Candidates Tournament
LET’S PLAY CHESS - Edgar De Castro (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Wang Hao (China) and local bet Ian Nepomniachtchi shared the Candidates Tournament lead with 2.0 points, after third  round play in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

They were followed by top-seeded American  Fabiano Caruana and Russian Alexander Grischuk,  at 1.5, and No. 2 seed Ding Liren (China), Anish  Giri (Netherlands) and Russian wild card Kirik  Alekseenko with 1.0.

MVL, a last-minute replacement for Radjabov,  got more than he bargained for in his first competitive  Candidates appearance, fending  off No. 2 seed Ding  Liren. Ding, who was quarantined  for two weeks in  Moscow prior to the tournament,  lost his first two  games, but bounced back by beating top favorite  Caruana in round three.

This is about what you would not expect up to this point. The top two seeds, Caruana and Ding were in the middle  and bottom in terms of total score, and lower seeds MVL, Nepomniachtchi and Wang up there.

The Candidates, which started as scheduled despite the danger of coronavirus, is a $550,000, double round robin event, the winner of which will challenge Magnus Carlsen  in a 14-game world title match to be held in December in  Dubai, UAE.

After the regular rest day, round four is underway  as we go to press.

* * *

In the following game, Black loses a Pawn in the middle game, then pays the penalty in the ending.

Candidates Tournament 2020 round 02

W) M. Vachier-Lagrave (France)

B)  D. Liren (China)

Ruy Lopez

1. e4      e5 

2. Nf3    Nc6 

3. Bb5                    a6 

4. Ba4                    Nf6

5. O-O                   Be7 

6. Re1                    ....

After 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3 0-0. the game is about even, Vachier-Lagrave-Liren, 2019 London Chess Classic, game one play-off.. An interesting line is 6. d4!? as seen in Vachier-Lagrave-Liren, 2019 London Chess Classic game eight.play-off.

6....                        b5 

7. Bb3                    O-O 

8. h3                      ....

White’s last is a steady but  modest line, which sails under the flag of Anti-Marshall Gambit.

8....                        Bb7

9. d3                      d6

9....Na5!? is an unexplored sideline, with varying possibilities for both sides, arising from 10. Nxe5 Nxb3 11. d5. 

10. a3                    Qd7 

11. Nc3                 Rfe8 

12. Bd2!?             ....

After 12. Nd5 Nxd5 13. exd5 Na7 14. d4 exd4 15. Qxd4 c5, the game is probably closed to equality, Nakamura-Liren, Sinquefield Cup 2019 The text move is MVL’s improvement on the  above-mentioned game.

12....                      Nd8 

13. Nd5                 Nxd5

If instead 13....Ne6, White obtains  a slight edge after 14. Nxf6ch Bxf6 15. Nh2. 

14. exd5               c5 

14....c6 is an interesting alternative, suggested by the engine.

15. a4                    f5? 

A fatalistic reply which loses a Pawn by forced. Correct is 15....Rf8, e.g., 16. axb5 axb5 17. Rxa8 Rxa8 18. c4 f6, and the game still hangs in the balance.

16. axb5               axb5 

17. Rxa8               Bxa8 

18. c4!                   ....

An astute move which will be difficult for Black to handle.

18....                      Nf7 

Seems best under the circumstances, as 18....bxc4 loses to 19. Ba4, while 18....Rf8 is no bargain either because of 19. cxb5 Qxb5 20. Nxe5! dxe5 21. d6ch. And finally, 18....Bf6 19. cxb5 Qf7 20. Bg5! Bxd5 21. Bxd5 Qxd5 22. Bxf6 gxf6 23. Nh4, White is winning.

19. cxb5                g5 

Here Black desperately seeks counterplay. Obviously 19....Qxb5? is met by 20. Ba4.

20. Nh2                 Kg7 

21. Bc4                  ....

White emerges a Pawn up  plus a good position. Now MVL’s  technique becomes manifest.

21....                      Kg6 

22. g4                    Nh6

23. Qf3                  Bd8 

24. Qg2                 f4 

25. b4                    Bb6 

26. Qe4ch            Kg7 

27. bxc5                dxc5 

28. Nf3                  Nf7 

29. Bc3                  Bc7 

30. b6!                  Bb8       

30....Bxb6 loses to 31. Nxe5 Nxe5  32. Bxe5ch Kh6 33. Bg7ch.

31. Qf5                  Qxf5

32. gxf5                Kf6 

33. Nd2                 Rd8

33....Kxf5 also fails after 34. Bb5  Rd8 35. Bc6.

34. d6                    Rxd6 

35. Rb1                 Nd8 

35....Bc6 is refuted by 37. Ne4ch.

36. b7!                  Bxb7

Or 36....Nxb7 37. Ne4ch.

37. Ba5!                1-0

There’s nothing Black can do to avoid losing a piece.

Solution to last week puzzle

White to move and win.

White=Kg1, Qf8, Bd1, Pc4, Pe6, Pf2, Pg2, Ph3

Black=Kg5, Qf4, Bd4, Pc5, Pf5, Pg6, Ph7

1. h4ch!            Qxh4      

1....Kxh4 2. Qe7ch g5 3. Qxh7 mate

2. Qd8ch              Bf6

3. e7!                     Qe4

4. e8Q                   Bxd8

5. Qxd8ch            1-0

* * *

White to play and win.

IAN NEPOMNIACHTCHI
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