It was an exciting day in Yekaterinburg, Russia, as all four games in the FIDE Candidates finished with a decisive result, heading into the final rest day today.
Anish Giri continued his incredible form, defeating Fabiano Caruana and scoring his second straight win in a row. The win seemed to put Giri in a probable tie with tournament leader Ian Nepomniachtchi, but Nepo was able to keep his lead by grinding out a difficult endgame win against Wang Hao.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also kept his chances alive, thanks to a clean win over Kirill Alekseenko to remain 1.5 points behind.
With two rounds left to play, Nepomniachtchi is the current favorite to win the event and qualify for the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship, though he will first have to face MVL in what is sure to be a decisive Round 13.
Caruana – Giri
With both players chasing Nepomniachtchi going into this round, this was essentially a must-win game for either player to keep any significant chances of finishing in first place. Giri went for the unexpected Four Knights Sicilian, which seemed to catch Caruana a bit off guard as he started to spend time in the opening.
A sharp Sicilian struggle ensued, where Fabi played quite ambitiously, though Giri was able to neutralize White’s initiative and trade off several pieces, leaving White with a bad light-squared bishop.
From there Black’s strategic advantage was nearly overwhelming, and Giri was able to capitalize with a winning attack shortly after the first time control:
Wang – Nepomniachtchi
This game started out quietly with Nepo choosing the Petroff Defense and Wang Hao opting for an early queen exchange, with minimal winning chances for either side. However as the game progressed, Nepo slowly started to outplay his opponent, until he was firmly in the driver’s seat and playing for two results.
Having lost a pawn and facing the loss of more, Wang Hao abruptly resigned, leaving commentators and spectators a bit puzzled!
Commentators were shocked by Wang Hao’s “early” resignation in this position, though he felt the position was ultimately lost.
Vachier-Lagrave – Alekseenko
After a disappointing start to the second half of the tournament, MVL finally got a win today as Alekseenko got into trouble early out of the opening in the Fantasy Variation of the Caro-Kann. Black first tried to escape into a worse endgame, then gave up a pawn in order to ease some of the pressure, but it wasn’t enough as MVL grabbed the pawn and then smoothly converted his advantage from there.
Ding – Grischuk
Meanwhile Ding Liren played a bit of spoiler today as he ended any remaining chances Grischuk had of finishing in first, outplaying the Russian grandmaster in a locked up Queen’s Gambit Declined.
Sunday, will be a rest day, while Monday’s Round 13 will feature critical pairings Nepomniachtchi – Vachier-Lagrave and Grischuk – Giri, which will surely set the stage for the final round on Tuesday, April 27th. Will Nepo be able to maintain his lead? Tune in to find out!