Candidates Tournament called off
LET’S PLAY CHESS - Edgar De Castro (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2020 - 12:00am

The Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg (Russia), the only major world sports event held as scheduled, eluding the coronavirus, has been put off halfway after the Russian government suspended all air transportation due to the virus.

The world chess body (FIDE), announced that the tournament will be resumed on a later date, with all scores standing after seven rounds.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) shared the lead at 4.5 points apiece when eight round play was suspended. Other scores read Fabiano Caruana (USA), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Anish Giri (Netherlands) and Wang Hao (China), 3.5 each, Ding Liren (China) and Kiril Alekseenko (Russia), with 2.5.

The Candidates winner will earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world championship crown to be held in December in Dubai, UAE.

* * *

MVL, a last-minute replacement for Azeri Teimour Radjabov, did very well in this Candidates Tournament, posting an unblemished record of two wins and five draws. If his fine performance needs any confirmation, the following game provides it.

Candidates Tournament 2020 Round 07

W) M. Vachier-Lagrave (France)

B) I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia)

French Defense

1. e4                      e6 

This the French Defense has not been popular among leading players in recent years due to its passive outlook and the strong pressure White obtains on the Kingside.

2. d4                      d5 

3. Nc3                    Bb4 

The sharp Winawer Variation, named after Polish master Szymon Winawer (1838-1919). It often leads to complex struggle.

4. e5                      c5 

5. a3                       Bxc3ch 

6. bxc3                  Ne7 

7. h4!?                  ....

This is the latest preference in grandmaster play. The idea is to weaken Black’s Kingside Pawn structure. The standard continuation here is 7. Qg4.

7....        Qc7 

8. h5                      ....

 In the game Alekseenko-Nepomniachtchi, Rd. 03 same tournament, play went 8. Nf3 b6 9. Bb5ch Bd7 10. Be2 Ba4 with probably equal chances.

8....                        h6 

9. Rb1                    b6 

10. Qg4                 Rg8 

10....Nf5 seems preferable, though the text move looks sound.

11. Bb5ch             Kf8 

11....Nbc6 and 11....Bd7 are fair alternatives with varying chances for both sides.

12. Bd3                 Ba6 

13. dxc5                Bxd3 

14. cxd3                Nd7

14....bxc5 15. Nf3 Nd7 16. 0-0 Rb8 17. Rxb8ch Qxb8 18. Qa4, leads to a slight edge for White.

15. d4                    bxc5 

16. Qd1                 Qa5 

17. Bd2                 Rb8 

After 17....Qxa3 18. Ne2 Qa6 19. 0-0, White obtains a clear advantage because of Black’s passive and immobile pieces..

18. Ne2                 c4?! 

The text seems premature as it paves the way for White’s Bishop to be activated. Correct is 18....Qa6, with possibilities of holding White from making headway.

19. O-O                 Rb6 

20. Qc2                 Rh8 

21. a4                    Ke8 

22. Rb4                 Nc6 

23. f4!                   ....

Here White initiates Kingside action, he foresees that the game will be decided on the King’s flank.

23....                      Ne7

After 23....Nxb4? 24. cxb4 Qa6 25. b5 Qb7 26. Bb4! the vulnerable Black King will be under tremendous pressure.

24. Rfb1                f5 

25. Rb5                 Qa6 

26. Bc1                  Kf7?

26....g6 seems necessary, though Black’s position already needs a helping hand.

27. Ba3                  Rhb8 

28. Bxe7               Kxe7

29. g4!                   ....

This sharp Pawn thrust breaks the game wide open.

29....                      Rxb5 

30. axb5               Rxb5 

31. gxf5                Rxb1ch

32. Qxb1              exf5 

33. Ng3                 Qb6?! 

This loses quickly, but in any case, White’s attack is too powerful. 33....Qa3 34. Ne2, and 33....g6 34. Kf2 are also hopeless for Black.

34. Nxf5ch           Kf8 

35. Qa1                 Qe6 

36. Ng3!               ....

This finally is a crusher to which there is no good reply.

36....                      Qg4 

37. Kg2                  Qxf4 

38. Qxa7               Ke7

38,,,,Qg4 is met by 39. Qa8ch Ke7

40. Qxd5 and White wins easily.

39. Qa3ch            Kd8 

40. Qd6                 g5 

41. hxg6               h5 

42. g7                    1-0

If 42....Qd2ch 43. Kh3 Qg5 

44. e6 wins the pinned Knight..

Solution to last week puzzle

White to play and win.

White=Kg1, Qa4, Rf1, Bh6, Pa6, Pf2, Pg2, Ph2

Black=Kg8, Qd8, Ra5, Be5, Pe4, Pf7, Pg6, Ph7

1. Rd1!                  1-0

If 1....Qxd1ch (1....Qc7 2. Qe8 mate) 2. Qxd1

Ra1 3. Qxa1 Bxa1 4. a7 and wins. 

* * *

White to move and win.

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