International Chess Federation
Thursday, 19 Mar 2020 18:40
Candidates 2020: Ding Liren beats Caruana to make a comeback

In a duel between the two favorites China’s Ding Liren – who started with two losses – made a comeback in the third round and defeated the #2 player in the world, Fabiano Caruana. This was the only game with a decisive outcome on the third day of the 2020 Candidates and it made the tournament wide open again

A day before the first break at the eight-player 2020 Candidates Tournament, there are three players in the lead – Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Wang Hao (China), all on 2/3. American Fabiano Caruana and Russian Alexander Grischuk are a half-point behind with 1.5/3. Anish Giri (The Netherlands), Kirill Alekseenko (Russia) and Ding Liren (China) have one point after three rounds.

Every game in the Candidates is critical, but this was especially the case for Ding Liren in Round 3. The first two days were challenging for the Chinese player: seen as one of the favorites, he surprisingly lost two games in a row.

A few minutes before the third round, he was sitting in his chair, staring at the board, completely oblivious of his opponent who quietly set across. After the Chinese player opened with d4 Caruana opted for the Slav Defence, an unlikely choice for him. A few moves down the line the first interesting moment of the game occurred: Caruana played a novelty 9…e5, sacrificing a pawn. The American made this move fast (suggesting it was pre-prepared) and left the board. The Chinese player got into a deep think. As a result, he managed to find an accurate sequence of moves and preserved an extra pawn. To keep the initiative, Black (Caruana) sacrificed another pawn, hoping to expose the white king. Ding Liren, however, was up to the task – he gradually neutralized Black’s threats and consolidated his material advantage. Caruana kept on playing, hoping to create some chances, but to no avail. The Chinese player – although in time trouble – steered his ship with a firm hand forced the opponent to resign.

This game was an important milestone for Ding Liren, whose confidence will be bolstered after this victory against the second player in the world. In the interview following the game, he said he hopes to recover to his top form and get back to the top of the scoreboard.

The game between Anish Giri (The Netherlands) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) ended in a draw. Vachier-Lagrave predictably played his trusted Grünfeld Defence against 1.d4 and quickly proceeded to simplify the position. The ensuing endgame was slightly better for White but provided the Frenchman with enough defensive resources to hold his ground. The opponents agreed on a draw and shook hands on move 30. This was the first game of the day to finish.

Alexander Grischuk (Russia) made his third consecutive draw in the tournament, this time against Wang Hao (China). After White played 1.e4, the Chinese player opted for the Petrov Defence. The Russian obtained a slightly better position with two bishops and superior pawn structure although Wang Hao’s pieces were very active. After the exchange of dark-squared bishops, Grischuk gradually advanced his kingside pawns and got an upper hand. The Chinese GM was resourceful in defense and eventually reached a draw but not without some help from Grischuk. Being in time trouble Alexander missed 34…Ne4+ which allowed Wang Hao to equalize. Ironically Grischuk had seen this idea long before but completely forgot about it on the move 34. 

Wang Hao is now on 2/3, while Grischuk – with three consecutive draws – is on 1.5/3.

Kirill Alekseenko (Russia) faced his compatriot Ian Nepomniachtchi. This was the first time the two played against one another.

Somewhat surprisingly, Nepomniachtchi went for the French Defence. The last time we saw the French Defence in the Candidates was back in 2007 in Elista in the game Leko – Gurevich (and the last time Black scored a victory in the Candidates in French Defence was in the game Sokolov – Yusupov, in Riga in 1986!).

The position on the board after the opening was mostly even but full of life: Black put some pressure on the queenside, while White had his chances on the opposite flank. On the move 20 Alexeenko sacrificed an exchange and got compensation but the position remained about equal. Later on, though Kirill missed an opportunity when Black played 25…g6. The Russian wild card had a chance to take the g6-pawn (26. Bxg6) and launch a forceful attack on Black’s king, which would have been difficult to defend against. Explaining why he did not go for the g6-pawn, Alekseenko said that he was struggling with time and was not able to calculate everything until the end. Ten moves down the road White’s queen penetrated Black’s kingside and the youngest participant of the competition forced a draw by perpetual check.

Ian Nepomniachtchi is now on 2/3 while Kirill Alekseenko has one point after three rounds.

A Japanese bow instead of the “elbow-shake”

In light of the concerns regarding the coronavirus, traditional handshakes have been dropped in the tournament. Players decide between themselves if and how they wish to acknowledge one another.

Dutch player Anish Giri suggested that there should be a new code agreed between the players when it comes to handshakes, arguing it is very confusing as some people offer handshakes and some refuse. Anish also said he was not a great fan of “elbow-shakes”.

“I think it would be much more elegant to do a bow as the Japanese do. I think they do that in shogi and it would make a lot of sense. This ‘elbow-shake’ is very creepy. From all the possible ways to show respect to each other, this is the creepiest”, Giri said.

Friday is a rest day at the 2020 Candidates.

Round Four of the 2020 Candidates Tournament starts at 4 PM local time on March 21. The pairings for the fourth round are:

Fabiano Caruana (USA) - Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia)
Wang Hao (China) - Kirill Alekseenko (Russia)
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) - Alexander Grischuk (Russia)
Ding Liren (China) –  Anish Giri (The Netherlands)

Standings after Round 3:

1-3. Ian Nepomniachtchi,  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Wang Hao - 2
4-5.  Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk - 1½                   
6-8. Ding Liren, Anish Giri and Kirill Alekseenko - 1                         

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Text: Milan Dinic

Photo: Maria Emelianova and Lennart Ootes

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