Nepomniachtchi Leads Candidates on First Rest Day

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi took a big step towards winning the 2020-2021 FIDE Candidates Tournament with the only victory of Round 10, defeating GM Kirill Alekseenko relatively easily.

Nepomniachtchi now leads the field by a full point at 6½/10 with four rounds to play. Three players — GMs Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Anish Giri — are tied for second place with 5½ points.

 

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Nepomniachtchi against Alekseenko
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courtesy FIDE / Lennart Ootes

 

The subject of GM Jacob Aagaard’s Round 10 Game of the Day, Nepomniachtchi was modest in the post-game interview, saying that he was lucky to have gotten his opponent into a position that he was not familiar with.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.21"] [Round "10.4"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Alekseenko, Kirill"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2774"] [BlackElo "2698"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "14"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. g3 e6 3. Bg2 d5 4. Nf3 dxc4 5. Qa4+ Nbd7 6. Qxc4 a6 7. Qc2 c5 8. Nc3 Be7 9. O-O O-O 10. d4 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Qc7 12. Rd1 Rd8 13. Be3 Nb6 14. Rac1 e5 15. Nf5 Bxf5 16. Qxf5 Nc4 17. Bg5 Rxd1+ 18. Nxd1 Rd8 19. Bxf6 Bxf6 20. Be4 Qa5 21. Nc3 Kf8 22. Nd5 b5 23. Qxh7 Rxd5 24. Bxd5 Qd2 25. Rxc4 bxc4 26. e4 Qxb2 27. Qh8+ Ke7 28. Qc8 Qb6 29. Qxc4 Qb5 30. Qc7+ Qd7 31. Qc5+ 1-0 [/pgn]

Trailing Nepomniachtchi by just half a point entering the round, Caruana was surely looking to move up the leader board in his game against GM Ding Liren. But Caruana seemed surprised by Ding’s 16. ... Qc8, a novelty that was apparently cooked up over-the-board, and the game moved into a position where Caruana’s nebulous compensation was never quite sufficient for the pawn.

 

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Fabiano Caruana moves in his game with Ding Liren
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courtesy FIDE / Lennart Ootes

 

Faced with a position that was trending the wrong way, Caruana pulled the emergency break with 31. Qg6! — a move that Ding admitted he missed — and steered the game to relative safety.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.21"] [Round "10.1"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C88"] [WhiteElo "2842"] [BlackElo "2805"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "80"] [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. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4 b4 9. a5 d6 10. d3 Be6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. c3 Rb8 13. Nbd2 Rb5 14. d4 bxc3 15. bxc3 exd4 16. cxd4 Qc8 {Found over the board by Ding.} (16... Nb4 17. d5 Ng4 18. Rf1 c5 19. dxc6 Nxc6 20. Nb3 Bf6 21. Ra4 Qd7 22. Ba3 Nge5 23. Nxe5 Nxe5 24. Nd4 {1/2-1/2 (64) Amin,B (2709)-Ding,L (2812) Astana 2019}) ({Ding rejected} 16... Qd7 17. Nc4 d5 18. exd5 exd5 $2 (18... Qxd5) (18... Nxd5 19. Nce5 Nxe5 20. Nxe5) 19. Nce5 $16) 17. Ba3 (17. Nc4 d5 18. exd5 exd5 (18... Nxd5 19. Bd2 $14) 19. Nce5 Nxe5 20. dxe5 Ne4 21. Be3 {and Ding thought this position was better for White, but Caruana was unsure.} Bb4 22. Rf1 Bc3 23. Rc1 Qe6 { "strategically risky for White" (Caruana) and here the players looked at} 24. Rxc3 Nxc3 25. Qd3 Rxf3 $1) 17... Nxa5 (17... Rxa5 18. Qc2 {[%csl Gc6]} Qd7 19. Rec1 Na7 20. Qxc7 {Ding Liren}) 18. Qc2 ({Also discussed was} 18. d5 c5 ({if} 18... exd5 19. Nd4 Rb7 20. exd5 Nxd5 21. Qh5 $2 Nf4) 19. dxc6 Nxc6 20. Nc4) ( 18. Rc1 c5 19. dxc5 dxc5 20. Nd4 Rb6 21. Qa4 {"Maybe this was more interesting than what I played, because this looks dangerous for Black." (Caruana)}) 18... c5 {"Already I felt like I had no real chances for an advantage." (Caruana)} 19. e5 dxe5 20. dxc5 $5 {[#] A complicated and interesting position. White is down a pawn, but the extra black pawn is doubled and weak, and White's pieces are active. Probably not full compensation, but practically enough?} Nc6 21. Ne4 Nxe4 22. Rxe4 Rd8 ({Caruana: "I thought that Ding was playing for a win here, because he can make a draw with"} 22... Bxc5 23. Rc4 (23. Bxc5 Nd4) 23... Bxa3 24. Rxc6 (24. Ng5) 24... Qd7) 23. Rae1 Bf6 24. h4 h6 25. R4e3 (25. g4 $5 { Caruana}) 25... Rd5 {"Already I felt like I'm rather worse." (Caruana)} 26. g4 Qe8 27. Kg2 h5 $1 {The point of this move becomes clear in the note to move 30 - some deep calculation by Ding!} (27... Be7 28. Nxe5 Bxc5 29. Nxc6 Qxc6 30. Rxe6 Rd6+ 31. R6e4 Bxa3 32. Qa2+) 28. g5 Be7 29. Nxe5 Bxc5 30. Bxc5 (30. Nxc6 Qxc6 31. Rxe6 Rxg5+ $1 {and this is why Ding played 27. ... h5 -- to provoke g4-g5 and then get this ... Rxg5 shot!}) 30... Rbxc5 ({Ding assessed the line} 30... Nxe5 31. Rxe5 Rbxc5 32. Qxc5 Rxc5 33. Rxc5 Qa4 {as slightly worse for him after} 34. f3 $1) 31. Qg6 $1 Qxg6 32. Nxg6 e5 33. f4 Rd2+ 34. R3e2 Rxe2+ 35. Rxe2 Nd4 (35... Kf7 {was another idea from Ding} 36. f5 Nd4 37. Nxe5+ $11 ( 37. Rxe5 $2 Rxe5 38. Nxe5+ Ke7 39. Ng6+ Ke8 {is actually losing, in contrast to what the players thought in the post-game})) (35... a5 $5 36. Nxe5 Nxe5 37. fxe5 a4 {should be a draw per Caruana}) 36. Re4 Rc2+ 37. Kf1 Rc1+ (37... Nf3 38. Rb4 $1 (38. Ra4 $1) 38... e4 $4 (38... Kf7) 39. Rb8+ Kf7 40. f5 $18) 38. Kf2 Rc2+ 39. Kf1 Rc1+ 40. Kf2 Rc2+ 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Vachier-Lagrave surprised Giri with the rare 10. c5 in the Sveshnikov, but after he won a pawn, the position dried up and a draw was agreed.

 

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MVL and Giri
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courtesy FIDE / Lennart Ootes

 

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.21"] [Round "10.2"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Giri, Anish"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B33"] [WhiteElo "2767"] [BlackElo "2763"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "14"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Nd5 Nxd5 8. exd5 Nb8 9. c4 Be7 10. c5 Na6 11. cxd6 Bxd6 12. Bc4 O-O 13. O-O Nc7 14. Nxd6 Qxd6 15. Qf3 b6 16. Rd1 Bb7 17. Bg5 h6 18. Bh4 b5 19. Bb3 Na6 20. Qe2 Nc5 21. Qxb5 Nxb3 22. axb3 Rfb8 23. f3 a6 24. Qa5 Rc8 25. Qa3 Qb6+ 26. Bf2 Qb5 27. d6 Qd7 28. Qa4 Bc6 29. Qh4 Re8 30. Rac1 Rac8 31. Rc4 Re6 32. Bc5 Rg6 33. Qf2 Re8 34. Re1 e4 35. fxe4 Rg4 36. h3 Rgxe4 37. Rexe4 Rxe4 38. Rxe4 Bxe4 39. Qe2 Bb7 40. b4 Qc6 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

Perhaps the most interesting game of the round was the matchup between GM Wang Hao and GM Alexander Grischuk. The Russian GM burned more than an hour on his 12th move, sending him into his customary time trouble very early in the game. The position got complicated, and with his opponent having just minutes to make nearly 20 moves, Wang Hao decided to offer a positional queen sacrifice that Chess.com honcho IM Danny Rensch had spotted literally a minute before it was played!

 

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The post-mortem was fascinating, with Grischuk spitting out line after line, and with Wang Hao looking on with an amused face.

 

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Wang Hao is amused by Alexander Grischuk's rapid-fire analysis.
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courtesy FIDE / Lennart Ootes

 

Both players admitted they miscalculated in some very tricky positions, and in the end Wang Hao created a positional fortress with rook, bishop, and pawn for queen.

[pgn][Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2021.04.21"] [Round "10.3"] [White "Wang, Hao"] [Black "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "2762"] [BlackElo "2777"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "82"] [EventDate "2020.03.17"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "14"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nce2 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. f4 Be7 8. Nf3 f6 9. Be3 O-O 10. g3 Qb6 11. Qd2 {[#] "I knew this move, but I could not remember how, and it took me one hour..." (Grischuk)} (11. Qb3) 11... cxd4 ( 11... a5 12. Bh3) 12. Nfxd4 ({Grischuk explained what he was thinking about during that hour with these lines:} 12. Nexd4 fxe5 (12... Ncxe5 13. fxe5 fxe5 14. Nf5 Bc5 15. Bxc5 Qxc5 (15... Nxc5 16. Ne7+ Kh8 17. Nxe5 Ne4 18. Qd4 Qxb2 19. Rd1 Qf2+ 20. Qxf2 Nxf2 21. Rd4 Nxh1 22. N5g6+ hxg6 23. Rh4#) 16. b4 (16. N5h4) 16... Qb6 17. Ne7+ Kh8 18. Be2 $16) 13. Nxe6 d4 14. Nxf8 dxe3 15. Bc4+ ( 15. Qd5+ Kh8 16. Nxd7 Qxb2) 15... Kh8 $1 (15... Kxf8 $2 16. Qd5 $16) 16. Qd5 ( 16. Ng6+ hxg6 17. Qg2) 16... Nf6) 12... Nc5 (12... Bc5 $5 13. b4 Nxb4 $1 ({ worse is} 13... Bxd4 14. Nxd4 $1 fxe5 15. Nxe6 d4) 14. Rb1 fxe5 15. fxe5 Nxe5 16. cxb4 Nf3+ $1) 13. exf6 Bxf6 14. Nb3 Ne4 15. Qd3 ({Afterwards Wang Hao wanted to investigate} 15. Bxb6 Nxd2 16. Bc5 Nxf1 17. Bxf8 Ne3 18. Kf2 Ng4+ 19. Kf3 Nge5+ (19... e5 $5 {Wang Hao}) 20. fxe5 Nxe5+ 21. Kg2 Kxf8 {which Grischuk assessed as very unclear.}) 15... Qc7 16. Bg2 Nd6 17. Bf2 Nc4 18. Qc2 Ne7 19. O-O e5 20. fxe5 Bf5 {[#] Analyzing on the chess.com stream, IM Danny Rensch suddenly got the idea to sacrifice the White queen for three pieces. As he and GM Robert Hess looked into the concept, Wang Hao made the move on the board! Perhaps an inspired choice, given the grinding time pressure Grischuk found himself under.} (20... Bxe5 21. Ned4 Bd7 $14) 21. exf6 $5 (21. Bxd5+ Kh8 22. Be4 Qxe5 23. Bxf5 Nxf5 {"should be good for [Black]" (Wang Hao)}) 21... Bxc2 22. fxe7 Rfe8 23. Nf4 $5 Nb6 24. Nxd5 $2 (24. Bxb6 Qxb6+ 25. Nd4 Be4 26. Nxd5 Bxd5 27. Bxd5+ Kh8 {was assessed by both players as better for Black, but it turns out that White holds with} 28. Rf7 $1 {(with the idea of doubling rooks and playing Rf7-f8+)} Qd6 29. Bxb7 Rab8 30. Raf1 g6 $8 {and now White has to deflect the queen from the defense of f8 with} 31. R1f6 $8 (31. R7f6 $4 Qxe7) 31... Qc5 32. b4 Qxc3 33. Rf8+ Kg7 34. R8f7+ Kh8 35. Rf8+ $11) 24... Nxd5 25. Bxd5+ Kh8 26. Nd4 Qd7 $1 (26... Bg6 27. Ne6 Qd7 28. Rad1 Rxe7 $19) 27. c4 Bg6 28. Ne6 Rxe7 29. Rae1 {[#]} Bf7 $6 ({After} 29... Rae8 {Grischuk was concerned by} 30. Bd4 {when "there are so many tricks, and some of them might work!"}) ( 29... Bf5) 30. Nxg7 $1 Bxd5 (30... Kxg7 31. Bd4+ Kg8 32. Rxe7 Qxe7 33. Rxf7 Qxf7 34. Bxf7+ $11) (30... Rxe1 31. Bxe1 Bxd5 32. Nh5 $1 $11 {[%cal Ge1c3]} ( 32. Bc3 $2 Kg8 $19) 32... Qh3 33. Bc3+ Kg8 34. Nf6+ Kf7 35. Nxd5+ Ke8 (35... Kg8 $2 36. Ne7#) (35... Kg6 $2 36. Nf4+) (35... Ke6 $2 36. Nf4+) 36. Nc7+) 31. Rxe7 ({Wang Hao also considered} 31. Nf5 $5 Qxf5 (31... Rxe1 $4 32. Bd4+ Kg8 33. Nh6#) 32. Bd4+ Kg8 33. Rxf5 (33. Rxe7 $2 Bf3) 33... Rxe1+ 34. Kf2 $11) 31... Qxe7 32. Nf5 Qf8 (32... Qg5 33. Bd4+ Kg8 34. h4 $1 $14 (34. cxd5 $6 Rf8 35. h4 Qxf5 36. Rxf5 Rxf5 37. Bxa7 Rxd5 $17)) 33. Bd4+ Kg8 34. cxd5 h5 { "to get out of the mating net" (Grischuk)} 35. d6 Kh7 36. Ne7 Qe8 37. Rf6 Rd8 38. Bc3 Rxd6 39. Rxd6 Qxe7 40. Rd4 Kg6 41. a3 Qe3+ 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

With four rounds to play, anyone in the top half of the crosstable has legitimate chances of winning the Candidates, but Nepomniachtchi’s lead will be tough to surmount. If players are going to make a move, they need to do it soon.

 

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Standings after Round 10

 

It’s for this reason that all eyes will be on the Round 11 matchup between Nepomniachtchi and Caruana, with the American taking the black pieces. Other pairings include Alekseenko versus Wang Hao, Grischuk versus Vachier-Lagrave, and Giri versus Ding Liren.

Comments

With all the advances that have been made in chess it's good to see that games like the Wang-Grischuk one can still be seen.

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