Nepomniachtchi, Wang Seize Early Lead At FIDE Candidates Tournament
Nepomniachtchi finds a new way to look at chess while Giri is thinking. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi, Wang Seize Early Lead At FIDE Candidates Tournament

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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61 | Chess Event Coverage

While almost all sporting events worldwide were canceled, the FIDE Candidates Tournament did start on Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Winning their games with the black pieces, GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wang Hao took an early lead.

You can follow the FIDE Candidates Tournament with Chess.com commentary on Chess.com/TV during each round. The second round is on Wednesday, March 18 at 16:00 local time which is 12:00 Central Europe, 7 a.m. Eastern and 4 a.m. Pacific. You can follow the games live on our dedicated page on Chess.com/events. Find all the information about the Candidates Tournament in our info article.


Chess.com's round 1 broadcast.


It felt somewhat unreal when the first moves were made. The tournament was actually taking place.

This year's FIDE Candidates Tournament is not, and will never be, business as usual. The coronavirus is casting a huge shadow, and many people argue that the tournament should not be taking place, including 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik.

So far, the coronavirus crisis hasn't hit Russia as hard as other countries. Today, however, it was in the news that all participants of a chess tournament in Murmansk were hospitalized for examination after a possible coronavirus infection of a visitor from Ireland, while Yekaterinburg registered its first infected person. 

The strict health and safety measures for everyone involved in the Candidates Tournament could not avoid that the players are feeling uncomfortable with a situation in which they have to try and do their best to, at least several hours a day, forget about everything that is happening.

Although he won his first game, Wang repeated today that he feels the tournament should have been postponed: "Basically we shouldn't play [in] such a situation. This is my opinion. I think it's very disturbing to many players. It's not very pleasant."

GM Fabiano Caruana, after drawing with GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: "The situation is extremely difficult around the world so it's difficult to distance yourself from that. But we have to try."

Fabiano Caruana FIDE Candidates
Caruana: "It's difficult to distance yourself." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The American grandmaster expressed his uncertainty about the remainder of the event: "We're one of the last sporting events in the world, I think, who not have been canceled. We'll see if it's the right decision to have held it or not at the end of the tournament."

One worry is that even with strict measures, contamination during the tournament cannot be ruled out. FIDE does have a protocol for such a situation, but it has not been published publicly.


Update March 18: It is now known that if one of the eight players tests positive, the tournament is stopped immediately. The event will then resume later in the year with the remaining rounds.


An issue on the first day was that several people who had attended the opening ceremony made their appearance on stage and came closer to the players than the advised 1.5 meters or six feet. There were even some handshakes. This undermined the measure not to have the players attending the opening the night before.

 

But, the tournament started, and it wasn't a bad start at all. Chess fans, luckier than any other sports fans in the world, saw an excellent, fighting first round that produced two decisive games.

Giri vs. Nepomniachtchi was captivating right from the start. We got to see the first glimpse of what top-level preparation looks like in the year 2020, especially taking into account that the players knew the full pairings a month in advance.

Giri Nepomniachtchi Karpov FIDE Candidates
Anatoly Karpov made the first move in Giri vs. Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

At first, Giri seemed to be in the driver's seat as he played his first 12 moves fast and confidently got up from the board, while Nepomniachtchi took his first big deliberation. 

GM Viswanathan Anand, the star commentator on Chess.com's broadcast, quipped: "There's a lot of bluffing involved. Ideally, a well-prepared bluff leaves you with very little downside. In my experience, often one person forgot what he's supposed to do, and the other person thinks it's a bluff!"

A few sharp moves later, however, Nepo seemed to be taking over, which puzzled Anand and also GM Hikaru Nakamura, who had joined the commentary as well. Did something go wrong with Giri's prep?

But no. The Dutchman unleashed the great move 19.Kf1! and nothing was clear.

Anish Giri FIDE Candidates
Great play by Giri in the opening. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi kept on finding good answers and held the balance while Giri kept playing for the advantage—perhaps a tad too long.

"At some point, Anish pushed it too hard. I'm not exactly sure where," said Nepo.

Giri had to give up his queen for rook and bishop, and his only hope was a fortress. It was probably a fortress indeed, but only briefly and after that, the Russian grandmaster found all the right moves to bring the full point home in an endgame that was analyzed to a win as early as 1896 by the Italian player and endgame theoretician Carlo Salvioli.

Nepomniachtchi FIDE Candidates
According to Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi was the only player who played really well today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

"I have to say he played very well; he played a few very good moves," said Giri. "I think he played very well throughout the game, to be honest."

Anish Giri Nepo FIDE Candidates
Giri and Nepomniachtchi discussed the game for quite a while on stage. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Wang won his game earlier, and so he was briefly the only leader in the tournament. "It's just the first round. Winning is good, but it's nothing special," he said.

If the game showed anything, it's that GM Ding Liren isn't playing in his top form just yet. Whether that is a result of his two-week quarantine in the Moscow region is another story, but as GM Daniel Naroditsky noted, several times in this game he made some questionable decisions.

Ding Liren Wang Hao FIDE Candidates
Ding vs. Wang. As always, players from the same federations have been paired against each other in the early rounds. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

As Wang pointed out afterward, things started to go downhill on move 30 for his compatriot, although time trouble also played a role as Ding missed a final chance for equality on move 40. 

Wang said about the topic of time trouble: "Once you like your position and suddenly you miss something in your calculation, in this kind of situation one can very easily spend a lot of time. And also, some players just like to think!"

Wang Hao FIDE Candidates
FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss winner Wang started with a win. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

2020 Candidates Highlights

NM Jeremy Kane started a Lessons course based on the Candidates, including this game.

Try Lesson

The two draws of today had some tense moments as well, if only because the stakes are high at this particular event. "The pressure is also on in general at the Candidates, so to get such a double-edged position is a bit nerve-wracking," said Caruana.

Vachier-Lagrave felt somewhat uncomfortable for most of the game, even though he was never in real trouble: "The position was very unpleasant to play. I feel like I started to navigate correctly, but there were a few scary moments."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FIDE Candidates
Vachier-Lagrave: "There were a few scary moments." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Caruana: "At some point, I felt I had serious chances. 32...Ng5 really shouldn't be the right move, but I didn't see anything else I liked so much. After that, it was just a clean draw."

Vachier-Lagrave Caruana FIDE Candidates 2020
Vachier-Lagrave was under pressure today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Grand Prix winner GM Alexander Grischuk had his chances against wildcard GM Kirill Alekseenko, but once again his time management might have spoiled the win for him. Alekseenko, however, was thinking as much, and around move 17 both had 10 minutes (plus the 30-second increment) left. 

Grischuk FIDE Candidates
Another time-trouble affected game for Grischuk? Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The way Alekseenko dealt with the position was quite ingenious. He needed a positionally desirably a7-a6 move, but that pawn was unprotected there—and then he made it work anyway. It's not actually clear where Grischuk could have played better.

Alekseenko FIDE Candidates
Ingenious play from Alekseenko. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

With the first round in the books, the tournament is on, and everyone can focus on the actual chess as much as possible. The players, and others involved in the tournament, will receive another medical examination in the evening and will continue to receive one twice a day, and also a second coronavirus test on day 10.

Even if they will leave the hotel and enter the snowy streets of Yekaterinburg, the players will probably not go far, and only for necessary shopping. Vachier-Lagrave mentioned that he has one thing less to worry about: "I did go out of the hotel a few times, for instance for a haircut that was badly needed."

Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1-2 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 3563 1 1.0/1 0
1-2 Wang Hao 2762 3605 1 1.0/1 0
3-6 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2767 ½ 0.5/1 0.25
3-6 Alexander Grischuk 2777 2698 ½ 0.5/1 0.25
3-6 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767 2842 ½ 0.5/1 0.25
3-6 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 2777 ½ 0.5/1 0.25
7-8 Ding Liren 2805 1962 0 0.0/1 0
7-8 Anish Giri 2763 1974 0 0.0/1 0
Grischuk chair Candidates
Grischuk did it again! He asked for a simple chair as he claimed the specially arranged chairs are "too comfortable." Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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