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Reports Mar 21, 2020 | 5:32 PMby Colin McGourty

Candidates 2020, 4: MVL misses his chance

All four games were drawn in Round 4 of the 2020 Candidates Tournament as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave missed a gilt-edged chance to exploit Alexander Grischuk’s time trouble. The Russian had thought 53 minutes over 18…Ne7, 100% sure MVL’s next move would be 19.g4, only for 19.h4 to plunge him into deep thought again! Elsewhere the big game was Caruana-Nepomniachtchi, where for a while it looked as though Fabiano might have refuted the Grünfeld. Instead he ended up having to defend an unpleasant endgame.

Maxime made the classic mistake of rushing in his opponent's time trouble | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

You can replay all the games from the 2020 FIDE Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg using the selector below – click on a result to open that game with computer analysis:

For Round 4 Jan and Lawrence were again joined by World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, who showed he also knows how to sell a product!

Peter Svidler joined later from Yekaterinburg, and you can rewatch the whole show below:

And here’s Pascal Charbonneau’s recap of the day’s action:

Alexander Grischuk would be among the favourites to win the 2020 Candidates Tournament if not for one issue – our experts rated him a shocking 2/15 for Time Management in our pre-tournament preview. It always seems to be an issue that a player might be able to address before a vital tournament, but Grischuk has never managed over the course of his career and it doesn’t seem he’s going to start now. You could argue he’d missed three winning chances in his first three games because of time trouble, and in Round 4 against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave it should really have resulted in a first loss.   

Alexander Grischuk vs. the clock | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The opening was easily predictable. Maxime opened 1.e4, Grischuk played the Berlin Defence and Maxime went for the infamous ending. He’s one of the few top players with the patience and belief to take it on, and his results have been impressive. The first 16 moves were identical to Nepomniachtchi-Grischuk in Round 2, before Maxime varied with 17.g4 from Nepo’s 17.Kh2. 17…hxg3 18.fxg3 was played instantly to reach a position seen in Giri-Nakamura from last year’s Croatia Grand Chess Tour and also in an MVL-Nakamura online bullet game. This is where Grischuk spent an epic 53 minutes (Magnus: “It’s just insane!”) before playing 18…Ne7:

Maxime took 58 seconds to respond with the new move 19.h4 and Grischuk sank into another 21-minute think! What on earth was going on? Well, as he explained later:

Again like with Alekseenko I made a very stupid thing, thinking for 1 hour almost about Ne7. I was just 100%, not 99, 100% sure Maxime was going to play g4. Then when he played h4 I was just minus 1 hour, but at the end maybe it didn’t matter too much because anyway I would spend this 1 hour somehow!

The position that followed was extremely double-edged, with Grischuk soon picking up the c3-pawn, so that if White couldn’t transform his initiative into something tangible Black might simply be winning. After the game the players felt they’d played a decent game, with Maxime commenting:

Against any other opponent other than Sasha (Alexander) 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 Sasha probably he wouldn’t get down to one minute.

In this case, however, Grischuk did blunder, playing 29…Nxa4? when he was down to just 1 minute 20 on his clock:

30.Re4! was the winning move. 30…Nb6 can be met by 31.Rxc4 Nxc4 32.Rxf7+ or the even more powerful 31.Ba3+! 30…Be6 runs into 31.Nxe6 fxe6 32.Bg5+! Ke8 33.Rf3!:

The knight is kept out of c3 and now after e.g. 33…b5 White, despite being two pawns down, is winning with 34.Ref4! and infiltrating with his rooks on the 7th rank. As you can see, there was nothing trivial about those lines, but Maxime had just under an hour on his clock at this point to work it all out. Instead he spent just 2 minutes 48 seconds on 30.Ba3+?, when after 30…c5! Black was doing ok again (Grischuk was still expecting 31.Re4, but without the bishop check on g5 there’s no win).

Those who had bet on Grischuk getting under 1 minute on his clock during the game in our FantasyChess Contest weren’t disappointed, but the threat of pushing his passed a-pawn proved enough to secure a draw – the players ended with only bare kings on the board.

Nepomniachtchi has made the best use of the players' huge chairs | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

That was a missed chance for Maxime to take the sole lead, since all the other games were also drawn. The most interesting was Caruana-Nepomniachtchi, where Fabiano took a pure AlphaZero approach to Ian’s Grünfeld Defence, advancing his h-pawn not with the aim of opening the file but jamming it up to h6, where it restricts the black king:

A worried Peter Svidler joined the show to ask, “Has my opening finally been refuted today?”, and the answer was “perhaps”. Nepo was in some danger, at least until 30…Kf8:

Fabiano admitted he couldn’t find a good way to play in the 18 minutes he spent here, while Magnus Carlsen called 31.Qf3?! (31.Qd4 and White is still on top) “a clear case of over-thinking”. Nepo noted it would be “very clever” if now he played 31…f5 and Fabi could return with 32.Qd1!, but after the intermediate move 31…Qe1+! and 32.Kg2 f5 33.g4 Qb1! (this is what Caruana said he missed) Black had solved all his problems. In fact, after the exchange of queens it was Fabiano who had to sweat a little:

In fact Magnus revealed that sweating is one of the “tells” he’s identified in his 2018 World Championship opponent!

Caruana has a pretty good poker face, he doesn't show much, but I think Fabi starts to sweat sometimes... I shouldn't give away all my secrets! He starts to sweat at the lips or something.

Caruana managed to keep things together, Nepo’s hair didn’t disturb any pieces…

…and a draw was finally agreed on move 55. Here are the players afterwards:

Nepomniachtchi explained that, “the daily routine is to check Anish’s Instagram or Twitter to find new wisdom”. In this case that consisted of Giri lamenting that the times we’re living in force him to study chess:

While on Twitter there was post-game approval from Daniil Dubov:

Anish Giri can chalk up his draw against Ding Liren as his best game so far in Yekaterinburg, and the opening also had the watching Peter Svidler describing it as “Dubovian” on our live broadcast. Magnus Carlsen said last year, “I've been influenced by my heroes recently, AlphaZero and one of my World Championship seconds, Daniil Dubov!”, and in this case he’d predicted a few moves in advance that Giri would start throwing the h-pawn down the board. Our commentators were thrilled when it happened!

16.Nc3 h4 17.Ne2 followed, but it seems Giri correctly didn’t go full-AlphaZero and push the pawn to h3, instead later exchanging it on g3.

“I wouldn't feel very comfortable in Ding's shoes here, partly because they're probably too small…”, said Magnus, but the world no. 3 seems to have recovered from his shaky start and confidently held a draw. Here are the players after the game:

In the remaining game Wang Hao was surprised by Kirill Alekseenko in the opening and chose a solid response. 

Wang Hao came to the game fully armed | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Peter Svidler was hoping for an easy draw for his guy with the black pieces, until move 13:

13…Qxa4 is simple and good, but Kirill took 20 minutes to come up with 13…Ra6?!. Peter commented, “I think the moment he goes into the tank he kind of overthinks things”, while Kirill later described it as an “incredibly bad move”. It meant he had to play well for the remainder of the game to hold things together, but he did and escaped with a 41-move draw.

That leaves the standings unchanged apart from the addition of half a point all round, with Nepomniachtchi, MVL and Wang Hao still in the lead:

Nepomniachtchi-Wang Hao is a clash of two of the leaders in Round 5, while the other leader MVL has Black against Alekseenko. Giri-Caruana and Grischuk-Ding Liren are two more heavyweight battles.

Our English commentary team for Round 5 will include 15-year-old Indian prodigy Nihal Sarin, while we’ll again be broadcasting in 9 languages. Of special note are Ilya Levitov and Evgeny Bareev being joined by Boris Gelfand and Sergey Rublevsky in Russian, and Li Chao and Qiyu Zhou teaming up in Chinese!

Quite a line-up in Russian! You can follow on our Russian YouTube channel

Tune into all the action from 12:00 CET live here on chess24!

See also:

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