The FIDE Candidate Chess Tournament resumed on April 19th after a 389 day long! The winner of the tournament plays Magnus Carlsen for the World’s Chess Crown at the end of the year. When play resumed, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi were in the lead with 4 and a half out of 7. Let’s take a look at key positions from the decisive games of rounds 8 and 9 and then how these results affected the leaderboard.  

With nine rounds completed, the current standings are:

First Place: Ian Nepomniachtchi with 5.5/9

Second through Fourth Place: Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Anish Giri are tied with 5/9

Fifth through Seventh Place: Kirill Alekseenko, Alexander Grischuk, and Wang Hao are tied with 4/9

Eighth PlaceDing Liren with 3.5/9

Tomorrow, the fight continues in the cold Russian city of Yekaterinburg with Round 10.

Of course, I recommend visiting FIDE’s official tournament site for more information and live broadcast links of the 2020-2021 FIDE Candidates. However, if you’re schedule doesn’t allow you to stay up all night watching the event live, I humbly advocate coming to this YouTube channel to see recaps of the days excitement in my daily chess musings. 


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All pictures of the players and games are from the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020-2021 website @ https://en.candidates-2020.com/

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.19”]
[Round “8.1”]
[White “Caruana, Fabiano”]
[Black “Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime”]
[Result “1-0”]
[BlackElo “2767”]
[BlackFideId “623539”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “B97”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “Sicilian”]
[Variation “Najdorf, Poisoned pawn variation”]
[WhiteElo “2842”]
[WhiteFideId “2020009”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6
{ The Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defence is a specialty of MVL. }
6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6
{ Maxime is going for the poisonecd pawn variation despite the trouble it
caused him at the Tata Steel Tournament. } 8.Qd2 Qxb2
{ The old addage states “never take the queen’s knight pawn with your
queen.” Taking this poisoned pawn can lead to a lot of trouble unless you
have a lot of specialist knowledge of the ensuing positions like MVL does. Even then, as we’ve seen recently, it’s a dangerous move. }
9.Rb1 Qa3 10.e5 h6 11.Bh4 dxe5 12.fxe5 Nfd7 13.Ne4
{ White has a lot of piece activity but has given up material. Black has a
material advantage but must tread very carefully. } 13…Qxa2
{ That’s the usual move. But hat if black grabs the hanging pawn on e5? } (
13…Nxe5 14.Nb5
{ [%cal Gb5a3,Gd2d8] Kapow! After Knight to b5, the white knight is threatening black’s queen while the white queen threatens checkmate. }
) 14.Rd1 Qd5 15.Qe3 Qxe5 16.c3
{ Interesting that Crauana choses a move from high level correspondence
play rather than the usual Be2. } 16…Bc5 17.Bg3 Qd5 18.Bc4
{ A shocking novelty and a bit of a gamble as strong engines now favor
black. However, it’s worth noting that after playing the computer’s
suggestion of Bd6… } ( 18.Bd6 Bxd6 19.Nb5 Qxd1+ 20.Kxd1 axb5 21.Nxd6+ Ke7
{ and now, despite the imbalances, the engines view this position as dead
even. } ) 18…Qxc4 19.Bd6
{ white is signifigantly down in material but with a very dangerous attack.
} 19…Nf6
{ In the post game interview, Caruana revealed that this was in fact part
of his opening preparation and was conceived by Fabiano’s second, Rustam
Kasimdzhanov. In that interview, Carauana said, “Most of these ideas, it’s a one time thing. Then you can’t play it again. Like this one, firstly
black has many ways to play it. Actually, Maxime played the best way. I was kind of upset that he played this because I thought 19… Nf6 is a very difficult move to find.” }
20.Nxc5 Nd5 21.Qe5 Rg8
{ Caruana may have a dangerous attack, but MVL is definately up to the
challenge. His inpenetrable defensive skills leads Caruana to trading
queens. } 22.Ndxe6 fxe6 23.Nxe6 Qxc3+ 24.Qxc3 Nxc3 25.Nc7+ Kf7 26.Rd3 Ne4
{ Fabiano appeared to still be in his opening preparation and MVL made his
first innacuracy. Better was Ra7. } ( 26…Ra7 27.O-O+ Kg6 28.Rxc3 Kh7 29.Nd5
Be6 { which at, such a high level of play, should lead to a draw. } 30.Nc7 )
{ Caruana capitalizes on that mistake and claims a small edge. An edge that
he eventually converts to a win with ultra precise play Fabiano gamble in
the opening paid off in a jackpot. In a future video, we will look more closely at the incredible endgame play by Caruana in round 8 of the 2020-2021
FIDE Candidates Tournament. But now, let’s take a quick look at Alekseenko’s first win in the tournament. Grischuk is black. }
27…Kg6 28.Nxa8 Nc6 29.Nb6 Rd8 30.Nxc8 Rxc8 31.Ba3 Rc7 32.Rf4 Nf6 33.Bb2 Ne7
34.Bxf6 gxf6 35.h4 h5 36.Rg3+ Kf7 37.Rg5 Rc1+ 38.Kh2 Ng6 39.Rf2 Nxh4 40.Rxh5
Ng6 41.Rh7+ Ke6 42.Rxb7 Ne5 43.Rb6+ Rc6 44.Rxc6+ Nxc6 45.Kg3 Kf7 46.Rc2 Nb4
47.Rd2 Nc6 48.Kf4 Kg6 49.Rd6 Ne5 50.Rxa6 Nf7 51.Ke4 Nh6 52.Ra5 Nf7 53.Ra3
Nd6+ 54.Kf4 Nf5 55.Rd3 Nh6 56.Rg3+ Kf7 57.Ke4 Ng8 58.Kf5 Ne7+ 59.Kf4 Nd5+
60.Kg4 Kg6 61.Kf3+ Kf7 62.Ke4 Ne7 63.Kf4 Nd5+ 64.Kf5 Ne7+ 65.Ke4 Ng8 66.Rh3
Kg6 67.Ra3 Kf7 68.Kf4 Nh6 69.Rg3 Ng8 70.Kg4 Ne7 71.Kh5 Nd5 72.Rf3 Ke6 73.g4
Ke5 74.Kg6 1-0

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.19”]
[Round “8.2”]
[White “Wang, Hao”]
[Black “Ding, Liren”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[BlackElo “2805”]
[BlackFideId “8603677”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “C45”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “Scotch”]
[Variation “Mieses variation”]
[WhiteElo “2762”]
[WhiteFideId “8602883”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4
Ba6 9.b3 g6 10.Ba3 Nb4 11.Bb2 Bg7 12.a3 Nd5 13.Nd2 O-O 14.O-O-O Rfe8 15.Qf3
Nb6 16.Ne4 Bxe5 17.Bxe5 Qxe5 18.Nf6+ Kf8 19.Nxe8 Qa1+ 20.Kc2 Qa2+ 21.Kc1
Qxa3+ 22.Kb1 Na4 23.Qf6 Qxb3+ 24.Kc1 Qa3+ 25.Kc2 Qa2+ 26.Kc1 Qa3+ 27.Kc2 Qa2+
28.Kc1 1/2-1/2

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.19”]
[Round “8.3”]
[White “Nepomniachtchi, Ian”]
[Black “Giri, Anish”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[BlackElo “2763”]
[BlackFideId “24116068”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “B33”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “Sicilian”]
[Variation “Pelikan, Chelyabinsk variation”]
[WhiteElo “2774”]
[WhiteFideId “4168119”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5
9.Nd5 Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.c3 Rb8 12.Nc2 Bg5 13.g3 O-O 14.h4 Bh6 15.a3 a5
16.Qd3 Ne7 17.Nce3 Bxe3 18.Nxe3 Be6 19.Rd1 Rb6 20.Bh3 Bb3 21.Rd2 Qc7 22.O-O
Rfb8 23.Rc1 Rc6 24.Bg4 h6 25.Bd1 Be6 26.Bg4 Bb3 27.Bd1 Be6 28.Bg4 1/2-1/2

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.19”]
[Round “8.4”]
[White “Alekseenko, Kirill”]
[Black “Grischuk, Alexander”]
[Result “1-0”]
[BlackElo “2777”]
[BlackFideId “4126025”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “C11”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “French”]
[Variation “Steinitz, Boleslavsky variation”]
[WhiteElo “2698”]
[WhiteFideId “4135539”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Qb6
9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.Bb5 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 a6 13.Bxd7+ Bxd7 14.Rb3 Qe7 15.Rxb7
Qh4+ 16.Qf2 Qxf2+ 17.Kxf2 Be7 18.Nd1 Bd8 19.Ne3 Bc6 20.Rb2 O-O 21.Bc5 Re8
22.c4 f6 23.cxd5 exd5 24.Bd6 fxe5 25.fxe5 d4 26.Nf5 d3 27.Ke3 Bb5 28.Ke4 Rc8
29.Nd4 Bc4 30.Rd1 a5 31.a3 g6 32.Rb7 Bf6 33.Nf3 Bg7 34.Ra7 Rcd8 35.Kd4 Bb3
{ At move 36, Alekseenko exchanges a rook for a bishop since white’s bishop
is very solid on d6 and he doesn’t want Grishcuk contesting it with his own
dark squared bishop. White’s dark squared bishop is a star piece in this sitaution as it defends both the pawn on e5 and a3. Now, let’s fast forward to
move 56. } 36…Kxg7 { [%csl Gd6][%cal Gd6e5,Gd6a3] } 37.Rxd3 a4 38.Nd2 Be6
39.Ne4 Bf5 40.Re3 Bxe4 41.Rxe4 Rf8 42.Ke3 Rfe8 43.Kf4 Ra8 44.Rb4 Ra7 45.Ke4
Kf7 46.Rb6 Rc8 47.Bb4 Rac7 48.Kd5 Rc2 49.e6+ Kf6 50.Rb7 g5 51.Rxh7 Rxg2
52.Kd6 Kg6 53.Rh3 g4 54.Re3 Rxh2 55.Kd7 Rhh8 56.e7 Rce8
{ At this moment, the players were playing fast in order to get more bonus
time. } 57.Bd6
{ [%cal Gd6c7,Gc7d8]Bd6 is a very good move because the bishop threatens to go to c7 and then d8 where it could glue itself to the pawn. }
57…Ra8 58.Bc7 Rag8 $2
{ Grischuk plays a blunder. He obviously didn’t want his rooks split up but
now he is locked out and leaves two pawns hanging. Better was, } ( 58…Rh7
59.Bd8 { which should lead to a draw. } ) 59.Re4 Kf5 60.Rf4+ Kg5 61.Rxa4 Kh4
62.Re4 Ra8 63.a4 Kg5 64.a5 Rh7 65.Kc6 Rhh8 66.Kd7 Rh7 67.Kc6 Rhh8 68.Re3 Rhe8
{ and under pressure, Grischuk plays another innacuracy which wfurther
deteriorates his position. Better was: } ( 68…Kf5 69.Kd7 Rh7 70.Re5+ Kf6 )
{ Alekseenko punished the crime and quickly proceeds to collect a full
point in round 8. } 69…Kf6 70.Re6+ Kf7 71.Re4 Kf6 72.Bd8 Kf5 73.Kxe8 Kxe4
74.Kf8 1-0

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.20”]
[Round “9.1”]
[White “Alekseenko, Kirill”]
[Black “Caruana, Fabiano”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[BlackElo “2842”]
[BlackFideId “2020009”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “C50”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “Giuoco Pianissimo”]
[WhiteElo “2698”]
[WhiteFideId “4135539”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 h6 6.O-O d6 7.Re1 O-O 8.h3 Bb6
9.Nbd2 Ne7 10.d4 Nc6 11.a4 a5 12.Ba2 exd4 13.Nc4 dxc3 14.Nxb6 c2 15.Qxc2 cxb6
16.Bd2 Be6 17.Bxe6 fxe6 18.Qb3 Qe8 19.Qxb6 Nd7 20.Qe3 e5 21.Qd3 Qe6 22.Nh4
Nc5 23.Qg3 Kh7 24.Rad1 g5 25.Nf3 Rf7 26.Bc1 Raf8 27.Qg4 Qxg4 28.hxg4 Rf6
29.Be3 Nxa4 30.Rd5 Nxb2 31.Rc1 R8f7 32.Rc2 Na4 33.Rc4 Nb2 34.Rc2 Na4 35.Rc4
Nc5 36.Bxc5 dxc5 37.Rcxc5 Re7 38.Nxe5 Nxe5 39.Rxe5 Rxe5 40.Rxe5 Ra6 41.Re7+
Kg6 42.Rxb7 a4 43.f3 a3 44.Rb1 a2 45.Ra1 Kf6 46.Kf2 Ke5 47.Ke3 Ra8 48.Kd3 Kf4
49.Kc4 Kg3 50.e5 Kxg2 51.e6 Kxf3 52.Kd5 Kxg4 53.e7 Kf3 54.Rxa2 Re8 55.Ke6 g4
56.Kf7 Rxe7+ 57.Kxe7 g3 58.Kf6 g2 59.Rxg2 Kxg2 1/2-1/2

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.20”]
[Round “9.2”]
[White “Grischuk, Alexander”]
[Black “Nepomniachtchi, Ian”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[BlackElo “2774”]
[BlackFideId “4168119”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “D85”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “Gruenfeld”]
[Variation “modern exchange variation”]
[WhiteElo “2777”]
[WhiteFideId “4126025”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Rb1 O-O
9.h3 Nc6 10.d5 Bxc3+ 11.Bd2 Bxd2+ 12.Qxd2 Nd4 13.Nxd4 cxd4 14.Bc4 e5 15.O-O
Qd6 16.f4 Rb8 17.fxe5 Qxe5 18.Qf4 Qxf4 19.Rxf4 Re8 20.Bb5 Rd8 21.Rbf1 Bd7
22.Bc4 Rbc8 23.Bb3 Bb5 24.R1f2 a5 25.d6 Bc4 26.Rxf7 Bxb3 27.axb3 Rxd6 28.e5
Rb6 29.Rd7 Rf8 30.Ra2 Rxb3 31.Rxa5 Re3 32.Rb5 Re1+ 33.Kh2 Rf7 34.Rbxb7 Rxd7
35.Rxd7 Rxe5 36.Rxd4 Re7 37.Kg1 Kg7 38.Kh2 Rf7 39.Kg1 Re7 40.Kh2 Rf7

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.20”]
[Round “9.3”]
[White “Giri, Anish”]
[Black “Wang, Hao”]
[Result “1-0”]
[BlackElo “2762”]
[BlackFideId “8602883”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “E05”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “Catalan”]
[Variation “closed, 5.Nf3”]
[WhiteElo “2763”]
[WhiteFideId “24116068”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7
9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Bf4 Bd6
{ Our first key moment. Hao Wang threatens to exchange dark bishops and
expose white’s king. } 11.Nc3
{ Giri ignores black’s bishop on d6 and instead plays Nc3 giving his
opponent permission to play Bxf4. } 11…Bxf4 { Wang oblidges. } 12.gxf4
{ Usually you wouldn’t want your pawns to be split in such a manner, but
not in this case, since white’s plan involves kingside action, Giri is fine
with the opening up of his g-file. } 12…a5 13.e3 Na6 14.Ne5 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 c6
{ This is a very subtle move. Giri is planning on moving his king to h2
which is safer than h1 since white won’t have to worry about black’s queen
checks on the a8-h1 diagonal. in addition, now Giri’s rook can move to g1 to stare down black’s king. }
16…Qb6 17.Qe2 c5 18.Rfd1 cxd4 19.Rxd4 Rad8 20.Rxd8 Qxd8 21.Rd1 Qa8 22.Kg1
Nb4 23.Qb5 Nbd5 24.Nxd5 Nxd5 25.Rc1 h6 26.Qd7 Nf6 27.Qd6 g6 $2
{ Wang was a bit short on time and and subsequently makes a mistake here by
weakening his kingside. After the game, Hao Wang said of his choice, “Very
bad, but I couldn’t find a move.” Qe8 appears to be the move he couldn’t find. Not perfect but also not “very bad.” }
{ Giri doesn’t attack staright away since he is a very careful player.
Instead, he wisely plays b3, carefully protecting everything. } 28…h5
{ A good prophylactic move as he preventing a future Ng4. } 29.Kh2
{ Giri moves his king to h2 as predicted earlier. } 29…Kg7 30.Qd4
{ Giri creates a mean discovered check on the diagonal if black’s knight is
moved. } 30…Rd8 31.Qb2 Qb8 32.b4
{ Giri pushes his b-pawn to create a second weakness for black to deal
with. } 32…axb4 33.Rc4
{ preparing to win black’s pawn while creating a battery in the b-file. }
33…b3 34.Rb4
{ Giri is ok capturing the pawn on b3 as well. Although, I think Rc3 is
more accurate as it then move to d3 should black form a battery of his own
with Qd6. } ( 34.Rc3 Qd6 35.Rd3 ) 34…Qa7 35.Rxb3
{ and if it wasn’t clear before, it is now. White is winning. } 35…Qxa4
36.Rxb7 Qe8 37.Ra7 Rd5 38.Qb7 Ne4 39.Nxf7 1-0

[Event “FIDE Candidates 2020”]
[Site “Yekaterinburg RUS”]
[Date “2021.04.20”]
[Round “9.4”]
[White “Ding, Liren”]
[Black “Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[BlackElo “2767”]
[BlackFideId “623539”]
[BlackTitle “GM”]
[ECO “E60”]
[EventDate “2020.03.17”]
[Opening “King’s Indian defence”]
[WhiteElo “2805”]
[WhiteFideId “8603677”]
[WhiteTitle “GM”]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4 Bg7 4.Nc3 c5 5.d5 d6 6.e4 e6 7.Be2 exd5 8.exd5 Nbd7
9.Nf3 Ng4 10.h5 Qe7 11.Bg5 Bxc3+ 12.bxc3 f6 13.Bd2 g5 14.O-O Nge5 15.Nd4 cxd4
16.cxd4 O-O 17.dxe5 fxe5 18.Be3 b6 19.a4 Nc5 20.a5 Rb8 21.Ra3 h6 22.Qd2 Bf5
23.axb6 axb6 24.Rfa1 Rb7 25.Qd1 Kg7 26.R1a2 Ne4 27.Bd3 Qf7 28.Rb2 Nc5 29.Bxf5
Qxf5 30.Bxc5 dxc5 31.Qe2 e4 32.Re3 Re8 33.Rb5 Qe5 34.g3 Qd4 35.Rb1 Rf7 36.Rd1
Qf6 37.d6 Re6 38.d7 Rd6 39.Rxd6 Qxd6 40.Rxe4 Rxd7 41.Kg2 Qc6 42.Kh2 Qf6
43.Kh3 Qf5+ 44.g4 Qf6 45.Re5 Qd6 46.Kg2 Qc6+ 47.f3 Qd6 48.Qe4 Ra7 49.Qe2 Rd7
50.Qe4 Ra7 51.Kh3 Rf7 52.Re8 Qf6 53.Kg2 Qb2+ 54.Kh3 Qf6 55.Kg2 Qb2+ 56.Kg3
Qf6 57.Qd3 Qf4+ 58.Kg2 Qf6 59.Kg3 Qf4+ 60.Kg2 Qf6 61.Qe2 Rd7 62.Qe4 Rd2+
63.Kh3 Qd6 64.Re5 Kf6 65.Rf5+ Kg7 66.Re5 Kf6 67.Rf5+ Kg7 68.Qb7+ Kh8 69.Qa8+
Kg7 70.Qa7+ Kh8 71.Qa1+ Kg8 72.Qa8+ Kg7 73.Qa1+ Kg8 74.Re5 Qf8 75.Qa3 Rf2
76.Kg3 Qf4+ 77.Kxf2 Qxe5 78.Qa8+ Kf7 79.Qb7+ Kf8 80.Qc8+ Ke7 81.Qb7+ Kf8
82.Qxb6 Qh2+ 83.Kf1 Qh1+ 84.Ke2 Qg2+ 85.Ke3 Qg1+ 86.Ke2 Qg2+ 87.Ke3 Qg1+
88.Ke2 1/2-1/2

Published by chessmusings

Chris Torres is a nationally renowned scholastic chess coach working in the San Francisco Bay Area. His classes have attracted players of strengths ranging from rank beginners to world champions. A chess professional since 1998, Chris is widely recognized as one of the main driving forces behind the explosion in popularity and sudden rise in quality of scholastic chess in California. Chris Torres served as the President of the Torres Chess and Music Academy from 2005-2020 and currently is recognized as a correspondence chess master with the United States Chess Federation. Since 1998 Chris Torres has taught 6 individual national champions as well as led multiple school teams to win national championship titles. In addition, Chris Torres has directed and taught at 10 different schools which have been California State Champions at chess. In 2011 and 2012, several former and current students of Chris Torres have been selected to represent the United States at the World Youth Chess Championships. Mr. Torres’ hobbies include playing classical guitar and getting his students to appear on the national top 100 chess rating lists.

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