"Covidates" Round 4 - 6; Omnibus Recap
A catch up to rounds 4 - 6 of the Candidates Tournament; video recaps by IM Alex Astaneh Lopez and GM Jon Speelman
Rounds 4 and 5 were slower days of the Candidates Tournament so far, with all of the games in R4 being draws, and 3 out of 4 being draws in R5. R6 had more action, with half the games being decisive.
After R6, the standings are:
1. Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS) 4.5 of 6 games
2. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 3.5 of 6 games
3 - 6. Fabiano Caruana (USA); Anish Giri (NDL); Wang Hao (CHN); Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 3 of 6 games
7 - 8. Ding Liren (CHN); Kirill Alekseenko (RUS) 2 of 6 games
(title photo credit: Maria Emelianova for FIDE)
Although this day ended in four draws, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave came close to winning against Alexander Grischuk, but said he “overlooked” 30. Re4 with some interesting chances against an opponent with only 10 minutes left on his clock.
Ian Nepomniachtchi played against Wang Hao, who offered a Petrov Defence. Nepo’s calculation was clear, and he played an early novelty causing Wang Hao to calculate deeply for 45 minutes. The novelty, involving pushing white’s h-pawn, lends more credence to the idea that top players are becoming more influenced by AlphaZero and are possibly relying more on engines like Lc0 to guide their play. Wang Hao eventually left a crack in his defences allowing Nepo to lever that crack open with his queen. Nepo capitalised fully on the resulting rout, and converted the full point to take the clear lead.
Anish Giri outplayed Fabiano Caruana early on in their game, with Caruana admitting he had forgotten his preparation and had to improvise. Steadily, Caruana was able to return the position to equality and secure the draw - reminiscent of Caruana managing to draw against Giri in the 2016 Candidates in Moscow - when Giri had a four pawn advantage.
One of the most exciting games of the tournament was played between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Kirill Alekseenko. Alekseenko, with the white pieces, played 1.e4, allowing Vachier-Lagrave to play the Sicilian Defence. Vachier-Lagrave, considered to be a Sicilian specialist, met Alekseenko with a rapid game he had played against Magnus Carlsen in 2019 to win the London Chess Classic tiebreaks.
(In the playing hall - Lennart Ootes for FIDE)
Diverging from it with a novelty (and with potentially a stronger position than he had against Carlsen), a sharp and entertaining line followed with multiple piece sacrifices. Alekseenko was up to the challenge, at one point thinking on a single move for 50 minutes, with both players pressing their own attacks and counter-attacks. Alekseenko calculated brilliantly, and after a threat of repetition, both players agreed to draw.
Alexander Grischuk and Ding Liren played a Ruy Lopez, which transitioned into an equal rook endgame, with the players agreeing to a draw on move 53.
Ian Nepomniachtchi outplayed Ding Liren to obtain another full point, against one of the pre-tournament favourites of the match. There have been some questions asked whether Ding Liren’s pre-tournament 14-day quarantine has impacted him psychologically going into the tournament. Nepomniachtchi was visibly unwell going into this round, and after coughing several times during his post-match interview, admitted he was “definitely not feeling okay” (although both of his COVID-19 tests have returned negative). Regardless, he maintained his composure and was able to create backrank issues after Ding Liren miscalculated on move 33. After several more moves, Nepo was a clear piece up and entirely winning, with Ding Liren resignining shortly after.
(Maria Emelianova for FIDE)
Over seven hours of play, Anish Giri chalked up his first Candidates Tournament win against newcomer Kirill Alekseenko. Giri had a slight edge through most of the game, but at several points Alekseenko had the opportunity to secure a draw. Alekseenko - after hours of play in the unique and stressful conditions of this tournament - unfortunately missed the last opportunity to secure a draw, allowing Giri to secure the full point.
(Maria Emelianova for FIDE)
Alexander Grischuk, playing Fabiano Caruana, got tangled into a position with multiple complications arising from a Ruy Lopez, Arkhangelsk variation. With under 3 minutes on his clock, and eight moves left before reaching the first time control, Grischuk - true to form - blitzed out the equalising moves he needed to reach the time control. Entering a knight vs bishop endgame, the two agreed to draw.
Wang Hao playing against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, seemed to get a promising position, entering an endgame with an active knight and extra pawn. But Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was able to protect his chances and restore the game towards equality. Later saying, he was “lucky to get a draw”, a draw is what he achieved, keeping him in the undisputed second place slot of the Candidates.
GM Jon Speelman provided an excellent video recap of round 6:
Lichess will be showing the Candidates Tournament on all of its usual channels, IM Alex Astaneh Lopez will be providing live coverage of rounds 8, 10, and 12.
(Easter egg image - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wang Hao waiting to be interviewed; Maria Emelianova for FIDE)