Candidates Round 11: Giri in sole second place after brilliant win

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/24/2021 – Anish Giri climbed to sole second place at the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg thanks to a brilliant win over Ding Liren in round 11. While Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana drew their direct encounter, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was defeated by Alexander Grischuk in a sharp battle. In a crucial face-off, Caruana will have the white pieces against Giri in Saturday’s twelfth round. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Three contenders

All the results from round 11:

Kirill Alekseenko ½-½ Wang Hao
Alexander Grischuk 1-0 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Anish Giri 1-0 Ding Liren
Ian Nepomniachtchi ½-½ Fabiano Caruana

Round 12 will take place on Saturday, April 24 at 4:00 p.m. local time. Pairings:

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

With three rounds to go, three players are left in contention to win the Candidates Tournament. Former co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave lost to Alexander Grischuk in round 11, and now both he and Grischuk stand 1½ points behind the leader Ian Nepomniachtchi — they both still have “microscopic” (Grischuk) chances to win the event, but would need a number of unlikely results to go their way for that to happen.

Besides Nepo, Anish Giri and Fabiano Caruana are the ones still dreaming to become Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger. Giri brilliantly defeated Ding Liren with the white pieces on Friday to climb to sole second place, while Caruana decided not to “burn my bridges” in his direct encounter against Nepomniachtchi, agreeing to quickly simplify into a drawn position. 

Even though Giri is a half point ahead of Caruana, they both have about the same chances to win the tournament, since tying for first with Nepo is not an option for Giri, who lost his first-round game against the Russian — while Caruana drew both his encounters with the current favourite. Nigel Short summed it up best:

Nepomniachtchi has been in good form throughout the event, but he still has three tough games ahead: black against the two Chinese representatives and white against Vachier-Lagrave. Meanwhile, Caruana will have white against Giri in the most intriguing game of Saturday’s round 12.

FIDE Candidates 2021, chess

Three rounds to go in Yekaterinburg | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Giri 1 - 0 Ding

When asked about how he spent his rest day, Giri said, “6.Bxc6, 7.d3” referring to the Exchange Variation line of the Spanish he played against Ding in round 11. The setup, which is not known for being very dangerous for Black was deeply studied by the Dutchman, who played a novelty on move 9.

Ding was handling the position well, until his over-ambitious pawn push on move 20 turned the tables.


In hindsight, 20...g4 was not particularly useful, since after 21.Ng5 (attacking the queen) Qxf5 22.h4 Black does not have much of an attack. Ding’s crucial mistake, however, came in the next move, when he played 22...b6


The Chinese star had spent almost a half hour before pushing his b-pawn, perhaps calculating the blow Giri had in store — 23.Ne4, giving up the bishop. After 23...bxc5 24.bxc5 Nf6 25.Nd6+ Black’s king is in trouble.


Ding is forced to capture with the bishop due to the fork, and White quickly opens lines against the king — 25...Bxd6 26.cxd6 Rxd6 d4


Black’s position collapses surprisingly quickly, with the queen ready to infiltrate along the e2-a6 diagonal, the knight about to jump to c5, and the rook ready to check from the b-file, while Black’s pieces stand far from the action. Ding played the desperate 27...c5, and had to resign after 28.Nxc5 Re8 29.Qc4.

A marvellous showing of how quickly a strategic imprecision can lead to defeat against a player of Giri’s calibre.


Anish Giri

Anish Giri is in sole second place | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Grischuk 1 - 0 Vachier-Lagrave

A sharp setup appeared on the board after Grischuk responded to Vachier-Lagrave’s Sicilian with the 6.b3 variation. MVL took a wrong step on move 19:


After 19.g5, the knight is under attack and has many ways to escape — both 19...Ng4 and 19...Nxe4 are playable, leading to complex struggles, while MVL’s 19...Nh5 gave White a strong initiative after 20.f5 Rfd8 21.f6, and the black king is dangerously cornered by the pawn bind.


As the players demonstrated during the press conference, what followed was a deep battle of tactical shots, with the sharpest potential lines not always appearing on the board. MVL once again showed why he so often enters this kind of positions, as he managed to weave himself out of the most dangerous threats. 

The Frenchman, however, did not foresee Grischuk’s 37th move:


White captured the b7-pawn leaving his bishop unprotected as 37...Rxe5 fails to 38.Qg2+ Kh7 39.Qh2+ Kg6 40.Qxe5, grabbing the rook. The pawn capture does not win the game on the spot, but the shock really affected Vachier-Lagrave.

Grandmaster Karsten Müller took a closer look at the game from this point on, emphasizing the importance of piece coordination.


Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

A sharp battle between two elite grandmasters | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepomniachtchi ½ - ½ Caruana

In the post-game press conference, Caruana noted that the line he chose with black “99 percent of the time will turn into a draw”. Nepomniachtchi fully agreed, mentioning that he had some minuscule chances, but that the position was a dead draw after all.


Caruana’s 23...Qc5 was not the most accurate, but shortly after the queen swap it was clear that the game was going to end peacefully.

All six games that had a decisive result after the resumption of the tournament were won by the white player, so Caruana probably considered that it was better to get a safe draw against Nepo and focus on Saturday’s game against Giri, when he will have the white pieces. 


Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana

Analysing from a different viewpoint | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Alekseenko ½ - ½ Wang

The players entered a line which was previously seen in a rapid game between Vishy Anand and Caruana from 2019. It was a slightly risky line for Wang, but the Chinese player was very well prepared and managed to keep things under control. Nonetheless, the players needed to be careful in the queen and bishop endgame that appeared on the board.


With both kings somewhat weakened (especially Black’s), there’s always room for mistakes — but also for perpetuals. Here the commentators were a bit surprised by Wang’s 45.Qxb6, instead of the more natural 45.Qxe5, but in the end none of the players erred in the technical phase and a draw was agreed on move 55.


Wang Hao

Wang Hao | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 11


All games



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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