FIDE Candidates Tournament: Ding Beats Caruana In Sensational Comeback
Caruana resigns vs. Ding Liren. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

FIDE Candidates Tournament: Ding Beats Caruana In Sensational Comeback

| 67 | Chess Event Coverage

In round three GM Ding Liren countered GM Fabiano Caruana's preparation and won his first game in the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg. GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Wang Hao lead going into the first rest day.

You can follow the FIDE Candidates Tournament with commentary on during each round. The fourth round is on Saturday, March 21 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 3 broadcast.

Caruana, who emerged triumphant at the Tata Steel Chess tournament this year, went into the game today having an unbeaten streak of 28 standard games. The last time he had lost was on August 26, 2019 against... Ding.

Meanwhile, much was at stake today for the world number-three from Wenzhou. A minus two score was bad, but with minus three his tournament would be more or less over. He could not afford another loss.

Things were looking grim for a while when Caruana not only surprised him in the opening—the American GM hadn't played the Slav since Gibraltar 2017—but also uncorked a sharp novelty on move nine. Caruana continued playing fast, while the Chinese GM had to burn lots of time while making many difficult decisions. 

Ding Liren FIDE Candidates 2020
Ding Liren in the opening phase. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana's play involved the sacrifice of not one but two pawns, and the resulting position was aesthetically pleasing with his two bishops next to White's knights, while the white king was unsafe.

The position after 16...Nf8. 

Since there wasn't a knockout blow for Black, the big question was: Does he have enough? Our broadcast star commentator GM Vishy Anand said at this point: "I suspect White is OK, but the hard thing is playing against a well-prepared opponent here."

Ding was fighting the world number-two player, his preparation and the clock. By move 14 he was an hour down, and he had 16 minutes left after his 16th move.

GM Robert Hess: "It's not fun to play."
Anand: "Oh, I think that train has left the station a long time back. You survive this. For fun, you can go to an amusement park."

Ding Liren Fabiano Caruana FIDE Candidates 2020
An impressive bit of preparation by Fabiano Caruana. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It was getting time for Black to show something concrete, but that didn't happen. Instead, as GM Dejan Bojkov suggests, Caruana might have mixed up a move order once or twice, allowing Ding to regroup and slowly consolidate.

"He played so quickly. I was down more than one hour after the opening. I don't know where he went wrong but it seems his compensation is very big," said Ding about the opening phase.

Ding Liren FIDE Candidates 2020
Ding was tested to the max today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"I was worried about my position although I didn't see a clear way to play for him, but since he was still in his preparation I thought something might be wrong with my play," Ding said. "Maybe he played too slow. He played many pawn moves so I cannot develop my queen to a better square."

Only when he could play his queen to g3, Ding was sure he was much better. That also helped his time situation; he could keep enough control to reach move 40 comfortably.

Although Caruana played on for a while, trying to find some last tricks while getting to terms with the fact that his fine piece of preparation gave him nothing, the result was certain.

GM Daniel Naroditsky about Ding turning around the game completely: "This is one-of-a-kind mental fortitude and resilience."

Ding Liren FIDE Candidates 2020
Ding Liren joined the Chinese broadcast afterward. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Asked how he dealt with the tough blow of losing his first two games, Ding said: "Yesterday I prepared hard but not for this game. Just for some general ideas. I wanted to find how I played in the past, in my best shape. I wanted to recover."

He noted that he is getting a lot of support from friends and family online, and that might have helped him to get in a fighting mood: "Today, since he played this Slav, at one point I wanted to take 3.cxd5 and make a quick draw but then I [thought] it's not my style and I have to play for the most critical line."

IM Danny Rensch's take on the game of the day.

The game between GM Kirill Alekseenko and Nepomniachtchi saw a rare, but very welcome guest at the top level: the Winawer French. Surprising the opponent has been a key strategy for a lot of players so far; Nepomniachtchi hadn't played the French at all in 2017 and 2018, and only once at the World Rapid in 2019.

That was the reason why Alekseenko took three and a half minutes for 2.d4, and perhaps also why he played a somewhat strange hybrid of the h2-h4 system (à la Garry Kasparov) and the old Ng1-f3 (à la Bobby Fischer).

Alekseenko Nepomniachtchi elbow shake
Alekseenko and Nepomniachtchi doing another elbow shake. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Afterward, he admitted himself that he didn't like his position, but Alekseenko became more optimistic when his opponent went 16...Qxc5 and offered him the square d4. Soon, he went for a promising exchange sacrifice and Anand liked his compensation so much that he wasn't even sure Nepomniachtchi should have taken it.

And then, suddenly, Nepomniachtchi allowed a strong sacrifice... which Alekseenko did not go for. A move earlier he had planned to take, but with just three minutes on the clock (is Alekseenko the new Grischuk?) he couldn't calculate everything.

"I decided to bluff a bit," Nepo said. "If 25...g6 goes unpunished maybe I can fight for an advantage."

As it went, the players soon played a move repetition.

Alekseenko Nepomniachtchi FIDE Candidates
Alekseenko and Nepomniachtchi analyzing their game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Alexander Grischuk won't be too happy during the rest day. In all three games, he was better but he could only score three draws from them.

Today, just when he thought he was winning, he fell for a trick that instantly equalized for Wang in the endgame.

"I even saw this …Ne4+ trick a long time before," said Grischuk. "It was not working at that time. I completely forgot about it. Apart from it being a huge blunder, the worst thing is that I had seen it before."  

Wang: "It was clear that White was much better. I was really lucky to make such a draw. It was like the game from yesterday, but then from the black side."

Grischuk Wang Hao FIDE Candidates
A draw between Grischuk and Wang Hao. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Anish Giri also had a surprise in store against Vachier-Lagrave: the 5.Bd2 line in the Gruenfeld. The Dutchman had played that move—a fairly respectable system that was seen in the 2014 World Championship—only once before, back in 2009.

MVL spent five minutes browsing his memory before making his next move but managed to remember quite a bit.

"I still had to figure out some things over the board and the position was actually, I felt, quite dangerous for me," Vachier-Lagrave said. "It turned out I managed this way of playing that simplifies into a slightly worse endgame but that should be holdable."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FIDE Candidates
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave facing 5.Bd2. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"There are like 10 ways to equalize in this line and I know all of them, and this was not one of those 10 ways," Giri said afterward, puzzled why he hadn't obtained a bigger opening advantage. 

Giri MVL handshake FIDE Candidates
Giri and MVL agreeing to a draw. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Asked about their rest day plans, both Vachier-Lagrave and Grischuk pointed out that it's going to be different than normal.

MVL will catch up on his preparation: "Given that I still have a lot to remember, I think I know how to spend that free day. Strangely enough, it will be about chess. This is not like me but it's a new me!"

Grischuk lamented that his usual, highly cultural way of spending the free day (really? 😀) won't be possible: "Usually in the morning I go to a museum and in the evening theater but now everything is closed. Very bad luck." 

Alexander Grischuk FIDE Candidates
The ever-witty Grischuk, even after spoiling an almost-win. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Round 3 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1-3 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 2866 ½ 1 ½ 2.0/3 2.25
1-3 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767 2923 ½ 1 ½ 2.0/3 2.25
1-3 Wang Hao 2762 2902 ½ 1 ½ 2.0/3 2.25
4 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2757 ½ 0 1 1.5/3 2
5 Alexander Grischuk 2777 2745 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 2.5
6 Ding Liren 2805 2670 0 0 1 1.0/3 1.5
7-8 Anish Giri 2763 2648 0 ½ ½ 1.0/3 2
7-8 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 2678 ½ 0 ½ 1.0/3 1.75

Pairings round 4 (Saturday): Caruana-Nepomniachtchi, Wang-Alekseenko, MVL-Grischuk, Ding-Giri.

Meanwhile, FIDE had to take even stricter coronavirus related health and safety measures at the tournament because of a new decree from the governor of the Sverdlovsk region. With now six reported cases in Yekaterinburg, all public indoor events have been restricted to no more than 50 people until April 10.

In view of this, the International Chess Federation has decided to restrict access to the playing venue even further. Spectators were not welcome already and now the playing hall is strictly limited to the players, arbiters, the organizing committee, and the minimum technical staff.

Giri Vachier-Lagrave FIDE Candidates
No spectators at the FIDE Candidates. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Meanwhile, some players still shake hands while others are avoiding it. Giri suggested a bow that is practiced before a shogi game. He is not a fan of the "elbow shake," saying: "From all the possible ways to show respect to each other this is the creepiest!"

Anish Giri elbow shake
Giri is not a fan of the elbow shake. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The Dutchman also remarked: "The problem is that you get a doctor check twice a day and the doctor just tells you that you have no fever and your throat is alright, but the doctor doesn't tell you that you play like a total idiot and something is really wrong with your brain, and not the throat or the fever!"

2020 Candidates Highlights

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Anish Giri FIDE Candidates hand sanitizer
Giri using the hand sanitizer provided by the organizers. Photo: Maria Emelianova/
Vachier-Lagrave FIDE Candidates
Vachier-Lagrave joined the broadcast after his draw. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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