Nepomniachtchi Takes the Lead

Ian Nepomniachtchi took a big step forward on Sunday, defeating Wang Hao to move to 3.5/5 and clear first place after five rounds of play at the 2020 Candidates. Despite being tipped as a potential dark horse by both Jacob Aagaard and Greg Shahade in their pre-tournament prognostications, it’s fair to say that the mercurial Russian was somewhat overlooked going into the 2020 Candidates, with most of the attention focused on Ding Liren and Fabiano Caruana. After his wins against Giri in Round 1 and today against Wang, is it his time to shine?

photo Lennart Ootes

Nepomniachtchi was the sole victor in Sunday’s fifth round. Faced with Wang Hao’s solid Petroff, Nepomniachtchi introduced a new idea on move 13, varying from two games by Anand. Something went wrong around move 30, and with the h6 pawn restricting both the king and h7 pawn, the White queen penetrated the Black position to great effect.

After repeating the position to gain time on the clock, Nepomniachtchi played the decisive 39. f5! gaining material. Wang Hao resigned shortly thereafter.

[pgn] [Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2020.03.22"] [Round "5"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, I."] [Black "Wang Hao"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C42"] [WhiteElo "2774"] [BlackElo "2762"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2020.03.15"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bf5 7. O-O Be7 8. Re1 O-O 9. Nbd2 Nd6 10. Nf1 Bxd3 11. Qxd3 c6 12. Bf4 Na6 13. h4 Nc7 14. Ng5 Bxg5 15. Bxg5 f6 16. Bf4 Qd7 17. Ng3 Rae8 18. Bxd6 Qxd6 19. Nf5 Qd7 20. Qh3 Kh8 21. h5 Rxe1+ 22. Rxe1 Re8 23. Rxe8+ Nxe8 24. g4 a6 25. b3 Qe6 26. Ne3 Nd6 27. h6 g6 28. c4 dxc4 29. bxc4 Kg8 30. Qh2 Kf7 31. c5 Nb5 32. Qb8 Qd7 33. Qh8 Ke6 34. f4 Nxd4 35. Qg8+ Qf7 36. Qc8+ Qd7 37. Qg8+ Qf7 38. Qd8 Qd7 39. f5+ gxf5 40. gxf5+ Nxf5 41. Qxd7+ Kxd7 42. Nxf5 Ke6 43. Ne3 1-0 [/pgn]
Note that Nepomnachtchi-Wang Hao is Jacob Aagaard’s “Game of the Day" - check it out!  

Kirill Alekseenko and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played a theoretically important and tactically rich Najdorf. As happens often in matchups between well-prepared players, the game ended in a draw via tactical flourish.

[pgn] [Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2020.03.22"] [Round "5"] [White "Alekseenko, K."] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, M."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2698"] [BlackElo "2767"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2020.03.15"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. f3 e6 7. Be3 b5 8. Qd2 Nbd7 9. a3 h5 10. O-O-O Bb7 11. Kb1 Be7 12. Rg1 Rc8 13. Be2 Nb6 14. Qe1 Nfd7 15. g4 hxg4 16. Rxg4 g6 17. Rxg6 Rxc3 18. Nxe6 Qc8 19. Ng7+ Kf8 20. Rh6 Rxh6 21. Bxh6 Rxc2 22. Nf5+ Ke8 23. Nxe7 Kxe7 24. Qh4+ f6 25. Bf4 Rxb2+ 26. Kxb2 Na4+ 27. Kb1 Nc3+ 28. Ka1 Nxd1 29. Qh7+ Kd8 30. Qg8+ Ke7 31. Qh7+ Kd8 32. Qg8+ Ke7 33. Qh7+ 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Fabiano Caruana appeared to be in some trouble in his game with Anish Giri, prompting Magnus Carlsen to question Caruana’s aggressivity and praise Giri’s play during the commentary on Chess24.

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26. … c5?! was an error according to Caruana after the game, but he was able to create enough counterplay with 33. Re2?! d4! to hold. Jacob Aagaard has provided bonus notes to Giri-Caruana exclusively for CLO.

[pgn] [Event "FIDE Candidates Tournament"] [Date "2020.03.22"] [Round "5.1"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2763"] [BlackElo "2842"] [Annotator "Aagaard"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Netherlands"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "NED"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bf5 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nh4 Be4 7. f3 Bg6 8. Bd2 Be7 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. Qc2 Nbd7 11. O-O-O Nb6 $5 $146 (11... Qc7 12. h4 dxc4 13. Bxc4 b5 14. Bd3 a6 15. Ne4 Nxe4 16. Bxe4 Rc8 17. Kb1 {1/2-1/2 (67) Lupulescu,C (2643)-Bu,X (2721) Douglas 2019}) 12. c5 Nbd7 13. Kb1 Qb8 14. h4 g5 (14... b6 15. cxb6 axb6 16. a3 $1 b5 $140 17. Na2 $14) 15. Be1 (15. e4 $5 Rxh4 16. Rxh4 gxh4 17. e5 Nh5 18. Qh7 Ng3 19. Qxg7 b6 20. Qh8+ Nf8 21. Bd3 bxc5 22. dxc5 Qb7 23. Be1 Bg5 24. f4 $3 Bxf4 25. Nb5 cxb5 26. Qxh4 Bxe5 27. Bxg3 Bxg3 28. Qxg3 Rc8 29. b4 $44) (15. Bd3 $1 Rxh4 (15... gxh4 16. g4) 16. e4 $44 dxe4 17. fxe4 e5 18. Rhe1 $5 exd4 19. e5 Nxe5 20. Bxg5 Rg4 21. Bxf6 gxf6 22. Bf5 Rf4 23. Ne2 d3 24. Bxd3 Rf2 25. Be4 $16) 15... g4 $6 16. e4 $1 gxf3 (16... dxe4 17. fxg4 $1 (17. fxe4 e5 18. Bg3 Nh5 19. Bh2 g3 20. Bg1 Qc7 21. Bc4 $36) 17... Nxg4 18. Qxe4 Ndf6 19. Qf3 $18) 17. gxf3 b6 18. exd5 exd5 (18... cxd5 19. c6 $18) (18... Nxd5 19. Nxd5 exd5 20. cxb6 Qxb6 21. Bg3 $18) 19. cxb6 axb6 (19... Kf8 $5) 20. Ne2 $16 (20. Bd3 $16) 20... Qa7 21. b3 $5 (21. Nc1) 21... Nh5 22. Ng3 $16 g6 23. Nxh5 Rxh5 24. f4 Kf8 25. Be2 Rh8 26. Bd3 (26. f5 $5 g5 (26... gxf5 27. Rf1 $18) 27. Bf3 gxh4 28. Bg3 $16) 26... c5 27. Bc3 $2 (27. f5 g5 28. Bb5 $16) 27... cxd4 $2 (27... Nf6 28. f5 c4 $1 29. bxc4 dxc4 $132 30. Be2 Ne4) 28. Bxd4 Bf6 29. Bxf6 $2 (29. Bb5 $1 Bxd4 30. Rxd4 Nf6 31. f5 $1 g5 32. Ra4 Qb8 33. Qb2 Kg7 34. Rg1 $18) 29... Nxf6 30. f5 (30. Rhf1 Rxh4 31. f5 g5 $13) 30... gxf5 31. Bxf5 $16 b5 (31... Qe7 32. h5 $1 $18 Nxh5 (32... Rxh5 33. Rxh5 Nxh5 34. Qc6 $18 ) 33. Rxd5 (33. Qc6 Rd8 34. Qxb6 $18) 33... Rd8 34. Qc3 Rh6 35. Rxd8+ Qxd8 36. Qb4+ Kg7 37. Qg4+ $18) 32. Rh2 $5 (32. Qb2 Rh6 33. h5 $18) 32... Rh5 (32... Qe7 33. Rf1 Re8 34. Bd3 Ne4 35. Bxb5 $18) 33. Re2 $2 (33. Rf1 $1 $18) 33... d4 ( 33... Re8 $1 $14) 34. Re5 $2 (34. Be4 Re8 35. Bd3 $16) 34... Ng4 $1 35. Rc5 Ne3 36. Rc8+ Rxc8 37. Qxc8+ Ke7 38. Rc1 Nd5 39. Re1+ Ne3 40. Rc1 Nd5 41. Re1+ Ne3 42. Rc1 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
The final game of the round was the draw between Alexander Grischuk and Ding Liren, a game where the players followed twenty-two moves of theory from a correspondence game (Boada-Marti – Padilla Lopez, corr 2018) and emerged in a position where White might be able to claim a tiny pull. It was not enough to cause Ding serious troubles, and the players agreed to split the point after 54 moves.

[pgn] [Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg RUS"] [Date "2020.03.22"] [Round "5"] [White "Grischuk, A."] [Black "Ding Liren"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C88"] [WhiteElo "2777"] [BlackElo "2805"] [PlyCount "107"] [EventDate "2020.03.15"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. h3 Bb7 9. d3 d5 10. exd5 Nxd5 11. Nbd2 Qd7 12. a4 f6 13. Ne4 Na5 14. Ba2 c5 15. Be3 Rfc8 16. axb5 axb5 17. Nxc5 Rxc5 18. b4 Rcc8 19. bxa5 Kh8 20. Bd2 Nb4 21. Bb3 Bd5 22. Bxd5 Qxd5 23. Rc1 (23. c4 bxc4 24. dxc4 Qxc4 25. Ra4 Rcb8 26. Qa1 Qd3 27. Rd1 Rd8 28. Rb1 Na6 29. Be3 Bc5 30. Ne1 Qf5 31. Rc4 Bxe3 32. fxe3 h6 33. Nf3 Qd3 34. Rc3 Qe4 35. Rd1 Qb4 36. Rdc1 Rd5 37. Rc8+ Rxc8 38. Rxc8+ Kh7 39. Qa2 Qb5 40. e4 Nb4 41. Qf2 Rd1+ 42. Kh2 Qb7 43. Ng5+ hxg5 44. Qf5+ g6 45. Qe6 Rd7 46. Qg8+ Kh6 47. Rb8 Qxe4 48. Qh8+ {1/2-1/2 (48) Boada Marti,M (2196) -Padilla Lopez,D (2155) ICCF email 2018}) 23... Nc6 24. c4 bxc4 25. Rxc4 Nxa5 26. Rxc8+ Rxc8 27. d4 Nc6 28. dxe5 Nxe5 29. Nxe5 fxe5 30. Qg4 Rd8 31. Be3 Bf6 32. Rc1 Qd7 33. Qh5 Qe8 34. Qf3 Rc8 35. Rd1 Rd8 36. Rc1 Rc8 37. Rb1 Rb8 38. Re1 Qg6 39. Ba7 Rc8 40. Qb7 Qc2 41. Be3 Qc6 42. Qb4 h5 43. Bc1 Qc2 44. Be3 Rd8 45. Qb1 Qxb1 46. Rxb1 Kh7 47. g4 hxg4 48. hxg4 Rd6 49. Kg2 Kg6 50. Kf3 Bg5 51. Ke4 Bxe3 52. fxe3 Re6 53. Rb7 Re8 54. Ra7 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
After the game Grischuk, who is not known for holding back his feelings with the press, expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of play in Yekaterinburg, deeming the atmosphere “hostile.” Meanwhile Ding Liren seems to be riding an emotional upswing just days after (unfounded) rumors on WeChat of his withdrawl from the event. All of us are in uncharted psychological waters these days, and no doubt there is additional strain and pressure on the eight players due to the pandemic unfolding outside their hotel doors. Consider the oddity of playing one of the most important tournaments of your life with an empty playing hall, staff wearing facemasks, and the ubiquitous hand sanitizer at every board and table.

photo Lennart Ootes

Whether the event is completed remains to be seen, but one thing seems clear: this is a Candidates Tournament that will be remembered for years to come, and not just for the games.

ROUND 6 PAIRINGS

Grischuk - Caruana Alekseenko - Giri Nepomniachtchi - Ding Liren Wang Hao - Vachier-Lagrave


Quick Links: Official FIDE 2020 Candidates Page Schedule / Pairings Complete replayable games at Chess24.com Complete replayable games at ChessBase.com All US Chess Candidates Coverage

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