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Nepo stops Kramnik, catches Carlsen | Legends of Chess Round 5

by Tanmay Srinath - 26/07/2020

At the halfway mark, we finally begin to have some clarity in the standings! Ian Nepomniachtchi cruised past Peter Svidler 3-1, catching Magnus Carlsen, who needed an Armageddon to seal a comeback win over Vassily Ivanchuk. Vladimir Kramnik continues his hot streak, this time beating the out-of-sorts Ding Liren to claim sole third place with 10 points, 4 behind the leaders. Anish Giri continued to slowly climb up the rankings, this time beating Boris Gelfand, who has suddenly lost 3 matches in a row after a brilliant start. Peter Leko played the better chess in the entire match against Vishy Anand, but had to win the Armageddon game to go through after losing a winning position in Game 1. With 4 rounds to go, it's still anyone's race to take as the top 4 spots are still up for grabs. An exhaustive report by Tanmay Srinath.

As Magnus Carlsen won match after match, Ian Nepomniachtchi silently continued to do his thing, and only in Round 5 did he finally catch the leader at the top, after Vassily Ivanchuk pushed Magnus to the brink. With Carlsen and Nepo yet to play, this matchup could be decisive in determining the group stage winner. Vladimir Kramnik is another 'veteran' who has show astonishing consistency, as he has now climbed up to sole third place, a point ahead of Peter Svidler, who saw his hot streak suffer with losses in the last 2 rounds. Peter Leko,Vishy Anand and Ding Liren are almost out of contention for the top 4 places, as they will need to win all their 4 remaining match and need a host of results to go their way. But with this intriguing scoring system, the impossible becomes possible, so one can only get super excited at the action that is to come!


Nepo 3-1 Svidler:

Nepo is on fire, having won all his matches till now. | Photo: FIDE Candidates 2020

Definitely the highlight of the round, as we have Nepo catching up to Magnus with this great win. Let us look at the two decisive games that resulted in the current Russian No.1 taking the match:


Nepo-Svidler(Game 3)

I am very impressed with Nepo's opening choice. While it might not be the most principled, it definitely is most subtle. Anyone who feels Black is fine here should take a closer look at the b-pawns. While White's b4 pawn is completely safe, Black's b5 pawn can easily be attacked by White's pieces, and the d5-e4 White center is stronger than Black's d6-e5 center. White is better here.

Things have not gone well for Svidler, but here was his last chance to say in the game - grab the b4 pawn and pray that he survives. Instead, after Nd6 Qc6! Peter had to resign as White's pieces are too suffocating and Black will sooner or later be zugzwanged.

Game 4 was a must win game for Svidler, and true to his style throughout this tournament he chose a variant of 1.Nf3. He had a better chance of gaining an advantage had he chosen the right continuation on move 13:



13.f3!?, played by Svidler, seems a little anti positional, as you would rather have your bishop on f3 in such structures. Placing another pawn on a light square despite having a light squared bishop, even if it means taking the e4 square under control, doesn't seem correct.

Later in the game Peter missed the only chance to hold in his quest to play for the win:



A draw is as good as a loss for Svidler, but 35.R5d3 instead of 35.Re1 was the only way to keep hopes of winning alive. Instead after 35.Re1 c6! Nepo is completely winning, and he made no mistake in bringing the point home.

Kramnik 2.5-1.5 Ding:

Training the young geniuses seems to have reinvigorated Kramnik's game! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

This is a match where the scoreline doesn't paint the full picture, as Kramnik had to come from behind to beat Ding Liren. Vlad's decision to retire may not be reversible, but we have no complaints if he continues to come back and create masterpieces in the faster formats!


Game 1 did not go according to plan for Kramnik. He chose to play 1.e4 in the match, and while both games saw the same Sozin Najdorf the first was not such great play from the Russian Genius. But he fought back admirably, only to lose to either a mouse slip or incredible time trouble:



Kramnik must have been in severe time pressure here, as a player of his class would easily find Be6! here with a drawn Rook ending. Instead he either badly blundered or made a mouse-slip with Re3?? and immediately resigned. A sad way to start the match for the former world champion.

But Kramnik did not reach the World Title by fluke. His enormous mental strength saw him retaliating in the very next game:



Here White has to play extremely precisely to maintain the balance, and 14.Bg5 is the way to go, after which the situation is balanced. Instead Ding played the natural 14.Rad1, but immediately ran into trouble after 14...Qe7! when White is struggling to prove compensation for the pawn. Kramnik played smoothly from here to convert his advantage.

Game 3 was a draw, but Kramnik continued to play strongly, and won game 4 after an impressive performance pressured Ding into blundering a piece:



Here the normal 57.Rh7+ or 57.Rg5+ seems to keep the match going, though Kramnik has a huge advantage in any case. Ding however simply blundered with 57.Rxh4, and after f5! Black wins easily.

Giri 2.5-1.5 Gelfand:

Anish manages to beat his more experienced colleague. | Photo: FIDE Grand Prix

After a rough start, it seems that Anish Giri is slowly getting his mojo back, as today he comfortably got past the legend Boris Gelfand, whose form has dipped after two brilliant wins in the first 2 rounds. It makes sense to look at the decisive last round game, which saw Giri repeat the line that Fabiano used against him in the Candidates:



Had Gelfand or Giri read up on my articles, they would know that here 10...dxc4!N 11.Bxc4 a5!! completely equalises the game. Instead, Giri followed Caruana with 10...Nbd7, and the game proceeded on normal paths until Boris committed the decisive mistake.

27.Qc3 or 23.Be3 keeps the game level. Instead, after 27.Nb6? Nxb6 Black is winning at least a pawn, and in the game Giri never let go till the end. A supreme performance from the Dutch No.1.

Carlsen 2*-2 Ivanchuk (*-Won the Armageddon):

These 2 have quite a history! | Photo: Nailya Bikmurzina/Daniel McMahon/Gregor Anthes

After staying unbeaten in the last 4 rounds, Carlsen lost his first game of the tournament against a persistent Ivanchuk, who took advantage of a sudden blunder by Magnus to win game 1. However, Carlsen stayed on course and came back with a win to tie the scores, and later won the Armageddon. A closer look at the decisive games:



74.Qe6 holds the game comfortably as Black doesn't have a winning answer to Rf7. Instead, 74.Qb3? blunders mate in 4 after Qd7+!

Carlsen however is the strongest player on the planet today, and he soon bounced back:



Sometimes anti-positional solutions are correct. Here one should take the pawn on h6, as it is too strong to be left alone. Instead after 41...g5? Carlsen had a winning advantage that he polished off.

The Armageddon was a dramatic encounter, sealed by mutual blindness, similar to a previous Carlsen game (against Anand if I am not mistaken):



Here it was a rather curious situation. White is completely winning after taking the pawn on e5, but Chucky instead chose to take on c5, which is a huge blunder on account of Nxe4!. However, Magnus missed this shot, and played Rb8? (see next diagram)

Here 36.Qa7 at least maintains a big advantage, but Chucky again missed the fork on e4 and played 36.Qf2?. Carlsen immediately pounced on it with 36...Nxe4! and won the game.

Leko 2*-2 Anand (*-Won the Armageddon)

Two rivals and friends of the 2000s still fighting it out among the 20 year olds! | Photo: Britannica Kids

In a match where 1.e4 dominated for the first time in ages, Vishy Anand and Peter Leko both made numerous mistakes, but the former Hungarian prodigy was clearly the more consistent player in the match.


However, it would have all ended sooner had Leko not committed Hara-Kiri in game 1:



Here literally any move wins for Black except the one Leko played, as long as Rf8+ is not allowed. Instead after 55...Qc2?? Black is mated by force after 56.Rf8+

However, Leko has definitely been the better player in this tournament, even if his fabled technique hasn't shown up to the party. In a must win situation in game 4 he delivered the goods after Anand slipped up in a sharp Giuoco Pianissimo middlegame:



19...Qe7! is the correct move, bringing the other rook into the game via the last rank and developing a piece. Instead after 19...d5 20.e5! Black's rook is cut off from the action, and White won with a furious attack in just 2 more moves.

However what has worked against Anand in this tournament is that his usually good time management is just below par this time around. He lost on time against Anish in the Armageddon despite having an extra minute (5 minutes to 4 as he was White), and this (poor time management) can probably explain the panicky blunder in this Armageddon:



After 65...Qe1 it is hard to see how Black can lose the game. Instead after 65...Bxh4?? Black doesn't have a perpetual and is dead lost.

However, speaking from experience, it is just impossible to write Anand off. I have had to eat my own words many a times before, and this is why I can confidently say that pretty soon Anand will be whipping the youngsters! One just hopes that it begins in this tournament, though as a Team India Supporter I would be happier if it happened in the Online Olympiad!

As he proved back in Khanty 2014, Anand is most dangerous when he has a bad streak to overcome. Come on Tiger! | Photo: FIDE Candidates 2014

Standings after Round 5

Replay all games of round 5