Today in Chess | FIDE Candidates Round 2 Recap

By IM Eric Rosen

“This tournament is not about rating. This tournament is about hunger and form.” These words from GM Maurice Ashley certainly held true on the second day of the FIDE Candidates. With dazzling wins from Fabiano Caruana and MVL, they join Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wang Hao atop the leaderboard with 1.5/2. Meanwhile, the woes continued for world #3 Ding Liren. He lost for the second day in a row and now sits in last place with 0/2. 

Fabiano Caruana - Kirill Alekseenko: 1-0

In this matchup, Caruana displayed a mix of high level opening preparation along with impressive tactical precision. While Caruana is known to be a regular 1.e4 player, he unleashed 1.d4. He went for the somewhat exotic 4.f3 variation against Alekseenko’s Nimzo Indian. By move 16, the position was already incredibly complex with a white pawn wedged deep into black’s territory. It was clear that Caruana was well prepared. By move 18, he sustained close to an hour lead on the clock. As the middlegame progressed, the position got even messier. With dwindling time for Alekseenko, it was too difficult to weave through the labyrinth of tactical complexities. Fabiano brought home the full point in what appeared to be a smooth day at the office. 

However, In a post-game interview with Today in Chess, Caruana revealed that the tournament conditions have been difficult to say the least: "Today I showed a temperature of 98.7 degrees. This provoked a panic... Everyone’s extremely paranoid. They’re not great conditions to play under, but I have no choice.” 

GM Fabiano Caruana defeated Kirill Alekseenko | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Ian Nepomniachtchi - Alexander Grischuk: ½-½ 

In the most peaceful game of the day, the most interesting happenings of this matchup took place off the board. First, Grischuk showed up 5 minutes late to the round. Then, the players were caught practicing the new handshake of our coronavirus era. There was also this weird moment where Grischuk said something to his compatriot and then proceeded to take a brief nap. The game itself was honestly not that interesting. A deeply theoretical Berlin eventually liquidated into a dead drawn endgame. This makes Grischuk the only player to start the tournament with two draws. 

Will this become the new norm? | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Wang Hao - Anish Giri: ½-½ 

After yesterday’s shocking victory over Ding, Wang again found himself in the driver’s seat in Round 2. The game began with a symmetrical English, but quickly transformed into a dynamic positional struggle. Over the course of many moves, Wang gradually built up his advantage. He masterfully capitalized on Giri’s pawn weaknesses and reached an endgame with an extra pawn. Typically, such an edge is enough to win, but Giri displayed extraordinary defensive resilience. After nearly 6 hours of play, Wang’s advantage evaporated. Towards the final moments, Wang could have complicated matters to play on for a win, but decided to not to take any risks. The players settled for repetition. Shortly after the finish to this marathon game, Giri voiced his relief: “I was really worried. Usually, when I start streaks at Candidates, I don’t stop. So I was already thinking maybe I’m going to lose 14 games this year.”

GM Wang Hao and GM Anish Giri settled for a draw | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Ding Liren: 1-0

In this one-sided demolition, MVL took control from very early on. He achieved an extremely pleasant position from the white side of a Closed Ruy Lopez. By move 23, the Frenchman was dominating all areas of the board. It seemed that Ding went down without much of a fight. Given that MVL was confirmed as a last-minute replacement and had little time to prepare, it’s hard for him to ask for a better start. He is now part of the 4-way tie with 1.5/2. With Ding’s second straight loss, it is clear that he is struggling to find his form. 

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeated Ding Liren | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

It’s apparent that much of the field has been adversely affected from the ongoing pandemic sweeping the globe. In interviews before and during the event, players have expressed their concerns and hardships. Assuming the tournament goes on as planned, it will be necessary for players to stay strong mentally, physically, and emotionally in order to play their best chess. Round 3 will commence at 6am CDT tomorrow with Today in Chess airing at 8am. Be sure to tune into all the action at or on our Youtube, Twitch.Tv or watch live on Facebook.