The world as we knew it came to a sudden and very abrupt grinding halt last year, as the coronavirus pandemic led to global lockdowns and many cultural and sporting events suddenly being cancelled in spring 2020. Chess was hit at the highest level with the Covid-interrupted Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and having to be placed in a state of ‘hibernation’ at the midway point.
Recently FIDE announced that the Candidates will resume once again in Yekaterinburg, with the 8th round getting underway on April 19th, some 369 days after its abrupt interruption, when we’ll – hopefully! – finally find out who Magnus Carlsen will face during his fifth World Championship title defence, scheduled to be held during the also-postponed 2020 Expo in Dubai in November.
In the press release, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich said that he had personally made contact with all the players to reassure them about the safety protocols that will be in place, and he confirmed they were happy to come back, But the big unknown could well be the psychological impact of an unprecedented global pandemic and the year-long interruption might affect the second half of the tournament.
Before the halt, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi were in the co-lead on 4.5/7, with a four-player chasing pack led by Fabiano Caruana a point behind. The key could well be how the players react on the first day of resumed play – and all eyes are likely to be on the match-up between the US world No.2 Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave, especially after the Frenchman’s disastrous Tata Steel Masters performance last month that led to a dramatic fall and exit from the FIDE Top 10.
Last weekend the FIDE Online World Corporate Championship proved a resounding success for the game’s global body, with teams from many of the world’s biggest mega-companies taking part. Germany’s Grenke Bank defied the rating odds to win the inaugural title, as they edged out the top-seeded Russian bank, SBER, led by Candidates co-leader and the world No.4, Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Although the event was full of many master vs amateur challenges and mis-matches, Nepomniachtchi was involved in the highest-rating battle of the whole corporate championship, crushing the four-time Ukrainian champion in their semi-final match-up in the contest, SBERBank Trade Union’s Anton Korobov, who denied Magnus Carlsen a perfect 6/6 by holding the world champion in a tricky rook ending.
Photo: Candidates’ co-leaders Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ian Nepomniachtchi | © FIDE Candidates
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Anton Korobov
FIDE Online World Corporate Ch. S/final
French Defence, Classical Steinitz, Boleslavsky Variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 A little like the French Advance (3.e5), this way of playing against the Classical French was popularised by the first World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, hence the name-share. 4…Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 And now we come to the second part of the name-share, the Boleslavsky variation, named after the early Soviet-era player and leading theoretician, Isaac Bolesavsky, who became a mentor to the first Candidates’ winner David Bronstein, his eventual son-in-law. The idea behind 7.Be3 is to try and force an early release of the tension on d4. 7…Be7 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Be2 a6 10.Nd1 Allowing Nepo to bolster his d4-pawn with c3 – but he also has a more adventurous plan in mind. 10…b5 11.0-0 Qb6 12.c3 b4 13.Bf2 Rb8 14.c4!? Now things become “interesting”, as Nepo himself seeks to release all the tension on the board with numerous pawn breaks. 14…cxd4 15.cxd5 exd5 16.Nxd4 Nxd4 17.Qxd4 Qxd4 18.Bxd4 Bc5 19.Bxc5 Nxc5 20.Rc1! The tension has disappeared with the flurry of trades, but crucially, Nepo holds the upper-hand with the better rooks and the weak isolated Black d-pawn – and he has the ace up his sleeve of the knight-hop Ne3-f5-d6. 20…Ne6 21.Ne3 Rd8 22.Nf5 [see diagram] Black is in a bad way with just too many holes to plug, and now the knight has turned into an octopus with a wonderful outpost on d6. 22…Kf8 23.Nd6 Bd7? The only logical move attempting to try to hang on was with 23…f6 but then simply 24.Rcd1! is going to leave Black in dire straits heading into any endgame scenario, as long-term the d-pawn is going to become a big millstone round his neck. 24.Bxa6 Ra8 25.Bd3 Rxa2 Korobov may well have eased any endgame difficulties, but in the grand scheme of things it comes at the cost of being rolled over on the kingside before we even get to the endgame! 26.f5! Nd4 Maybe Korobov thought he could play 26…Ng5 27.e6 fxe6 28.fxe6+ Ke7 29.Nb7 Nxe6 30.Nxd8 Nxd8 and try to struggle on? But alas, he probably noticed too late the immediate crushing blow of 28.Nb7! 27.Rc7 Rxb2 28.e6 fxe6 29.fxe6+ Ke7 30.Nf5+ Effectively winning a piece and the game. 30…Nxf5 31.Bxf5 g6 32.Bh3 1-0