23 April 2021

Ian Nepomniachtchi Keeps Leading FIDE Candidates Tournament

Alexander Grischuk defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

The 11th round of the FIDE Candidates Tournament was played in Yekaterinburg on April 23. Curiously, all four games started with 1.e4. 

In the key game of the day, the leader Ian Nepomniachtchi, who had the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana, chose a solid line in the mixture of the Two Knights Defence and the Scotch Game. Black sacrificed a pawn in this well-studied variation to keep slight chances for active play. However, the material equality was restored by the 23d move, and the fight transferred to the queens and rooks endgame with a white passer on the a-file. After the queens were exchanged, Black had to act carefully and precisely to neutralise Nepomniachtchi's passed pawn, but Caruana was playing very accurately. A draw was agreed on the 41st move.

Ian Nepomniachtchi: "One can call my opening choice a tournament strategy, but I expected Fabiano to play some Sicilian or other sharp lines. 1. e4 e5 is very solid, so in general, if anyone is prepared well, it will lead to equal positions. I don't think Black had any problems in this game, maybe, besides this endgame, which could become tricky but also didn't". 

Anish Giri achieved a bright victory against Ding Liren, having surprised his opponent in the opening. The grandmasters played the Ruy Lopez, where the Chinese player castled long. In the middlegame, Black sacrificed a pawn for the initiative and the assault on the kingside.  

"A few people have already told me that I won a great game, but I don't think it was as great as it looked in the end. At some point, he was the one who was dictating the course of the game. A long castle is a very good way of playing for Black, and I should have been prepared for it", said Anish. 

Seemingly, Black pushed too hard on the kingside and missed Giri's interesting idea to sacrifice the bishop. All white pieces flooded into the play and created quite dangerous threats to the black monarch. Ding Liren resigned on the 29th move. 

Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played the sharpest game of the round. White met 1...с5 with a rare variant, having taken on d4 with his queen. The Russian demonstrated a deed analysis in the line, which had been introduced into practice by Magnus Carlsen, and implemented a novelty on the 9th move. White started the attack on the black king with his h-pawn and sacrificed it, opening up the line. At one point, MVL made an inaccuracy, and Grischuk realised the plan with a rook sacrifice. Black had to give up the queen for the second white rook to avoid the mate, and at this point, this complicated game returned to a dynamic balance. However, Maxime made a serious strategic mistake right after the time control by exchanging two rooks for the queen and missing one important nuance. The endgame with same-coloured bishops and an extra pawn was winning for White. Alexander Grischuk won on the 48th move.

Kirill Alekseenko and Wang Hao discussed the Two Knights Defence. An unusual position, where the black pawns went far ahead on the kingside, emerged after the opening. In his turn, White developed his pieces more harmonically and got a certain edge. Nevertheless, the Russian didn't manage to transform his advantage into anything substantial, and soon Black opened up the play and even captured the initiative. Wang Hao won a pawn, but the queens and bishops endgame, which appeared, was rather drawish. The opponents agreed to a draw after the 55th Black's move.  

Standings after Round 11:

1. Ian Nepomniachtchi - 7 points
2. Anish Giri - 6,5
3. Fabiano Caruana - 6
4-5. Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - 5.5
6. Wang Hao - 5
7. Kirill Alekseenko - 4,5
8. Ding Liren - 4.

Round 12 pairings: 

Fabiano Caruana - Anish Giri
Ding Liren - Alexander Grischuk
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Kirill Alekseenko 
Wang Hao - Ian Nepomniachtchi

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