FIDE Candidates Tournament: 4 Leaders As Ding Liren Loses Again
Nepomniachtchi and Grischuk found an alternative for the handshake. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

FIDE Candidates Tournament: 4 Leaders As Ding Liren Loses Again

| 60 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored convincing wins in the second round of the FIDE Candidates Tournament to join Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wang Hao in first place. GM Ding Liren suffered his second loss in as many rounds.

You can follow the FIDE Candidates Tournament with commentary on during each round. The third round is on Thursday, March 19 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 Find all the information about the Candidates Tournament in our info article.'s round 2 broadcast.

The chess fans can hardly complain about a top tournament that is underway at a moment when almost every other sporting event has been canceled—especially when that tournament is producing exciting games as well as drama right from the start.

The big surprise after day two is the bad start for GM Ding Liren, who didn't lose a single game in the previous Candidates Tournament. As one of the biggest favorites to win this event, it is hard to believe that he is almost out of contention already.

It was GM Alexander Grischuk who, jokingly, offered the wildest of possible explanations today: "It seems like he was poisoned in this quarantine in Moscow."

Ding Liren FIDE Candidates
Who would have predicted Ding Liren to start with two losses? Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

The two decisive games of today finished within minutes of each other as both Caruana and MVL won their white games very convincingly—one in a crushing attack, the other in a positionally dominating affair. 

In his first-ever encounter with Alekseenko, Caruana chose the 4.f3 variation of the Nimzo-Indian, which he had never played before in his career. "It's also very risky for White," he said afterward. 

If this is a sign that the world number two is willing to play even sharper lines in the opening, his opponents have reason to be slightly worried—and that includes the world champion himself if he were to face the same opponent in his next title match.

Caruana Alekseenko FIDE Candidates
Caruana vs. Alekseenko. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Alekseenko chose a decent line, but "he was probably a bit hazy in his memory," as Caruana put it. The Russian GM must have prepared for this Nimzo, possibly together with his second GM Peter Svidler (who is more of a Gruenfeld specialist though), but probably not on this day, and not for this specific opponent.

Things remained very sharp and concrete, and hardly out of the opening Alekseenko had to go for a continuation that led to a material imbalance.

"I think by force he had to sac a piece," said Caruana about 19...Bxg4. This led to a position with three pawns for a piece, something that is often hard to evaluate.

Kirill Alekseenko FIDE Candidates
Alekseenko had to give a piece for three pawns. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana was optimistic, partly because his opponent had just 17 minutes left for moves 20-40: "It was a comfortable situation for me. I had a lot of time, my position is kind of good and very safe."

It was also important that White has the square d5 for his pieces. As soon as "all friends had joined the party" on move 28, Caruana crushed through with some sacrifices that were not too hard to calculate with 58 minutes on the clock against the 30 seconds (plus increment) that were left on Alekseenko's clock at that point.

Caruana Alekseenko accuracy
The "accuracy report card" for Caruana vs. Alekseenko, based on the analysis feature set at maximum analysis with a depth of 30 ply.

Vachier-Lagrave vs. Ding was almost the story of a single move. In what was still a theoretical position, the Chinese player pushed his f-pawn one square too far and that turned out to be a key difference. Yesterday f2-f4 was the start of his problems, today ...f7-f5.

The difference was quite subtle:

White has just played 18.c4! threatening to take on b5 and you cannot take with the queen because of the bishop going to a4. With the pawn on f6, Black could simply go 18...Rf8 19.cxb5 Qxb5, but here that would fail to 20.Nxe5! dxe5 21.d6+ and White wins.

Remarkably, Black's lack of coordination was so serious that commentator GM Viswanathan Anand already didn't see a move anymore for Black in the diagram position.

Vachier-Lagrave Ding Liren FIDE Candidates
Vachier-Lagrave vs Ding. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After 18...Nf7 19.cxb5 Ding went all-in with 19...g5 but that only made matters worse, and soon he was with his back against the wall. Although Vachier-Lagrave was a little unhappy with the way he converted the point, it was definitely good enough.

Vachier-Lagrave smiling FIDE Candidates
Vachier-Lagrave joined the leaders. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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For a long time, it was expected that we would see a third winner. Wang seemed to be heading towards a win against GM Anish Giri, and with that the sole lead in the tournament. Instead, he failed to convert an endgame that Anand had considered to be technically winning.

The Chinese GM was still in good spirits afterward: "Generally, it's OK because in the opening I got nothing. Exactly nothing! I was ready to make a repetition after 12.Qc1. It could have been a very short draw. Then Anish thought for like 40 minutes and played 12…a6. It was very difficult to understand."

Wang Hao Giri FIDE Candidates
Wang Hao vs. Giri. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

White got a typical slight advantage in a middlegame that resembled the Tarrasch variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined. In the endgame, Wang won a pawn and was very close to the win indeed.

"I was really worried," said Giri. "Usually, when I start streaks at Candidates I don't stop, so I was thinking maybe I'm gonna lose 14 games this year! The way I was playing today I think that would be a normal result, but in the end, I got very lucky. I counted myself a loss for sure."

Wang Hao Giri smiling FIDE Candidates
Wang Hao and Giri exchanging some smiles. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

After his game, Grischuk acknowledged that probably 99.9 percent of the chess fans are not interested in the intricacies of the Berlin Endgame, but that he is. That didn't exactly rhyme with the following odd moment during the first half an hour of the game.

Apparently Grischuk dozed off a few more times, as he stated in his interview: "The result is OK. I slept half of the game. I don't know what I was thinking, and then I see that I have six minutes and I wake up."

Perhaps he had a bad night of sleep, or maybe he didn't mean it literally but the fact is that Grischuk spent 27 minutes on his moves 16, 17 and 18 combined and then 38 minutes for move 19. By that time he was already an hour down on the clock.

Alexander Grischuk interview FIDE Candidates
Alexander Grischuk. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"I think I was maybe even slightly better but of course with this time trouble and just after waking up, it was difficult," said Grischuk. "I didn't even try, I just played as safe as possible."

Nepomniachtchi: "If Alexander had more time, it would be pretty unpleasant for me to defend this position."


# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2923 ½ 1 1.5/2 1.25
2 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 2960 ½ 1 1.5/2 1
3 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767 3014 ½ 1 1.5/2 0.75
4 Wang Hao 2762 2974 ½ 1 1.5/2 0.25
5 Alexander Grischuk 2777 2736 ½ ½ 1.0/2
6 Anish Giri 2763 2578 0 ½ 0.5/2 0.75
7 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 2619 0 ½ 0.5/2 0.5
8 Ding Liren 2805 1965 0 0 0.0/2

Chess Candidates Odds

Pairings round 3: Ding-Caruana, Giri-MVL, Grischuk-Wang and Alekseenko-Nepomniachtchi.

Eteri Kublashvili mouth cap
Russian Chess Federation press officer Eteri Kublashvili brought a special face mask. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
Nepomniachtchi Grischuk handshake FIDE Candidates
It's not easy to keep remembering... after their game ended, Nepomniachtchi and Grischuk did shake hands. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

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Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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