Round 8 candidates: Caruana impresses, wins marathon

A year of preparation

The eight-player Candidates Tournament is one of the most prestigious world chess events, held every two years. The event will determine who will challenge defender Magnus Carlsen for the title of World Chess Champion.

All round 8 results:

Caruana Fabian Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
Ian Nepomniachtchi Giri Anis
Wang Hao Ding Read
Alekseenko Kirill Grischuk Alexander

Round 9 will take place on Tuesday, April 20 at 4:00 p.m. local time. Agreements:

Alekseenko Kirill Caruana Fabian
Grischuk Alexander Ian Nepomniachtchi
Giri Anis Wang Hao
Vachier-Lagrave Maxime Ding Read

A crucial encounter ended decisively in the first round of the second half of the Candidates Tournament, after the pandemic forced organizers to postpone the resumption of the event by more than a year. In the main match of the day, Fabiano Caruana climbed to a shared second place with a win over former co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Caruana, who was the last player to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world crown, had the chance to play a sharp novelty against MVL’s Sicilian Najdorf. As the American said, his opponent repeatedly found correct suites despite being caught in a very complex position. Exhaustion and stress seem to have played a part in the ensuing long endgame, however, as the Frenchman couldn’t hold the draw in a theoretically balanced but difficult to play setup.

A visibly frustrated Vachier-Lagrave analyzed several variants with his opponent in the post-match press conference. The French star is now tied for second with Caruana, and enters the last 6 rounds of the tournament with a worse tiebreaker than his American rival (the result of the direct encounter is the first criterion for deciding a tie). The two are currently half a point behind Ian Nepomniachtchi, who drew with Anish Giri with the white pieces on Monday.

Caruana’s win wasn’t the only decisive result of the day, as Kirill Alekseenko took even longer to overcome his compatriot Alexander Grischuk with the white pieces. Grischuk secured a good position after surprising commentators and spectators by taking on the French defence. However, the fan favorite over-pressed in the endgame and ended up losing in a trade to Alekseenko’s active king and his highly advanced passed pawn.

Wang Hao and Ding Liren drew fairly quickly after playing a theoretical deep line from the Scottish defence.

FIDE Candidates 2020/21

Handshakes are back | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 1: 0 Vachier-Lagrave

As he has done many times in the past, Vachier-Lagrave stuck to his guns and played his pet Sicilan Najdorf in black – despite knowing all too well he was up against one of strongest theorists in the world, who had an entire year and a powerful team of seconds to prepare for this same opening. As Olimpiu G. Urcan tweeted:

Love is stronger than pain: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s loyalty to his Najdorf is admirable.

It was Caruana who came up with something new, and shocking at that.

The whites have been eliminated 19.Bc4. As Caruana continued to play his moves almost instantly, MVL had already spent almost 20 minutes on move 18. Moreover, after accepting his opponent’s sacrifice with 19…Qxc4 it took him nearly half an hour to come up with a satisfactory response to the threat 20.Bd6.

Black considered 20…f5, but correctly (as Caruana later said) opted for 20…Nf6. Live commentator Magnus Carlsen thought the match could end quickly but the Frenchman showed why he is considered one of the strongest grandmasters in these positions as he managed to find a way out to enter a difficult but tenable finale. :

In the press conference, Caruana suggested that Black could play the unattractive 26…Ra7 here, which the engines also consider the best move. Vachier-Lagrave opted for the most human 26…Ne4 and thought he had an excellent chance of holding the balance.

The Frenchman was not wrong, because even the end rook and pawn against knight and pawn that was reached at move 50 was a theoretical draw.

Of course, White can pressure his opponent infinitely from this position. Vachier-Lagrave, who had just survived a tough opening upset, finally faltered and had to resign on the 74th move.

Caruana mentioned that the opening idea was discovered by Rustam Kasimdzhanov, and that they had it in store “for quite a while”.

Fabien Caruana

(Re) strong start for world number 2 Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Alekseenko 1: 0 Grischuk

Before the event was postponed last year, Nepomniachtchi had lost a crucial encounter against MVL after playing the French Defense with the blacks. Nepo also answered 1.e4 with 1…e6 in round 3 against Alekseenko. However, no one expected the other Russian on the field to play this defense in round 8.

Grischuk’s choice surprised commentators and gave him a big advantage on the clock against his compatriot – a strange fact for one of the biggest time pressure addicts on the circuit. Black also had a good position:

Black had the bishop pair and a very stable structure. Looking back, Alekseenko 22.c4 here turned out to be a good practical move, as he then activated his pieces quickly – including his king – avoiding having to maneuver passively against such an experienced player as Grischuk.

Carlsen praised Alekseenko’s plan to focus on centralization:

At this point the engines still give black a slight advantage, but there is plenty of play left in the position. In the ensuing complications, Grischuk apparently couldn’t adapt well to the new on-set situation and rejected lines that led to forced draws, which, as often happens, created opportunities. for his rival.

Endgame specialist Karsten Müller took a closer look at the endgame, starting from the position where Grischuk decisively erred by moving his king to the wrong square. A fascinating example of the complexity of chess:

Kirill Alekseenko

Chess is difficult and sometimes rewarding — Kirill Alekseenko | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepomniashchi ½: ½ Giri

Jon Speelman recently noted that Giri has been playing more direct and aggressive chess with great results over the past few months. Against Nepo, the Dutchman played the Sveshnikov variant of the Sicilian, and later joked:

I had a year to find an edge for black after 1.e4and I must say that I need a little more time.

Giri didn’t get into trouble, but played what Carlsen considered a slightly dodgy game 18…Be6. However, it was difficult for White to create anything concrete. The contenders repeated the position from move 24 and agreed to a draw.

Carlsen was surprised that Nepo didn’t continue playing from that position, but the Russian then summed up what happened:

White got nothing from the opener, and it was a quick draw.

Anish Giri

Well dressed, well prepared — Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wang ½: ½ Ding

In the shortest match of the day, the Chinese representatives in Ekaterinburg disputed a theoretical line of the Scottish Defense before signing a draw in 28 strokes. Wang talked about what he had been doing over the past year:

I didn’t find it necessary to study chess all last year, because I didn’t have any special invitations to online tournaments. […] I spent quite a bit of time studying and improving my knowledge in the field of investments. I’m always happy to use new opportunities and learn something new.

In round 9, Ding will have the white pieces against Vachier-Lagrave, while Wang will have the daunting task of facing Giri with the black pieces.

Ding Liren, Wang Hao

Wang Hao and Ding Liren | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ranking after the eighth round

All the games


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