Best Games from the FIDE Candidates

Best Games from the FIDE Candidates

After the longest half-time break ever, the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg resumed. Ian Nepomniachtchi won the tournament with8.5 points and a round to spare and thus gained the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship title. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is second with 8 points. Anish Giri and Fabiano Caruana have shared third place with 7,5 points.

This success is a huge milestone in my career. Perhaps in my life also. Indeed, I am extremely tired because I don’t think I would ever like to play a tournament again, which lasts more than one year. … I am very happy it paid off in the end but I don’t think I would like to have such an experience again.” – said the Russian.


The candidates are over, but here we can see once again a few of the best games from the tournament. With round 8 the Candidates have been finally resumed in Yekaterinburg.

Fabiano Caruana came with an impressive piece of opening preparation against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. This happened in the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf, the same opening that these players also had on the board three months ago at the Tata Steel Chess tournament. The idea of sacrificing the bishop came from Caruana’s second and had been waiting on the shelf for several months. In fact, Kasimdzhanov himself said that they felt it was too strong to try out in Wijk aan Zee!

Fabiano was blitzing up until move 25 but MVL was resilient and found the best defense.

Maxime played the best way,” said Caruana. “I was kind of upset that he played this because I thought 19…Nf6 is a very difficult move to find.

MVL still had problems to solve. “Then it got down to this endgame which I thought I should be holding quite easily but maybe at that moment I made a few inaccuracies, I don’t know exactly,” he said. After missing 26…Ra7, black eventually ended up an exchange down in an endgame where he had a fortress.

At the press conference, it was pointed out to him quite instructively that putting his knight on g7 would have been a good setup as the critical squares e6, e5, f5, g5, and h5 are all covered “I really thought this was an easy draw but then it got messy,” said Vachier-Lagrave. As it went, he couldn’t prevent the white king from reaching h5.

See the Games Here:

(1) Caruana,Fabiano – Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime [B97]

(8.1), 19.04.2021

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 [The Frenchman is playing his favourite line in Sicilian, the Najdorf.]

6.Bg5 [Caruana has played many different lines here, but he chooses to repeat the line, which brought him a victory against the same opponent 2 years ago]

6…e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2 [This is a very popular and sharp line, in which black takes the so-called poison pawn, but in exchange, white wins time for his development]

9.Rb1 Qa3 10.e5 [In other games Fabiano has played Be2 orf5, but this is also one of the main moves.]

10…h6 11.Bh4 dxe5 12.fxe5 Nfd7 13.Ne4 [Thats the point behind e5, the knight gets a very good outpost and sometimes wants to jump on d6]

13…Qxa2 14.Rd1 Qd5 15.Qe3 Qxe5 [This line looks crazy, but actually all this has been played many, many times already.]

16.c3 [A rare move, most players prefer Be2 and then to castle quickly. Obviously white has prepared something]

16…Bc5?! [The most natural move]

[16…Be7 17.Bxe7 Kxe7 is also interesting for black. No castle but he is defending the dark squares]

17.Bg3 Qd5 18.Bc4! [This move is like a bomb. Clearly, Caruana has found an amazing idea. The biggest problem for black is that clearly he don’t know what is going on and has to think a lot, while white is playing very fast and he knows what to do as he has prepared this with his computer engines.]

[18.Bd6 Bxd6 19.Nb5 Qxd1+ 20.Kxd1 and black has enough material for the queen]

18…Qxc4 [now black has to think because he has many options, but everywhere the games are very sharp, and this is the area in which the engines are the best so it’s not easy to compete with them.]

19.Bd6 Nf6 [Black gives back the piece in order to develop a bit. It is possible, although now he has to suffer for free as white still has the initiative]

[19…Bxd4 Is the most natural, and it’s hard to see how white wins after 20.Rxd4 Qb3 21.Qg3 Qb1+ 22.Kf2 Qc2+ 23.Ke3 with the unclear game]

20.Nxc5 Nd5 [20…Nc6? 21.Nf5! Rg8 22.Bf4 and Nd6 is coming]

21.Qe5 Rg8! [The best move]

[21…Qxc3+ 22.Kf2 Qb2+ 23.Kg3 Rg8 24.Rhe1 White has very strong attack]

22.Ndxe6 [Caruana is still playing without thinking for a minute, which shows that he remembers the line]

22…fxe6 23.Nxe6 Qxc3+ [23…Kf7 Is not losing and is leading to complicated position after 24.Rf1+ Nf6 25.Nxg7 Qxf1+ 26.Kxf1 Nc6 27.Qf4 Rxg7]

24.Qxc3 Nxc3 25.Nc7+ Kf7 [25…Kd7 was maybe better and black should be fine after 26.Rd3 Ne4 27.Bf4+ Kc6 28.Nxa8 Nd7]

26.Rd3! [26.0–0+ Kg6 27.Rd3 Ne2+ 28.Kf2 Ra7 29.Kxe2 b5 and black has big advantage]

26…Ne4?! [Inaccuracy. Ra7 was best. For the first time in the game, Caruana is thinking. It is time to start playing on his own now.]


27.0–0+ Kg6 28.Nxa8 Nc6 [White has an exchange for two pawns and it looks like it will be very hard to win as there is not much material left.]

29.Nb6 Rd8 [29…Bg4 maybe better is to keep the bishop 30.Re1 Nf6]

30.Nxc8 Rxc8 31.Ba3?! [Inaccuracy. Re1 was best.]

31…Rc7 32.Rf4 [white has to exchange pieces in order to get rook against knight endgame and to try to win]

32…Nf6 33.Bb2 Ne7 34.Bxf6 [now black also has weak pawn]

34…gxf6 35.h4 [35.Rd6 Rc1+ 36.Rf1 Rxf1+ 37.Kxf1 Nc6 38.Rd7 b5 39.Rc7 [and white has the edge]

35…h5 36.Rg3+ Kf7 37.Rg5 [That is the point, now it seems that black is losing a pawn]

37…Rc1+ 38.Kh2 Ng6 [but black also attacks the h-pawn]

39.Rf2 Nxh4 40.Rxh5 Ng6 41.Rh7+ [Important check and now black is losing the important b-pawn. Obviously, he was more afraid of the h4 pawn, rather try to keep his b7 pawn]

41…Ke6 42.Rxb7 Ne5 43.Rb6+ Rc6 44.Rxc6+ Nxc6 [A similar endgame has been in a few old classical games. If black find the best defense, he should be able to hold]

45.Kg3 Kf7! [the only draw setup is with the king to g6]

46.Rc2 Nb4 47.Rd2 Nc6 48.Kf4 Kg6 49.Rd6 [Inaccuracy. Rd3 was best.]


49…Ne5 [49…Nb4?? 50.g4]

50.Rxa6?! [50.Rd8 a5]

50…Nf7?! 51.Ke4 [51.Ra3]

51…Nh6 52.Ra5 Nf7 53.Ra3 Nd6+ 54.Kf4 Nf5 55.Rd3 Nh6?? [55…Ng7 and maybe black should hold the position]

56.Rg3+! Kf7 57.Ke4 Ng8 58.Kf5 Ne7+ 59.Kf4 Nd5+ 60.Kg4 [60.Kf5 Ne7+ 61.Ke4 was better. Its not an easy endgame despite that the material is very little.]

60…Kg6 61.Kf3+ Kf7 62.Ke4 Ne7 63.Kf4 Nd5+ 64.Kf5 Ne7+ 65.Ke4 [The white king has to find a way forward to win the game]

65…Ng8 66.Rh3 Kg6 67.Ra3 Kf7 68.Kf4 Nh6? [68…Ne7 is the only chance for black]

69.Rg3! [now black can’t stop the white king from advancing]

69…Ng8 70.Kg4! Ne7 71.Kh5 Nd5 [71…Nc6 72.Ra3]

72.Rf3 [now white is winning]

72…Ke6 73.g4 Ke5 74.Kg6 [1–0 Black resigns.] 1–0

Anish Giri moved up to second place after he defeated Ding Liren in round 11.
Giri went for a delayed Exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez known as the Steenwijker variation: first moving the bishop to a4 and then taking on c6 after all. The idea is that with Black having played his king’s bishop to e7 already, it would be harder to defend the e5-pawn. In general, in this line black don’t have problems.

Later Ding found the excellent 17…f5! and after the next move, Giri felt he was “under huge pressure.” But right after, the Chinese GM made a mistake, missing his opponent’s reply.

White has closed the files against his king and later when Ding went b6 decided to sac a piece.

Giri called his knight sacrifice practical: “I’ve seen so many more dumb sacrifices performed by me that this was one of the better ones. It’s so easy to play and my king is so much safer. He shouldn’t have taken of course but when you suffer, you want to suffer for something sometimes.

With his win, Giri approached Nepomniachtchi by half a point. “A few people already told me that it was a great game but I don’t think it was as great as it looked at the end. At some point he was the one who had all the play, he was sort of dictating the course of the game.

(2) Giri,Anish – Ding,Liren [C85]
(11.4), 22.04.2021

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Bxc6 [this is a rare line, which by the way I used to play a long time ago often]

6…dxc6 7.d3 Bd6 8.Nbd2 [White just want to get a solid position without much active counterplay for black but he doesn’t have an active plan in the near future]

8…Be6 9.Nb3 [this is a new idea in this line]

[9.b3 Nd7 10.Nc4 0–0 11.Bb2 f6 is something common for this line with equal game]

9…Qe7 10.Na5 [obviously this is the point, now black has to castle queenside]

10…0–0–0 11.Qe2 [11.a3]

11…Bg4 12.c3 [the game is equal and it seems there will be a lot of slow moves as it is not easy for both players to attack despite the fact that we have opposite castles]

12…c5?! [this gives white some ideas to attack]

13.a3 c6 14.b4 [now already seems that white slowly will start to build his attack]

14…Bc7 15.Nb3 Nd7 16.h3 Bh5 17.Be3?! [Inaccuracy. Re1 was best.]

[17.Re1 Qe6]

17…f5! [Ding uses his chance to start counterplay on the kingside]

18.Bxc5 [18.exf5? c4 19.dxc4 (19.Nbd2 cxd3 20.Qxd3 Bxf3) 19…e4]

18…Qf7 19.Rab1 g5 [better is 19…fxe4 20.Qxe4 Nf6 21.Qf5+ Qd7 22.Qxd7+ Rxd7 23.d4 Bxf3 24.gxf3 e4 and the bishop is in trouble]

20.exf5 g4?! [Blunder. Qxf5 was best.]

[20…Qxf5 21.Qe4 Qf6=]

21.Ng5! Qxf5 22.h4 [Giri has found a good idea to block the pawns and to keep his king safe]

22…b6?! [Inaccuracy. Rhe8 was best.]

[22…Rhe8 23.Ne4 Nf6]

23.Ne4 [Giri is offering a piece but it was better to keep it more simple]

[23.Be3 Nf6 24.Ne4 g3 25.f3 Nd5 26.Nxg3 Qf7 27.Ne4]

23…bxc5?! [Inaccuracy. g3 was best.]

[23…g3! 24.Qb2 gxf2+ 25.Rxf2 Qg4]

24.bxc5! Nf6? [Mistake. Nb8 was best.]

[24…Nb8 25.Qb2 Kd7 26.Nbd2 Ke7 And white has great compensation but there is nothing forced]

25.Nd6+! Bxd6 26.cxd6 Rxd6?! [Inaccuracy. Rhe8 was best but still, the attack is very strong]

[26…Rhe8 27.d4 Kd7 28.Nc5+ Kxd6 29.Nb7++–]

27.d4 [Now the attack will decide the game]

27…c5?? [Blunder but anyway the game is probably lost.

[27…Kd8 28.Na5 Re8 29.Qxa6+–]

28.Nxc5 Re8 [28…Be8 29.Qb2] 29.Qc4 1–0

In the last round, the winner of the tournament Ian Nepomniachtchi had to face Ding Liren who just started to find his form, winning 2 games in a row. As it often happens Nepo wasn’t motivated much and lost the game, but credit also to Ding who had e great game and has finished with 3 wins in a row.
It was a deviation of Benoni, where white opted to delay with Nc3. Black has started an early attack but then in the complications white defended well and later got a serious advantage.

This way, Ding finished on 50 percent after becoming the “winner” of the second half with 4.5/7.

I hoped the tournament would be a bit longer since I was just in the form now,” he smiled. “Of course in the first half of the tournament I played very badly due to a long quarantine and I did not prepare too well. I think in the second half of the tournament at least I prepared much better and I had many promising positions. If I had played my best, maybe I would have had some chances.

(3) Ding,Liren – Nepomniachtchi,Ian [E60]
(14.3), 25.04.2021

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 e6 4.e4 c5 5.d5 d6 [With some interesting move order the game deviated to Benoni]

6.Bd3 [6.Nc3 exd5 7.cxd5 Bg7 is leading to the main lines]

6…Bg7 7.Ne2 exd5 8.cxd5 Nbd7 9.Nec3 [9.Nbc3 is more common but probably Ding wants to bring the other knight to c4 via d2]

9…a6 10.a4 Nh5 [10…0–0 11.0–0 Re8 12.Na3 Rb8 13.Nc4 Qc7 14.Bf4 is what white is hoping for]

11.0–0 Bd4+ 12.Kh1 Ne5 [black is not winning after 12…Qh4 13.Qe1 Qxe1 14.Rxe1]

13.Ne2 [no time to develop with all the comfort as after 13.Na3 Qh4 14.Ne2 Bf2 15.Nc4 Ng3+ 16.Nxg3 Bxg3 17.h3 Bxh3–+ black wins]

13…Qh4 14.Nxd4 Nxd3 [14…cxd4 15.Kg1 g5 and black has a very active position with good attacking chances]

15.Qxd3 Ng3+ 16.Kg1 Nxf1 17.Nc2! [Perhaps Ian underestimated this move.]

17…Nxh2 18.Qe3! [now white wants to trade the queens and take the knight]

18…0–0? [Mistake. g5 was best.]

[18…g5 19.Nd2 0–0 20.Nc4 but still white is better]

19.Qg5 Nxf3+ 20.gxf3 [the endgame will be very tough for black and he tries to keep the queens.]

20…Qh3 21.Bf4 Qxf3 22.Nd2 [Ding is playing faultless and with confidence. White has developed with tempo and is increasing his advantage]

22…f6 [22…Qd3 23.Qf6 Qxc2 24.Bh6]

23.Qxg6+ hxg6 24.Nxf3 Bg4 25.Nd2 Be2?! [Inaccuracy. Rad8 was best.]

[25…Rad8 26.Ne3+–]

26.Kf2 Bd3 27.Ne1 c4 [black managed to prevent Nc4 but on heavy price.]

28.Bxd6 Rfe8 29.Nxd3 cxd3 30.Bc7 Kf7 31.Ra3 Rac8 32.d6 Ke6 33.Rxd3 [the game is practically over]

33…Kd7 [33…Rh8 34.Nb3 Kd7 35.Nc5+] 34.Nc4 Rxc7 35.Nb6+ 1–0

Find this post useful? Share it?
Updated 01.02.2024