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Candidates 2020 R02: Elbowshakes, long thinks and Grischuk's humour!

by Sagar Shah - 19/03/2020

If there is one man who is facing no real jitters at the Candidates 2020 - it's Fabiano Caruana! Bold openings, no long thinks, accurate calculations, he is in his element. Ding Liren is suffering big time and is on 0/2. As Grischuk mentioned, "He seems to have been poisoned in his quarantine!" While Caruana won his game against Alekseenko, MVL beat Ding Liren right out of the opening. Grischuk was very close to getting a big advantage against Nepo and Wang Hao botched up a completely winning game against Giri. Check out this round 2 report where we bring you not just detailed analysis, but also player interviews, pictures and more!

Because of the Corona virus scare, an interesting element added to the games every day is whether the players will shake hands or not before and after the game. Health authorities say it is safer not to shake hands and some of the players are taking it quite seriously. Here are some nice shots captured at the event:

The elbow shake! In round one, Nepo did not shake his hands with Anish Giri and the guest of honour - Anatoly Karpov. Grischuk, being Grischuk (!), found a novel way to greet his opponent before the game! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

But when the game ended, both of them indulged in the firmest of handshakes! Chess can often make you forget the important things in life?! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Alekseenko resigns the game against Caruana and stops the clock | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Both of them are about to shake hands! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wait! Fabiano remembers the health directives! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ah! Never mind! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Handshake? Let's do it at some other event! | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Results of Round 2
India no.2 and World no. 22, GM Vidit Gujrathi gives his thoughts on all four encounters at the Candidates 2020. It's a round-up of close to 70 minutes, but watching it will surely take your chess improvement to the next level.

What's wrong with Ding Liren?

Ding Liren slumped to a second loss in a row, this time against MVL | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Very few would have imagined that one of the favourites of the tournament, Ding Liren would have started with a 0.0/2 score. While his loss against Wang Hao was surprising, in the second round he was completely outplayed by MVL. Let's have a look at some of the key moments.


MVL vs Ding Liren

Bd2!? by MVL is the move that started it all. Previously, instead of Bd2, Nd5 was played by Nakamura against Ding. The Chinese GM had simply taken on d5 and after exd5 played Na7!? With the pawn on d5, the knight is better placed on a7, because it can be rerouted to b6 via c8. Now after Bd2, once Ding played Nd8, MVL jumped in with Nd5!

Taking the knight on d5 is what Ding Liren did, but it made his knight on d8 very passive. Instead he should have gone for Ne6 (in the above position) giving up his e7 bishop. White will have a pull in the position, but it was better than what happened in the game.

The pawn on d5 is extremely strong!

One bad decision leads to another. After ...f5, White has a forced way to win material. How?

MVL first took on b5 and then followed it up with the powerful move c4. White is simply going to win the b5 pawn and consolidate his extra material with Bc4! The reason why Black cannot avoid the loss of a pawn is because after c4 Rf8 cxb5 Qxb5 White has a stroke - Nxe5!


Once MVL won a pawn, there was nothing much left in the game. Ding Liren tried to hurl his pawns towards White's king, but it was never going to be sufficient.

It's not a happy decision when you have to get your king to g6. The game ended in a few moves.

For a player of Ding Liren's calibre, 12 rounds is a lot of time to make up for the lost ground. But is he mentally in a state to fight back? We will wait and watch. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

If you are keen on learning about such subtle variations in the Ruy Lopez, we definitely recommend Caruana's DVD on the opening. The three-part series will solidify your knowledge of Ruy Lopez.

Interview with Maxime:

1.5/2 for MVL after two rounds of the Candidates 2020 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Anna Burtasova (AB): Maxime you just learnt about your participation in the Candidates just two weeks before the tournament. How did you manage your tournament preparations in such circumstances?

MVL: Well, I have motivated people helping me and so far they have done a really good job. But you know there's not much else to do. You just have to play but in a way I felt a bit fresh because I didn't just spent two months studying things. In fact, I am playing after close to two months which is in a way great.


AB: Last year, especially in the second half, you had an extremely busy schedule. You said in other interviews that you were almost never home. What works better for you, having a fresh head or to play constantly and be always in the game?

MVL: Yes, if you are playing constantly then in a way you don't have to retrain your brain to play chess. But once in a while a decent break is always welcome. You have to just get into shape after it, which I believe I have managed to do well. Going by the first two games, it feels almost like I didn't have this break.


AB: When you take these breaks do you prefer to not look at chess at all or do you still follow other events?

MVL: When it's a two months break you just can't stop everything and live you life. I didn't do much but of course but I was still following tournaments and trying to keep in shape. But since I wasn't supposed to play, there wasn't any theoretical work.

MVL's interview with Anna Burtasova

Fabiano Caruana's machine like play

Don Fabi | Photo: Lennart Ootes

According to the experts, if there is one player who is not getting affected by the pressure of the Candidates or the Coronavirus, it's Fabiano Caruana. He is playing true to his strengths at the event. In round two he played the sharp Saemisch variation in the Nimzo and managed to outplay Kirill Alekseenko. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3!? is a sharp line and more importantly Caruana has never played it with the white pieces. There is no way that Alekseenko could have anticipated this line. The thing which separates players like Fabi from mere mortals is that even if they play a line for the first time in their life, they are well versed with almost all the subtleties. That's what makes them so dangerous.


Caruana vs Alekseenko

The sharp nature of the position makes it imperative for Black to know what the best move is over here. The right move is ...Rb8! Black anticipates Nc7 and improves his a-rook.

In the game, Alekseenko played ...Re6 after 36! minutes of thought (By the way, this wasn't the longest thought for one move of the round!). This was a crucial error as Fabi could go Bf4 and later gain another tempo with Nc7.

Fabiano after the game said, "I played a very fighting line and it was clear that it was very risky for White. The upside is that it is not something he could possibly expect because I haven't played this before. I think he was decently prepared, because his plan was decent but things were probably hazy in his memory. It was hazy in my memory too and I didn't know exactly what Black is doing here or what White is doing. I thought Rb8 followed by Qb6 would be decent for Black, to just get out of the way of Nc7. But the move he made (Re6) looked unusual to me. I thought Bf4 was a strong move here but then he showed his idea, which was very clever, to sort of provoke my pieces forward and then attack my bishop with ideas like Bxf3 followed by Rd4."

Bg6 would lead to a passive position for Black, and so Alekseenko sacrificed a piece with Bxg4 hxg4 Nxg4

Caruana: "The position after the piece sacrifice was kind of a comfortable situation for me. I had a lot of time and felt like I had a safe advantage as well mainly because I have the square d5 for my pieces. The extra piece really made for an asset in the position with the nice outpost on d5."

Caruana: "I thought here Nf6 was pretty much his only chance to fight (in the above position) as it sort of restricts my pieces to take hold of the d5 square but after ...Bxd6 I thought my position was close to winning. After 23...Nf6 I thought of 24.Bf5 Rb8 25.Re1 with the tactical motif that after Qxd6 I play Nd5 going for the outpost and after 24...Nxe4 25.Rxe4 Qg6 it seems Black wins the rook but I have 26.Qg2! And in this endgame I thought White is once again winning as Black's pawns aren't moving and White has this tremendous outpost on d5. In the game I didn't see how he could get any activity.

When you have five pieces in the attack, it is almost certain that the attack is decisive!

Alekseenko faced Fabiano in his best possible form! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Anna Burtasova to Caruana: You didn't come under time pressure anytime during the game. Do you have any special strategy for managing your time in such long format events?

Caruana: Yes, it is pleasant not to get under time pressure but it is not so easy in general. Games like this one where you play long theory the situation clarifies a lot. But if you are thinking from move seven or eight then it is much more challenging to manage your time. It is sort of easier to manage time in games where you play long theory and get a reasonably comfortable position out of the opening.

GM Vishnu Prasanna analyzes Caruana's bold and tactical play in this video

Caruana explains his game against Alekseenko

Half of the game I was asleep - Grischuk!

Nepo and Grischuk indulged in a full blooded fight in the Berlin Endgame | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Speaking about the game Grischuk said, "The result is okay. You know I slept for half of the game. I don't know what I was thinking. Then I see I have six minutes and wake up... Then maybe I was even a bit better. But after waking up it was very difficult. I didn't even try, played as safe as possible. But you know it was an interesting game for people like me who like to spend hundreds of hours analysing this Berlin with h5. But of course, for 99.99% of the audience the game is completely boring. Not interesting at all."

"I woke up and saw I had just 6 minutes left!"- that's Sasha for you! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepo vs Grischuk

We reach an important moment in the game where the most natural way for White to continue is to play g4.

After hxg3 fxg3 we reach a position that is slightly better for White. He has a kingside majority and will try and slowly mobilise it.

Instead of going for the g4 plan, what Nepo did was quite unbelievable!

Nepo played Rb1-b4-a4-f4-f3 and brought his rook to a worse position, in the process allowing Black to strengthen his position with moves like b6, a5, c5, Re8, Kg8. g4 was played after all, but in much less favourable circumstances than what it was 8 moves ago! Black had a clear advantage, but Grischuk missed it and the game ended in a draw.

After playing a brilliant game in round 1 Nepo wasn't in his element in round two | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Anna Burtasova to Ian Nepomniachtchi: And Ian what about you, was it dull for you? Did you spend hundreds of hours analysing this line?

Ian: Well, probably less. The problem is Sasha also plays a few other lines in Berlin. For instance, there's this Be7, Bd7 line. I mean, the problem with Berlin is that there is no line where White is better. Sometimes White can be tricky and achieve something. I would say this Rb1-Rb4 rook lift was a relatively new try with the idea of bringing it to f4. But then I think I completely misplayed it. Basically I had similar positions in my analysis and had prepared a lot of stuff but I couldn't remember everything correctly.


AB: Alexander, yesterday you were not a big fan of the quality of games. Do you think anything improved today?

Grischuk: Well, let's see ... Alekseenko played terribly. Anish prepared well in the opening but two moves later he was completely worse. Ding Liren, I don't know, seems to have been poisoned in this quaratine in Moscow. I guess Maxime is playing nice games. For me and Ian the moves were okay but I mean you can't afford to sleep for more than an hour! Fabiano is playing well.

Post-game interview with Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi

When Grischuk has the mic, no one can hide the laughter! | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Anish Giri in survival mode

Anish Giri was very close to losing his second game in a row! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wang Hao vs Giri

Played after 47 minutes of thought! What exactly was Anish thinking here?

47 minutes is just too much in a position like this. It is quite possible that Anish had not seen the move Qc1 in his preparation and was comparing it with other moves that he had prepared. When you have looked at moves like Nbxd4 or Nfxd4 and then your opponent plays Qc1, it is natural to look at those other lines and check for improvements. But it seems that Giri was completely confused and finally played ...a6. Wang Hao after the game said, " I literally got nothing out of the opening and I was ready to make a repetition after Qc1. Black could have played Kh7 and after Nc7 and it would be a very short draw but then Anish played a6 and it was very difficult to understand (laughs).

Wang Hao missed a certain win, but was in good spirits after the game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

For a player of Wang Hao's calibre, this should have been a straightforward win.

It's very rare that you see both the players in good spirits after a game! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

After the game Anish in his typical humour said, " Yes, I am very happy. When I start streaks at the Candidates I do not stop. So I was wondering whether I would lose 14 games in a row. The way I was playing today that seemed like the logical result. But in the end I got very lucky."

Interview with Wang Hao and Anish Giri

Two questions for you!

Which opening is this? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Who is this well-known chess journalist? | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Standings after round 2

Pairings of round 3. Ding Liren vs Fabiano Caruana is a mouth-watering encounter!

Satanick Mukhuty contributed to the article

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