Chess Piece

FIDE Candidates Tournament
Yekaterinburg, Russia
March 15-April 5, 2020

Current Standings (round 4 of 14)

1-3 Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2774, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2767, Wang Hao CHN 2762, 2.5/4

4-5 Alexander Grischuk RUS 2777, Fabiano Caruana USA 2482, 2.0/4

6-8 Kirill Alekseenko RUS 2698, Anish Giri NED 2763, Ding Liren CHN 2805, 1.5/4

Average Rating 2774 Category 21

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, then 15 minutes for the rest of the game with 30 seconds added to the clocks after every move starting move 1.

Special Rules: No draw offers allowed until after move 40.

Tie Breaks: The following are used to break a tie for 1st place: (1) Direct encounter, (2) Wins, (3) Sonneborn-Berger. If they are still tied after the three systems are applied then a playoff beginning with four 25-minute games is played.

The Candidates Tournament finally started and, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, it is the only major sporting event taking place right now. The participants are:

• Fabiano Caruana — runner-up of the world championship match 2018

• Teimour Radjabov — winner of the 2019 World Cup

• Ding Liren – runner-up of the 2019 World Cup

• Wang Hao — qualifier from the FIDE Grand Swiss

• Alexander Grischuk — winner of the FIDE Grand Prix

• Ian Nepomniachtchi — runner-up of the FIDE Grand Prix

• Anish Giri — highest rated player not otherwise qualified

• Kirill Alekseenko — organizers’ nominee

This is an eight-player double round-robin that will decide Magnus Carlsen’s challenger for the World Championship match that’s set to take place in Dubai this December. The 14-round event is being played in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Yekaterinburg, Russia from 17 March to 3 April 2020. The prize fund is €500,000.

GM Teimour Radjabov, the winner of the 2019 World Cup, withdrew from the tournament 2 weeks before it started on corona virus pandemic fears and he was immediately replaced by the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Of this we will have a lot to say later, mostly on the topic why wasn’t MVL in the candidates in the first place? Anyway I don’t think anyone will miss Radjabov’s 14 draws and will much prefer GM Maxime’s Sicilian Najdorf assaults and Gruenfeld counter-attacks.

The second seed Ding Liren had a terrible start by losing his first two games. He then recovered by defeating the top seed Fabiano Caruana in the third round. Now he is one point behind the leaders with 10 rounds to go. Not yet out of reach.

Ding, Liren (2805) — Caruana, Fabiano (2842) [D17]
FIDE Candidates Tournament Yekaterinburg (3.1), 19.03.2020

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6

Ding: “My friends and coach all give me a lot of help. They encourage me to keep fighting. As he played the Slav at one point I wanted to play cd and make a quick draw but then I think it’s not my style and I have to play for the most critical line.”

3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5

The text and 6.e3 are the two usual moves here. Ding is a known advocate of 6.Ne5 so it is expected that Caruana is booked up against it.


The Alexander Morozevich line, 6…Nbd7 going directly for …e7–e5, is a popular continuation. After 7.Nxc4 Qc7 8.g3 e5 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Bf4 Nfd7 11.Bg2 and now either 11…f6 or 11…g5 leads to a fighting game.

7.f3 Bb4 8.Nxc4

The usual continuation here is 8.e4 while 8.Bg5 is another possibility that Black has to be aware of.

8…0–0 9.Kf2 <D>


Eight years ago Ding defeated Mark Paragua with this “rare but poisonous approach” as remarked by GM Ruslan Scherbakov when he annotated this game for According to him “it is not so clear how Black can equalize at the moment…” I think definitely Caruana would have something planned against this.


And right away we see Caruana’s preparation — a quite fantastic move! He is trying to open up the position before White finishes his development. In the Ding vs Paragua game we alluded to earlier Mark continued quite sensibly with 9…Bg6 10.e4 Qc7 11.Qb3 c5 12.Na2 Nc6 13.Nxb4 cxb4 14.Be3 Rfd8 15.Rd1 Rd7 (increasing the pressure on the d4–pawn) 16.Ne5 Nxe5 17.dxe5 Rxd1 18.Qxd1 Qxe5 19.Qd4! Qa5 20.Be2 Qxa4 21.Rc1 Black is up by two pawns but White has more than enough compensation. Ding, L. (2679)-Paragua, M. (2521) Ho Chi Minh City 2012 1–0 41.


Taking with the pawn, incidentally opening up the g1–a7 diagonal, is I think what Black was hoping for. There will follow 10.dxe5 Nfd7 11.e4 Be6 this position has to be studied further but it looks like Black is fine.

10…Bc2! 11.Qd2

White cannot take the bishop: 11.Qxc2 Qxd4+ 12.e3 (12.Be3 Qxe5 followed by …Re8 and the e3–bishop has to move again) 12…Qxe5 13.g3 Black has no problems at all, and at no material investment.

11…c5 12.d5

Going passive with 12.e3 is also feasible but not suited for Ding’s dynamic style. After 12…Bg6 White’s center remains under pressure 13.d5 (of course 13.e4? cxd4 wins) 13…Nbd7 14.Nc4 Be4! already wins back the pawn.


[12…Be4!? was another possibility. Perhaps White’s best is to continue 13.g4! (13.Qd1 Bxc3 14.bxc3 Bxd5 15.e4 Qe7! material parity has been restored and both sides have chances; 13.fxe4? Nxe4+ 14.Nxe4 Bxd2 15.Nxd2 Qh4+ Black wins back one of his pieces) 13…Qe8 (13…Re8 14.Nxf7 Kxf7 15.g5) 14.g5 Qxe5 15.gxf6 Qxf6 16.h4 it looks like White is about to push Black’s forces back and mount an attack himself on the enemy king]

13.e4 Re8 14.Qf4

Ding had already used up an hour here whereas Caruana was still blitzing, but it was time well spent as the Chinese GM had to navigate a lot of pitfalls here two of which are:

• 14.Qg5? Nxe4+! 15.fxe4 Qxg5 16.Bxg5 Rxe5 17.Bf4 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Rxe4 Black is doing very well;

• 14.Nc4? Rxe4!

14…c4!? 15.Nxc4

[15.Bxc4 Bd6! 16.Qe3 (16.Bxb3?? Qb6+ 17.Be3 (17.Qe3 Bc5–+) 17…Qxb3) 16…Nbd7 17.Nxd7 Nxd7 18.Qe2 (18.Bxb3 Bc5) 18…Bc5+ 19.Kf1 Bxc4 20.Qxc4 Qh4 Black has a strong attack]


To be followed up by …Rc8 forcing out white’s knight on c4 followed by …Qb6+

16.Be3 Nf8 17.Bd4!

Ding Liren has managed to navigate the complications well. Just to show that Caruana was still in his preparation his clock shows 100 minutes left, which is exactly the time he had at the beginning of the game.


Maybe Fabi forgot to insert the moves 17…Rc8 18.Ne3 here? Because then the continuation he chooses in the game is even stronger: (18.Ne5? Ne6!) 18…Ng6 19.Qf5 (19.Qg3 Bxc3 20.bxc3 Rxe4!) 19…Bc5 20.Bxc5 Rxc5 we have a much better version of what happens in the game.

18.Qf5 Bxc4

Caruana took six minutes here considering this move. A sign that something is wrong.

19.Bxc4 Qc7 20.Be2 Bc5 21.Bxc5 Qxc5+ 22.Kf1 h6?

Definitely a mistake. Ding: “Since he played so quickly and I was down more than one hour after the opening I don’t know where he went wrong but [perhaps something] instead of h6. It’s a very strange position but during the game I was very worried about my position although I didn’t see a clear way to play for him since he was still in his preparation I thought there might be something wrong with my play.”

Fabi should have played2 2…Re5! The game will continue 23.Qh3 Qb4 24.Rb1 Nf4 25.Qg3 N6h5 26.Qf2 f5 Black still has an attack.

23.Rd1! Qb6 24.Rd2 Qe3 25.Rc2 a6 26.Qh3

Ding wants to bring his queen to f2.

26…b5 27.Qg3!

“At this point I thought my position was much better.” (Ding)

27…b4 28.Nd1 Qb3 29.Rd2 Qxa4 30.Qf2 Qd7 31.g3

And now the objective of course is to bring out his last remaining undeveloped piece, his rook.

31…Qh3+ 32.Kg1 a5 33.Qd4 Nh5 34.Nf2 Qd7 35.f4 Nhxf4


36.gxf4 Nxf4 37.Kf1 Qd6 38.Rg1

Threatening mate on g7.

38…f6 39.Bb5 Re7 40.b3 Rf8 41.Rc2 Ne6 42.Qe3 Ng5 43.h4 Nf7 44.Rc6 Qb8 45.Qc5 Qd8 46.Rxf6 Kh8 47.Rf5 Rc7 48.Bc6 a4 49.bxa4 b3 50.Rg3 b2 51.Rb3 Nd6 52.Rxf8+ Qxf8 53.Rxb2 Qf4 54.Rb8+ Kh7 55.Qc2 Re7 56.e5+ Nf5 57.Qe4 Qc1+ 58.Kg2 g6 59.Rb3 1–0

What a waste of a brilliant opening novelty!


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.