Tournament report

Four in the lead as Ding Liren suffers a second loss

Four players are in the lead after the second day of the 2020 Candidates tournament in Yekaterinburg. Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wang Hao are all on 1.5/2, followed by Alexander Grischuk with one point, and Alekseenko and Giri with half a point. In the last place, alone, is one of the favorites to win the tournament, Ding Liren, who lost again today.

Pavel Datsyuk, a Russian professional ice hockey player, opened the Second Round with an honorary move in the game between Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Kirill Alekseenko (Russia). This was an uneven duel: On one end was the former contender for the title of World Champion and World No2, and on the other the clear outsider of the tournament who got a place at the Candidates after receiving a wild card.

Caruana surprised his opponent by playing 1.d4 instead of his usual 1.e4. A sharp line of the Nimzo-Indian game occurred, with risks for both White and Black. However, it seemed that something went wrong with Alekseenko’s opening preparation – he spent a lot of time thinking but ended up missing key moves. Caruana quickly took advantage of his opponent’s insecurity, pinning Black’s pieces and preventing him from getting any activity. It was a tense, tactical game, but Caruana was more confident. After executing his preparation better, Caruana created a stronger position and was much better on time.

The American confidently diminished the defences of the Russian player and went on to win the game.

The game between compatriots Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia) ended in a draw.

Instead of a handshake, the players opted for an “elbow-shake” at the beginning. Black opted for the Berlin defence in the Ruy Lopez. Grischuk managed to create more initiative threatening White’s kingside. However, he got into time trouble. There was an exchange of knights which led to an ending with opposite-colour bishops and the position was equal. A second draw for Grischuk who is now on one point, while Nepomniachtchi is on 1.5/2.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) defeated Ding Liren (China), delivering a second blow in a row to the Chinese favorite. In the Roy Lopez, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave started to press from the very beginning and created a strong position. At one point Black had to give up a pawn and tried to compensate with aggressive play on the kingside. This, however, backfired. Similar to his game in Round One, Ding Liren tried to force the position. Eventually, his pieces were left hanging and he was forced to resign on move 37.

A second loss in a row for the Chinese who ahead of the tournament was seen as one of the top favorites to win the Candidates. Unlike for Ding Liren, the tournament started well for the Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (1.5/2) despite getting a spot at the event in the very last moment (after Teimour Radjabov pulled out).

The longest game of the day was played between Wang Hao (China) and Anish Giri (The Netherlands), lasting almost six hours. In Round One Hao defeated his compatriot and one of the favorites, Ding Liren, while Giri started with a loss (to Nepomniachtchi).

Straight out of the English opening White (Wang Hao) took the initiative. He was trying to threaten the Black king’s castle. Following an exchange of queens in the middlegame the position was balanced. White, however, skilfully repositioned his pieces building up pressure in the center. He then gradually shifted his focus to the queenside, ultimately winning a pawn and opening space for his pawn on the b-file. Giri was, however, better on time and tried to use that to prevent his opponent from winning. Wang Hao could not find the right path to victory and – after almost six hours of play – the two called it a draw.

Wang Hao is now on 1.5/2 while Giri is on half a point.

STANDINGS:


Playerpointsrating
1Fabiano Caruana
2842
2 Nepomniachtchi, Ian2774
3Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime2767
4Wang, Hao2762
5Grischuk, Alexander12777
6Giri, Anish½2763
7Alekseenko, Kirill½2698
8Ding, Liren02805

There are 12 more rounds to go in Yekaterinburg and a significant number of decisive games in the first two rounds suggests a lot of excitement ahead. Questions are being asked about whether Ding Liren will be able to make a comeback, especially as he is due to face Fabiano Caruana in the next round. Still, the tournament is in its early days and many things can change and likely will.

Round Three of the 2020 Candidates Tournament starts at 4 PM local time on March 19. The pairings for the third round are:


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

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