FIDE Candidates Tournament: 4 Winners, Nepomniachtchi Maintains Lead
Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri, still at the top of the leaderboard. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

FIDE Candidates Tournament: 4 Winners, Nepomniachtchi Maintains Lead

| 129 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Anish Giri's excellent win with the black pieces in round 12 against GM Fabiano Caruana had little effect as GM Wang Hao failed to hold a difficult ending against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, who continues to lead the FIDE Candidates Tournament by half a point. 

In a round that saw only decisive games, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave redeemed himself with a win against GM Kirill Alekseenko, and GM Ding Liren defeated GM Alexander Grischuk.

How to watch?
You can follow the FIDE Candidates Tournament with commentary on during each round. The broadcast is sponsored by Grip6. Visit and use code CHESS20 for 20 percent off.

The 13th round is on Monday, April 26, at 16:00 local time which is 13:00 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 12 broadcast.

The spectacular 12th round in Yekaterinburg was historic. Today was the first round in 59 years of Candidates' history without a draw. The 13th round of 1962 Curacao saw four decisive games as well (incidentally, all won by Black in Benko-Keres, Filip-Korchnoi, Fischer-Petrosian, and Tal-Geller). It should be noted between 1965 and 2011 the Candidates were organized as matches.

The second half of the tournament hadn't seen any wins for Black yet, but today there were two. Nepomniachtchi has now bagged five wins, the same number Carlsen (2013) and Caruana (2018) had needed to win the tournament.

It was one of those games where "Wang losing" seems like a better description than "Nepomniachtchi winning" even though both premises are true. However, with a symmetrical pawn structure and the bishop pair for White, a super grandmaster normally doesn't lose such middlegame positions.

"I was only thinking how not to get into trouble because, of course, the position is equal, but it can be sometimes unpleasant," said Nepomniachtchi.

Ian Nepomniachtchi Candidates 2021
Nepomniachtchi, still half a point ahead with two rounds to go. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

At the same time, Nepomniachtchi deserves credit for maneuvering well and actually managing to put White under pressure.

Still well within the draw margin, Wang had 10 minutes on the clock for two more moves when he produced the odd move 39.Re7? that gave his opponent chances.

Here Wang played 39.Re7? but activating the knight is more natural.

After that, the Chinese GM completely collapsed mentally and resigned somewhat prematurely, a move before missing an active defense that was probably still good for a draw.

"I was very tired and I couldn't calculate anything. I somehow blundered somewhere and just lost, like it happens every time," Wang explained with a wry smile as he added: "I feel that after the 40th move I started to play like a 2200 player."

I feel that after the 40th move I started to play like a 2200 player.
—Wang Hao

As he gets closer to tournament victory, Nepomniachtchi's answers are getting shorter. Today, all he had to say was: "I guess it's still very complex and still two rounds to go."

GM Ben Finegold's take on this game.

Wang Hao 2021 Candidates
Wang Hao just collapsed after the time control. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

That Nepomniachtchi won the game was tough luck for Giri, who was expected to catch the leader in first place with his win against Caruana, the fourth win for the Dutchman in the tournament. To beat the world number two at such an important moment was huge for Giri, but now he still needs to score a full point more than Nepomniachtchi in the remaining two rounds for tournament victory.

While Caruana refrained from playing the Sicilian against Nepomniachtchi the other day, Giri played it for the third time in this second half. He chose a different second move (2...e6), perhaps to avoid the Rossolimo or the 7.Nd5 line of the Sveshnikov.

Caruana vs. Giri Candidates 2021
Early opening psychology in Caruana vs. Giri. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

From the Four Knights variation, Caruana avoided the main lines with 7.a3 and 9.Qd3. It became a Scheveningen where those two moves are not the most common ones in the structure. White still kept an edge, but a clash in the center followed that wasn't unfavorable for Black. Giri felt he had completely equalized after 20...Qf8, perhaps the turning point of the game.

Position after 20...Qf8.

"You have to be lucky, of course," Giri started saying as he pointed out that Caruana must have realized he wasn't better anymore after 20…Qf8. "Given that he was in a must-win, it was a big letdown for him. Then it's hard, you know, when you play a position where you have to defend and you are in a must-win. You don't have any enthusiasm whatsoever."

Anish Giri round 12 Candidates 2021
A big win for Giri. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Giri took over and at one point got a dominating position with a good knight vs. a bad bishop, just like in the decisive blitz game where he defeated Nepomniachtchi in the recent Magnus Carlsen Invitational.

During the final phase of the game, commentator GM Daniel Naroditsky said Giri in this game was "on top of the tactics, on top of the positional understanding, and now on top of the technique." 

GM Jorden van Foreest, who joined the broadcast around the same time, said the quality of Giri's games has recently been "stellar":

Fabiano Caruana 2021 Candidates
Caruana still has a mathematical chance to win the tournament if he finishes with two wins, Nepomniachtchi loses two, and Vachier-Lagrave scores 1.5 when the American GM would have the best score among the three players on eight points. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Although Giri is Nepomniachtchi's main rival, Vachier-Lagrave still has an outside chance to win the tournament, especially taking into account that he plays Nepomniachtchi in the next round, albeit with the black pieces. Giri, on his turn, plays Grischuk as Black and then Alekseenko as White. Nepomniachtchi plays Ding as Black in the final round.

Like in his game with Nepomniachtchi, Alekseenko's opening was not good. He didn't respond well to MVL's 3.f3 against the Caro-Kann and soon was much behind in development.

"It's a difficult line to play; you have to be aware of many details. I didn't remember all of them but just enough!" said Vachier-Lagrave, who praised his opponent for making the practical decision to sacrifice a pawn.

Vachier-Lagrave Alekseenko Candidates 2021
Vachier-Lagrave accepting Alekseenko's resignation. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

At the press conference, MVL explained how he regained both his chances and his confidence on what he felt was a key moment when he traded rooks: "I took a very brutal decision that was motivated by my play in the tournament. I thought: if 31.Rd1 makes a draw, it would be a pity, but I was supposing I calculated it to a win, and I thought at least if I can manage that I can feel a bit better about my play, my decisions, and maybe it will help me for the last two games. That's why I did it. It's not a very practical decision, to be honest."

I took a very brutal decision that was motivated by my play in the tournament.
—Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Vachier-Lagrave said he was "mostly relieved" as he sets his mind to the final two rounds after the rest day: "This will mean that I can move on with my tournament and try to play a good game, I mean, two good games!"

Kirill Alekseenko Candidates
Another bad opening for Alekseenko. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

After yesterday's win, he described his chances to win the tournament as "microscopic," but today's loss vs. Ding means Grischuk is definitely out of the race. Not much was happening in a Queen's Gambit Declined, but the Russian GM did get a bit low on time and, with three minutes left on the clock, he made an inaccuracy on move 40 that Ding quickly profited from:

Ding Liren Grischuk Candidates 2021
Ding scored his second win in the tournament. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Round 12 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts
1 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 2891 0 ½½ ½½ 1 11 ½1 8.0/12
2 Anish Giri 2763 2869 ½½ ½1 ½ ½1 ½1 1 7.5/12
3 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767 2804 1 ½½ ½0 ½0 ½ ½1 6.5/12
4 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2763 ½½ ½0 ½1 ½ ½ 6.0/12
5 Alexander Grischuk 2777 2740 ½½ ½ ½1 ½ ½0 ½½ ½0 5.5/12
6 Ding Liren 2805 2717 0 ½0 ½1 ½ 5.0/12
7 Wang Hao 2762 2712 00 ½0 ½ ½ ½½ ½½ 5.0/12
8 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 2696 ½0 0 ½0 ½1 ½ ½½ 4.5/12

(Tiebreaks: 1. Mutual score, 2. Number of wins, 3. Sonneborn-Berger.)

Round 13 (Monday): Wang - Caruana, Nepomniachtchi - Vachier-Lagrave, Alekseenko - Ding, Grischuk - Giri. See full pairings here.

Correction: an earlier version of this report erroneously stated that this was the first day in Candidates' history without a draw but this happened in Bled 1959 and Curacao 1962 as well.

Previous reports:

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.

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