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Candidates R07: The French Defense against French no.1 wasn't a good idea!

by Sagar Shah - 26/03/2020

The way Nepo was playing at the event made him look untouchable. But MVL, his seventh round opponent had different plans. Nepo's French Defense was punished by the Frenchman with great precision. With this victory MVL caught up with Nepo at the top and both of them lead the event with a score of 4.5/7, one point more than the rest of the field. The remaining three games ended in draws. We bring you the detailed analysis of the decisive game, pictures, videos and more.  

Results of round 7

Standings after round 7

MVL beats Nepo, joins him in the lead

Glass is half full or half empty? Former for the MVL fans and latter for Nepo fans! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Just when it seemed Ian Nepomniachtchi was untouchable and would run away with the tournament, it is MVL who has stopped him right in his tracks in the seventh round of the Candidates 2020. Ian's opening choice wasn't the smartest as the French Defense, which he tried against Alekseenko in third round, this time didn't fire. In fact the French GM came well prepared for the game and was able to outplay Nepo with considerable ease.

MVL comes to the game clearly with the understanding that in his own hands lies the power of slowing down the leader | Photo: Lennart Ootes

No handshake before the game! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

MVL vs Nepo

The French Defense appears once again on the board! But isn't it a bad idea to try the French against the Frenchman?!

When you have a one point lead you would imagine Nepo playing something more solid, but he remained true to his aggressive style | Photo: Maria Emelianova

MVL repeats the same line that Alekseenko had played against Nepo

One of the main tasks of the seconds is to keep an eye on each and every game that is taking place at the Candidates. They try to find new ideas because there is a high possibility that those openings would be repeated. Hence, when Nepo played the French against Alekseenko, MVL's team definitely tried to see what Alekseenko did and found something interesting in that direction.

Rb1! is a nice flexible move. White wants to go Qg4, but doesn't want cxd4 followed by Qc3+ to attack his rook on a1. Hence Rb1 is a useful move and at the same time prepares Qg4.

Nepo's ...c4 turned out to be critical error of the game. It's as if Black said, I am shutting down the queenside, now you have a freehand on the kingside!

MVL thinking about the best way in which he can take advantage of his opponent's error | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Rb4 was a powerful move by MVL. He first stops all counterplay on the queenside before turning his attention to the kingside.

Something's not right with my position! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The bishop is rerouted to the a3 square. The idea is simple but very strong as you shall see.

When it comes to converting a plus position with logical and strong moves, MVL is the best in the business! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

White has taken the knight on e7 with his bishop. What is the move that MVL had in his mind now? White to play.

g4! An extremely powerful move that breaks apart Black's foundation. White is well and truly on course to victory after this strike.

Nepo didn't have a great day at the office | Photo: Lennart Ootes

With great focus and determination MVL played a close to flawless game to beat his opponent! | Photo: Maria Emelianova
MVL discusses his win over Ian Nepomniacthchi

Eteri Kublashvili: We have Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with us who has just outplayed Ian Nepomniachtchi and has joined him in the lead. Did you expect such a sharp opening from your opponent in this game Maxime?

MVL: Well, not really. But of course, he has played it against Kirill earlier in the tournament so I thought I should at least prepare for it. I deviated with h5 which makes sense, it's a logical follow up to h4. It's a very theoretical line, I don't want to bore you with the details. Ian played this move c4... I thought ...Ke8 0-0 Kd8 followed by Kc7 was the right way to play but okay ...c4 also looked principled because it completely closes the queenside. However, after ...c4 0-0 Rb6 Qc2 he was not in time (for the Ke8 Kd8 Kc7 maneuver) because he had to play Rg8-h8 in order to stop Qh7 and then I found this very strong idea with Rb4 Nc6 f4. The exchange can't be taken because after Nxb4 cxb4 Qa6 b5 Qc8 (or Qb7) f5 it looks terrible for Black, I would have very powerful ideas like Bb4 Nc3 and then a5! He therefore went back with Ne7 obviously with the idea of pushing f5 but now I was in time to do this Bc1-Ba3 maneuver.


(Black follows some forced variations and Maxime goes on to show the finish of the game, highlighting some of the pretty tactical details)

Eteri Kublashvili: You were the last one to join the event. Last but not the least of course. Do you think you have some luck favouring you because of this?

MVL: I don't know. I think it is important to play well and I think apart from the game against Wang Hao, I have played reasonably well so far. I am quite happy with my performance and want to continue in the same way.

Caruana vs Wang Hao 0.5-0.5

Wang Hao gets the mandatory check done - with chocolates in one hand and banana in the other! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Fabiano was not too happy that his opponent chose the very solid Petroff, which is also a big part of the American GM's opening repertoire | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana vs Wang Hao

This same position had been reached between Carlsen vs Caruana World Championship Match 2018. Magnus had take on d2 with his bishop. Caruana decided to deviate with Nxd2. It's not a big difference but leads to some fresh positions.

One of those moves where Fabiano wants to play to create something, but it only gives his opponent chances. Wang Hao is a pragmatic player and rightly struck in the centre with d5!

It's difficult to beat a solid player like Wang Hao from such sedate positions | Photo: Lennart Ootes

This was Fabiano's last chance to create something. He had to begin with Ng5! The point being that ...h6 is met with c4! when White has something to play for. Caruana played Bg5 (instead of Ng5) and Black equalized without any difficulties.

Caruana currently has a 50% score and is trailing the leaders Nepo and MVL by a full point | Photo: Lennart Ootes
Caruana and Wang Hao in the post-game interview

Eteri Kublashvili: The last game of the round is finished, and Fabiano Caruana and Wang Hao made a draw. Please tell us about this game, the most important things about it.

Fabiano: Well, we played a very solid line of the petroff. I played this myself in the match against Magnus. I wasn't entirely happy with ...c5 because it is not the most popular line but it is a very good one. If you want to really test Black, you either go for an endgame, which I went for, or you play some very sharp lines involving Bg5 which I couldn't quite remember. At some point I was optimistic, after Bg5 I thought I had a good position but Hao played a very strong move Kf7 and after that I didn't really see any logical way to continue. Ng3 looked very tempting Bf1 Nf5 would obviously be very strong but after c4 I had nothing. Later, I probably started to play a bit carelessly and got into a slightly worse position rather than a slightly better one.


(Hao agrees with Fabiano's assessment and seems satisfied with the result)


Eteri Kublashvili: The history of your encounter Fabiano against Hao is not very good. Does this influence your game in usually?

Fabiano: Not really. Yes, I have a bad score against Hao. I have never really won a classical game against him. But majority of the games I played against him were a long time ago. Recently, we only played in Isle of Man and that ended in draw. The other games that I lost already feels like distant past.


Hao: No, I don't think so. Like Fabiano said majority of the games we played were indeed a long time ago. It is a new start for everyone I would say. (Smiles)

Eteri Kublashvili: Who are the players from the past who have influenced your game the most?

Fabiano: It is hard to point out a single player. I would say all of the World Champions from the past I have studied have contributed a lot to the development of chess. I guess in US Fischer was the biggest name and I think what he accomplished is the greatest thing that any chess player has accomplished, despite the fact that his reign was very short. A lot of players like Kasparov and Lasker had long World Championship reigns but Fischer was always an influential figure for me.


Hao: Of course, Fischer was a great player but I don't remember his games as well as I remember the games played by modern players. I would say Kramnik influenced my play a lot.

Giri vs Grischuk 0.5-0.5

"People really liked the last picture I posted on my Instagram!" Giri interacts with Lennart Ootes before the game! | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Anish came up with a new opening idea for the game! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ne3!? was the new move of the game. White threatens Qc2, to win the pawn on e4. What did Grischuk do?

He took 29 minutes on the clock and found the very interesing ...h5! The main point being that after Qc2 Nb4 Qb1 h4 Nxe4 is met with the very strong ...Ng4!

You can bank on Grischuk to find some of the most uncompromising ideas! | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Another powerful move was to play ...Qd4! Blocking the d3 pawn and not giving White the ease to play d4-d5.

A great move forcing the queen trade after which Black had no real difficulties in holding the draw

Grischuk should be happy with what he achieved in the game, but seven draws out of seven rounds is not something that he would have liked! | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Anish in the post game interview said, he wanted to win, but also wanted Grischuk's drawing streak to continue! | Photo: Lennart Ootes
Post game interview with Giri and Grischuk.

Eteri Kublashvili: We are here with Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk and their game ended in a draw. Anish we were playing the white pieces so can you tell us about the opening outcome and about the game?

Giri: Yeah I think Nd3 was an interesting new idea. Alexander reacted with h5 which I thought was a difficult move to make even though it was certainly an option. After d4 he played Qd4 which I also thought was a sophisticated move but he probably knew it or perhaps found over-the-board I don't know. Then it was not so much after Qg4. I thought Black was very solid.


I thought after Be6 I have something because there are some tricks with Bh3+ sometimes. But I didn't see a move, I thought he comes with Bd6 Bd5 Be7 at the very least. At first I was somehow excited but then after spending lot of time, I decided to go for the line I played and simply missed Rc8. So I think the opening wasn't a big success. 


Eteri Kublashvili: Alexander, are you happy with this draw with black pieces?

Grischuk: No, I mean I would be a very happy person if I was happy with every draw that I make (Smiles)


Eteri Kublashvili: Okay, so I think maybe in the final part of the game you got some initiative, right?

Grischuk: Actually after Rc8 I thought I was safe but I didn't see much going on in terms of initiative. Maybe I could have played something else instead of g4?


Anish: Well, without the a2 pawn I hold this position ten out of ten time, so with the a2 pawn I think also manage the same!

Ding Liren vs Alekseenko 0.5-0.5

Seventh round witnessed the fight between two of the lowest placed players on the standing list - Ding Liren and Kirill Alekseenko | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The players had a theoretical discussion in the main line of the Catalan | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ding Liren vs Alekseenko

How should White get an edge here?

Ding took on f6 which shows that he is clearly not in form at the event. He should have gone Qa4! when after Nxe5 Nxe5 fxe5 Qxa7 White is clearly better.

Ding is missing out on the critical moments in the game where he can wrest the initiative from his opponent | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Alekseenko might not be too happy with his 2.5/7, but it is a great learning experience for the youngster | Photo: Lennart Ootes
Post-game interview with Ding Liren and Kirill Alekseenko

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