Today In Chess: Candidates Edition Recap – Round 11


Today’s round saw tournament leader Ian Nepomniachtchi play it safe against Fabiano Caruana, securing a draw with minimal risk while Anish Giri slid into clear second place thanks to an excellent win against Ding Liren. Also keeping his chances alive was Alexander Grischuk, who defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a complicated struggle. Going into the remaining three rounds, both Giri and Caruana will retain chances to catch up, but they’ll have to face each first in tomorrow’s Round 12.

Standings after Round 11

Nepomniachtchi - Caruana

The critical match-up of the day was the encounter between the tournament leader Nepomniachtchi and his main challenger in the event, Caruana. With a full point lead Nepo decided to play it safe with the relatively tame Four Knights Variation of the Scotch. It seems Caruana was not willing to risk everything just yet, as he played a solid line and the game soon simplified into a drawn heavy piece endgame. With three rounds to go, Caruana is still a full point behind but will have chances to catch up.

Caruana chose not to burn all his bridges playing for a win today | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Giri - Ding

Looking to surprise his opponent, Giri played the rare Delayed Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, where White gives up their light-squared bishop in order to weaken Black’s structure. Ding responded ambitiously to Giri’s play, castling queenside before launching a counter-attack using his kingside pawns and unopposed light-squared bishop. Dynamically things were in Black’s favor, before Ding made a serious mistake in 20...g4, allowing Giri to shutdown Black’s attack with a nice blockading motif: 

After 20...g4, allowing White to play 21.Ng5 Qxf5 22.h4!, where Black’s play is severely limited

From there Giri played excellently, following up with a fantastic piece sacrifice to open up Black’s king and win in decisive style. This win brought Giri to just a half-point behind Nepomniachtchi.

Giri was happy to win, but credited Ding’s play after the game | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes.

Grischuk - Vachier-Lagrave

Alexander Grischuk also chose a rare system, a line dubbed the Carlsen Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4), and reached an incredibly double-edged middlegame strongly resembling a Sicilian Dragon. An aggressive pawn-storm on the kingside left Grischuk with a decisive advantage, but MVL found some resourceful defenses to stay in the game, reaching a position with two rooks for White’s queen. 

After 20.f5!, planning to play f6 and clamp down Black’s kingside.

Once it seemed like Black had survived the worst of it, MVL blundered his b7-pawn, allowing White’s queen to get extremely active. MVL then had no choice but to go into a bishop endgame where he was down a pawn and ultimately lost--and from there Grischuk converted smoothly.

Grischuk had a big advantage for most of the game but nearly squandered it in time trouble | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Alekseenko - Wang

The final game of the day to finish was interesting right from the start, as Wang Hao played an early h6+g5 advance on the Black side of the Italian Game:

After 6...g5, a hyper-aggressive setup against the solid Italian Game

Alekseenko reacted well to the early advance, playing against the weakened f5-square, but was unable to pose serious problems to Black’s king. Wang Hao even managed to win a pawn, but it seems Alekseenko always had enough activity to maintain the balance, and the game was eventually drawn in an equal queen and bishop endgame.

Wang Hao chose a risky line as Black but was unable to create real chances | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

With three rounds left to play, everything remains on the line as Caruana and Giri face off in a critical game tomorrow.

Our ‘Today in Chess’ coverage of the 2021 FIDE Candidates continues tomorrow, April 24 at 8:00 AM CDT with live coverage from GMs Alejandro Ramirez, Yasser Seirawan, and Maurice Ashley on and on our YouTube and channels.