Candidates Round 3: Ding bounces back, beats Caruana

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/19/2020 – The battle between pre-tournament favourites Ding Liren and Fabiano Caruana ended up favouring the Chinese, who responded convincingly to Caruana's provocative play in the opening to get his first win of the tournament after back-to-back losses in the first two rounds. The remaining games finished drawn, which means Wang Hao, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are sharing the lead on 2 out of 3. Expert analysis by GMs STEPHEN GORDON and DANIEL KING. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Mental fortitude

The eight-player Candidates tournament is one of the most prestigious global chess events, held every two years. The event will determine who will challenge the defender Magnus Carlsen for the title of the World Chess Champion. This year’s event has a prize fund of 500,000 Euros, which is the highest ever in the history of the Candidates tournaments.

Results of Round 3
Name Result Name
Ding Liren 1 - 0 Caruana Fabiano
Giri Anish ½ - ½ Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
Grischuk Alexander ½ - ½ Wang Hao
Alekseenko Kirill ½ - ½ Nepomniachtchi Ian

Round four takes place on Saturday, March 21 at 4:00 p.m. local time. Pairings:

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

Ding Liren's start of the tournament could not have been worse. The Chinese star had a great 2019 and arrived as one of the two clear favourites to become Carlsen's challenger at the Candidates, but the Coronavirus outbreak pushed him to go into quarantine both at home and in Moscow. When the event finally began, he was clearly out of form and lost both of his two inaugural games.

And then came his encounter against none other than world number two Fabiano Caruana. The American played the opening quickly and confidently, going for what seemed to be a risky setup. Ding spent a lot of time, fearing the worst — that he had been caught in an opening his opponent had perfectly prepared. However, the Chinese eventually found himself in a favourable position. By move 27, it was clear that Caruana's approach had failed him and, although he continued playing until move 59, it was never really in doubt that Ding would end up getting the full point.

Earlier in the day, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave held Anish Giri to a draw with the black pieces; Kirill Alekseenko missed a chance to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi's French Winawer, although the latter was positionally better during most of the game; and Alexander Grischuk could not make the most of a strategically superior position against Wang Hao.

Given these results, Vachier-Lagrave, Nepomniachtchi and Wang Hao go into the rest day as co-leaders on 2 out of 3.

FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020

A safety-first approach is called for given the situation | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Ding Liren 1:0 Caruana

For a while, it looked like Caruana would repeat the recipe he used on Wednesday to take down Alekseenko — to play an opening he does not employ regularly and get a clear advantage after uncorking a surprising novelty. Against Ding, he played the Slav with Black (already a surprise) and deviated from theory with 9...e5, quite a compromising decision. Furthermore, he continued blitzing out his moves for a while, including the unexpected 15...bd7.

In the post-game interview, Ding confessed he felt frustrated at this stage of the game, as he feared he was missing something or that his rival had an ace up the sleeve. By move 20 he was about an hour down on the clock, but not long after he already felt he was winning — he got his queen out of trouble and noticed Black did not have sufficient counterplay: 


As you can see, Black is down two pawns, and the fact that one of White's rooks is stuck on h1 does not compensate for the material disadvantage and the scanty positioning of Black's knights. Soon enough, Caruana sacrificed one of these knights for two pawns, entering a completely miserable position after the time control. The American continued playing until move 59, but only an extreme blunder by his opponent would have allowed him to save a draw.


Ding Liren, Fabiano Caruana

The two top seeds battling it out | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Grischuk ½:½ Wang Hao

It is a well-known fact that Chinese player are Petroff-Defence specialists, and Wang Hao is no exception. Against Grischuk in round three, however, he could not completely equalize by using this setup. Much like in his game against Giri from the previous round, Black had to defend a static position with a weak isolated pawn — except this time the Chinese was the one on the defensive side.

But when it looked like we were in for a long struggle in which Grischuk would torture his opponent for hours on end, the Russian forgot Black had a tactical resource that equalized the position immediately:


Instead of 34.g5 the previous move, White needed to play something like 34.♗b1 in order to avoid 34...e4+, when capturing with 35.fxe4 runs into 35...dxe4 threatening the bishop and 36...e3+ next move, gaining the rook. Grischuk later confessed that he had seen this trick previously but failed to reconsider it in the critical position. The game continued 35.xe4 dxe4 36.e1 and thirteen more moves were played before a draw was agreed.


Alexander Grischuk, Wang Hao

Alexander Grischuk versus Wang Hao | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Alekseenko ½:½ Nepomniachtchi

Perhaps seeing this as a big chance to score, Nepomniachtchi played the French Winawer against his lower-rated compatriot. The strategy born fruit, at least insofar Alekseenko started taking some time on each of his decisions as early as move 9. As both contenders agreed on after the game, Black was the one in the driver's seat out of the opening, although it was never easy to find an adequate breakthrough. 

Alekseenko felt his position was safer after his opponent went for 16...xc5 instead of 16...bxc5, but with little time on the clock he failed to play the most critical continuation later on, right after 25...g6:


After thinking for six minutes, Alekseenko played 26.h5 instead of 26.♗xg6. He explained that he had planned to give up his bishop, but that he did not have enough time to work out all the tactical consequences and thus went for the less forcing alternative. As it happened, Black was still the one pushing, but Nepomniachtchi was not able to find the most precise way to make progress. The game ended in a draw by perpetual check on move 40.


Ian Nepomniachtchi

Still in the lead — Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Giri ½:½ Vachier-Lagrave

The shortest game of the day saw Vachier-Lagrave entering a sharp variation that could only be better for White. Giri felt he probably missed something or, most likely, forgot something from his deep preparation, as he later declared:  

There are like ten ways to equalize against this line, and I know them all, and this was not one of those ten ways.

The Dutchman was referring to the novelty his French opponent played on move 15:


'MVL' played 15...d7, deviating from 15...♜d8, which had been employed by Nepomniachtchi in the past. The French GM felt the position was quite dangerous, but managed to keep things under control until Giri accepted to repeat the position on move 27.

While Vachier-Lagrave will use the rest day before round four to catch up with some opening preparation, Giri pointed out a drawback of having a free day amid the world crisis we are living right now:

A free day is an extra day when you might get sick. It's dangerous, very dangerous.


Anish Giri

Anish Giri will try to regroup during the rest day | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Round-up show

GM Daniel King reviews the games from round three

Commentary webcast

Commentary by Evgenij Miroshnichenko and Daniil Dubov 

Standings after Round 3


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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register