Today In Chess: Candidates Round 6 Recap

By IM Eric Rosen

With another convincing victory today, Nepomniachtchi is cementing his spot as the clear leader. He now stands with 4.5/6, while MVL trails in clear second with 3.5/6. Round 6 produced many hard fought games, including a thrilling marathon battle between Kirill Alekseenko and Anish Giri which lasted 98 moves and over 7 hours.

Ian Nepomniachtchi - Ding Liren: 1-0

Nepomniachtchi continued to show excellent form in today’s game. In what was pretty much a one-sided affair, he pounced all over Ding. In the late middlegame, Nepomniachtchi emerged with a lethal passed b-pawn and did not hesitate to thrust it down the board. Ding attempted to create counterplay on the opposite flank, but fell short. In the end, Nepomniachtchi’s b-pawn was traded for the black bishop, resulting in an easily winning endgame. Ding resigned without even testing Nepomniachtchi’s technique. This result marks Ding’s third loss of the event and he now sits at the bottom of the standings. Even though he was widely considered one of the pre-tournament favorites, his hopes of challenging Carlsen for the World Championship later this year are practically gone. Out of all the players in the field, Nepomniachtchi has shown some of the best form and undoubtedly deserves his spot in the lead. When asked about what he’s done to achieve such good form, he responded quite simply: “I’m just trying to make less mistakes than my opponents do.”

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is the clear leader after Round 6 | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Alexander Grischuk - Fabiano Caruana: ½-½ 

For yet another game this tournament, Caruana struck early with impressive opening preparation. He unleashed the incredibly rare 14...Re8!? in the Archangel Variation of the Ruy Lopez. This sent Grischuk into the tank. By move 24, Grischuk fell below 14 minutes, while Caruana had more time than he started with. With a double edged battle and huge lead on the clock, the prospects looked quite promising for the American. On move 34, Caruana unleashed the sweet c5! which secured him a clear advantage. However, Grischuk has proven time and again that he can play quite accurately in time pressure. Despite flirting with flagging, he managed to trade queens and consolidate his position. Once the players received extra time on move 40, it wasn’t much longer before the players agreed to a draw. With 8 rounds still to go, Caruana has a lot of ground to make up if he wants to catch Nepomniachtchi. 

GM Grischuk and GM Caruana drew a hard fought game | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Wang Hao - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: ½-½ 

For the second time this event, MVL was tested in his beloved Grunfeld Defense. Wang opted for the off-beat 11.h4!? This early h-pawn onslaught has been quite trendy and appears to be one way for these GMs to escape the normal realms of opening theory. Rather than leading to any sort of attack, the opening led to quick liquidation. The players reached an endgame before move 30 and it was Wang who enjoyed a slight advantage. With strong central control and better piece activity, Wang increased his edge. He snagged a pawn on the queenside and it seemed like MVL was going to lose his first game of the event. However, the Frenchman showed admirable resilience. After 83 moves, Wang could not make use of his extra pawn. MVL established a sturdy blockade and the players settled for a draw. In the post-game interview, MVL expressed his relief: “I was blundering so many things today, I was lucky to make a draw.”

GM MVL held on for dear life against GM Wang Hao to secure a draw | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Kirill Alekseenko - Anish Giri: 0-1

In the longest and most dramatic game of the day, GM Anish Giri showed that persistence pays off. After achieving a pleasant position from the black side of Italian, Giri was in control. However, it wasn’t easy to maximize the advantage. As the play unraveled, the position liquidated. Eventually, a knight endgame emerged with Giri having an extra pawn. Such a position is known to be a theoretical draw, but there was absolutely no risk to play on. In the 7th hour of play, Giri was rewarded for his tenacity. Alekseenko blundered terribly with 89.Nd3? instead of easily clinching the draw with Nh1! This one careless blunder was enough for Giri to steal the full point. In the post-game interview, Giri described thoughts in the final moments: “In the end, I almost had a heart attack because I realized it’s going to be my first ever win in the Candidates. I think today we need a good doctor check.” With this victory, Giri moves to an even score, while Alekseenko is tied for last place with 2/6.

GM Anish Giri defeated GM Kirill Alekseenko in a marathon game  | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

After today’s game, Giri summed up the tournament so far with an amusing metaphor: “This tournament is like a birthday party for Nepomniachtchi. The other kids are giving him presents, but they are not happy to be there, and not happy for the birthday boy. They pretend to be his friends, but he’s the only one happy with the presents.” With 8 rounds to go, we can only wait and see if Nepomniachtchi keep receiving “presents.” He will face off next against MVL in what will be a tremendously crucial game for the standings. After tomorrow’s rest day, Round 7 will commence at 6am CDT on Wednesday, March 25th with Today in Chess airing at 8am CST. Watch live at or on our Youtube, Twitch, and Facebook pages.