Giri Wins to Tighten Race after Nepomniachtchi and Caruana draw

GM Fabiano Caruana didn’t lose ground after his Round 11 draw with leader GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, but today’s result may have shut the door on his World Championship aspirations for this cycle.

Still a full point behind the leader with three rounds to play, Caruana will need a bit of luck if he is to win the FIDE Candidates and earn a rematch with World Champion Magnus Carlsen later this year.

 

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GM Fabiano Caruana prepares to take on GM Ian Nepomniachtchi
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courtesy FIDE / Lennart Ootes

 

Caruana was clear-eyed about the prospect of Nepomniachtchi’s desire to dry the position out: “I thought Ian might have two approaches: one to get a complicated fight, and another to play a more or less safe position. Ok, [there are] some very minor chances that I might mess this position up, but 99% of the time this position will turn into a draw.” And indeed, the game was a fairly bloodless draw, suiting the tournament leader quite well.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.23"] [Round "11.1"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C47"] [WhiteElo "2774"] [BlackElo "2842"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "14"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. Bd3 d5 8. exd5 O-O 9. O-O Bg4 {The latest trend in this ancient opening.} 10. f3 (10. Be2 Bxe2 11. Nxe2 cxd5 $11) (10. Ne2 $5 cxd5 11. h3 Bh5 12. c4) 10... Bh5 11. Bg5 ( 11. dxc6 {is not very challenging:} Qd4+ 12. Kh1 Bxc3 13. bxc3 Qxc3 14. Rb1 Bg6 15. Bb2 Qxc6 16. Bxf6 Qxf6 17. Bxg6 hxg6 $11) 11... Qd6 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. dxc6 Bxc3 14. bxc3 Qxc3 15. Be4 Bg6 (15... Qc5+ 16. Kh1 Rad8 17. Qe2 Bg6 18. Rad1 Rde8 19. Rd7 Bxe4 20. fxe4 Qxc6 {1/2-1/2 (39) Mihok,O (2552)-Malinovsky,K (2456) Ceske Budejovice 2020}) 16. Qd7 Rad8 17. Qxc7 Qc5+ 18. Kh1 Bxe4 19. fxe4 Rc8 20. Qd7 Qxc6 21. Qxa7 Qxe4 22. Rfe1 {"This is a dead draw." (Caruana)} Qxc2 23. a4 Qc5 {Perhaps a bit careless on Caruana's account in the post-game interview, but nothing changes - the position is drawn, requiring just the smallest bit of care by Black.} 24. Qxc5 Rxc5 25. a5 Ra8 26. a6 h5 27. Reb1 Kh7 28. Rb6 Ra7 29. Kg1 Rc2 30. h3 f6 31. Ra3 Kg6 32. Kh2 h4 33. Ra1 Rc4 34. Kg1 Rc2 35. Ra4 Rd2 36. Rg4+ Kf7 37. Rxh4 Ra2 38. Rb7+ Rxb7 39. axb7 Rb2 40. Ra4 Rxb7 41. Kh2 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

While perhaps not ideal, Caruana was rather sanguine about the result in the post-game interview. “If this was the last round... I mean, I did consider playing something more double-edged than 1. e4 e5... but, ok, it’s still three rounds to go. I thought, ‘why would I burn my bridges?’ I didn’t think this was a must-win [game] or anything like that.”

With Caruana still alive, but his chances dwindling, it was GM Anish Giri who took a big step forward in the hunt for the Candidates crown with his victory over GM Ding Liren.

 

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GM Anish Giri
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courtesy FIDE / Lennart Ootes

 

Giri was, by his own admission, suffering a bit after 17. ... f5, but Ding pushed a bit too hard with 20. ... g4?!. This was met by 21. Ng5 and 22. h4, leaving White in the driver’s seat.

Ding’s 22. ... b6 could have been met in multiple ways, but Giri was justifiably proud of his piece sacrifice beginning with 23. Ne4! “I’ve seen so many more dumb sacrifices by me that this was one of the better ones really! It’s just so easy to play, and my king is so much safer.”

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.23"] [Round "11.4"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C85"] [WhiteElo "2763"] [BlackElo "2805"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "14"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. d3 Bd6 8. Nbd2 Be6 9. Nb3 {New in over-the-board play, but there are correspondence games and a lichess blitz game with this move.} Qe7 (9... O-O 10. Na5 (10. Bg5 h6 11. Bh4 Re8 12. Na5 Rb8 13. b3 Bg4 14. h3 Bh5 15. g4 Bg6 16. Nc4 {1-0 (48) Kiborg1987 (2781)-Bruceleehon (2649) Lichess Blitz game 2020}) 10... Rb8 11. Bg5 Re8 12. a3 h6 13. Bh4 Qe7 14. Re1 Bg4 15. h3 Bh5 16. Nc4 {1/2-1/2 (63) Lovakovic,F (2210)-Stolz,S (2131) corr LSS 2019}) 10. Na5 O-O-O {Not expected by Giri, but of course it's a rational move.} (10... Rb8 11. h3 h6 12. Be3 Nd7 13. Nd2 Nf8 14. Ba7 Ra8 15. Be3 b6 16. Nac4 c5 17. Qh5 b5 18. Nxd6+ cxd6 19. a4 b4 20. c3 a5 21. d4 Ng6 22. d5 Bc8 23. cxb4 axb4 24. Nc4 O-O {1/2-1/2 (24) Alexandre Bisquert,F-Cleto Jr,D corr LSS 2017}) 11. Qe2 Bg4 12. c3 c5 13. a3 c6 {This "surprised / impressed / confused" Giri.} 14. b4 Bc7 15. Nb3 Nd7 16. h3 Bh5 17. Be3 {[#]} f5 $5 {"Very strong... Black has all the trumps... I thought I should hold it, but I'm not playing for a win ever." (Giri)} (17... c4 $5 18. dxc4 f5 {was also a worry for Giri.}) 18. Bxc5 Qf7 19. Rab1 (19. Qa2 $2 Bxf3 20. gxf3 Qh5 21. Kh2 Nxc5 22. Nxc5 Rd6 $19) (19. Nbd2 Nxc5 20. bxc5 g5 21. Nc4 $13) 19... g5 (19... fxe4 20. Qxe4 (20. dxe4 Nxc5 21. Nxc5 Rhf8 $1 $36) 20... Bxf3 21. Qxf3 Qxf3 22. gxf3 Nxc5 23. Nxc5 Bb6 {and Giri didn't see a "smooth" draw, but assumed he'd find one.}) 20. exf5 g4 $6 {Too direct.} ({Black kept the advantage with} 20... Qxf5 21. Qe4 Qf6 22. Nfd2 Bg6 23. Qe2 g4 $5) 21. Ng5 $1 Qxf5 22. h4 $1 b6 $2 {[#] Hindsight is always 20-20, but this is an unfortunate mistake.} (22... Nf6 23. Be7 g3 24. Qe1 $1 (24. fxg3 $6 Qd7)) ( 22... e4 23. Qxe4 $1) 23. Ne4 $1 {A brave and correct sacrifice. "It's just so easy to play, and my king is so much safer." (Giri)} (23. d4 $2 Nb8 {leaves Black with an edge.}) (23. Be3 {is also playable:} e4 (23... Nf6) 24. dxe4 Qe5 25. Qxa6+) 23... bxc5 24. bxc5 {The open b-file and the dual weaknesses on a6 and c6 are more than enough compensation for the material. Ding has no good moves.} Nf6 25. Nd6+ $1 Bxd6 ({No better is} 25... Rxd6 26. cxd6 Bxd6 27. d4) 26. cxd6 Rxd6 27. d4 {The black king will not find shelter.} c5 28. Nxc5 Re8 29. Qc4 1-0 [/pgn]

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave entered the day tied for second place with Caruana and Giri, but with his loss to GM Alexander Grischuk, he has been effectively eliminated from serious contention.

 

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A despondent MVL
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A despondent MVL. Photo courtesy FIDE / Lennart Ootes

 

The Grischuk – MVL game was fantastically rich and complex, with an offbeat opening — the so-called “Carlsen Variation” of the Sicilian, ably analyzed by Chess Life columnist FM Carsten Hansen in a recent book — and attacking play on both sides of the board.

Grischuk erred with 31. Rxh5, letting MVL back into the game with 31. ... Rd4! before errors on his 33rd and 37th moves gave Grischuk all the chances. The commentators thought that Black could have saved the game with 42. ... Ba3+, but it appears they were misled by shallow engine analysis without tablebases. White wins in all variations.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.23"] [Round "11.3"] [White "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B23"] [WhiteElo "2777"] [BlackElo "2767"] [PlyCount "95"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "14"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Qxd4 Nc6 5. Qd2 g6 6. b3 Bh6 7. f4 Nf6 8. Bb2 e5 9. Nge2 O-O 10. O-O-O Be6 11. Kb1 a5 12. a4 Qb6 13. h4 Rac8 14. h5 Nxh5 15. g3 Nb4 16. Bh3 Bxh3 17. Rxh3 Bg7 18. g4 Nf6 19. g5 Nh5 20. f5 Rfd8 21. f6 Bf8 22. Ng3 d5 23. exd5 Nxg3 24. Rxg3 h5 25. Qe2 Rc5 26. Rh3 Nxd5 27. Nxd5 Rcxd5 28. Rdh1 Qd6 29. Ka2 Rd1 30. Rxh5 gxh5 31. Rxh5 Rd4 32. Rh1 Rxa4+ 33. Kb1 Qd5 34. Qh5 Qxh1+ 35. Qxh1 Rg4 36. Bxe5 Rxg5 37. Qxb7 Rd2 38. Bc3 Re2 39. Qc8 Rg1+ 40. Kb2 Rgg2 41. Bxa5 Rxc2+ 42. Qxc2 Rxc2+ 43. Kxc2 Kh7 44. Kd3 Kg6 45. Bc3 Kf5 46. Kc4 Ke6 47. b4 Bd6 48. b5 1-0 [/pgn]

GM Kirill Alekseenko and GM Wang Hao drew their game, which featured a topical line in the Italian Game. Black may have had some edge in the middlegame, but after 28. ... Rxd5?! the position liquidated down to a clear draw.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.23"] [Round "11.2"] [White "Alekseenko, Kirill"] [Black "Wang, Hao"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C55"] [WhiteElo "2698"] [BlackElo "2762"] [PlyCount "110"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "14"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 h6 5. c3 d6 6. Nbd2 g5 7. Nf1 g4 8. N3d2 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Ne3 Nxe3 11. fxe3 Na5 12. O-O Nxc4 13. Nxc4 Bg7 14. e4 h5 15. Ne3 Qd6 16. Qb3 O-O 17. Qc2 b6 18. Bd2 Ba6 19. c4 Rad8 20. Nd5 Bc8 21. Rae1 f5 22. exf5 Bxf5 23. Bb4 c5 24. Bc3 Be6 25. Qd2 Rxf1+ 26. Rxf1 Bxd5 27. cxd5 Qg6 28. Qd1 Rxd5 29. Qa4 Rxd3 30. Qxa7 Rd8 31. a4 Rf8 32. Rxf8+ Bxf8 33. Qb8 Qb1+ 34. Kf2 Qf5+ 35. Ke2 Qe4+ 36. Kf2 Qf4+ 37. Kg1 Qc1+ 38. Kf2 Qf4+ 39. Kg1 Qe3+ 40. Kf1 Qd3+ 41. Kf2 Qf5+ 42. Ke2 Qc2+ 43. Kf1 Qd1+ 44. Kf2 Qxa4 45. Qxb6 Qc2+ 46. Kf1 Qf5+ 47. Ke2 h4 48. Qb3+ Kh7 49. Qd5 Bg7 50. Qxc5 Qe4+ 51. Kf1 Qd3+ 52. Ke1 h3 53. gxh3 Qe4+ 54. Kf1 Qd3+ 55. Ke1 Qe4+ 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]


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Round 11 Standings

 

This leaves Nepomniachtchi in first place by a half-point over Giri with three rounds to play, while Caruana trails the leader by a full point. This makes tomorrow’s Round 12 matchup between Caruana (playing White) and Giri all the more critical. With Nepomniachtchi taking Black against Wang Hao, Caruana will have to play for the win to move up the crosstable.

Other pairings include Vachier-Lagrave versus Alekseenko, and Ding Liren versus Grischuk.

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