. Qh2 $1 Kf7 31. c5 Nb5 ({Black also had a fantastic
active defence with} 31... Ne4 $5 32. Qb8 (32. Qf4 Ke7 $1 33. a4 Kd7 {also
holds. Apparently.}) {[#]} 32... Qxa2 $3 {This is a bit surprising. But White
cannot defend f2 conveniently after he pics up the h7-pawn with check.} 33.
Qxb7+ Kf8 34. Qg7+ Ke8 35. Qh8+ Ke7 36. Qxh7+ Kd8 37. Qh8+ Kc7 38. Qg7+ Kd8 39.
Nd1 Qe2 40. Qxg6 Qxd1+ 41. Kg2 Qxd4 {and Black survives because of the
counterattack against f2.}) 32. Qb8 {Black has plenty of problems left to
solve. The fact that they can be solved is of much less importance. In the
game Wang Hao tried his best and failed.} Qd7 $2 {Finally the pressure leads
to a decisive mistake. Black had two ways of saving the game, but both
required some accuracy and understanding. Spending the last five minutes of
his time, Wang Hao was not able to see in which direction he had to go.} ({
Black had another computer defence after} 32... Nxd4 $5 33. Qxb7+ (33. Qh8 {
leaves Black with two defences. The smartass one has a very important
illustrative point that I saw in another game yesterday, where it really was
the only option available to hold the game.} Ke7 $3 ({The human defence is
obviously} 33... Nf3+ 34. Kg2 Ng5 {, defending the h-pawn, whereafter} 35. Qg7+
Ke8 36. Qxb7 Qe4+ {it is not surprising that Black makes the draw with a
combination of counterplay and perpetual check.}) 34. Qxh7+ Qf7 35. Qh8 Qf8 {
Black draws.}) 33... Qe7 34. Qxa6 Qe4 $3 {Nepomniachtichi was a true
professional, telling the journalists exactly what he was thinking, holding
nothing bad.} (34... Qxc5 35. a4 {is unpleasant for Black, although} f5 $1 {
still offers him counterplay.} 36. a5 fxg4 37. Qb7+ Ke6 38. a6 g3 $1 {Black
has enough counterplay, even though White can still create problems for him.})
35. Qb7+ Ke6 36. Qxh7 {Nepomniachtchi believed that there was no way Black
could deliver a perpetual with the knight on e3 defending everything. But
actually, there are several ways for Black to create the necessary counterplay.
...Qb1+ and ...Ne2. 36...Nf3+ 37.Kf1 Nd4 and finally} Ne2+ 37. Kf1 {and the
knight can retract to threaten ...Qh1 mate. But nicest is} Ng3+ $1 38. fxg3
Qf3+ {with a draw.}) ({The more human attempt was} 32... Qe7 {, where White
could still create problems for his opponent.} 33. Nc4 (33. Qh8 Ke6 34. Nc2 $1
{is dangerous for Black, but accurate defence hold.} Nc3 35. Qg8+ Kd7 $1 (35...
Qf7 $2 36. d5+ $1 Nxd5 (36... cxd5 37. Nd4+ Ke7 38. Qc8 $18) 37. Nd4+ Ke7 38.
Qb8 Qe8 39. Qxb7+ Qd7 40. Nxc6+ Ke8 41. Qa8+ Kf7 42. Kh1 {where White is close
to winning, as Black cannot play} Qxg4 {on account of} 43. Nd8+ {and 44.Qxd5.})
36. Qb3 Nb5 37. a4 Nc7 38. Ne3 f5 $1 39. Qg8 f4 40. Nc4 Qe1+ 41. Kg2 {[#]} f3+
$1 {Black survives by perpetual check.} 42. Kxf3 Qd1+ 43. Ke4 Qxg4+ 44. Kd3
Qf5+ 45. Ke2 Qg4+ 46. Ke3 Qg5+ $11) 33... Qe1+ 34. Kg2 Qe4+ 35. Kh2 {looks bad
for Black, but after} Qf3 $1 {Black has enough counterplay to ensure the draw.}
) 33. Qh8 $1 Ke6 34. f4 $1 Nxd4 (34... Qxd4 35. Qe8#) (34... Qe7 35. f5+ Kd7
36. Kf2 $1 {leaves Black utterly lost. The main threat is 37.hxg6 fxg6 38.Qg7!
and the h-pawn queens. And if Black plays 36...g5, he will face down the
secondary threat 37.Nc4! when it is at least checkmate.} {So he has to play}
gxf5 {, when after} 37. Nxf5 Qf7 38. a4 {Black's position is disintegrating.
He cannot allow the knight to land on d6. It will hurt too much.}) 35. Qg8+ Qf7
(35... Ke7 36. Qxh7+ {and the h-pawn queens.}) 36. Qc8+ Qd7 (36... Ke7 37.
Qxb7+ Kf8 38. Qb8+ Qe8 39. Qd6+ {and White picks up the knight.}) 37. Qg8+ ({
At first Nepomniachtchi believed that he was winning after} 37. f5+ gxf5 38.
gxf5+ Ke7 39. Qh8 {, but then realised that Black can defend the pawn with}
Nf3+ $1 40. Kf2 Ng5 {and Black is not worse at all.}) 37... Qf7 {[#]} 38. Qd8
$1 {Wang Hao had missed this move. With the threat of mate on d6, Black has no
options left.} Qd7 (38... Nb5 39. a4 {also wins a piece.}) 39. f5+ gxf5 40.
gxf5+ Nxf5 41. Qxd7+ Kxd7 42. Nxf5 Ke6 43. Ne3 1-0

Previous "Aagaard on the Candidates" installments: Round 1 - Giri-Nepomniachtchi Round 2 - Caruana-Alekseenko Round 3 - Ding Liren-Caruana Round 4 - Vachier-Lagrave - Grischuk Round 5 - Nepomniachtchi - Wang Hao