Today in Chess | FIDE Candidates Round 3 Recap

By IM Eric Rosen

After starting the tournament with two straight losses, GM Ding Liren rebounded strongly today. He took down GM Fabiano Caruana in a thrilling game to score his first win of the event. This turned out to be the only decisive game of round 3, even though the other games were hard fought. MVL, Nepomniachtchi, and Wang Hao now share the lead with 2/3, while Caruana and Grischuk trail closely behind with 1.5/2.

Ding Liren - Fabiano Caruana: 1-0

This battle between the top two seeds was easily the most captivating game of the round. The opening featured a Slav Defense which typically has a solid and strategic reputation. However, the position became extremely sharp quite rapidly. Caruana unleashed the wicked novelty 9...e5!? which put Ding under serious pressure. By move 14, Ding was down an hour on the clock and it was clear Caruana was still in his preparation. GM Maurice Ashley praised the American’s early play: “This is the best prep we’ve seen in years.” The Chinese superstar did not back down though. He snagged a couple pawns and brilliantly neutralized his opponent’s compensation. After a few slow moves from Caruana, momentum shifted. Ding was in the driver’s seat and grew his advantage despite the time deficit. In a somewhat strange occurrence, Caruana dragged on a completely lost position for nearly 30 moves. Perhaps this was due to frustration of not being able to make the most of his chances. It’s also possible he was hoping for some miracle save, given Ding showed bad form in the first two rounds. In the end however, Ding converted flawlessly to put himself on the scoreboard. For Fabiano and his fans, this loss is not the end of the world. He only trails the leaders by half a point and there are still 10 more rounds ahead. 

GM Ding Liren defeated GM Fabiano Caruana | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Anish Giri - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: ½-½ 

In the shortest game of the round, neither player managed to obtain much of an edge. Giri opted for a slight sideline against MVL’s Grunfeld with 5.Bd2 and tried to push for a small advantage. He revealed his match strategy in the post-game interview with Today in Chess: “The plan was to play solid chess and win.” This plan was foiled as the Frenchman responded to Giri’s solid chess with… you guessed it…solid chess. Eventually the position liquidated into an equal endgame and the players settled for repetition by move 30. 

After a solid draw against GM Anish Giri, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave remains tied for the lead | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Alexander Grischuk - Wang Hao: ½-½ 

Grischuk employed a quiet and strategic approach against Wang’s Petroff Defense. While the position may have looked a bit dry to a casual spectator, Grischuk masterfully built up a strategic advantage. He obtained a superior pawn structure and a favorable bishop versus knight imbalance. Just as it seemed that Grischuk was going to put on even more pressure, he fell victim to the beautiful tactical trick 34...Ne4+! This allowed Wang to equalize and ultimately draw the game. Afterwards, Wang expressed his relief, “I think white was much better and I was really lucky to make a draw.” This marks Grischuk’s third draw in a row as he heads into tomorrow’s rest day. When asked what he plans to do on the day off, Grischuk unleashed his classic dry humor: “Usually during the rest day, in the morning I go to a museum and in the evening I go to some theater. But now everything is closed, so it’s very bad luck.”

GM Wang Hao held on for dear life against GM Alexander Grischuk | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

Kirill Alekseenko - Ian Nepomniachtchi: ½-½ 

This all-Russian matchup featured the first French Defense of the tournament. From the very beginning, it was clear that Nepomniachtchi wanted a fight against the lowest seed. He went for the Winawer Variation with the black pieces which can be somewhat risky to play at the top level. The opening choice paid off, though and he achieved a pleasant position with dynamic play. The resulting middlegame turned out to be incredibly rich and offered chances for both sides. A key moment came after Nepomniachtchi’s misstep with 25...g6? This allowed Alekseenko the spectacular shot 26.Bxg6!! Such a sacrifice could have surely led to a crushing attack. Commentators noted that such a move is much easier to find when you’re given it as a tactical exercise. To find it in a game however, requires tremendous forethought and precise calculation. After the missed opportunity for Alekseenko the game quickly headed towards a draw. In the final moments, Alekseenko sacrificed material in order to penetrate with his queen and force repetition. With this draw, Nepomniachtchi maintains his share of the lead with 2/3. 

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi drew GM Kirill Alekseenko | Photo courtesy of FIDE, Lennart Ootes

With just one point separating first place and last place the tournament is still very much up for grabs. After 3 incredibly hard fought rounds, players will enjoy a day of rest before returning to action. Round 4 will commence at 6am CDT on Saturday, March 21st with Today in Chess airing at 8am CST. Be sure to tune into all the action at or on our Youtube, Twitch.Tv or watch live on Facebook.