Tournament report

A day of draws in Yekaterinburg

There has been no breakthrough at the 2020 Candidates Tournament as all four games of Round Four ended in a draw.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France was closest to making a break but he missed his chances against Alexander Grischuk, despite the Russian being severely pressed for time. The longest game of the day was between American Fabiano Caruana and Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi. Despite threats on both sides, it too ended in a draw. Altogether, there is no clear leader at the 2020 Candidates, as three players have 2,5 points: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wang Hao.

Round Four started – and finished – with the Candidates tournament being wide open. Thanks to Ding Liren’s comeback in Round Three, when he delivered a blow to Fabiano Caruana, all players entered the fourth round with a chance to make a significant step forward from the rest.

The round started with ceremonial moves made on all four boards. In the Game Caruana – Napomnnitchi, the first move was made by Nikolay Karpol – famous women’s volleyball coach and President and Head coach of the VC Uralochka-NTMK Yekaterinburg. In the game Wang Hao – Kirill Alekseenko, Andrey Simanovsky, President of the Chess Federation of the Sverdlovsk region, made the move. Viktor Shepty, First Deputy Chairperson of the Legislative Assembly of the Sverdlovsk region, did the honours in the game Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – Alexander Grischuk. Finally, Albert Stepanyan, Executive Director of the Chess Federation of the Sverdlovsk region made the ceremonial move in the game between Ding Liren and Anish Giri.

The most exciting game of the day was between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who was playing as White against Russia’s Alexander Grischuk (who was the only player without a decisive game after the first three rounds).

The Frenchmen opened with 1.e4. Grischuk responded with the Berlin Defence in the Ruy Lopez. The game progressed quickly until one point: Grischuk spent 53 minutes on his 19th move before deciding to put his knight to e7. This was unusual, as the move seemed natural and had been played before (between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura). On move 20, the Frenchmen decided to sacrifice a pawn. After 24 moves, White had the initiative. Black’s king was in the centre and his a8 rook was cut-off from the action. The computer said the position was equal, however – Grischuk had under 10 minutes on his clock which suggested serious time trouble. By move 26, Grischuk had just two and a half minutes to make 14 moves! Then, unsurprisingly, Grischuk made an error by taking White’s pawn on a4, after Vachier-Lagrave offered it. However, instead of playing 30.Re4 with a confident advantage for White, the Frenchmen rushed and gave a check with his bishop. (In an interview after the game, the Frenchman said he forgot about the 30.Re4 move. Just goes to show that even the greatest players overlook what’s best).

The game then transpired into a rook endgame. White had an advanced pawn on e6 and more active rooks. Grischuk had a 2:1 pawn majority on the queenside and, with seconds on the clock, decided to push his a-pawn forward. The Frenchmen tried, but could not find the best path to victory. Soon one pair of rooks was exchanged and then another: simplifying the position made things easier for Grischuk and with every next move, he was closer to reaching the time control break.

Annoyed with a missed opportunity, Vachier-Lagrave continued to play despite a clear draw. The game ended after 53 moves, with only the kings remaining on the board.

In an interview after the game, Alexander Grischuk said that he “made a very stupid thing” by spending an hour thinking about a clear move. Talking about the endgame, Grischuk said: “The position was extremely tactical despite it being an endgame. It could have gone either way.”

This was a fourth consecutive draw for Grischuk at the 2020 Candidates.

The game between Fabiano Caruana (white) and Ian Nepomniachtchi(black) developed quickly.

After 1.d4 Nepomniachtchi went for the Gruenfeld defence. Caruana was blitzing his moves, launching his h-pawn towards
the black king’s fortress. The American secured his control over the centre and then offered an exchange of queens. Nepomniachtchi refused. Commenting on the game, Magnus Carlsen suggested that Nepomniachtchi is taking many risks.

After exchanges in the centre, Nepomniachtchi then offered an exchange of queens on move 26 but then Caruana refused. A lot of positional manoeuvring followed. However, White could not find the right path to Black’s king and Nepomniachtchi was playing accurately, managing at one point to stalemate the white’s queen on f3. By move 32, the momentum went from White to Black: it seemed that Nepomniachtchi now had more chances. Black went for an exchange of queens – which Caruana finally accepted. The position was even although Black had a 2:1 pawn advantage on the queenside.

A draw was called on move 55, after five hours of play.

In their first duel ever, Chinese player Wang Hao and Russian wild-card Kirill Alekseenko agreed to split a point.

Alekseenko created a solid position for Black. Although he was playing very carefully making sure he prevents White from activating his play – Peter Svidler, Alekseenko’s second – noticed that his compatriot tends to overthink his positions sometimes thus creating needless complications. This was the case when Alekseenko played 13…Re6 after which Black was worse.

The game was stiff, with a lot of fine maneuvering, but by the end, it opened with chances for both sides. After an exchange of material, however, Alekseenko ended with a bishop and two pawns for a rook, but it was even. On move 41 they called it a draw. This was the third game of the day to finish.

Ding Liren – who got back into the tournament after defeating Fabiano Caruana in Round Three – drew as White against Anish Giri.

Both had a slow start to the tournament, with one out of three. The Catalan Opening was played. After castling his king, Giri started pushing his pawn down the h-file, hoping to endanger White’s king. The center of attention then shifted to the left flank. Following an exchange of queens, Ding Liren managed to relieve himself from Black’s pressure.This led to further exchanges and a rook and bishop vs rook and bishop endgame.

Afterward, Ding Liren said that it was a balanced game: “Giri had threats and it was dangerous, so I opted for safer play. A draw is a natural outcome.”

Judit Polgar on the 2020 Candidates:
“An extraordinary situation but a great opportunity for chess”

Joining the official commentary today (via Skype) was Judit Polgar – the strongest female chessplayer of all time. She reflected on the circumstances in which this tournament is being played:

“This is an extraordinary situation for the players. It is psychologically very tough. There are a lot of strange things happening. In the games, you could see that for some of the players their mind is hijacked. It’s not only the results but the play itself. The checkups and everything must be having influence. It will take time before the players get used to this situation”.

Polgar was, however, hopeful that the impact the coronavirus has on other sports events might help chess:

“Now that the Candidates are running and there are no other sports, it is a great opportunity for chess. If games could have been played online, it would have also been a great opportunity. Also, now there is a lot of chess commentary online which is great.”


1Ian Nepomniachtchi
2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767
3Hao Wang 2762
4Fabiano Caruana22842
5Grischuk, Alexander22777
6Liren Ding2805
7Anish Giri 2763
8Kirill Alekseenko2698

Round Five of the 2020 Candidates Tournament starts at 4 PM local time on March 22. The pairings for the fifth round are:

Anish Giri (NED) Fabiano Caruana (USA)
Alexander Grischuk (RUS)Ding Liren (CHN)
Kirill Alekseenko (RUS) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA)
Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS)Wang Hao (CHN)

About the partners:

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Mercedes-Benz Russia – Official auto partner.