Candidates Round 5: Nepomniachtchi takes the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/22/2020 – The 2020 Candidates Tournament has a sole leader for the first time, as Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Wang Hao with the white pieces in round five. The three other games finished drawn. Kirill Alekseenko and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave entered a sharp Najdorf which ended in a repetition, while Anish Giri could not make the most of the very promising position he got against Fabiano Caruana. Expert analysis by GM ELSHAN MORADIABADI and IM LAWRENCE TRENT. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

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A missed chance for Giri

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 five:

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

Round six takes place on Monday, March 23 at 4:00 p.m. local time. Pairings:

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

Three players were co-leading the tournament after four rounds, and two of them were paired up against each other on Sunday. Ian Nepomniachtchi outsmarted Wang Hao before the time control to become the first sole leader of the competition, leaving Maxime Vachier-Lagrave as the only player a half point back.

Wang again played the Petroff against 1.e4, to which Nepomniachtchi responded by both castling kingside and advancing his pawns on that side of the board. The Russian kept the initiative throughout and, when each side had a queen, a knight and six pawns, he took advantage of an inaccuracy by his opponent to get his second win in Yekaterinburg.

When the games were just starting to develop, most eyes were put on the sharp Sicilian Najdorf between Kirill Alekseenko and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave — after the usual tactical fireworks, however, the game was the first one to end drawn by perpetual check. Meanwhile, Anish Giri seemed to be en route to defeat Caruana's new weapon — the Slav — but the Dutchman could not find the most precise continuation on move 33 and the point was eventually split. Alexander Grischuk got a very slight edge against Ding Liren, but that encounter never quite left the realms of equality.

FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020

The playing hall in Yekaterinburg | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Alekseenko ½:½ Vachier-Lagrave

The most famed Najdorf expert in the world did not shy away from using his beloved weapon against Alekseenko. Vachier-Lagrave deviated from a game he had played against Carlsen last year in London with a move that called for an ultra-sharp tactical battle:


In the post-game interview, 'MVL' declared that his 16...g6 "is more or less a forced draw", later proving that he had prepared most of the critical lines deeply. Alekseenko spent twelve minutes on 17.xg6, but after his opponent almost blitzed out 17....xc3 he invested close to fifty minutes on 18.xe6, creating the kind of mayhem Najdorf players are so accustomed to:


The time spent by Alekseenko provoked Vachier-Lagrave to make a request to the organizers:

If my next opponent [again] thinks for like 50 minutes, I'm gonna have to ask the arbiters to bring some board games.

In the end, the game followed what the Frenchman had predicted in his preparation, as Alekseenko found a line that led to a perpetual check. The Russian felt this was his first game "without big mistakes".


Kirill Alekseenko, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Showcasing their theoretical knowledge — Kirill Alekseenko and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Nepomniachtchi 1:0 Wang Hao

As GM Elshan Moaradiabadi writes in his annotations (see more below), "Wang Hao, to some extent, owes his presence at the Candidates to the Petroff Defence". Like many other strong Chinese grandmasters, Wang has studied this setup deeply, except this time around he entered a line he is not very used to by playing 6...f5 instead of 6...♝d6. Nepomniachtchi later deviated from a game between Anand and Yu Yangyi with 13.h4, which prompted the Chinese to spend over eleven minutes on his response.

'Nepo' was in the driver's seat, and later stated he was happy for having shown some good preparation with the white pieces for the first time in the event. Nevertheless, Wang was keeping things under control, at least until move 32, when he committed a mistake:


Wang played 32...d7, missing the fact that White had a strong recourse after 33.h8 e6 34.f4 xd4 35.g8+ f7 36.c8+ d7 37.g8+ f7 (repeating, as the time control was approaching):


The Chinese confessed he had simply missed 38.d8, when White can gain a piece by force after 38...d7 (Black's best alternative) 39.f5+ gxf5 40.gxf5+ xf5 41.d7+ xd7 42.xf5. The resulting ending is winning for White, although it was slightly unexpected to see Wang resigning the very next move, as other players might have given their opponent some more chances to falter during the technical phase.


Ian Nepomniachtchi, Wang Hao

Nepomniachtchi beat former co-leader Wang Hao | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Giri ½:½ Caruana

This was another instance of Giri getting a strong position out of the opening and not managing to take advantage of it over the board. Against Caruana's Slav Defence, the Dutch GM surprised his opponent by going for 10.c2, as "usually people play 10.♕b3" (Caruana). The American started improvising and later declared that he was "borderline lost" after 26...c5 27.c3.


In fact, it was Caruana's decision here that worsened his position greatly, as he went for 27...cxd4 instead of the more resilient 27...c4. Giri kept putting pressure, but could not find a specific path to victory and let his advantage slip away on move 33. He later explained:

It turned out to be not so easy over the board, because I couldn't quite calculate a winning line till the end, because there are all these resources for Black.

Referring to the worldwide crisis we are going through, Caruana expressed his doubts as to whether he will be able to return to the United States by the time the tournament is over, while Giri is putting all his hopes on the International Chess Federation:

I have faith in a private jet of FIDE, that will fly all players to their houses.


Anish Giri

Struggling to find the win — Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes / FIDE

Grischuk ½:½ Ding Liren

This was certainly the least exciting game of the round. Grischuk did get a little pressure with White, but Ding played it safe once he realized he could get in trouble. After the game, the players were asked about their form. The Coronavirus crisis had a strong impact on Grischuk:

My form is terrible. I don't want to play at all with all this situation. I mean, when it was beginning I did not have a big opinion, but now for several days I have a very clear opinion: that the tournament should be stopped. I mean, the whole atmosphere is very hostile. 

Ding, on the other hand, is enjoying having made an adjustment to his living conditions in Yekaterinburg:

My form is much better comparing to the first two days. Since I moved to a new hotel, I got some fresh air and life became more beautiful. 


Ding Liren

Ding Liren is feeling better now after a forgettable start | 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 5


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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