Today In Chess: Candidates Round 4 Recap

By IM Eric Rosen

With yesterday’s rest day, it was clear that the players entered Round 4 with a renewed sense of energy. For the first time this event, all of the games of the round were drawn. Nepomniachtchi, MVL, and Wang Hao remain atop the leaderboard with 2.5/4. Despite the absence of decisive games today, chess fans still got to witness several hard fought battles. GM Maurice Ashley dubbed Round 4, “The round of missed opportunities.” Some players will be kicking themselves for missed chances today. 

Fabiano Caruana - Ian Nepomniachtchi: ½-½ 

For the fourth game in a row, Caruana showed superior opening preparation over his opponent. He opted for a mainline of the Grunfeld, which was a brave decision given that Nepomniachtchi is known to be a Grunfeld specialist. In the Count’s Corner segment on Today in Chess, GM Cristian Chirila praised Caruana’s approach: “In every single game so far, he has been striking first in the opening. That’s a huge psychological boost.” By move 20, Caruana wedged his h-pawn deep into black’s territory. Such an idea is reminiscent of Alpha Zero’s deep and creative style. The resulting endgame seemed highly uncomfortable for Nepomiachtchi, but he deserves all the credit for not cracking. On the 31st move, Caruana committed an unexpected error. He put his queen on the clumsy f3 square rather than the more centralized d4 square. Nepomniachtchi responded with a strong sequence which easily equalized. Although the game continued for many more moves, neither player had winning chances. Eventually, a draw was agreed. When asked about his routine on the rest day, Nepomniachtchi dropped this gem in the press conference: “The daily routine is to check Anish’s Instagram or Twitter to find new wisdom.”

GM Fabiano Caruana versus GM Ian Nepomniachtchi ended in a draw | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Wang Hao - Kirill Alekseenko: ½-½ 

This game featured a Neo-Grunfeld Defense with Wang exerting early pressure from the white side. In the post-game interview, Alekseenko highlighted a critical moment: “I made an incredibly bad move Ra6. It became worse for me and I had to find many concrete moves to hold my position.” Despite the “really bad move” (which was only a bit dubious), Wang couldn’t find a way to maximize his advantage. He described his play as “too soft” and eventually the position liquidated. In the end, Alekseenko had a bishop and five pawns against Wang’s rook and three pawns. Neither player could make progress, so a draw was a fair result. Wang now sits at 2.5/4 and will play co-leader Nepomniachtchi with the black pieces tomorrow.

With today’s draw against GM Kirill Alekseenko, GM Wang Hao remains tied for first with 2.5/4 | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Alexander Grischuk: ½-½ 

In what was one of the most intriguing games of the round, MVL was clearly well prepared for Grischuk’s Berlin Defense. After blitzing out 21 moves of opening preparation, MVL obtained a 90 minute lead on the clock. By move 28, Grischuk fell below 2 minutes. He faced serious pressure with a delicate king sitting like a duck in the center and MVL’s pieces swarming from multiple directions. On move 30, MVL had a brilliant tactical sequence starting with Re4!! that would have surely won the game. However, this opportunity was missed and Grischuk proceeded to defend like a machine. After lots of liquidation the game ended in the purest of draws: king versus king. This marks Grischuk’s 4th draw in a row as he can breathe a sigh of relief. On the other hand, MVL wasn’t so thrilled with the outcome: “I’m not happy with the result, because it felt like I had a very dangerous initiative and Sasha didn’t have much time.”

GM MVL missed a golden opportunity today against GM Alexander Grischuk  | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Ding Liren - Anish Giri: ½-½ 

With Ding and Giri entering this round tied for last with 1/3, they were surely hungry for a victory. Alas, this game featured remarkably solid play from both sides. Giri opted for a slightly unusual line against Ding’s Catalan with 4...a5!? In the resulting middlegame, then lunged his h-pawn forward with h5 and h4. While this looked to be a sharp and attacking approach at first glance, it didn’t lead to anything more than simplification. A draw between these two rock solid super-grandmasters was nothing short of expected. Perhaps the most interesting nugget that came from Giri today, was the following quote at the press conference: “For relaxation, I like to watch some shows, like the Daily Show, but they’re also about the coronavirus. Many of them are without the fake laughter and without the fake laughter, jokes are not funny anymore. So I don’t know what to do or how to relax. I tried reading books, but when I start reading books I want to fall asleep. So I spent a lot of time preparing for chess yesterday.”

GM Ding Liren versus GM Anish Giri ended in a draw | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

After today’s round, many questions still remain. Who will be the first to take a clear lead? Can the pre-tournament favorites Ding and Caruana catch up to the leaders? In how many more games will Grischuk enter time trouble? Chess fans can catch all the action tomorrow with round 5 starting at 6am CDT. Today in Chess will air at 8am CDT. Watch live at or on our Youtube, Twitch, and Facebook pages.