International Chess Federation
Sunday, 25 Apr 2021 21:20
Nepomniachtchi keeps sole lead after “bloody” Round 12

Ian Nepomniachtchi outplayed Wang Hao and is heading to the final rest day as a sole leader, while Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri were deciding who would become his main rival. The American grandmaster took a hard line in the middlegame, but lost the thread and let his opponent grab the initiative. Anish Giri found the precise way to convert his advantage into a full point and continues his pursuit of Nepomniachtchi.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won his first game in the second half of the tournament. He defeated Kirill Alekseenko, who misplayed a sharp line of the Caro-Kann Defense. Alexander Grischuk faltered closer to the time control and lost against Ding Liren.

It was a truly remarkable round as for the first time in the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020-2021, all four games ended decisively.

Wang Hao – Ian Nepomniachtchi (0-1)

Once again Ian Nepomniachtchi demonstrated his commitment to the "solid strategy" by opting for the Petrov’s Defence, which he had rarely used before. "I’m a new player to Petroff Defence, so I have no experience” admitted Ian at the press conference.

Wang Hao chose a seemingly unambitious line with an early exchange of queens. However, Vladimir Kramnik, who was commenting on Round 12, explained that this “modesty” can be tricky and Black has to play accurately enough not to run into some troubles. “I was only thinking of how not to get into trouble. This position, of course, is equal, but it can be unpleasant sometimes as White very slowly builds up. I had no idea what to do, so I just started to move around to fix a structure” shared Ian his thoughts after the game.

Wang Hao started spending lots of time, while Ian was responding quickly, coordinated his pieces, and achieved a very promising position.

To avoid passive defence, Wang Hao pushed his pawn on the queenside to force massive exchanges. However, White did not manage not completely equalize and on move 39 the Chinese GM made a mistake and found his king off on the first rank.

Wang Hao admitted that at some point he could not calculate anything and after the time control started playing like a 2200-rated player.

Thanks to a strong a-passer, White had great chances to save the game, but Ian kept looking for opportunities, posing unpleasant problems for Wagn Hao. Already in a difficult position the Chinese GM made a final mistake and capitulated a couple of moves later.

The leader Ian Nepomniachtchi on the tournament situation after 12 rounds: "I think it is still very complex and still two rounds to go."

Fabiano Caruana – Anish Giri (0-1)

This extremely important game decided who would be the main rival of Ian Nepomniachtchi in the final stretch of the tournament. Giri chose the tricky move order in the Sicilian Defence trying to get the Sveshnikov system while avoiding the Rossolimo system (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 ). The most principled continuation for White could have led to a crazy position, where the white’s king has to move to the center of the board. Caruana deviated from this line and opted for a relatively quiet one. An original, approximately equal position with mutual chances appeared on the board after the opening.

White voluntarily destroyed his pawn structure on the queen’s side, in order to get the central outpost on d5. Caruana was very optimistic about his chances, but Giri's strong defensive move 20… Qf8! came as an unpleasant surprise for him. At this moment White should have switched to the fight for a draw by organizing the c4-c5 but according to Caruana, he didn’t see how to continue after Nc4. The American grandmaster lost the track of the game while the Dutchman felt the right moment to push for a win. Black got an important strategical advantage by exchanging the dark-squared bishops and securing an “eternal” stronghold on e5 for his knight.

Although Giri made an inaccuracy on move 40, it did not affect the evaluation of the position as hopeless for White. Five moves down the road Fabiano hoisted the white flag.

Anish Giri: "You have to be lucky of course [to win with black pieces] ... I felt Fabiano was quite enthusiastic about his position but after 20...Qf8, which is a good move, he probably realised that he is no longer playing for an advantage ... I think it was a big let-down for him.”

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – Kirill Alekseenko (1-0)

Kirill Alekseenko tried to surprise his opponent by essaying a new opening – the Caro-Kann Defense. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave returned a surprise by choosing a sharp system with 3.f3, which is not a fixture in his opening repertoire.

Kirill chose the most ambitious continuation, however, by his own admission, he mixed up several variations, and by the 10th move Black's position looked precarious. Maxime pointed out that there are many very complex variations in this line, and he didn’t remember all the details but remembered enough to gain an advantage.

Alekseenko rejected a central pawn sacrifice and was forced to defend an endgame, in which White had two bishops, active pieces and a mobile pawn center. To complete the development, Black had to give up a pawn but did not get sufficient compensation.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave instructively converted his advantage: the Frenchman was methodically improving his position not giving his opponent a single tactical chance, and confidently won the game.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: "I feel mostly relieved. It's the case of opening gone bad. I was happy with how I was calculating things. Hopefully, it was alright and it would mean I can move on with my tournament and try to play two good games."

Ding Liren – Alexander Grischuk (1-0)

The opponents tested one of the popular lines of the Queen's Gambit, which Alexander Grischuk himself tried to break through exactly 10 years ago.  During the Candidates Matches in Kazan he had White pieces against Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik and obviously, extensively analyzed this somewhat passive, but extremely solid line. However, in the 12th round of the Candidates he played this line with Black.

Alexander penetrated with his light-squared bishop into the enemy’s camp and after trading pawns on the queen’s side, Black temporarily took control over the only open file. In a roughly equal position White advanced the pawn to h5 sent his knight on e5 but his further progress would have been in question hadn’t Grischuk allowed the exchange of all the rooks and then missed 42. Qd2.

In a difficult position, Black tried to muddy the waters by sacrificing two pawns, but Ding Liren easily stifled the opponent's counterplay and scored his second victory in the event.

Standings after Round 12: 


 Ian Nepomniachtchi (2774)



 Anish Giri (2763)


 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2767)



 Fabiano Caruana (2842)


 Alexander Grischuk (2777)


 Hao Wang (2762)



 Ding Liren (2805)



 Kirill Alekseenko (2698)


Tomorrow, April 25, is a rest day. Play will resume on Monday, April 26, with the 13th and penultimate round.

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Photo: Lennart Ootes

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