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John Henderson
By John Henderson

The crowds went tinfoil mad-hatter wild in the Chess24 online chat by unleashing the conspiracy theories that Russia once again had “the fix in”, as Kirill Alekseenko lost to fellow countryman Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 10 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Ekaterinburg, Russia, as he went down in such a tame fashion that it gave the Russian frontrunner the easiest of wins to further extend his lead at the top with it being the only decisive game of the round.

There were multiple cries of “Bobby was right!” and “Fischer called it back in ’62!” as Alekseenko went down all too easily with feeble play against Nepomniachtchi, with the former playing very strangely indeed against the English Opening – “[Alekseenko] was not too deeply familiar with the details of the position which arose,” came the official line in the FIDE press release – was all but lost by move 16, only to limp on until move 31 before finally throwing the towel in.

The Fischer remarks refer to the 1962 Candidates Tournament held in the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curaçao, a normally tranquil and picturesque location that caused a near international rumpus when his photo and bylined article appeared in the August 20, 1962 edition of Sports Illustrated, replete with the infamous incendiary headline of: “The Russians Have Fixed World Chess” (to read the article, click here).

What made the headline all the more incendiary was its geopolitical timing. It came right at the height of the Cold War – indeed, almost near the very brink of Armageddon, with the Cuban missile crisis only two months away – with Fischer accusing the Soviets of systematic cheating in an effort to stop him challenging their hegemony of the world crown.

The event to find Russia’s reigning world champion Mikhail Botvinnik’s challenger was a gruelling quadruple round-robin played over two months, a tense affair which Fischer felt was heavily tilted towards Soviet players, with five of the eight candidates playing under the hammer and sickle, and a strong suspicion of collusion going on with ‘game-fixing’ to ensure that one of their own would challenge Botvinnik; which turned out to be Tigran Petrosian, who went on to become the new World Champion in 1963.

It had a lot more to do with fiction than fact, but Fischer deemed himself destined to be world champion, though he was relatively inexperienced to mount a serious title challenge this time of asking, and indeed the American was more than likely just sore that he got off to the worst of possible starts by losing his first two games, so the cheating charge may well have done more to convince himself that this was all part of a growing conspiracy to deny him becoming world champion.

Now everyone can have a bad day at the office, but the general consensus in the online chat and on social media was that Alekseenko’s weak play was “somewhat suspicious” with claims he’d allegedly taken one for the team, thus ensuring that a Russian would go forward to challenge for Magnus Carlsen’s crown. If not, then it was a very convenient win for Nepomniachtchi, as things couldn’t have gone any better with some extra breathing space going down the homestretch of the final four rounds!

With the only win of round 10, Nepomniachtchi has established a full point lead over nearest rivals Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and now Anish Giri, with the in-form Dutchman shining with a very clean and crisp win in the previous round that even impressed Carlsen during his Chess24 live commentary.

Round 9: Alekseenko ½-½ Caruana; Grischuk ½-½ Nepomniachtchi; Giri 1-0 Wang Hao; Ding Liren ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave

Round 10: Caruana ½-½ Ding Liren; Vachier-Lagrave ½-½ Giri; Wang Hao ½-½ Grischuk; Nepomniachtchi 1-0 Alekseenko

Standings:1. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 6½/10; 2-4. F. Caruana (USA), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) A. Giri (Netherlands) 5½; 5-6. Wang Hao (China), A. Grischuk (Russia) 4½; 7-8. Ding Liren (China), K. Alekseenko (Russia) 4.

The rest day is on Thursday with play resuming on Friday 23 April. And as Magnus Carlsen departs the Chess24 commentary box, he’s replaced by Judit Polgar, who joins regular host IM Tania Sachdev for live coverage of the final four rounds of the Candidates.

Photo: Anish Giri shines to join the chasing pack | © Lennart Ootes/FIDE Candidates

 

GM Anish Giri – GM Wang Hao
FIDE Candidates Tournament, (9)
Catalan Opening
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4 Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6 10.Bf4 Another Catalan path is 10.Bg5 – but the text forces a complex struggle that all hinges on white’s control of the vital e5 square. 10…Bd6 11.Nc3 Bxf4 12.gxf4 The f-pawns may well be doubled, but white has more than enough compensation for the weakness as his knight takes up the dominant e5 outpost. 12…a5 Wang fixes for now the queenside pawns and has ideas of his own knight taking up an outpost on b4. 13.e3 Na6 14.Ne5 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 c6 16.h3 Just stopping any possible future …Ng4 awkwardness, and at the same time giving the white king an ideal bolt-hole to retreat to on h2 in order for his rook(s) to seize the g-file. 16…Qb6 17.Qe2 c5?! Magnus Carlsen questioned this move in his entertaining and informative commentary on Chess24, as all it does is weaken the c4 and b5 squares. The World Champion thought the right way to proceed was was 17…Nb4 18.Rac1 g6 keeping everything nice and solid. 18.Rfd1 cxd4 The alternative 18…Rfd8 is easily met by 19.Qb5 Qc7 20.Rac1 with a solid edge. 19.Rxd4 Rad8 20.Rxd8 During his always entertaining and enlightening commentary, Carlsen thought that better was 20.Qb5! and Giri immediately concurred with the world champion during his post-game presser that he should have done this, as after 20…Qxb5 21.axb5 Rxd4 22.exd4 Nc7 23.Rxa5 Ra8 24.Rxa8+ Nxa8 white has an extra pawn going into the endgame – but it is a tricky affair because of white’s weak doubled and isolated pawns, and over-the-board, that may have subconsciously put doubts in Giri’s mind about being able to convert this possible scenario. 20…Qxd8 Forced, otherwise 20…Rxd8 21.Qb5 Qc7 22.Nc4 will win a pawn with even better prospects of converting this ending. 21.Rd1 Qa8 22.Kg1 Nb4 23.Qb5 Nbd5 24.Nxd5 Nxd5 25.Rc1 h6 26.Qd7 Nf6?! And with it, the game just starts to ebb away from Wang, now faced with a very awkward position with his pieces badly placed. No stranger to defending tough positions, Carlsen himself thought that the …Nd5 was ideally placed and the best try was 26…b6! 27.b3 and better prospects for black regrouping by bringing his queen and rook into the game. 27.Qd6 g6? Wang has well and truly lost the plot now with this further weakening move that allows potential major threats, such as Nxg6 and Qxe6+ – and with it comes his rapid demise. 28.b3 h5 29.Kh2 Kg7 30.Qd4! [see diagram] And with one very accurate and good move from Giri, suddenly Wang is on the morphine drip as the x-ray attack down the long a1-h8 diagonal proves deadly. 30…Rd8 31.Qb2 It’s a case of the pin is mightier than the sword! 31…Qb8 32.b4! Creating what effectively becomes a game-winning weakness on b7. 32…axb4 33.Rc4! b3 34.Rb4! It is very hard not to give three successive exclams here: with Wang paralysed by the pin down the long a1-h8 diagonal, there’s no rush to win back the pawn, and Giri’s neat rook manoeuvre paves the way for a breakthrough on b7. And despite being arch-rivals, Carlsen himself said he was really impressed by the vigour in which the Dutch #1 had played not only the game but particularly the last half dozen moves or so. 34…Qa7 Black is simply in a bad way, considering that the alternative was 34…Qd6 35.Rxb3 (You have to make sure you get the moves in the right sequence, as bad was 35.Rxb7? Qd2! and black looks as if he’s surviving, as 36.Rxb3 Qe1! and suddenly the threat of …Rd1 is a game-saver.) 35…Qd2 36.Rxb7 Kg8 37.Qxd2 Rxd2 38.Kg1! and white will eventually win after 38…Ra2 39.Nxf7 Ne4 40.Rb4! Nxf2 41.Ng5 Nd1 42.Rb8+ Kg7 43.Nxe6+ Kf6 (Or even 43…Kf7 44.Ng5+ Kg7 45.Rb3! and the knight is short of squares and can’t easily return to the game, allowing white to start pushing his e-pawn up the board.) 44.Ng5 Ke7 45.Rb6 Kd7 46.Rb3 and the same scenario playing out as the above note. 35.Rxb3 Qxa4 36.Rxb7 Qe8 Unfortunately for Wang, 36…Rf8 runs right into 37.Nd7 winning on-the-spot. 37.Ra7 Rd5 38.Qb7 Ne4 39.Nxf7 1-0 And Wang resigns, faced with either being mated or a heavy loss of material.

 

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