FIDE Candidates Tournament R4: Vachier-Lagrave Misses Big Chance
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had Alexander Grischuk on the ropes. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

FIDE Candidates Tournament R4: Vachier-Lagrave Misses Big Chance

| 44 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave missed a golden opportunity to beat GM Alexander Grischuk and take the sole lead at the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg. The French GM still leads along with GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wang Hao after all games in round four ended in draws.

You can follow the FIDE Candidates Tournament with commentary on during each round. The fifth round is on Sunday, March 22 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 4 broadcast.

"One of the deadly sins," was how GM Viswanthan Anand described it in's live broadcast: the act of playing fast during your opponent's time trouble. It is a sin we all commit in our own games sometimes, and one that might have cost Vachier-Lagrave half a point today.

In an extremely tactical Berlin endgame, Grischuk's time disadvantage was even worse than in the earlier rounds. He had just 2.5 minutes left at move 26, and with just 30 seconds added time for each move, the Russian GM had 9.5 minutes in total to make 14 moves and reach the time control. He needed to do all of this while constantly under pressure from the clock.

Grischuk time trouble FIDE Candidates
Grischuk was in time trouble for about half the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It was in this phase that Grischuk made a mistake by taking a poisoned pawn on a4. The engine's evaluation jumped to almost plus three but MVL, with about an hour on the clock himself, gave an erroneous check that spoiled his (winning) advantage.

Here, winning would have been 30.Re4!, although it's far from easy. As shown by GM Dejan Bojkov below, the main point is 30...b5 31.Rxc4!! bxc4 32.Rxf7+ Ke8 33.Rxc7 with a dominating and winning position:

Instead, Vachier-Lagrave played 30.Ba3+ first, depriving himself of a possible Bg5+ in some lines. Grischuk was out of the woods and made the time control when a drawn rook endgame was left on the board, which the players played through until bare kings.

"I just forgot for whatever reason Re4xc4 was a threat," said MVL when he was told about his missed chance. "Yeah, probably that was much more promising."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FIDE Candidates
Vachier-Lagrave missed his chance. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The odd thing was that Grischuk spent 53(!) minutes on his 18th move, which was still a theoretical position (e.g. Giri-Nakamura, Zagreb 2019).

"Again, like with Alekseenko, I made a very stupid thing, thinking for one hour almost about 18…Ne7, Grischuk said. "I was 100 percent, not 99 but 100 percent sure Maxime was going to play 19.g4 and then he went 19.h4, and, minus one hour. But in the end maybe it didn't matter too much because anyway I would spend this one hour somehow!"

Perhaps, for a brief moment, Vachier-Lagrave forgot who he was playing when he went 30.Ba3+ after just 2.5 minutes of thinking. After the game he said:

"Against any other opponent than Sasha I would have expected him to blunder with less than a minute on the clock but at the same time if it was another opponent than Sacha probably he wouldn't get down to one minute!"

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Alexander Grischuk FIDE Candidates
Who said Berlin endgames are boring? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Fabiano Caruana once again showed excellent preparation that eventually yielded him very little. Nepomniachtchi admitted being surprised in the opening and being worse, but after one careless move from the American grandmaster, "Nepo" was the one playing for two results.

A famous tabiya in the Gruenfeld came on the board—the main line with Bc4—and that was something rare for Caruana. He hadn't played the position after move 10 with the white pieces for a full decade.

Fabiano Caruana FIDE Candidates
Caruana came to the Candidates well prepared. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

There's a big choice here for Black. Nepomniachtchi went for 10...b6, a move he had played only once before in his career (against GM Artyom Timofeev at the Moscow Open in 2015) in the 15 times he had played the position.

"The whole line is very solid for Black but it requires some nice memory, especially starting from move 20," Nepomniachtchi said. "Clearly, I didn't repeat this particular line before the game and OK, it was some kind of a surprise. I knew the general ideas but maybe I misplayed. The game could probably show why you should be up to date and have a good memory of your files. I felt like it's very suspicious."

Ian Nepomniachtchi FIDE Candidates
Nepomniachtchi was worried after the opening. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Once dubbed Delroy the d-pawn by GM Jonathan Rowson (when today's super grandmasters were still kids!) it was Caruana's d-pawn that became a typical trump for White, especially if he could support it with a bishop on f4.

Besides that, he had also managed to bring his h-pawn to h6, which brings some checkmating ideas in many variations. It was tempting to refer to this h2-h4-h5-h6 as being in the style of AlphaZero (and it is), but it should be noted that GM Vlastimil Hort played it as well, back in 1988 against GM Maia Chiburdanidze.

Caruana, about the critical moment on move 30: "I thought at some point I had some very strong pressure but then after Ian played 29...Kf8 I didn't see anything. I was a bit disappointed that after 30. Qd4 Ke7 I just couldn't quite find an idea to play for a win and I ended up playing a careless move. At least I should have tried something else but 30.Qf3… I missed 30...Qe1+! and I am already on the worse side of a draw."

Fabiano Caruana Ian Nepomniachtchi FIDE Candidates
Nepomniachtchi trying his new pose again. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Speaking of AlphaZero and running with h-pawns, this was also a theme in GM Ding Liren vs GM Anish Giri where the Dutchman went 15...h5!? with the intention to put it on h3 and get similar benefits as Caruana.

"His idea 15…h5 is very strong," said Ding. "It's hard to meet during the game."

The Chinese grandmaster decided to maneuver his knight to f4, to control h3 and prevent the black pawn from getting there. "If I go 18.Nd4 the pawn on h3 is a very big threat for me and my position may become very dangerous so I played the safer move 18.Nf4 but after this, my advantage is just little, so the draw is a very natural outcome."

Ding Liren Anish Giri FIDE Candidates
Giri played the 4...a5 Bogo-Indian for the first time. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Giri, who had only played the Bogo-Indian once before, at Dortmund 2011: 

"To be honest, I remember the computer saying it was very fine for Black so I was trying to see why. I tried but couldn't manage to get the pawn to h3. In the game, it was a little bit less of an AlphaZero thing than in the AlphaZero games because what I did is I just basically traded the pawn and I keep some options of ...Ng4 and ...Qh6 sometimes so that makes him a little bit more alert and play more cautious on the queenside."

"So in a way, it made sense to push the h-pawn but not in the way I wished before the game. I was hoping to push the pawn to h3, you know, throw something forward, then give the d-pawn with …d4 and mate on g2 or like Alphazero with just the pawn on h3 but I just played basically in a way that the endgame was slightly worse but basically a draw."

Anish Giri FIDE Candidates
Not enough AlphaZero for Giri in this game! Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Kirill Alekseenko is doing fine so far as the wild card. He was under some pressure after one bad move (which happened to be the novelty) but held his own pretty well against co-leader Wang.

"It was equal but he made some strange move 13...Ra6, said the Chinese GM. "There I probably could get some slight advantage but during the game, I think I played too soft and I didn't manage to get any."

Alekseenko: "Yeah, I made a very, incredibly bad move 13...Ra6. It was very solid from the beginning but after 13...Ra6 it became definitely worse for me and I had to find many concrete moves to hold my position."

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

FIDE's WGM Anna Burtasova asked a nice question to these two players: which player from the past had most influenced their chess?

Wang chose GM Vladimir Kramnik. "It's about the positional play and the preparation."
Alekseenko picked GM Garry Kasparov. "I also want to play very tough chess, very direct chess."

Round 4 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1-3 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 2858 ½ ½ 1 ½ 2.5/4 4.25
1-3 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767 2885 ½ ½ 1 ½ 2.5/4 4.25
1-3 Wang Hao 2762 2849 ½ 1 ½ ½ 2.5/4 4
4 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2761 ½ ½ 0 1 2.0/4 4
5 Alexander Grischuk 2777 2751 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/4 4.5
6 Ding Liren 2805 2695 0 0 1 ½ 1.5/4 2.75
7-8 Anish Giri 2763 2765 0 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/4 3.25
7-8 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 2624 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1.5/4 3.5

Round 5 (Sunday): Giri-Caruana, Grischuk-Ding, Alekseenko-Vachier-Lagrave, Nepomniachtchi-Wang. See full pairings here.

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FIDE Candidates playing hall
A view of the playing hall. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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Peter Doggers

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