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Nepomniachtchi Wins FIDE Candidates Tournament
Ian Nepomniachtchi wins with a round to spare. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Nepomniachtchi Wins FIDE Candidates Tournament

PeterDoggers
| 134 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi won the FIDE Candidates Tournament with a round to spare. The 30-year-old Russian grandmaster will now play GM Magnus Carlsen for the world championship in November.

While Nepomniachtchi drew his game with GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, his main rival GM Anish Giri lost to GM Alexander Grischuk. Even if Nepomniachtchi loses and Giri wins in the final round, the Russian GM would still win on the first tiebreak as he defeated Giri in the first round.

Virtually eliminated in round 12, GM Fabiano Caruana defeated GM Wang Hao with the black pieces. GM Ding Liren won a second game in a row, today against GM Kirill Alekseenko.

How to watch?
You can follow the FIDE Candidates Tournament with Chess.com commentary on Chess.com/TV during each round. The broadcast is sponsored by Grip6. Visit grip6.com/pages/chess and use code CHESS20 for 20 percent off.

The final round is on Tuesday, April 27, 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 Chess.com/events. Find all the information about the Candidates Tournament in our info article.

Chess.com's round 13 broadcast.


What was building up to an exciting finale ended abruptly. Whereas the Dutch fans were left with an empty feeling after witnessing an anti-climax, the Russians could start their celebrations a day earlier than anticipated.

There was a brief period of hope for Giri supporters when the Dutchman was still in a complicated middlegame position vs. Grischuk and Vachier-Lagrave found an excellent pawn sacrifice that turned his position from questionable to quite pleasant to play. However, soon it became clear that MVL never had more than compensation while Giri was suddenly facing a strategically lost position.

Nepomniachtchi could safely shake hands with MVL and add another half point to his score when it was clear that Giri wasn't going to make it. For a short while, only Grischuk's absence from the board prevented Giri from resigning but when the Russian grandmaster returned from what was likely a cigarette break, he soon decided the game and with it, the tournament.

In hindsight, Nepomniachtchi is the justified winner as the Russian GM was never in trouble in the second half of the tournament and grabbed his chances when they were presented to him.

The Russian grandmaster, who was born Bryansk, 379 kilometers (235 mi) southwest of Moscow, is now the fourth player who will try to dethrone Carlsen. In 2014, GM Vishy Anand, who also won the Candidates with a round to spare, failed to win back the title that he had lost to Carlsen the year before. In 2016, GM Sergey Karjakin tied the title match with Carlsen but lost the rapid tiebreak and two years later, Caruana suffered the exact same fate.

For Carlsen, this will be the third opponent in a row from his own generation, i.e. born in the early 1990s. Perhaps more than ever, the world champion cannot be too confident about the outcome.

A nice historic detail is that back in 2002, Nepomniachtchi won the U12 World Youth Championship where he edged out Carlsen on tiebreak. More worrying for Carlsen should be the head-to-head score: Nepomniachtchi is the only top grandmaster who has a plus score against him, leading four to one in classical games, with six draws.

Asked about his compatriot's chances in the match, Grischuk noted: "They exist. For most players, they are a bit illusory but for him, they definitely exist. Less than 50 percent but much more than zero." 

In a congratulatory tweet, Carlsen referred to the location of the title match: Dubai, UAE.

In a game between two experts on the Grunfeld Defense, Nepomniachtchi started with the cunning 1.Nf3. Vachier-Lagrave took a bit over a minute to reply with 1...Nf6 and then chose for a double fianchetto setup, something he hadn't played in seven years barring one encounter in the 2018 PRO Chess League. Nonetheless, it was one of the lines Nepomniachtchi had prepared.

It was clear that MVL was willing to take some risk in what was basically a must-win for him. By move 19, Nepomniachtchi had built up a very nice advantage as Black's knight on a6 wasn't a happy camper.

"It's not easy but at least I got some sort of fighting game," said Vachier-Lagrave. "Of course, as a drawback of getting a fighting game with Black is that generally you end up being clearly worse and this was no exception."

Here, the concrete 20.c5 would have given White winning chances.

Nepomniachtchi decided to continue more solidly, which gave MVL the chance for that nice pawn sacrifice on move 23. Perhaps the Frenchman could have executed it more accurately and then his decision to trade rooks worked in Nepomniachtchi's favor.

"I was a bit too happy with my position," said Vachier-Lagrave.

Nepo could trade all major pieces and secure the half point. He did so with confidence after checking Grischuk's board, and seeing his compatriot was winning.

Ian Nepomniachtchi Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Candidates 2021
Nepomniachtchi vs. Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

"It's obviously a huge milestone in my career and perhaps in my life also," Nepomniachtchi said at the press conference. "I'm extremely tired. I don't think I would like again to play a tournament which lasts more than one year."

It's obviously a huge milestone in my career and perhaps in my life also.
—Ian Nepomniachtchi

Whereas he had given fairly short statements in the last few days, the tournament winner was much more open today, now that the job was done. For instance, he spoke about the tension:

"The pressure was really high and unfortunately just I couldn't sleep for the first half of the tournament, I slept really poorly. That's why I just decided to go for a quick draw against Anish when I had the chance. Because it's difficult. I was full of energy, it was nothing like my battery was low already but it's difficult to play when you don't sleep enough. Before the game against Kirill [Alekseenko] I had more or less enough time to sleep but anyway it was never easy and I don't think I could ever have a minute to rest without some preparing or thinking, let's say relaxing—it doesn't work like this."

Nepomniachtchi wins Candidates
Nepomniachtchi: "It was never easy." Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Nepo pointed out that he had been giving commentary during the last two editions of the Candidates and that this was an educative experience: "You should never go crazy and you probably shouldn't lose. You better make a boring draw but you shouldn't lose. This was the lesson I learned especially from Berlin. Kramnik was doing fine and then he just went crazy at some moment and he played all the decisive games and I think it was too much. Yeah, probably this commentating, it helps!"

You should never go crazy.
—Ian Nepomniachtchi

Known for having other interests, such as football or the online game Dota 2, Nepomniachtchi said he has worked seriously on his chess in recent years, including the mental parts: "There are always a lot of things you can work on. I think that's very important, to constantly improve. If you're stuck for a moment, of course, it's even difficult to keep your level, probably your level will go down or other guys will go ahead. Normally, all you need is to work all the time. Indeed, comparing myself with when I was 20 years old or even 25, I started to work on chess a lot more."

Interestingly, Nepomniachtchi didn't mind revealing the players who had helped him prepare. Besides the general coach of the Russian Chess Federation GM Vladimir Potkin, he named GM Ildar Khairullin, GM Nikita Vitiugov, and GM Peter Leko, adding: "I'm very thankful. I can't describe it with words."

The press conference with Nepomniachtchi.

With Grischuk coming from a loss the other day and Giri having been praised by GM Garry Kasparov for "playing the best chess" of all players, the Dutchman must have been confident coming into today's game. He once again was the one surprising his opponent in the opening, this time by playing the Bogo-Indian.

Black's position was quite solid out of the opening, but Giri's 14...h5 was met with surprise by Anand who once again joined the Chess.com broadcast. He didn't like the look of it but also pointed out that in this opening it's hard to be ambitious.

Anand: "You can put lipstick on a Bogo-Indian but it's still a Bogo-Indian."

Afterward, Grischuk revealed that he had trained with Anand before the tournament and that they even played some training games in this line. In fact, he did like Giri's 14th move, saying: "Anish played very well until some point. With 14…h5, he has a lot of tricks actually."

Describing his game plan, Grischuk provided the quote of the tournament: "My plan was to play like a terrorist, to terrorize him with a draw and if he goes for a worse position then I will play. That's pretty much exactly what happened. If he had played for equality I would just try to force a draw and most likely succeed."

My plan was to play like a terrorist.
—Alexander Grischuk

Until the early middlegame, Giri was doing alright but at some point, his play seemed clearly affected by the tournament situation. He seemed to be playing for a win—or at least keep options open—in a position where it wasn't called for and in doing so, his position deteriorated.

Meanwhile, Grischuk said he was continuing to "terrorize" his opponent by offering move repetitions with his rook along the b-file and concluded: "There's nothing to be proud of for me. I really feel like a terrorist."

"It was a very poor game," said Giri. "I think it was a combination of a mindset that doesn't suit the position combined with a heavy lack of understanding of the position. I made a lot of terrible mistakes. When you sort of have the mindset of looking for chances, you completely lose the sense of reality sometimes."

When you sort of have the mindset of looking for chances, you completely lose the sense of reality sometimes.
—Anish Giri

When Grischuk heard that Giri said he played poorly, he remarked: "Of course, to lose to me you need to play badly for sure!"

Here is GM Ben Finegold's video commentary of the game:

Grischuk played like a terrorist
Grischuk played "like a terrorist." Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

As with every Candidates tournament since 2013, the infamous tiebreak rules, where mutual results and the number of wins decide in case of a tie for first place, were a topic of discussion. Giri didn't agree with the pundits who had called the rules unfair for him:

"As a phenomenon, they're quite absurd. It just makes no sense in general but we live with that so it's completely fine. The way everybody played was knowing the fact that the rules were as such.

"It gave me a lot of motivation to push much harder than I would otherwise push. That partly brought me so many points at the start as well and that also affected Fabiano. You cannot just take this out of context and blame it. The way Ian played and the way I played was with that in mind as well. Ian played two great halves and I messed up one of the two already so it was not even close, I think he did a great job."

Giri's interview after the game.

Grischuk, on his turn, said he prefers matches over a round-robin tournament, like was the case between 1965 and 2011, and said he "really doesn't understand" why there's not a (tiebreak) match or a mini-tournament if players finish on equal game points: "That's what I don't like about these round-robin tournaments, that some people who are not relevant decided the outcome."

Grischuk chess interview
Grischuk: "Some people who are not relevant decided the outcome." Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

As was pointed out in yesterday's report, Caruana wasn't mathematically eliminated just yet but lots of results had to fall into place in both final rounds for him to win the event on tiebreak. After today's round, he admitted he didn't believe in that: "I wasn't even in a mode where I thought I would play for a win necessarily because it was not even a million to one, it was a billion to one chance."

But he didn't really need to play for a win against Wang, a player who has been waiting for the tournament to be over. In what was still a drawish position, the Chinese GM played a horrible 40th move that lost instantly:

Wang Hao Caruana 2021 Candidates
Wang Hao vs. Caruana. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Alekseenko didn't have fortune on his side either in this second half. He played a very decent game against Ding and was even briefly completely winning when his opponent played an incorrect piece sacrifice.

Alekseenko miscalculated and missed one crucial idea, going from winning to losing in one move: 

Alekseenko Ding Liren 2021 Candidates
Alekseenko vs. Ding. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Round 13 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts
1 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2774 2881 ½½ ½½ 1 11 ½1 8.5/13
2 Anish Giri 2763 2834 ½½ ½1 ½0 ½1 ½1 1 7.5/13
3 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2767 2802 ½½ ½0 ½0 ½ ½1 7.0/13
4 Fabiano Caruana 2842 2790 ½½ ½0 ½1 ½ ½1 7.0/13
5 Alexander Grischuk 2777 2768 ½½ ½1 ½1 ½ ½0 ½½ ½0 6.5/13
6 Ding Liren 2805 2742 0 ½0 ½1 ½1 6.0/13
7 Wang Hao 2762 2695 0 ½0 ½ ½0 ½½ ½½ 5.0/13
8 Kirill Alekseenko 2698 2676 ½0 0 ½0 ½1 ½0 ½½ 4.5/13

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

Final round (Tuesday): Caruana - Grischuk, Giri - Alekseenko, Ding - Nepomniachtchi, Vachier-Lagrave - Wang.


Previous reports:

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