Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wang Hao, take the lead at the Candidates Tournament
The 2020 Candidates Tournament is probably the only high-profile sporting event taking place in the world. In light of the concerns regarding the Corona Virus, various measures are in place. Players and arbiters have a supply of masks, sanitisers, and the audience is not allowed into the playing venue.
The event is unique given that it has the highest prize fund ever for a Candidates Tournament (500,000 euros, free of taxes)!
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL), Ian Nepomniachtchi, Kirill Alekseenko and Wang Hao are the four players making their debut at the event.
Traditionally, the opening round started with the first-move ceremony. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich made the first move in the game Ding Liren – Wang Hao. Russian football star Dmitri Bulykin made the first move in the game between MVL and Caruana.
Mikhail Vakhrushev the the head of Yekaterinburg City Chess Federation did the honours in the Russian duel between Alexander Grischuk and Kirill Alekseenko.
Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov made the first move in the game between Anish Giri and Ian Nepomniachtchi. Interestingly, while Giri did shake hands with Karpov, Nepomniachtchi refused, in light of the concerns about the Corona Virus pandemic.
Wang Hao v Ding Liren
The biggest upset of the day came in the Chinese duel where Wang Hao defeated Ding Liren (who finished the 2018 Candidates without a single loss!).
Following the English Opening, the Chinese players ended in a seemingly peaceful position in the middle game, with the queens exchanged. White (Ding Liren) had a small advantage – a strong Knight on c4 and good control of the flow of the game, while Black had a passive Bishop on c7. The position was, however, probably equal.
White then decided to play 30.f4, leading to an exchange that opened Black’s pieces and gave Wang Hao more chances to take the initiative, which he did. A few moves later, Hao was dominating on the King side flank, while at the same time blocking any chances for White.
As his position continued to deteriorate, so did his time continued to drop, and Ding Liren decided to resign.
Ding Liren did not appear at the press conference after the game. Wang Hao in his analysis of the position highlighted 30. f4 as a bad move, pointing out that White had some advantage before that.
Ding Liren v Hao Wang
This game was interesting for one other reason. At times, the live broadcast on the official website registered more than one million viewers. Former World Champion Hou Yifan, and 14-time champion of the Netherlands, Peng Zhaoqing provided the Chinese commentary.
MVL v Fabiano Caruana
The first game to finish was that between MVL and Fabiano Caruana (the World No 2 and the winner of the 2018 Candidates).
In the Ruy Lopez opening, they entered the sharp Arkhangelsk variation. As Caruana commented after the game: “it was one of the most double-edged lines in the opening”.
The opening did not go as planned for MVL and, in his own words, “the position was very unpleasant”. It seemed that Caruana was better prepared and had a more solid knowledge of the lines. However, the Frenchmen played patiently and managed to find the right moves to maintain the balance in a sharp position.
The most critical moment of the game came in move 32 where White played Qd3 after 23 minutes of thinking!
After 32.Qd3, it was very tactically dangerous for White but also tense for Black. However, there was still no sign of a distinct advantage.
In a Rook and Pawn ending, with both having opposite coloured Bishops, the game ended in a draw after 45 moves.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave v Fabiano Caruana
Alexander Grischuk v Alekseenko Kirill
The Russian duel, between Alexander Grischuk and Kirill Alekseenko, started with a handshake and ended in a draw.
After a slow but pressuring play in the centre and the King side White (Grischuk) managed to create a strong position, over the central squares.
Despite Grischuk creating a secure and robust structure in the centre, Black (Alekseenko) had sufficient compensation with his Queen and Bishops on the open diagonals to threaten the White king. The position landed in a perpetual check, confirming an even outcome.
Alexander Grischuk v Kirill Alekseenko
Ian Nepmniachtchi v Anish Giri
Ian Nepmniachtchi defeated Anish Giri while playing with Black pieces. It was the longest game of the First Round, lasting just over five hours.
In yet another English Opening, the players went for a very sharp line.
By move 32 White had a Rook and a Bishop against Black’s Queen. White was worse, but he had a loose Pawn on the a-file and had some chances.
The game transpired into a Queen vs Rook endgame, with White having two pawns and Black having one. Despite the advantage, Nepomniachtchi needed to play very precisely, which he did.
Anish Giri resigned after move 62.
Anish Giri v Ian Nepomniachtchi
Round Two of the 2020 Candidates Tournament starts at 4 PM local time on 18th March. The pairings for the second round are:
Fabiano Caruana (USA) Kirill Alekseenko (Russia)
Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) Alexander Grischuk (Russia)
Wang Hao (China) Anish Giri (The Netherlands)
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) Ding Liren (China)
Official website: www.en.candidates-2020.com
FIDE website: www.fide.com
Chess Federation of the Sverdlovsk Region: www.ural-chess.com