[Event "FIDE Candidates"] [Site "Yekaterinburg"] [Date "2020.03.23"] [Round "6"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Sam Shankland"] [PlyCount "79"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] 1. e4 {The most important game of round six was definitely Ian Nepomniatchi against Ding Liren. Nepo had showed excellent form in the first five rounds and was leading the tournament by half a point, while Ding, who many (including myself) considered the pretournament favorite had struggled thus far. A decisive result would change a lot. A win for Ding would have put him back on 50% and dragged the early leader down to +1, blasting the tournament wide open. But the opposite turned out to be the final result, and Nepomniatchi now has a full-point lead after the first six rounds while relegating Ding to the bottom of the crosstable.} e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 {Given Ding's disaster against MVL and that he faced some problems against Grischuk, I was a little surprised he stuck with the same repertoire for a third time. I thought he would try to pivot and find something a little feistier and less vulnerable to targeted preparation.} 6. d3 {The first notable move of the game.} (6. Re1 {This was the choice of both MVL and Grischuk, and Ding got into some trouble in the opening in both games. I guess Nepo expected him to have solved his problems here.}) 6... b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3 O-O 9. Nc3 Na5 10. Ba2 Be6 11. b4 Bxa2 12. Rxa2 Nc6 13. Bg5 {This position has been reasonably common as of late. I never understood these Spanish structures so well, but I always thought Black should avoid allowing the bishop for knight exchange on f6.} Qd7 (13... Ng4 {and}) (13... Nd7 { are very valid alternatives.}) 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Nd5 a5 16. Rb2 {Both sides were blitzing up to here, and only now Ding started to think.} axb4 17. axb4 Bd8 18. c4 Nd4 19. Nxd4 exd4 20. Qc2 Re8 21. g3 {Nepomniatchi has prepared very well and was still in his analysis at this point, and Ding's position looks a little fragile. The pawn on d4 can fall at any moment.} bxc4 22. Qxc4 c6 23. Nf4 Bg5 24. Ne2 $1 $16 {Black is under serious pressure. The pawn on d4 is ripe for plucking next move and he doesn't seem to have any notable counterplay.} (24. Qxd4 $4 {Of course White should not be so quick to take on d4.} Bf6 $19) 24... d5 25. exd5 cxd5 26. Qb3 $1 {The doubled pawns on d5 and d4 are causing two serious problems to Black's position. First off, they are weak and hard to defend, but secondly, they have allowed White a dangerous passed pawn on b4 that is well supported by the queen and rook on the b-file, and a serious danger to run straight down the board. At this point, Ding started to defend very well.} h5 $1 {Active counterplay. Black is looking to launch the h-pawn deep into White's position to compromise his king safety, much like Nepo did himself against Wang Hao yesterday.} 27. b5 h4 28. b6 h3 ( 28... Rab8 {Black could have considered taking a moment to get the rook in front of the b-pawn.}) 29. Kh1 $1 {A very strong move. White is planning Ng1, which will cover the f3-square, making it impossible for Black to find a way to get the queen to g2, and also pressuring the h3-pawn, which could drop off at any moment.} Reb8 30. Rfb1 Bd8 $6 {This feels like the wrong plan to me. Somehow I don't like the combination of spending three tempi on h5-h4-h3 to try to make White's king uncomfortable, and then promptly shifting all the pieces to the queenside. It seems inconsistent.} (30... Rb7 {I would have preferred blocking the pawn, and hoping to follow up with Rab8 next. The bishop on g5 may end up being useful some day.}) 31. Qb5 $1 Qg4 $2 (31... Qf5 { The machine prefers this move, but Black's position is hardly a bed of roses after} 32. Nxd4 $16) 32. Qxd5 $18 {White is a clean pawn up, and a very dangerous one on b6 at that, and has secured the long diagonal. But he still has to be careful. Nepo had barely used 10 minutes on the whole game at this point, and he could have done himself a favor by slowing down, given that he had a ton of time to make not very many moves.} Ra5 33. Qc6 $2 {Nepo played this move almost immediately, and was lucky it went unpunished.} (33. f3 $1 $18 {White should win pretty routinely.}) 33... Rc5 $2 {And Ding repays the favor, perhaps having already mentally given up. Black had a strong tactical resource that could have saved the game.} (33... Rxb6 $1 34. Rxb6 Qxe2 35. Rb8 {It's easy to see this far and expect Black to resign, as White has won material and covered both the back rank and the long diagonal. But after} Re5 $1 36. Rxd8+ Kh7 {It turns out White has a real problem defending e1, and he has no checks to try to mate Black first with his extra material. For instance, after} 37. Rg1 Qxf2 $1 {The twin threats of Re2 and Re1 are hard to meet, and White should think about how to equalize. This variation is not obvious by any stretch, but it's not crazy difficult either. If Ding had been on better form, Nepo may well have ended up regretting playing so fast.}) 34. Qe8+ Kh7 35. Ng1 $18 {Now its all over.} Rxb6 36. Qxd8 Rxb2 37. Rxb2 Rc1 38. Qh4+ Qxh4 39. gxh4 Rd1 40. f3 {Although there was a hiccup, this was still a very convincing win by Nepomniatchi, and given his current lead, I think he is a solid favorite to win the Candidates at this moment.} 1-0 [Event "FIDE Candidates"] [Site "Yekaterinburg"] [Date "2020.03.23"] [Round "6"] [White "Alekseenko, Kirill"] [Black "Giri, Anish"] [Result "0-1"] [Annotator "Sam Shankland"] [PlyCount "196"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] 1. e4 {The other decisive game of the round featured two of the guys at the bottom of the crosstable. Giri managed to reach a pawn-up knight endgame that must be a draw objectively, but there are always practical chances as such positions are very difficult for a human to defend, even a very strong one.} e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. c3 O-O 7. Re1 a5 8. Nbd2 Be6 9. Bb5 Ba7 $5 {The first surprise. Almost everyone has been playing Qb8 in this position, and Alekseenko has played this position multiple times with White. Giri therefore could not have been surprised and must have decided to play Ba7 before the game, but I'm not sure the move is equalizing.} (9... Qb8 {This position is probably the most critical one in the entire Italian, and has been contested a lot in the last couple years, including several games from Alekseenko on the white side.}) 10. Nf1 Ne7 11. Ng3 c6 12. Ba4 Ng6 13. h3 $6 { This is complacent and slow.} (13. d4 {White should have tried this, taking space in the center and preventing Black from playing d5. I would assume Black would try to make use of the h3-omission by going} Bg4 {But I am not convinced he will equalize. Further tests are of course needed.}) 13... d5 $1 {In general in the Italian, if Black can safely play d5 before White can go d4, he ends up fine. This position is no exception.} 14. exd5 Nxd5 15. Bc2 (15. Nxe5 $2 {The pawn is immune due to a well-known tactic.} Nxe5 16. Rxe5 Bxf2+ $1 17. Kxf2 Qf6+ {And Black wins.}) 15... Qc7 16. d4 exd4 17. Nxd4 Rae8 $1 {Not fearing the capture on e6 due to the weakness on f2. Black is a bit more comfortable already, and White will have to be careful to hang on. I think Alekseenko defended well, to a point.} 18. Bg5 (18. Nxe6 $2 Bxf2+ $1 19. Kxf2 fxe6+ $19 {Black will take back his piece on g3, and remain a pawn up with a more active position.}) 18... Ndf4 19. Qd2 Bd5 20. Rxe8 $6 {This feels a little bit desperate, and possibly based on a miscalculation.} (20. Bxg6 Nxg6 21. Ndf5 $11 {The computer suggests this is a convincing route to equality, with Bg5-e3 coming next to challenge Black's bishop pair. I won't argue with the machine.}) 20... Rxe8 21. Re1 $2 Re5 $6 (21... Rxe1+ $1 22. Qxe1 Kf8 $1 { Would have left White with a lot of problems to solve. It's possible both players missed that} 23. Bxg6 {could be met with Nxg2, but even the simple hxg6 is quite good for Black as well.}) 22. Bxf4 Rxe1+ 23. Qxe1 Qxf4 {Black missed the best chance but is still pleasantly better due to the excellent unopposed bishop on a7. White tried to halve the bishop pair, but it did not solve his problems.} 24. Qe8+ (24. Ndf5 {The machine prefers this move. It may be right but White still faces a tough defense after} Kf8 $15) 24... Nf8 25. Bb3 Bxd4 26. cxd4 Bxb3 27. axb3 Qf6 28. Qe4 {One look at White's structure is enough to know he has a long defense ahead of him. Around this point, I think Alekseenko started defending very well and made the good decision to try to liquidate the queenside.} g6 29. Ne2 Ne6 30. h4 h5 31. g3 Qd8 32. Qe5 {Black may have had better choices in the preceding moves, but he still has a nice position after something simple like Qc7 or Kf8. The next move is hard to understand. I imagine Giri must have missed something concrete, but I can't figure out what it might have been. It's hard to believe he would just let White liquidate the d4-weakness due to a lack of understanding.} Qb6 $6 33. d5 $1 {White takes his chance to exchange off one of his weak pawns. I think Giri must have thought Nc5 or Qc5 or something worked well for him here and miscalculated.} cxd5 34. Qxd5 Kf8 35. Nc3 Qc7 36. Ne4 $11 {White should be fine here, but somehow he lost control.} Qc1+ 37. Kg2 Qxb2 38. Qd7 $2 (38. Qxb7 $11 {I don't know what White could have missed. This seems to be an immediate draw.}) 38... b6 39. Nd6 Qf6 40. Qe8+ Kg7 {Time control has been reached and White is a pawn down. It should still be a draw due to his activity, but care must be taken.} 41. Qd7 Kg8 42. Qe8+ Nf8 43. Qc6 $1 {A good decision. Black turtled up on the kingside to avoid a perpetual and now has trouble defending b6.} Qd8 44. Nc4 $6 {White misses a nice tactical resource.} (44. Nb7 {The machine finds this move and equalizes after} Qd4 45. Nd6 $1 {when Black's queen is locked away from the kingside and Ne6 will always be impossible due to Qe8+. Black is out of tricks to try as Qc7 is on the way.}) 44... Ne6 (44... Qd7 $1 45. Qxb6 Qd5+ $1 46. Kh2 a4 $1 $17 {Surprisingly, White has real trouble keeping everything protected. It may still be holdable, but he is almost in zugzwang and the machine is recommending bxa4, going a piece down.}) 45. Nxb6 Nd4 46. Qc5 $2 (46. Qb7 $1 {This would have saved the day after} Nxb3 47. Nd7 $1 {when Ne5 will come next and White has enough counterplay to hang on.}) 46... Nxb3 47. Qb5 Nd2 $1 {Alekseenko may have underestimated this idea. He gets the a5-pawn back but suddenly faces mating threats.} 48. Qxa5 Qd3 49. Qa1 Qe4+ 50. Kg1 Nf3+ 51. Kf1 Nxh4 {Black has taken a pawn and the knight is immune due to the skewer. Alekseenko made the right choice to go into the knight endgame, but although it is probably a draw objectively, it was hard to hold and he eventually faltered.} 52. Qa8+ Qxa8 53. Nxa8 Nf3 54. Kg2 Ne5 55. f4 Ng4 56. Nb6 Kf8 57. Nd5 Ke8 58. Nc3 Ke7 59. Ne4 Ne3+ 60. Kf3 Nc4 61. Ng5 Kf6 62. Ne4+ Kf5 63. Nf2 Nd2+ 64. Ke3 Nf1+ 65. Kf3 Nh2+ 66. Kg2 Ng4 67. Nh3 f6 68. Kf3 Ke6 69. Ke4 Kd6 70. Ng1 Kc5 71. Kd3 Nh6 72. Ke3 Nf5+ 73. Kf3 Kc4 74. Nh3 Nd4+ 75. Ke3 Nf5+ 76. Kf3 Kd4 77. Nf2 Nd6 78. Nh3 Ne4 79. Ng1 Kd3 80. Kg2 Nd2 81. Kf2 Ke4 82. Ne2 Nb1 83. Ng1 h4 84. Nh3 Kf5 85. gxh4 Kg4 86. f5 gxf5 87. Ke3 Nc3 88. Nf2+ Kg3 {Finally, after a long game with lots of mistakes made and opportunities missed, Alekseenko was the last one to err.} 89. Nd3 $2 (89. h5 $1 {Sending the pawn would have saved the game. It's possible Alekseenko missed } Nd5+ 90. Kd4 $1 (90. Ke2 $2 Nf4+ $19)) 89... Nd5+ $1 90. Kd4 Nf4 $1 {Now Black ends up with two extra pawns, and even though they are doubled, they are decisive. This game contained a lot of errors, but despite the simple-looking nature of the queen and knight endgame, it actually was a very tough position to play and I find it unsurprising even two very strong combatants made so many oversights. Although it looked like the evaluation bounced around a lot, it was always between equal and in Black's favor. It is exhausting to be on the worse side of the game for so long, and finally on move 90, Alekseenko reached a position that could no longer be saved. This game reminded me a lot of a loss I had to Wesley So, also as White in an Italian, where a simple-looking position was very hard to play well; we both made lots of errors, the evaluation bounced around a lot between equal and much better for Black, and ultimately the game was decided by a very simple blunder at the end when I finally had the draw within reach, mostly due to fatigue from such a long defense. So, I can empathize with Alekseenko here.} 91. Nc5 Kxh4 92. Ke3 Kg3 93. Nb3 Ne6 94. Nd2 f4+ 95. Ke2 Ng5 96. Kf1 f3 97. Kg1 f2+ 98. Kf1 f5 0-1 [Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg"] [Date "2020.03.23"] [Round "6.1"] [White "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2777"] [BlackElo "2842"] [Annotator "TA"] [PlyCount "108"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 7. a4 Rb8 8. c3 d6 9. d4 Bb6 10. a5 {C78: Ruy Lopez: Archangelsk and Möller Defences.} Ba7 $1 11. h3 O-O 12. Be3 Re8 {[#]} 13. Ng5 $146 ({Predecessor:} 13. dxe5 Bxe3 14. exf6 Bh6 15. fxg7 Qf6 16. Nh2 Ne5 17. Qh5 Nc4 18. Bc2 Qxg7 19. Ng4 Bxg4 20. hxg4 b4 21. b3 Rb5 {1/2-1/2 (21) Libiszewski,F (2458)-Guadalpi,D (2281) Aix les Bains 2003}) 13... Rf8 14. Nf3 (14. Re1 $11) 14... Re8 $16 {The modern move.} 15. Re1 (15. dxe5 $16 dxe5 16. Qxd8 Rxd8 17. Bxa7 Nxa7 18. Nxe5) 15... exd4 $11 ({But not} 15... Nxe4 $6 16. d5 $16) 16. cxd4 Nxe4 17. d5 Bxe3 18. Rxe3 Na7 $1 19. Qd4 Bf5 20. Nbd2 Nc5 21. Rxe8+ Qxe8 22. Re1 Qf8 23. Bd1 { aiming for Nh4.} b4 $1 24. Be2 Qd8 25. Bf1 h6 26. Re3 b3 (26... c6 $11) 27. Qf4 {White has compensation.} Bd7 28. Nd4 Rb4 29. Rg3 Qe7 30. Bc4 ({Avoid the trap } 30. Qxh6 $2 Qe5 $19) 30... Nb5 31. N4xb3 Nxb3 32. Rxb3 Qe1+ 33. Kh2 $1 Rxb3 34. Nxb3 Qb4 35. Qe4 c5 36. Qd3 ({Don't blunder} 36. dxc6 $2 Be6 $19) 36... g6 37. g4 Kg7 38. Kg2 Nc7 (38... Bc8 $15) 39. Qc3+ {The position is equal.} Qxc3 40. bxc3 {Endgame KBN-KBN} f5 41. Nd2 Kf6 42. Kg3 Bb5 43. Bb3 Be2 44. gxf5 gxf5 45. f4 Nb5 46. c4 Nc3 47. Bc2 Bd1 48. Bd3 Na2 49. Kf2 Nb4 50. Ke3 Bc2 51. Be2 Na2 52. Nf1 Nc1 53. Kd2 {[#] And now Bh5 would win.} Nxe2 54. Kxe2 Ba4 { Accuracy: White = 86%, Black = 94%.} 1/2-1/2 [Event "FIDE Candidates 2020"] [Site "Yekaterinburg"] [Date "2020.03.23"] [Round "6.4"] [White "Wang, Hao"] [Black "Vachier Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2762"] [BlackElo "2767"] [Annotator "TA"] [PlyCount "165"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Bc4 c5 8. Ne2 O-O 9. O-O Nc6 10. Be3 b6 {Nowadays more popular than 10...Qc7.} 11. h4 { D87: Exchange Grünfeld: Classical Line: Variations without ...cxd4.} e6 12. h5 Qh4 13. hxg6 hxg6 14. f3 Bb7 15. Qd2 cxd4 16. cxd4 Rfd8 17. Rac1 {[#]} Qe7 $146 ({Predecessor:} 17... Be5 18. f4 Bg7 19. Rf3 Rac8 20. Rh3 Qg4 21. Qe1 Nxd4 22. Nxd4 Bxd4 23. Bxd4 Rxd4 {1/2-1/2 (44) Dubov,D (2676)-Svidler,P (2719) Hamburg 2019}) 18. Rfd1 Rac8 19. Bg5 Bf6 20. Bxf6 Qxf6 21. Qe3 Kg7 22. Kf2 Rh8 23. Rh1 $36 {Black is under pressure.} Rxh1 24. Rxh1 Rh8 25. Rxh8 Kxh8 26. Qc3 Kg8 27. d5 Qxc3 28. Nxc3 $11 {Endgame KBN-KBN} Na5 29. Bd3 exd5 (29... Kg7 $14) 30. exd5 $16 Kf8 (30... Bc8 $16) 31. Ke3 $18 Ke7 32. Kd4 Bc8 {[#]} 33. Nb5 $1 a6 34. Nc7 Kd6 35. Nxa6 Nb7 36. g4 (36. Nb4 $142) 36... g5 $16 37. Nb4 {Black must now prevent Ba6.} Bd7 38. Nc2 Ke7 39. Ne3 Nd6 40. Nd1 Ba4 41. Nf2 f6 42. Be2 Be8 43. Nd1 Ba4 44. Nb2 Be8 45. Bd1 (45. Bd3 $16) 45... Nb5+ $11 46. Kc4 Nc7 $1 47. Bb3 Kd6 48. Kd4 {[#] aiming for Nc4+.} Nb5+ 49. Kd3 Nc7 50. Nc4+ Kc5 $1 51. Nd2 {Hoping for Ne4+.} Bb5+ 52. Ke4 {Kf5 is the strong threat.} Bd7 $1 53. Nf1 Nb5 54. Ng3 Nd6+ 55. Ke3 f5 56. gxf5 Bxf5 57. Nxf5 Nxf5+ $14 {KB-KN} 58. Ke4 Nh4 $1 59. Ba4 Kd6 60. Be8 Ng2 61. Bf7 Ne1 62. a4 Nc2 63. Be8 Ne1 64. Bb5 Ng2 65. Bc4 Nh4 66. Bf1 Kc5 67. Bh3 Kd6 68. Be6 (68. Bg4 $14) 68... Ng6 ({ Black should play} 68... Ng2 $1 $11) 69. Bf7 ({Better is} 69. Kd4 $1 $14) 69... Nh4 (69... Ne7 $1 $11 70. Be6 Ng6) 70. Be8 Ng2 71. Bb5 Nh4 72. Bd3 Kc5 73. Bf1 Kd6 74. Bh3 Ng6 75. Be6 Nh4 76. Bf7 Ke7 77. Bh5 {Strongly threatening Ke5.} Kd6 78. Bg4 $1 Ng2 79. Kf5 Kxd5 80. Kxg5 Ke5 81. Kg6 (81. Bf5 $16) 81... Nf4+ $11 82. Kf7 Nd3 83. Ke7 {Black escapes into a draw. Accuracy: White = 85%, Black = 83%.} 1/2-1/2
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