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Monday, 26 Apr 2021 15:30
Nepomniachtchi wins Candidates Tournament with a round to spare

Ian Nepomniachtchi sealed his victory in the Candidates tournament by securing a draw with the white pieces against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Russian Grandmaster wins the event with a round to spare and will challenge the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen at the end of the year in Dubai, with a prize fund of two million euros at stake. 

This draw left the Frenchman definitely out of the race, but the decisive result came just a few minutes later when Anish Giri resigned in his game with Alexander Grischuk. Despite showing some of the best chess in his career during this second half of the Candidates Tournament, Anish did not have his best day today. Grischuk scored a victory that helped his countryman Nepomniachtchi to achieve his goal. 

Nepomniachtchi, who won the 2002 World Championship in the under-10 age group ahead of Magnus Carlsen, will have a chance now, two decades later, to take the crown from the hands of the Norwegian. 

"It's a huge milestone in my career and perhaps in my life. I am extremely tired. It was one year of thinking about this tournament, one year of preparation. I am extremely happy to qualify for the match and I am extremely thankful to all and everyone who supported me, especially to my team," said Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Fabiano Caruana defeated Wang Hao, who mishandled a symmetrical and roughly equal position. Ding Liren took full advantage of Kirill Alekseenko’s mistake in a much better position and scored a victory.

Ian Nepomniachtchi – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (½ : ½)

Ian Nepomniachtchi changed his opening choice once again and started the game with 1.Nf3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave responded with a rare variation of the English Opening, in which Black fianchettoes both bishops, but at the same time relinquished control over the center.

Ian Nepomniachtchi pointed out that, as someone who plays the Gruenfeld Defence himself, he knows very well that 1.Nf3 is an annoying option for the black player. "One of the variations that I prepared at home was played today."

Ian improved White's play in comparison with the recent online game Grischuk – Dubov and obtained a very promising position. White exchanged Black’s potentially dangerous bishop on g7, while the other bishop remained locked on b7. With no Black’s counterplay in sight, Ian began slowly preparing a pawn-breakthrough on the queenside.

"I was playing today with a fighting mindset, I tried in every possible way to complicate the position, to be tricky. But of course, winning on-demand with Black is not an easy task and it can very easily backfire", said Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Maxim went for a pawn sacrifice and managed to complicate matters. But at the moment when Black had some chance to seize the initiative, the French grandmaster unexpectedly decided to exchange all the major pieces. Nepomniachtchi could have played for a win without any risk, although objectively the position was closer to a draw.

However, at that very moment, it became obvious that Ian’s closest pursuer Anish Giri has a hopeless position against Alexander Grischuk. Nepomniachtchi took a practical decision and offered a draw that secured his first place in the tournament.

Alexander Grischuk – Anish Giri (1:0) 

The Dutch grandmaster, playing with black did not burn bridges in the opening and opted for a Queen's Indian Defence. After the exchange of both pairs of bishops, a calm position arose on the board with a small but stable edge for White.

Alexander Grischuk pointed out that he was terrorizing his opponent with a draw, considering that if Anish decides to take a risk he might end up in an inferior position. He added that he analyzed this variation together with Vishy Anand.

According to Anish, he lost his sense of reality at some point and taking no heed of White’s threats. In particular, he underestimated the move 25.Qe2, after which it turned out that Black's counterplay with f7-f5 was not the best idea. Out of despair, Giri still went for this continuation, but Grischuk mercilessly dashed all Anish’s hopes. After the queen exchange, the Dutchman defended in an ending two pawns down for a while, but had to resign on move 51.

"It was a very poor game. I think it was the combination of a mindset that does not suit the position and a heavy lack of understanding. I made a lot of terrible mistakes." "Ian put me under a lot of pressure," said Anish Giri at the press conference.

Wang Hao – Fabiano Caruana (0:1)

In the Alapin system of the Sicilian Defence, a position with a symmetrical pawn structure emerged on the board, with isolated central d-pawns blocking each other. White had a minimal advantage since his opponent had to defend the d5-pawn, but it was the only weakness in Caruana's position.

Around move ​​23-24, Wang Hao silently offered a draw by repetition, but Caruana decided to continue the fight and started advancing his pawns on both wings. Vladimir Kramnik, who was commenting on the game, criticized this decision, feeling that only Black could have problems here. However, it worked very well for Caruana, as the Chinese grandmaster cracked under pressure and allowed his opponent to activate his pieces. Wang Hao lost a pawn soon and threw in the towel on the 42nd move.

Kirill Alekseenko (Russia) - Ding Liren (China) (0:1)

Kirill Alekseenko chose a solid system with d2-d3 in the Two Knights Defence again just like in his game with Wang Hao. Ding Liren responded with a very ambitious plan. First, he pushed d6-d5, and then sacrificed the central pawn but got some pressure in the center and on the kingside.

White outplayed his opponent in a complicated maneuvering battle and got a seizable advantage. Trying to complicate the position, the Chinese grandmaster started a very risky operation. He sacrificed his bishop, tying up the opponent's pieces and threatening checkmate on the back rank. Alekseenko failed to find a beautiful sequence, which would help him to fend off all the threats and achieve a decisive advantage (47.Bb2 followed by 48.Nf3) and simply overlooked the opponent’s threat. The Chinese grandmaster restored the material balance, pinned White's knight on g1 and his king run away from several checks Alekseenko tossed in the sponge.

Standings after Round 13: 

1

 Ian Nepomniachtchi (2774)

2

 Anish Giri (2763)

3

 Fabiano Caruana (2842)

7

4

 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2767) 

7

5

 Alexander Grischuk (2777)

6

 Ding Liren (2805)

6

7

 Hao Wang (2762)

5

8

 Kirill Alekseenko (2698)


The final round will be played tomorrow, April 27.

Media accreditation for the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg is carried out on the official website of the tournament: https://candidates-2020.com/accreditation and tel. +7 962 385-05-61. Contact: press@fide.com 

Photo: Lennart Ootes
 

Partners supporting the FIDE Candidates Tournament:

Sima-land, as the General Partner 

Algorand, as the Official Blockchain Partner 

Kaspersky, as the Official Cybersecurity Partner 

PhosAgro, General Partner of Chess Federation of Russia 

Chessable, as Event Partner 

Pine Creek Golf Resort, as event Partner 

Mercedes-Benz Russia, the Official Auto Partner