Candidates Tournament Closes With News Dump

Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi wins the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament
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Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi won the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament and will be the next challenger to World Champion Magnus Carlsen in November. // photo credit Lennart Ootes, FIDE

Considering a day of games played merely as ceremony, the end of the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament still arrived with its fair share of headline news. 

The hangover may have been real for both Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and Dutch GM Anish Giri, who each suffered losses the day after realizing their fate in the biggest tournament on the international chess calendar. Confirmed with the results of Monday’s penultimate 13th round was the end of Giri’s mathematical chances to overtake Nepo in the standings, seeing the Russian clinch the Candidates’ coveted top prize and securing him as the next challenger to World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. 

Nepomniachtchi was officially crowned the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament winner during the closing ceremony on Wednesday, thus ending the longest chess tournament in history – 400 days from start to finish – complete with a 13-month intermission. His focus will now turn toward a 14-game World Chess Championship against the incumbent Carlsen, scheduled for this November in Dubai. 


FIDE Candidates 2020 | Final Press Conference |


“In the current situation, to start this tournament was big courage, and to end it – an act of heroism,” Nepomniachtchi said. “The contribution of everyone involved, from sponsors to volunteers, was very important. Of course, I would also like to thank my team who deserves this success even more than I do; their work was left behind the scenes. It’s not the tip of the iceberg, it’s the part that is hidden under the water. I am just moving the pieces.” 

All results aside, an equally large headline delivered at the Candidates conclusion was the surprise retirement of Chinese GM Wang Hao, who announced his intentions shortly after suffering his third consecutive defeat in the event, to French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Citing health concerns, Wang Hao, 31, who has maintained a spot among the World’s Top 100 players since entering as a 17-year-old in 2006, said that he still intends to coach and participate in friendly matches, but was done with the stress of professional chess. Wang Hao appears as the World No. 12 and at the highest rating of his career, 2763, according to FIDE’s last published rankings in April 2021. 


Chinese GM Wang Hao at the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament
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Chinese GM Wang Hao announced his retirement from professional chess after struggling to an 8th place finish in the 2020-21 Candidates Tournament. // photo credit Lennart Ootes, FIDE


Additional news released from Wednesday’s closing ceremony was FIDE’s intentions to hold the next Candidates Tournament in just one year’s time in 2022, in an apparent attempt to return to its original two-year cycle, disrupted last year by the global pandemic.  

FIDE also revealed intentions to revisit its tiebreak rules for the Candidates Tournament, which came under fire at the conclusion of this event. Though the results of Tuesday’s games did not play out accordingly, Giri still held mathematical chances entering the round to catch and tie Nepo for the top spot. The current Candidates tiebreaker rules, however, fall first to head-to-head results, instead of a playoff system shared by many other elite events. Reaching back to the Candidates kickoff in March 2020, Nepo’s first-round win over Giri served as the deciding factor, allowing the premature clinch on Monday. 


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Despite its lack of impact, Tuesday played out as a particularly decisive round that included three victories, and only one draw between American GM Fabiano Caruana and Russian GM Alexander Grischuk in a complex Four Knights Sicilian marathon. Caruana finished the Candidates plus-1 and tied with Giri for third with 7.5/14. Grischuk tied for fifth with an even score. 


GM Fabiano Caruana FIDE Candidates Tournament Yekaterinburg, Russia
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American GM Fabiano Caruana finished the 2020-21 Candidates Tournament tied for third with a 7.5/14 score. // photo credit Lennart Ootes, FIDE

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.27"] [Round "14.1"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B40"] [WhiteElo "2842"] [BlackElo "2777"] [PlyCount "129"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Qd3 d5 7. exd5 Nb4 8. Qc4 Nbxd5 9. Bg5 Bb4 10. Bd3 Bd7 11. O-O Bxc3 12. bxc3 Rc8 13. Qb3 Qb6 14. Qxb6 Nxb6 15. a4 h6 16. Bxf6 gxf6 17. Rfb1 Rc7 18. Nb5 Bxb5 19. axb5 Nc8 20. Ra3 Ke7 21. Rb4 f5 22. g3 Kf6 23. f3 Rd8 24. Rd4 Rdd7 25. Kf2 b6 26. Ke3 Ne7 27. f4 Nd5+ 28. Kd2 Ke7 29. Be2 Rd6 30. c4 Nf6 31. c3 Rd8 32. Bf3 Nd7 33. Ke3 Nc5 34. h3 f6 35. g4 fxg4 36. hxg4 Re8 37. Rd1 Kf8 38. Ra2 Kg7 39. Bc6 Rec8 40. Rd6 Kf7 41. f5 e5 42. Rad2 Ke7 43. Bf3 Rg8 44. Rd1 Rgc8 45. Be2 Kf7 46. Bf3 Ke7 47. R6d5 Na4 48. R1d2 e4 49. Bxe4 Nxc3 50. R5d4 Nxe4 51. Rxe4+ Kf7 52. Rdd4 Re8 53. Kd3 Rxe4 54. Rxe4 Re7 55. Rd4 Ke8 56. Kc3 Rd7 57. Rf4 Rh7 58. Rf1 h5 59. gxh5 Rxh5 60. Ra1 Kd8 61. Rxa7 Kc8 62. Ra6 Kc7 63. c5 Rxf5 64. cxb6+ Kb7 65. Kb4 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]


Chinese GM Ding Liren pointed to the effects of quarantine during the first half of the Candidates in March 2020 as an impact to his overall performance, though he was able to right the ship for the second half and finish the tournament with three consecutive wins. His final round victory over Nepo helped return him to World No. 3 in the live rankings, which the Russian had temporarily overtaken on Monday. Extensive analysis of Ding-Liren – Nepo may be found as Tuesday’s Game of the Day by GM Jacob Aagaard

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.27"] [Round "14.3"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E60"] [WhiteElo "2805"] [BlackElo "2774"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. f3 e6 4. e4 c5 5. d5 d6 6. Bd3 Bg7 7. Ne2 exd5 8. cxd5 Nbd7 9. Nec3 a6 10. a4 Nh5 11. O-O Bd4+ 12. Kh1 Ne5 13. Ne2 Qh4 14. Nxd4 Nxd3 15. Qxd3 Ng3+ 16. Kg1 Nxf1 17. Nc2 Nxh2 18. Qe3 O-O 19. Qg5 Nxf3+ 20. gxf3 Qh3 21. Bf4 Qxf3 22. Nd2 f6 23. Qxg6+ hxg6 24. Nxf3 Bg4 25. Nd2 Be2 26. Kf2 Bd3 27. Ne1 c4 28. Bxd6 Rfe8 29. Nxd3 cxd3 30. Bc7 Kf7 31. Ra3 Rac8 32. d6 Ke6 33. Rxd3 Kd7 34. Nc4 Rxc7 35. Nb6+ 1-0 [/pgn]


Dutch GM Anish Giri at the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament
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Dutch GM Anish Giri finished the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament tied for third place with 7.5/14. // photo credit Lennart Ootes, FIDE

Considering how close Giri had been to the top prize, finishing with two consecutive losses was certainly not part of the Dutchman’s plans. After seeing GM Kirill Alekseenko fall quickly in a Catalan to Nepomniachtchi last week, Giri took his shot against the young Russian to dramatically different results on Tuesday. Alekseenko’s second win of the event helped pull him off the bottom of the standings, finishing 5.5/14 in seventh place. 

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.27"] [Round "14.2"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "Alekseenko, Kirill"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E01"] [WhiteElo "2763"] [BlackElo "2698"] [PlyCount "112"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. g3 e6 3. Bg2 d5 4. d4 Bb4+ 5. Nd2 O-O 6. Ngf3 b6 7. O-O Bb7 8. b3 Re8 9. Bb2 Nbd7 10. Qc2 Rc8 11. Rad1 c5 12. Qb1 Qe7 13. dxc5 Nxc5 14. cxd5 Bxd5 15. Ne5 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 Qb7+ 17. Kg1 b5 18. Nef3 Red8 19. a3 Bxd2 20. Bxf6 gxf6 21. Nxd2 Kg7 22. Nf3 Ne4 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Qb2 a5 25. b4 a4 26. Rc1 Qd5 27. Qc2 Rd7 28. Kg2 Qb7 29. Kg1 Rd8 30. Kg2 Rd7 31. Kg1 Rd6 32. Kg2 Nd2 33. Rd1 Nc4 34. Rxd6 Nxd6 35. Qd3 Nc4 36. e4 Qc6 37. g4 Qc7 38. Nd2 Ne5 39. Qe3 h6 40. f4 Nxg4 41. Qg3 f5 42. Kf1 h5 43. Ke2 Qb6 44. h3 h4 45. Qc3+ Nf6 46. exf5 exf5 47. Nf3 Qe6+ 48. Kd2 Qd5+ 49. Qd3 Ne4+ 50. Ke3 Qa2 51. Kd4 f6 52. Qf1 Qxa3 53. Kd5 Qxb4 54. Qg1+ Kf8 55. Ke6 Qe7+ 56. Kxf5 Ng3+ 0-1 [/pgn]

Wang Hao’s retirement announcement came on the heels of another collapsed game, the end of a struggling Candidates performance uncharacteristic of his otherwise illustrious career. The Chinese No. 2 managed to play balanced in the Berlin until 19. Nd6, but then lost his way for his fifth loss of the tournament. The win helped MVL, who had been tied with Nepomniachtchi in first place midway through the event, finish just a half point behind in second place. 

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.27"] [Round "14.4"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Wang, Hao"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C67"] [WhiteElo "2767"] [BlackElo "2762"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. h3 Ke8 10. Nc3 h5 11. Ne2 b6 12. Bg5 c5 13. Nc3 Bb7 14. Rfd1 Bxf3 15. gxf3 c6 16. f4 Be7 17. Ne4 Bxg5 18. fxg5 Ke7 19. Nd6 Ke6 20. Rd3 Rhd8 21. Re1 a5 22. f4 c4 23. Rdd1 b5 24. Kf2 a4 25. a3 g6 26. Kf3 Ng7 27. Rd2 Ne8 28. Red1 Nc7 29. Nxb5 1-0 [/pgn]
French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave MVL at the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament
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French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament in second place with 8/14. // photo credit Lennart Ootes, FIDE