Candidates Round 4: Draws

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/21/2020 – All games of round four at the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg finished peacefully, which means Wang Hao, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are still sharing the lead on 2½ out of 4. Caruana pushed his h-pawn against Nepomniachtchi's Grünfeld but could not convert his slight advantage, while Grischuk entered his usual excessive time trouble while defending a complicated position against Vachier-Lagrave — in the end, he managed to hold the balance. Expert analysis by GM DANIEL FERNANDEZ and IM LAWRENCE TRENT. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

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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.

All the results from round four:

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

Round five takes place on Sunday, March 22 at 4:00 p.m. local time. Pairings:

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

The players returned to the action after the first rest day in Yekaterinburg, and showed the kind of professional preparation and levelheadedness that allowed them to reach — and remain at — the elite. All four games were drawn, leaving Wang Hao, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave atop the standings table on 'plus one'.

The fact that there were no decisive results does not mean the games lacked content. Caruana used a critical approach against the Grünfeld and only stopped putting pressure on his opponent when he chose the wrong queen manoeuvre in the endgame; Giri played for counterchances with Black against Ding Liren, but could not make much of it; Alekseenko surprised Wang Hao in the opening, prompting his opponent to play solidly; while Grischuk spent almost one hour on his 18th move only to find out 'MVL' had calculated a different line than the one he had spent so much time on.

Ding Liren, Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave chat while they wait their turn after Ding Liren's interview | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Vachier-Lagrave ½:½ Grischuk

Grischuk chose the Berlin Defence for a second time in Yekaterinburg in as many games with Black. Compared to his round-two encounter against Nepomniachtchi, however, this outing was markedly less successful, as he had to work hard to neutralize Vachier-Lagrave's strong initiative. In customary fashion, he spent close to an hour on move 18:


After 53 long minutes, Grischuk played 18...e7. Curiously, he later confessed that he was 100% sure (not even 99% sure, he emphasized) that Vachier-Lagrave would respond with 19.g4, so when the French grandmaster went 19.h4 instead, he had simply wasted an hour.

With the time control dangerously approaching, White was the one calling the shots, but 'MVL' missed a big chance on move 30:


White gave a check with 30.a3+, leaving behind the perfect moment to play 30.♖e4 when, according to GM Daniel Fernandez (see his full annotations below), "White had a win which will doubtless go down in the calculation books for decades to come". After this critical point, Grischuk's defensive manoeuvres were sufficient to hold the balance, despite playing almost exclusively on increments. The draw was signed on move 53. Vachier-Lagrave was visibly unsatisfied with the outcome:

I am unhappy with the result because I felt I had a very dangerous initiative. [...] To be completely fair, I didn't see a clear win for me and it's possible that Sasha just defended very well.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexander Grischuk

Grischuk had a tough day at the office against 'MVL' | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Caruana ½:½ Nepomniachtchi

The theoretical experts followed 19 moves of a 1987 encounter between living legends Vlastimil Hort and Maia Chiburdanidze out of a Grünfeld Defence! By then, however, it was clear that Caruana had the ideas fresher in his mind, as Nepomniachtchi himself pointed out. Caruana pushed his h-pawn all the way down to the sixth rank and started exerting pressure on his opponent.

In the midst of an ending with queens and dark-squared bishops, the American let his advantage slip away by placing his queen on the wrong square:


'Nepo' called White's 31.f3 'very clever', as it wants to provoke 31...f5, when 32.♕d1 improves White's chances. The problem with the move is that it allows the intermediate 31...e1+ and after 32.g2 Black can safely go 32...f5. In the diagrammed position, 31.♕d4 would have maintained the status quo, giving Caruana more chances to keep torturing his opponent.

Naturally, 'Nepo' was satisfied with the draw. When asked about his preferred activities to relax during the rest days, the Russian quipped:

The ideal routine is to check Anish's Instagram or Twitter to find [some] wisdom and then to learn it. Then, of course, every time I see no updates from him I'm very disappointed.


Fabiano Caruana, Ian Nepomniachtchi

A typical pose of Nepomniachtchi's during this event | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Ding Liren ½:½ Giri

World number three Ding Liren signed his first draw of the event in round four. Giri once again showed great preparation, using a 'confrontational' approach (Fernandez) with the black pieces from the get go. The Chinese, however, seems to have recovered his usual form, and assessed it was better to go for the safer alternative on move 18:


Ding thought Giri's h7-h5-h4 push was very strong, so instead of 18.♘d4 in the diagrammed position opted for 18.f4 in order to prevent an eventual ...h3. Giri later stated that his h-pawn push did not end up being an "AlphaZero manoeuvre" as was his intention.

Talking about relaxing activities during rest days, Ding said he usually reads a book and follows the news online. Giri usually follows the news as well, except he cannot escape hearing about the Coronavirus nonstop now, which prompted him to watch some local TV shows — except that they have a big drawback:

It turns out, without the fake laughter, jokes are really not funny any more.


Ding Liren, Anish Giri

Giri often prefers to think while taking a stroll | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE 

Wang Hao ½:½ Alekseenko

After having been caught under-prepared more than once before the rest day, Alekseenko managed to be the one surprising his opponent in round four. Given the circumstances, Wang Hao decided to play solidly, but anyway got to be the one pushing for more after his rival made a strange decision:


Alekseenko spent over 20 minutes on 13...a6, which he later described as 'an incredibly bad move'. 13...♞e4 or 13...♛xa4 were perhaps better alternatives to equalize. Anyway, White did not get more than a slight edge from this point on. The draw was agreed on move 41.


Kirill Alekseenko

Kirill Alekseenko | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Round-up show

IM Lawrence Trent recaps the action of the day

Commentary webcast

Commentary by Evgenij Miroshnichenko and Daniil Dubov 

Standings after Round 4


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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