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Candidates 2020 R06: If you spot ...Re5, you should be disqualified!

by Sagar Shah - 24/03/2020

The sixth round at the Candidates 2020 was filled with tremendous excitement. Ian Nepomniachtchi scored his third win at the event and is now leading with a score of 4.5/6, a full point ahead of MVL. Although Ian's health is not the best, it didn't stop him from beating Ding Liren with the white pieces. The big news of the round was also Anish Giri getting the better of Kirill Alekseenko to register his first victory ever at the Candidates 2020. Wang Hao missed a certain win against MVL and Caruana could have pressed better in a plus position against Grischuk. We bring you game analysis, videos, pictures and all the drama from Yekaterinburg in Russia. 

Results of round 6 at the Candidates 2020

The big difference between chess players sitting at home using engines and players at the board is that - at the board you really do not know when the critical moment is about to arrive. Every moment looks the same. The opponent makes his move and presses the clock, and your time starts to run down. Is this the critical moment? Is this "the move" when I have to think hard? And then like you do for every single move, you rely upon your intuition, calculation, efficient decision making - skills that you have developed over the years and have been fine-tuning them for this very moment. But the chances of you failing are as good as you succeeding, and that's the reason why chess, just like life, will never be mastered. You can always try to pursue perfection and that will improve your practical results, but will never be able to achieve it.


Ian Nepomanichtchi vs Ding Liren

It's Black to move

A quick glance at the position convinces you that Black is in trouble. He is a pawn down and has been under pressure throughout the game. How was Ding Liren supposed to know, that this was the moment when he could end all of his suffering. How would he know that now, and not one move before, nor one move after, is the moment to actually strike. Well, you can try and rationalize it with "If white knight goes to g1, then he is completely safe. So the moment should be now!" But you are not 100% sure that the position after knight going to g1 is safe!


If Ding Liren was given a small hint that a combination existed here, he would have found it, no matter how tough it was. The right move begins with ...Rxb6! Why? You may ask. Why is it that Black is giving up a piece? Well after Rxb6 Black has the powerful move Qxe2. It is important to take this knight, because if you went ...Bxb6 (instead of Qxe2) then after Ng1, the white king is totally safe and Black is losing.

All sorts of threats are in the air. The major one is to take on b6 when both of White pieces are overloaded. The rook on b1 controls the back rank and the queen on c6 controls the h1-a8 diagonal. Hence, the rook on b6 has to move. But where? The most logical square is Rb8 attacking the bishop on d8 and threatening to win another piece. Note R6b2 is bad due to Qxb2. After Rb8, Black cannot really take on f2 now because Rxd8+ Kh7 Qe4+ g6 Re8, White is winning. He will soon play Qe2 and ...Ra2 stopping Qe2 is not possible due to Qh4+ followed by a mate.

White has moved his rook to b8 and now Black has to find the killer move!

...Re5!! An amazing move that saves the day for Black. According to Ian "If you spot ...Re5, you should be disqualified!" And perhaps this looks like a very extravagant statement to make, but one can agree with Nepo that when you are sitting at the board, and you don't really know if ...Rxb6 is right, then to actually think about ...Re5 two moves deep into a variation is quite improbable, if not impossible!


Even after the move was made on the board, Nepo, in his post game conference, couldn't believe that Black was holding here. You take the bishop first Rxd8+ Kh7 and now you look at ways to stop Qe1#. The only one that looks plausible for now is Rg1. Seems like White has dodged the bullet.

Black now takes the pawn on f2 with Qxf2. And while it looks really slow because his idea is to play Re1, White really cannot do anything to win the game! Why is it so? Because the queen is stuck to the defence of the crucial a8-h1 diagonal and the rook on d8 cannot really come to defensive duties in one move nor can White coordinate his queen and rook to launch a mating attack!

The only way for White to save this position is to give Rh8+ Kxh8 Qc8, followed by picking up the pawn on h3.

That brings us to the point here after ...Kh7 White should waste time in Rg1, but instead straight away give Rh8+ Kxh8 Qc8+ Kh7 Qxh3+

And now the only way to continue is ...Kf6. White, in spite of being a pawn up, is too passive and after something like Qf1 Qf3+ Kg1 Re2 Black has enough activity to hold the draw.

In the game Ding Liren couldn't find the move Rxb6 and instead went Rc5 when the game was lost after Qe8+ Kh7 and Ng1.
Video analysis by IM Sagar Shah

This loss puts Ding Liren in a pretty desperate spot. He is on 2.0/6 and his chances of  winning the Candidates are growing dimmer by the day. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

With tremendous concentration, and consciously trying to make lesser mistakes than his opponents, Ian Nepomanichtchi has reached a score of 4.5/6. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Anna Burtasova (AB): Well, in general Ian, are you a sportsman in the sense for you the result is the most important thing or are you more of an artist who is more concerned about the quality and purity of the game?

Ian: Well, in this tournament, I don't think this question should be asked at all. It's of course about the result. And I mean in general I don't care because I am playing this event right now.


AB: Speaking of this tournament, you are obviously in a very good form here. What do you specifically think helped you to get in such good shape before this very important event?

Ian: I don't know, I am just trying to make less mistakes than my opponents. Clearly in today's game there's nothing special for White but maybe my opponent wanted to play for a win and that's why chose this c6 d5 line which seems promising from human point of view but strategically is very risky.


AB: You are coughing a bit. Are you generally feeling okay?

Ian: I am definitely not feeling okay. I just wanted to make a quick draw today. Of course, they ran some tests and the result was negative but in general the whole atmosphere here doesn't help you to be healthy.

Standings after round 6

Although everything is progressing without any issues for now, the Candidates is under the perpetual cloud of being called off. Alexander Grischuk has already mentioned that he is not keen on playing on. Caruana on the other hand is raised concerns over him going back home to USA and that he wouldn't be allowed to enter after the tournament ends. In the press conference Ian Nepomniachtchi also wasn't feeling well. Perhaps the rest day may help the leader.

Nepo shares his analysis after his win over Ding Liren

Anish Giri's first win at the Candidates 2020

It took him nearly four years to score his first win at the Candidates, but Anish Giri finally was able to do it!

Anish Giri makes some precautionary moves with a hand sanitizer before his sixth round encounter against Alekseenko | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Anish after the game said, "The game was actually very interesting. In the opening I got a very good position. I knew after d5 I was slightly better."


Alekseenko vs Giri

The move ...d5 is a very thematic one for black in this opening. It somehow feels as if White wasn't the best prepared and his timing of the moves Re1, Nf1, h3 might not have been in the most appropriate move order.

" After that I don't know if I played very well but I was able to maintain some pressure. At some point I could trade queens and go for this slightly better knight ending but I think it was a draw so I didn't do it. He was really really fine after this but I think he started to think about tricking me because probably he could have drawn by just taking on b7. But he tried tricking me... and actually some people have done this to me like Wei Yi in the Grand Prix and Alireza Firouzja in Wijk Aan Zee."

White could have taken on b7 and got a drawn position, but instead, he wanted to fight for more. So he went Qd7.

" Here I was a little more focus and managed to find the move b6 and then I was pressing. Then we reached a very interesting position where I gave back my extra pawn and reached this totally drawn three versus three endgame but I still had some tricks. I don't think he played very well after this. At some point I think Nh1+ was an immediate draw but I don't know why he didn't do it..."

White had two ways to draw in this position. One was to go Nh1+ and the other was to push the pawn to h5. In both the lines White holds without any real difficulties. In the game Alekseenko played Nd3, which was a losing move and lost in a few moves after Nd5+

"In the end I almost had a heart attack because I realized I was going to win my first ever game in Candidates. I think I never had such high heartbeat...We need a good doctor check up today! (Smiles)"

Anish Giri beat Kirill Alekseenko to register his first win at a Candidates event after 19 games! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

One may say that Anish got lucky that his opponent blundered. But blunders do not occur in vacuum. Giri pressed Alekseenko for over six hours and when you have to defend for so long, mistakes are clearly possible to occur. How does Anish manage to keep himself fit so that he can play such long games? "Well, in general I don't think you have to be very fit to play good chess. There are very good chess players with very big bellies who seem not very fit but they still do quite well. I am not particularly fit either. I do some sports. For this event I did some physical activities during my training camp. Basically today's game wasn't that hard...There was a phase where I didn't have to think much. At one point I was looking at the screen and saw Ian won very easily and other games ended in draws. I thought to myself that this whole tournament was like a birthday party for Ian where everyone was coming and giving him presents but no one was happy except the birthday boy! So yeah, these were the thoughts I was having during the game!"

Anish Giri's interview with Anna Burtasova after his first win at the Candidates 2020

You can never get enough of the Giri humour! | Photo: Lennart Ootes
GM Vidit Gujrathi analyzes the game between Alekseenko and Giri

Grischuk vs Caruana

Caruana arrived for the game well on time! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Even posed for the photographers! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Grischuk, as always, came in a hurry and was slightly late! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The exciting game began! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

AB: It seemed you got a good position Alexander but very little time on the clock. How was it going for you?

Grischuk: Well, I was playing a pawn down position. Although I thought I had some compensation but I don't think it was nice in any way. Maybe it was nice but of course when you play half of the game against computer, against preparation then it's hard to be ambitious. And then I thought I completely defended but I blundered again. After that I was worse again...I was quite lucky because if not Nd2 on move 41 I think I was just suffering. I had a sequence of only moves that luckily held the position.  


Grischuk vs Caruana

It was only after the first time control that Grischuk felt he had things under control

AB: And Fabi what was the estimation from your side? Of course you came very well prepared but did you think you had enough compensation for the pawn?

Fabi: Yes, Re8 is sort of a very rare move and I think it is very clever. I mean it looks like it's tactically losing after de5 Be3 ef6 but somehow it all works out for Black.

...Re8 by Caruana is a rare move which has only been played twice before!

"Alexander chose a very dangerous pawn sacrifice. I wasn't happy to see it because I knew this position after Qd4 with knight on a7 is not easy to play. But I had some prior knowledge of the position and also I had a big time at one point I started feeling optimistic as well."

...Bf5 came as a surprise for Grischuk. He realized that the knight could not be taken on a7 as after Nc5, either the queen would get trapped or the bishop on b3 would hang.

"I was happy to find this c5 trick, I thought the position turned from unclear to safe and better for me."

Caruana's ...c5 was a strong move because dxc6 was impossible due to Be6 and Black has improved his position

Black could have put a lot of pressure here if he had chosen the plan with Kf8! transferring the king to the queenside. But Caruana erred with ...g6 and Grischuk managed to hold.

"In the endgame I was very optimistic but I overlooked Nd2 and after that simply couldn't find anything. Maybe there were some better tries than what I did in the game but I just couldn't find them. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out some subtle way after Nd2 but as far as I saw there was nothing there."


AB: Alexander you said in the end you were lucky to find the only moves. So my question to both of you is what do you consider luck in chess?

Alexander: Luck is such things that cannot be calculated in advance but then everything works in your favour in the end. That's one of the cases of luck. Let's say there's a position where you and your opponent both think is much better for you and then after some forced lines there is suddenly some tactical trick and you are now much worse. That's bad luck for you.


Fabi: I think sometimes you have these moments when you miss something and it helps you. Sometimes you see too much and miss some important detail but it turns out that it is actually not harmful for you. And sometimes you just go for a good line for a bad reason.

AB: Now that Ian Nepomniachtchi is leading with a clear margin and both of you are on 50%, do you think you need to change something in your strategy for the rest of the tournament? Maybe play some riskier openings.

Fabi: (Smiles) I don't know what is a riskier opening than what I have been playing. But yes it is not a great situation to be in but there are still eight rounds to go which is normally like a full tournament. But 1.5 points is quite a big margin.


Grischuk: I think I just need to improve my play and not go for some strategy change or something. The way I am playing right now, it would be laughable to talk about to finishing in the top.

Post game interview with Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk

Wang Hao vs MVL

The mandatory checking before the game! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wang Hao's favourite fruit! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The game was clearly better for Wang Hao, but in the end Maxime managed to hang on | Photo: Maria Emelianova

MVL hasn't lost a single game at the Candidates 2020 and is now in the second position with 3.5/6 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wang Hao is playing some excellent chess and was very close to beating MVL. In the end he had to agree to a draw. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

AB: Hao you were of course pressing. How did you feel? Could you perhaps play better?

Hao: No in the start I was not planning to play anything special. Black could have made a quick draw with some precise moves but it seemed during the game Maxime didn't remember the lines. I had some chances and was also a pawn up but Black had a very good fortress and it wasn't enough to make progress for White.


AB: And what about you Maxime, when did you start feeling safe?

MVL: I never really felt safe. I was blundering so many things today but at some point somehow my position was solid and that's why I could hold. But I really can't be happy with my game today, especially comparing to the way I have played so far.


AB: If you could go back in distant past, maybe to your childhood. Would you make any changes to your chess preparation and your style?

MVL: I don't know if I could go back in time and be aware of leela and alpha zero. That could probably change some of my opening play!

Hao: Well, I wouldn't start a chess career at all. I would do something related to the financial markets. (Smiles)

Interview with MVL and Wang Hao

Pairings for round 7

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