Tournament report

Ding Liren beats Caruana to make a comeback

In a duel between the two favorites to win the Candidates, China’s Ding Liren – who started with two losses – made a comeback in the third round and defeated World #2 chess player, American Fabiano Caruana.

This was the only game with a decisive outcome on the third day of the 2020 Candidates and it made the tournament wide open again.

A day before the first break at the eight-player 2020 Candidates Tournament, there are three players in the lead – Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Wang Hao (China), all on 2/3.

Every game in the Candidates is critical, but this was especially the case for Ding Liren in Round Three. The first two days were challenging for the Chinese player: Seen as the favorite to win the Candidates, he surprisingly lost the first two games.

A few minutes before the third round, he was sitting in his chair, staring at the board, completely oblivious to his opponent who quietly set across. The Chinese player opened with d4. Caruana opted for the Slav Defence, an unlikely opening for him. A few moves down the line and the first interesting moment of the game occurred: Caruana played a novelty 9…e5, sacrificing a pawn. The American played this move fast (suggesting it was pre-prepared) and left the board. The Chinese player got into a deep think. He managed to find an accurate line and confidently progress and threaten to take the upper hand in the game. To keep the initiative, Black (Caruana) sacrificed another pawn, hoping to expose the white king. Ding Liren, however, managed to consolidate his material advantage and take away the initiative from Black. Despite being in a lost position, Caruana kept on playing, hoping to create some chances, but it was to no avail. The Chinese player – although in time trouble – confidently pressed on and forced his opponent to resign.

This game was an important milestone for Ding Liren, whose confidence will be bolstered after this victory against the second player in the world. In the interview following the game, he said he hopes to recover to his top form and get back to the top of the scoreboard.

The game between Anish Giri (The Netherlands) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) finished in a draw.

The Grünfeld Defence was played and it was a rather calm game. Vachier-Lagrave quickly proceeded to simplify the position. It led to a slightly worse endgame for Black but provided him with enough resources to hold his ground. The game transpired into an ending where Giri had a rook and a bishop against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s rook and knight. After a repeat of moves, a draw was called. This was the first game of the day to finish.

The Frenchman is now on 2/3, after a win and two draws. Giri is on 1/3.

Alexander Grischuk (Russia) made his third consecutive draw of the tournament, this time against Wang Hao (China).

After White played 1.e4, the Chinese player opted for the Petrov Defence. The Russian managed to create a slightly better position and had a bishop against a knight. He then advanced his pieces on the kingside. Wang Hao was resourceful in defending himself and the game transpired into a rook endgame. Although struggling with time, Grischuk managed to create a 2-1 pawn advantage on the queenside. The position was, however, still even according to the computer. After 49 moves a draw was agreed.

After the game, Grischuk said that he thought he was close to winning, but time-trouble made the Russian forget some moves.

Wang Hao is now on 2/3, while Grischuk – with three consecutive draws – is on 1.5/3.

Kirill Alekseenko (Russia) was playing as White against compatriot Ian Nepomniachtchi.
The game finished in a draw.

This was the first time the two played against one another.

Nepomniachtchi opted for the French Defence. Last time we saw the French Defence at the Candidates was in Elista in 2007, in the game Leko – Gurevich (and the last time we saw a French Defence victory in the Candidates was in the game Sokolov – Yusupov, in Riga in 1986!).

The position on the board was mostly even after the opening. However, lines chosen by both players meant that there were threats on both sides. White (Alekseenko) missed an opportunity when Black played 25…g6. The Russian wild card had a chance to take the g6-pawn and launch a forceful attack on Black’s king, which would have been difficult to defend against. Explaining why he did not go for the g6-pawn, Alekseenko later said that he was struggling with time and was not able to calculate everything until the end. The game ended in a draw.

Ian Nepomniachtchi is now on 2/3 while Kirill Alekseenko has one point after three rounds.

A Japanese bow instead of the “elbow-shake”

In light of the concerns regarding the coronavirus, traditional handshakes have been dropped in the tournament. Players decide between themselves if and how they wish to acknowledge one another.

Dutch player Anish Giri suggested that there should be a new code agreed between the players when it comes to handshakes, arguing it is very confusing as some people offer handshakes and some refuse. He also said he is not a fan of “elbow-shakes”.

“I think it would be much more elegant to do a bow as the Japanese do. I think they do that in shogi and it would make a lot of sense. This ‘elbow-shake’ is very creepy. From all the possible ways to show respect to each other, this is the creepiest”, Giri said.


1Ian Nepomniachtchi
2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave22767
3Hao Wang22762
4Fabiano Caruana2842
5Grischuk, Alexander2777
6Liren Ding12805
7Anish Giri12763
8Kirill Alekseenko12698

Friday is a rest day at the 2020 Candidates. Round Four of the 2020 Candidates Tournament starts at 4 PM local time on March 21. The pairings for the third round are:

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

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