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Candidates 2020-21 Round 10: Why did Alexander Grischuk think for 72 minutes for a move?

by Sagar Shah - 23/04/2021

From a competitive perspective things are heating up at the Candidates 2020-21. Ian Nepomniachtchi has a full point lead over the field. With his win against Alekseenko, the Russian top GM has moved to 6.5/10. He is being followed by Anish Giri, Fabiano Caruana and MVL on 5.5/10. One of the highlights of the round was Alexander Grischuk's game against Wang Hao. The Chinese GM sacrificed a queen, but what was even more interesting is the fact that Grischuk thought for 72 minutes in one position. What was he thinking and what was his analysis? We bring you all of that in this report, along with all the news that took place in the 10th round.

Round 10 of the tournament underway | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

What was the longest think you have had in a game? 20 minutes? 30? ok 40 should be the max, right? Welcome to planet Grischuk! He thought for a massive 71 minutes in his 10th round game at the Candidates 2020-21 against Wang Hao. And guess what? It was only the 11th move of the game! Grischuk is known for his long thinks, but this one surpassed everything else! A player of his class wouldn't just take 71 minutes for a move if there wasn't a good reason. So let's try to understand what was going on:

Although it ended in a draw, Grischuk vs Wang Hao was surely the game of the day! | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Wang Hao vs Alexander Grischuk, Candidates Round 10

It's Black to play here. How did Black continue?

Grischuk, who is black in the above position, clearly understood that White has the trumps going for him. White has the space and all his pieces have nice squares. What Black has going for him is that his king is castled and he has a slight lead in development. Also when a side has a lot of space, it is natural that there are weaknesses which is left behind. So Grischuk wanted to make things work out for himself. "I know 11.Qb3 is the main move. I was only considering 12.Nexd4.11...cxd4 – I also knew this move but I could not remember how to continue. White’s setup is very ambitious, if he manages to finish his development, he will be clearly better. Because he has a huge center. So black needs to play very energetically."


He first began with the most natural move cxd4. Now here taking with Nexd4 is the most natural response. The e6 pawn is attacked and there could be a discovered attack from the knight. However, in the spirit of playing with energy Black continues with...

...fxe5. Now this move unleashes an entire plethora of complications. White takes Nxe6 and attacks the rook and the queen. What do we do next? ...d4! of course. The bishop is attacked. White has two ways to continue here. Take the rook or save the bishop.

Option A - take the rook

Now we take the bishop on e3 with dxe3 and White goes for the move Bc4+ Grischuk felt that taking the knight is forced so he looked at Kxf8 but then realized White has a very powerful move that gave him an advantage.

What should White do here?

White plays the move Qd5! The idea is simple - you want to checkmate your opponent's king on f7 or g8. While in post-game analysis one can see the engine showing you an advantage of +- 1.5 and stop here, for Grischuk over the board it was not so clear that White is winning. Also because materially black is doing quite fine and he also has the move Ke8 to try and escape. However, when he delved deeper here, he realized that the king is not running away anywhere and that White has a permanent attack. He gave up this idea.


Option B - save the bishop

When the bishop jumps back to f2, White is being more careful. Now Black can also save the rook after Re8 and then White can continue with Be2. Grischuk would have looked around in this position for a while and realized that although Black's position looks fine, he can definitely try for more. And so right at the very start he began thinking about cxd4 Nexd4 and now Ncxe5!?

Grischuk was attracted to this line now. After fxe5 fxe5, the knight on d4 has to move. Where does the knight move to? Grischuk looked at many jumps here and then finally settled upon Nf5!? Black goes Bc5. The position is already better for White, but look at Grischuk's calculation and imagination. Bxc5 Nxc5 (he also looked at Qxc5) Ne7+

Now the Black king has to move to h8. After Nxe5 Ne4 Qd4 Qxb2 Rd1. We try and take stock of the situation. Black is a piece down. If he doesn't do something immediately, he would be in trouble.

And so, you go for the move Qf2+! After Qxf2 Nxf2 there is a fork and it seems that White is in trouble, but look at this line!

White moves his rook to d4 and after Black takes the rook on h1, you go N5g6+ hxg6

Boy oh Boy! That's a checkmate!

That checkmate above was 12 moves deep! And remember that line was not like a trunk of the tree, it was like the branches! There were so many points where there could have been other moves that could have been played. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

While calculating all of these complicated lines Grischuk went back to cxd4 Nexd4 and figured that fxe5 Nxe6 d4 Nxf8 dxe3 Bc4+ can be met with...

...Kh8! And this position is winning for Black (earlier Grischuk had seen Kxf8 Qd5 when he didn't like Black's position) Now after Kh8 is played and Qd5 then Black can go Nf6.

After all of thi calculations when Grischuk spent 72 minutes and made his move cxd4, Wang Hao responded with...

One can say almost all of Grischuk's time that he spent was wasted because his opponent, instead of continuing Nexd4 went ahead with Nfxd4!

But this was not all of the action in the game. Wang Hao later sacrificed his queen and got a deadly attack against Grischuk's king. Black had to give back material in order to salvage the half point.

After the game Grischuk said, "I think yesterday I was watching some stream with Kramnik and Bareev commentating. Speaking about today’s round, they said that, Wang Hao-Grischuk is the least interesting game of the day. So I wonder if they still think the same." When Karlovich asked Grischuk if 72 minutes is his personal record for the longest think, the Russian GM responded, "It’s not such type of record you should be proud of." 

Standings after round 10

Nepo vs Alekseenko

Nepo's lead looks very menacing now. With just four rounds to go he is a complete point ahead. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Alekseenko was not his usual self | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Nepomniachtchi talking about the game said, "First of all. It was like optically very easy but in fact I think it was not. I was lucky that in the opening Kirill quickly got into some position, he is not familiar with."

Nepo: "I guess here (after 8.Nc3) the important plan is Qc7, b6, Bb7. The idea is to develop the c8-bishop as fast as possible. Because if black fails to do this, they somehow fall into some edition of Catalan." In the game Kirill went Be7 and he was worse right out the opening.

Black's position has a big problem. his bishop on c8. White on the other hand is a picture of harmony.

Alekseenko tried for some activity with 14...e5 but Nepo simply jumped with his knight to f5

Nepo: "After 14...e5, I mean the problem that it’s probably lost tactically. Even besides, white has got everything he could just dream about… If this is not a big advantage then I don’t know what is."

Nepo: "You know what is even worse for black (after 17.Bg5) that every time I had this tactical idea Bxf6 and then Be4, actually not going for c4-knight, just going for mate. Everything comes together, Nd5, Qh7-h8. So this is not really a position I would love to play as black you know"

Nepomniachtchi is the sole leader with 6.5/10 | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

What are Nepo's thoughts on being a sole leader? "Well I guess the point is that everyone has like seven finals here. So seven finals in a row, that’s my take on this. You know it’s better to have +3 than +1." He did add though that, "It’s too early to make any conclusions." When asked about his mood, Nepo said, "Of course I am stressed because you know I got used to playing from home. You know having some daily routine is little bit important. I think everyone is tired but that’s how it goes normally if you invest a lot of energy, a lot of time, of course you are getting tired. I hope (laughs) I have enough energy to go on."

Post game interview with Ian Nepomniachtchi

Alekseenko had the toughest round of the event Speaking about his opening mistake, he mentioned, "Well, it was an awful game and I didn’t remember the opening, probably I didn’t have to play 8...Be7. Then I also started to play bad moves. My position became worse and worse. I think at some point it was just losing already."

Alekseenko was completely distraught after his loss

MVL vs Anish Giri

This was an important game of the tournament as both players are fightig for the top spot with 5.0/9 score. MVL opened the game with 1.e4 and Anish responded with his main weapon for the event - the Sveshnikov. 

MVL had come to the game with a new opening idea | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Anish mentioned: "I don’t think it’s (c5) been played in the human high level games much before. So I don’t think it’s known to be equal but we can assume it’s fine for black. On paper it is like a new idea that I assume  that most players are aware of this before and I also was but of course as you can see from the game I was not getting it very clear in my head.

White has the bishop pair and the passed pawn on d5. It is both a source of strength and weakness in the position!

Although White had some pressure in the position, Anish managed to simplify it and take it into an opposite coloured bishop position

When Anish got in the move ...e4 it was clear that he had enough activity to hold the balance. The game ended in a draw.

Although he was under a lot of pressure, Anish held on pretty well | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Karlovich: Now that Ian has one point lead, what are you going to do about it?

Giri: Yeah actually many Candidates, there’s a lot of pressure at some point. So a lot is up to Ian for example because it is basically he is sort of somewhat in control but it is his to spoil.

Karlovich: He will play against himself as well.

Giri: Yeah that is exactly what I mean, he has to play against himself for the last couple of rounds. So it’s not going to be easy. I don’t recall a single Candidates that anyone won easily so we will see.

Karlovich: We can expect big fight in the end.

MVL: Well I mean clearly like all the players are going to be in a very savage mode. It’s been very savage the last few days but I think it’s getting more clutch.

Giri: Yeah because also at some point, people are in their last chance to still win that game so you know you will have two players playing each other who both have to win. That will lead to most likely very exciting games.

"No one has won the Candidates easily until now!" - Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Fabiano Caruana vs Ding Liren

Although Ding's chances to make it to the top are slowly reducing, he has it in him to beat just about anyone and spoil there chances! In round 10 he was up against Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Fabiano played the Anti-Marshall system in the Ruy Lopez and very soon had a position which was complex | Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Karlovich: Fabiano, can you please also explain a bit the ideas in the opening say black can take the pawn on a5 and what white has for this pawn?

Caruana: I would explain it if I could but I don’t understand the line at all. I guess the main two moves are 17...Nb4 and Nxa5.

Ding: I played 16...Nb4 before so I guessed he must have something prepared in this line. So I didn’t want to repeat Nb4. Also 16...Nxa5 was another line but I didn’t know it. So I played 16...Qc8.

Caruana: I mean 16...Qc8 is slightly odd looking move but it’s probably okay for black.

 Ding: Yeah I found this move over the board, I am very happy about it. If I play 16...Qd7 then you can develop 17.Nc4 d5 and then 18.exd5 exd5 and 19.Nce5. If I play 19...Nxe5 you will take with the pawn 20.dxe5…


Ding: I think I am slightly better here (after 22.Rxe4).

Karlovich: Did you feel the same Fabiano?

Caruana: Well I thought that Ding was playing for a win here because he can make a draw if he wants for example 22...Bxc5 I think was a draw instead of 22...Rd8. I think 22...Bxc5 is almost an immediate draw.


Ding: I played 27...h5 and I was very very happy when I saw the lines but unfortunately he had Qg6 after a few moves which I missed.

Karlovich: Now that Ian has a full point lead, what are you going to do in the next round?

Caruana: I don’t know. I mean it’s not amazing that he won but one point deficit isn’t insurmountable.

 Karlovich: Ding, what is the plan for the next four games?

Ding: I think I have played well in these two games. I had some chances in both of those games. So I have to continue. I will play better in time-trouble.


Pairings of round 11
LIVE commentary by IM Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal with guest GM Lalith Babu

Shahid Ahmed contribute to the article