Nepomniachtchi Beats Wang Hao, Leads FIDE Candidates Tournament
Wang Hao stops the clock and resigns vs Ian Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi Beats Wang Hao, Leads FIDE Candidates Tournament

| 90 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is the sole leader after five rounds at the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg thanks to a win vs. GM Wang Hao with the white pieces. GM Anish Giri was close to getting a winning advantage against GM Fabiano Caruana but ultimately failed to find the proper square for his rook.

You can follow the FIDE Candidates Tournament with commentary on during each round. The sixth round is on Monday, March 23 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 5 broadcast.

While the death toll in Italy is especially horrifying and the everyday life of almost anyone on the planet is affected in one way or another by the coronavirus, the chess players in Yekaterinburg continue to just do their thing. The show must go on, say the Russian organizers.

With so much at stake for an individual player, it wouldn't make much sense to just step out—though GM Teimour Radjabov did precisely that. Wang has expressed both before and during the tournament that he thinks the tournament shouldn't be played. Today, GM Alexander Grischuk joined him when asked about his form:

"My form is terrible. I don't want to play at all with this situation. When it was the beginning I didn't have a clear opinion but now already for several days, I have a very clear opinion: that it should be stopped, this tournament. The whole atmosphere is very hostile. Everyone is with masks, also more security and so on..."

"For me, it's very difficult. I just don't want to play, don't want to be here. Considering this, I am quite happy with my result but overall, it's no coincidence that everything else has stopped. We are the only one left, the only major sport event in the world. I think it should be stopped and postponed."

Grischuk security check FIDE Candidates
Again arriving a few minutes late, Grischuk undergoes his security check. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Grischuk added a note, which follows the same line of logic as Radjabov's in that even when players don't get the virus, their play will still be affected by the situation:

"Also [GM Mikhail] Botvinnik was commenting on this: If you make two players playing while standing, it's completely unsure that the same one will win who would win while sitting."

Caruana, during his turn, talked about the travel situation: "I am not sure I have anywhere to return to after this tournament. I might be stranded somewhere and I am not exactly sure where, because the U.S. state department said that American citizens sort of have to come back to the U.S. or won't be able to come back if they don't come back right now."

Fabiano Caruana interview FIDE Candidates
Caruana isn't sure whether he can return to the U.S. after the tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

According to the official numbers, Russia currently has 367 cases of coronavirus infected people. Critics like GM Garry Kasparov have expressed doubts about the accuracy of those numbers.

A few days ago, all international sporting events were canceled in Russia and yesterday, Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov himself called for self-isolation and for players to choose online chess instead. The Candidates tournament had started just before that decision, and it's hardly possible to stop it now. Whether the tournament will reach its conclusion on April 3 remains to be seen.

FIDE Candidates Round 5
The start of round five. Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

Meanwhile, a Russian player sits atop the standings as it was Nepomniachtchi who became the first player to reach a plus-two score. He quickly downplayed the importance of that: 

"It's not leading after the last round, so it's just nothing. Of course, it's very good to win a game with white because I didn't get anything promising against Alexander [Grischuk] in my previous white game and OK, today my preparation was more successful. But basically the tournament is only at its beginning."

Nepo had managed to keep a slight edge in a Petroff thanks to good preparation, and yet again it was Harry the h-pawn running up to h6 that played an important role. It gave White tactical possibilities such as 28.c4! and 34.f4!, which built a mating net, and then the killer 38.Qd8!.

It was that last move which Wang had missed, as he must have been thinking during the game: "How could this move have happened?"

Nepomniachtchi Wang FIDE Candidates
Nepomniachtchi and Wang exchanging some thoughts. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In the three games that ended in draws, it was Giri who came closest to a win. It was one of those games that frustrated Dutch fans, who have seen their top player in a similar situation so often before.

When asked how strong GMs cope with missed chances, Giri replied: "Once you experience it, it gets better. Also, with everything else nowadays, you should wash away your sins with soap and then it's all good."

Anish Giri Caruana FIDE Candidates
Giri missed his chance. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Giri had shown good preparation once again, with which he had managed to confuse Caruana.

"I wasn't really happy with the position," the American GM said. "I was a bit surprised when Anish decided to play this 10.Qc2 line; I knew that it existed but it's quite rare. Usually, people play 12.Qb3. I didn't really remember exactly how I'm supposed to play. I was sort of improvising with 10...Nbd7, 11...Nb6 and 12...Qb8 and it didn't really work out. My position was pretty bad throughout the game."

"I was very happy with my position," said Giri. "I think Fabiano wanted to be clever with 13...Qb8 but then after 14.h4 there is no real point and the inclusion should just favor me."

Fabiano Caruana FIDE Candidates
Caruana's prep failed him this time. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

White's advantage was growing and the engine went up to +2 around move 33, but Giri failed to find the strongest way of playing. "It turned out not so easy to win over the board because I couldn't quite calculate a winning line till the end because there are a lot of resources for Black," he said.

At the same time, Caruana was quite alert in finding 33...d4! and the counterplay that followed. "If you miss a chance but then you survive a losing position you no longer remember the win that you missed," he said. "This was a lucky break so it makes me feel quite a lot better about my situation."

Giri Caruana FIDE Candidates computer
Giri and Caruana checking their game on a computer. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The quickest game of the round was also the most spectacular. A big part of the fireworks was found in the preparation of GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had played this sharp Najdorf against GM Magnus Carlsen last December in London as well.

GM Kirill Alekseenko followed in the world champion's footsteps, and it was "MVL" who deviated on move 16.

Here, MVL played 16...g6 instead of his earlier 16...Bf8, which should lose after 17.Bg5 Qc7 18.Rh4, as he said himself. His new move seems to put the final verdict of this line on "OK for Black."

"There are some tries for White of course but if I remember my analysis I don't think there's more than a draw," said Vachier-Lagrave.

Alekseenko Vachier-Lagrave FIDE Candidates
A theoretical Najdorf in Alekseenko vs. Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

With the next moves, the board was on fire: 17.Rxg6!? Rxc3! and now Alekseenko spent 48 minutes on the clock before going 18.Nxe6. "The only thing I knew about 16...g6 is that I should take on g6," he said afterward. 

After showing all the key variations (embedded in the game below), Vachier-Lagrave joked: "If my next opponents do another think for 50 minutes I'm gonna have to ask the arbiters to bring some board games in the restroom!"

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave board games FIDE Candidates
Vachier-Lagrave could use some board games next time. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

While losing his motivation to play, Grischuk did draw a normal game with GM Ding Liren today in an Anti-Marshall with 8.h3

Grischuk: "I think it was a very good game, very good, but not a very interesting one. White is pressing a bit but it all comes to a draw in the end. Black has to be precise."

Ding: "I was worried about this line. He repeated a line that Maxime played against me but I forgot my preparation and I tried to remember it but somehow I was on my own. I was very happy to find the idea 20...Nb4 and 21...Bd5."

Interestingly, neither player seemed to be aware that the first 22 moves had been played in a correspondence game two years ago.

Grischuk Ding FIDE Candidates
Grischuk vs. Ding. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Round 5 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 2774 2915 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 3.5/5
2 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2767 2847 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 3.0/5
3 Caruana, Fabiano 2842 2762 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 2.5/5 6.25
4 Wang Hao 2762 2763 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 2.5/5 5.25
5 Grischuk, Alexander 2777 2762 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.5/5 6.5
6 Ding Liren 2805 2712 0 1 0 ½ ½ 2.0/5 4.75
7 Alekseenko, Kirill 2698 2713 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 2.0/5 5.75
8 Giri, Anish 2763 2720 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/5 5

Round 6 (Monday): Grischuk-Caruana, Alekseenko-Giri, Nepomniachtchi-Ding, Wang-Vachier-Lagrave. See full pairings here.

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