Candidates Round 12: Nepo wins to keep the lead as Giri beats Caruana

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/25/2021 – An exciting round with four decisive results left two players as the main contenders to win the Candidates Tournament. Anish Giri continued his run of excellent form and beat Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces, but could not catch up with Ian Nepomniachtchi, who got the better of Wang Hao. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ding Liren also won. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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MVL bounces back

All the results from round 12:

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

Round 13 will take place on Monday, April 26 at 4:00 p.m. local time. Pairings:

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

Anish Giri continues to impress in Yekaterinburg. The Dutchman, who arrived in the Russian city after two massively successful performances, has won three out of his five games since the resumption of the Candidates Tournament. Unfortunately for him, Ian Nepomniachtchi, who entered the second half of the event as the shared leader, has been showing an excellent feel regarding when to play solidly and when to look for advantages, scoring two wins to go into the last two rounds of the tournament a half point ahead of his Dutch colleague.

In the first round of the event that featured four decisive results, Giri scored a crucial victory over Fabiano Caruana, leaving the American two full points behind the leader. Meanwhile, Nepomniachtchi patiently outplayed Wang Hao from a seemingly harmless position.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who came from losing twice since the resumption of the tournament, bounced back with a win over Kirill Alekseenko. The Frenchman still has an outside chance of winning the event, as he will face Nepomniachtchi in Monday’s 13th round. MVL is currently 1½ points behind the leader, so a win would leave him only a half point back while holding the better tiebreak score going into the last round.

Round 12 also saw Ding Liren getting his second win of the tournament, as he beat Alexander Grischuk with the white pieces. The Chinese grandmaster will be Nepomniachtchi’s last rival and might play a big role in deciding who gets to become Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

The next World Championship challenger? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana 0 - 1 Giri

It was not a surprise that the players went for a Sicilian, as signing a draw would not have benefited either of them. In fact, in the post-game interview, Caruana mentioned that this was a must-win game. The American got a good position out of the opening, but an unexpected move by his opponent threw him off his game.


Giri played 20...Qf8, and both contenders later identified this as a key moment in the game. Caruana, who was looking for ways to get the initiative, did not react well and slowly lost the thread. The engines think this position is roughly balanced, but the psychological factor played a major role from this point on. Giri explained

I felt he was quite enthusiastic about his position, but after ...Qf8, which is a good move, he probably realized that he was no longer playing for an advantage, and I think, given that he was in a must-win situation, it was a big letdown for him.

Black eventually gained a pawn and the initiative. Giri showed a crucial tactic which prevented Caruana from restoring material balance.


After 35...Ra4, White cannot play 36.Qb6 Rxa3 37.Qxd6 due to 37...Rxf3 38.gxf3 Qe2 and Black wins.


Thus, Caruana opted for 36...Qf2, but anyway had to resign nine moves later. It was yet another brilliant performance by Giri, and his second win in a row. On Monday, after the rest day, the Dutchman will face Grischuk with the black pieces.


Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri

Fabiano Caruana facing the man of the hour, Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wang 0 - 1 Nepomniachtchi

Nepo did not play ambitiously in the opening, allowing a symmetrical structure to appear on the board after exchanging queens on move 9. The Russian, however, outplayed his opponent in the middlegame, slowly improving his pieces until reaching a superior rook-and-knight endgame.


Endgame specialist Karsten Müller analysed the game from this position, noting that even a slight initiative plays a big role in these setups. Wang’s decision to resign on move 59 was questioned by online spectators, but as Müller shows — and as the players mentioned in the press conference — there was no way for White to hold a draw, especially given how well Nepo had been handling what was a highly technical game from start to finish. 


Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Vachier-Lagrave 1 - 0 Alekseenko

As Magnus Carlsen had mentioned a few days earlier, credit should be given to Alekseenko for showing resourcefulness in difficult positions, but that does not take away from the fact that it is clear he is having trouble facing players who have been atop the world rankings for years. Against Vachier-Lagrave in round 12, Alekseenko found himself a pawn down on move 19. MVL then correctly simplified the position into an endgame.


Once again, Karsten Müller took a closer look into this ending, noting that Alekseenko’s 30...Rd7 was too passive in this position, as Black would have a better chance to defend with 30...Rb8. Replay the full analysis on the interactive board below.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

The pressure is off — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ding 1 - 0 Grischuk

Already in the early middlegame, the commentators mentioned that the position achieved by Grischuk with the black pieces offer very little chances to play for a win. The Russian’s setup was very solid, nonetheless, but Ding manoeuvred masterfully until getting his second win of the tournament. 

In the post-game press conference, Grischuk, who also plays this line with the white pieces, confessed:

This is what I was always dreaming to get with white, but never could.


Naturally, the engines consider this to be a defensible position for black, but for a human, it is very difficult to keep finding the precise defensive moves while White continues to manoeuvre his pieces around making use of his spatial advantage. The players discussed the possibility of 37...Qa8 at this point, for example, when it is difficult to find a plan for white. 

Grischuk played 37...Ra1 instead and lost the thread shortly after the time control. The Russian resigned in the following position.


After drawing all his games in the first half, Grischuk has lost twice and defeated Vachier-Lagrave since the resumption of the event.


Ding Liren

Ding Liren | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 12


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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