Round 8 Candidates: Caruana impresses, wins marathon

A year-long preparation

The eight-player Candidate tournament is one of the most prestigious global chess events, held every two years. The event will decide who will challenge defender Magnus Carlsen for the title of World Chess Champion.

All results from round 8:

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

Round 9 will be held on Tuesday, April 20 at 4:00 pm local time. Previous:

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

A decisive encounter ended decisively in the first round of the second half of the Candidate Tournament, after the pandemic forced organizers to delay the resumption of the event for over a year. In the main match of the day, Fabiano Caruana climbed to split second with a victory over former co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Caruana, who was the last player to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world crown, had the opportunity to play a sharp novelty against Sicilian Najdorf MVL. As noted by the American, his opponent found true continuity again and again despite being surprised in a very complex situation. Fatigue and stress, however, seem to have played a role in the long endgame that followed, as the Frenchman could not theoretically hold a balanced but difficult game to play.

A frustrated Vachier-Lagrave clearly analyzed several variations with his opponent at the post-game press conference. The French star is now tied in second place with Caruana, and enters the final 6 rounds of the tournament with a worse tie than his American opponent (the result of the direct encounter is the first criterion to break a tie ). The two are currently standing half a point behind Ian Nepomniachtchi, who drew Anish Giri with the white pieces on Monday.

Caruana’s victory wasn’t the only decisive result of the day, as Kirill Alekseenko needed even more time to pull down his compatriot Alexander Grischuk with the white pieces. Grischuk got a good spot after shocking commentators and viewers alike by playing French Defense. Even so, he overstepped the fan favorite in the endgame, which he lost as an exchange against active king Alekseenko and far-right pawning passed.

Wang Hao and Ding Liren pulled off their game pretty quickly after playing a deep theoretical line from the Scotch Defense.

FIDE 2020/21 Candidates

A handshake is back Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 1: 0 Vachier-Lagrave

As he has done repeatedly in the past, Vachier-Lagrave clung to his guns and played his pet Sicilan Najdorf with black – though he knows all too well that he is facing one of the strongest theorists in the world, which had a whole year and a powerful team of seconds to prepare for this very opening. Like Ol G. G. Urcan tweeted:

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

Caruana unveiled a novelty, and a shocking one at that.

White blitzed out 19.Bc4. While Caruana continued to play his moves almost instantly, MVL had already spent nearly 20 minutes on move 18. Furthermore, having accepted his opponent’s sacrifice with 19 … Qxc4 it needed almost half an hour to find a satisfactory response to the threat 20.Bd6.

Black considered 20 … f5, but correctly (as Caruana later said) he chose 20 … Nf6. Magnus Carlsen, who was commentating the games live, thought the game could end quickly, but the Frenchman showed why he is considered one of the strongest grandmothers in these positions , as he manages to find a way out to enter a difficult but debatable endgame:

At the press conference, Caruana suggested that Black could play this unattractive 26 … Ra7, which the machines also consider to be the best move. Vachier-Lagrave went for the more human 26 … Ne4 and thinks he has had excellent opportunities to strike the balance.

The Frenchman was not wrong, as even the rook and pawn finale against a knight and pawn reached at the move of 50 is a hypothetical game.

Of course, White can put pressure on his opponent endlessly from this position. Vachier-Lagrave, who came from surviving a hard shock at the opening, ultimately failed and had to resign while moving 74.

Caruana mentioned that the opening idea had been discovered by Rustam Kasimdzhanov, and that they had it in the shop “for some time”.

Fabiano Caruana

A strong start (second) to world number 2 Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Alekseenko 1: 0 Grischuk

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

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

Black had the bishop pair and a very stable structure. In retrospect, Alekseenko’s 22.c4 he proved here to be a good practical decision, as he went on to quickly activate his pieces – including his king – avoiding having to passively move against a player as experienced as Grischuk.

Carlsen praised Alekseenko’s plan to focus on centralization:

At this point the machines still give Black a slight advantage, but there is plenty of play left in the position. In the complexities that followed, Grischuk probably could not adapt well to the new position on the table and rejected lines that led to a pull of power, which, as is often the case, created opportunities for ‘ w opponent.

Endagme expert Karsten Müller took a closer look at the endgame, starting from the position where Grischuk was definitely mistaken by moving his king to the wrong square. A really interesting example of how complex chess really is:

Kirill Alekseenko

Chess is difficult and, at times, worthwhile – Kirill Alekseenko | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepomniachtchi ½: ½ Giri

Jon Speelman recently noted that Giri has been playing more simple, aggressive chess with great results over the past few months. Against Nepo, the Dutch played Sveshnikov’s Variant of the Sicilian, who later quoted:

I had a year to find an advantage for black left 1.e4, and I have to say that I need a little more time.

Giri didn’t get in trouble, but he played what Carlsen considered a bit suspicious 18 … Be6. However, it was difficult for White to create something concrete. The contestants repeated the situation starting on move 24 and agreed to an equalizer.

Carlsen was surprised that Nepo did not continue to play from this position, but the Russian later summed up what had happened:

White achieved nothing out of the opening, and it was a fast equalizer.

Anish Giri

Suddenly dressed, sharply prepared – Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wang ½: ½ Ding

In the shortest game of the day, Chinese representatives at Yekaterinburg played the theoretical line of the Scotch Defense before signing a 28-move equalizer. Wang mentioned what he had done in the last year:

I didn’t consider it necessary to study chess for the most part last year, as I didn’t receive any special invitations to online tournaments. […] I spent a lot of time studying and improving my investment knowledge. I am always happy to use new opportunities and learn something new.

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

Ding Liren, Wang Hao

Wang Hao and Ding Liren | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Stalls after Round 8

All games