Bringing Down the Najdorf! (FIDE Candidates 2020-21 - Rounds 8 - 10)


First three rounds of continued FIDE Candidates Tournament brought a fanatical fighting spirit and a lot of paradoxes…

Shall we start with a paradoxes of the first day? For example: Two Russians, Alekseenko and Grischuk, have chosen to play French Defense, despite the wide range of Russian games in the ECO base!

The other pair of Russians, Nepomniachtchi and Giri (yes Anish is Russian, born in Sankt Petersburg by a Russian mother, and went Dutch in 2009) started with a Sicilian… Giri didn’t even try touch f-pawn and play the Dutch Defense! Is that an element of surprise?

But the greatest paradox was a match between two Chinese grandmasters, Wang Hao and Ding Liren. Five thousand years of tradition and statehood, a spectacular civilization, and they chose – Scotch Game, Mieses Variation! This World must end very soon!

Here are the results of the Round 8:

WhiteRound 8Black
GM Alekseenko, K.1-0GM Grischuk, A.
GM Nepomniachtchi, I.½-½GM Giri, Anish
GM Wang, Hao½-½GM Ding, Liren
GM Caruana, F.1-0GM Vachier-Lagrave, M.

The most interesting match of the day, with another paradox, was the clash between favorites of the tournament, American Italian Fabiano Luigi Caruana and that French guy with a name so hard to pronounce that everyone is calling him MVL. Well, in this match, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made the same mistake as Ian Nepomniachtchi did against him in the first part of the tournament in 2020. Ian then chose a French Defense against the Frenchman and logically lost. So, what did MVL do?

A Poisoned pawns from Caruana’s kitchen!

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is well known as the strongest player with the narrowest choice of opening in the World. Peter Heine Nielsen, coach of Chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen put at his Twitter account a small survey asking followers to predict opening.


It was an easy task knowing him 😉 And Fabiano knew that, so he has cooked in his kitchen something really special for this occasion…

GM Caruana, F. vs GM Vachier-Lagrave, M.

The Candidates Tournament 2020/1 - Round 8, Yekaterinburg, April 19th, 2021
Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Variation

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6

It’s Najdorf, alright, but even worse…

6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6 8. Qd2 Qxb2 9. Rb1 Qa3

Poisoned pawn-2021-04-21_112024.jpg
It’s B97! Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Variation, Poisoned Pawn Accepted!

During the game, opponents may communicate in chess language only. Translated from the chess language, Maxime is asking Fabiano: “OK, let me see what have you prepared during this one year intermezzo.”

10. e5 h6 11. Bh4 dxe5 12. fxe5 Nfd7 13. Ne4


At this point, Maxime can choose to take a pawn on e5 or a pawn on a2. Speaking of a poisoned pawn, this one at e5 carries even more poison than b2, because after 13… Nxe5 Fabiano has 14. Nb5!! and Maxime would have to let Queen down to defend a checkmate at d8. You can’t debate tactics, you have to save your ego! And BTW a2 pawn is still free…

13… Qxa2 14. Rd1 Qd5 15. Qe3 Qxe5

This time e5 pawn is free. It’s a third one. Now Maxime has open road for his a-line pawn, has a rook behind him, and only has to survive checkmating threats!

16. c3 Bc5?!


At this point it was probably better to exchange white Bishop at h4 with Be7 and make an artificial castling, because now Fabiano will not allow Maxime to castle.

17. Bg3 Qd5 18. Bc4


Fabiano gave three pawns already, and is now sacking a Bishop! This sac must be accepted or there is no future for Black pieces. Don’t mind stupid machine which is giving this move (??) and suggesting a line 18. Bd6 Bxd6 19. Nb5 Qxd1+ 20. Kxd1 axb5 21. Nxd6+ Ke7 22. Nf5+ Kf8 23. Ng3 Kg8 24. Bxb5 Nf6 with an equal game.

18… Qxc4 19. Bd6


Those bullying Bishops! Technically this isn’t a sac, and in any case this one must NOT be accepted because of a deadly Nd6. Maxime now has to give a piece back.

19… Nf6 20. Nxc5 Nd5 21. Qe5


Just look at that White center setup! Have you ever seen something similar? The position is simply screaming for another sacrifice!

21… Rg8 22. Ndxe6


This sacrifice also has to be accepted. And Knight has to be taken with a pawn. After the exchange a central knot have been untangled.

22… fxe6 23. Nxe6 Qxc3+ 24. Qxc3 Nxc3 25. Nc7+ Kf7 26. Rd3 Ne4?!


I would turn your attention to the clocks right now. Remember a time control? A hundred minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with a bonus of 30 seconds from the move one. Since he prepared everything in his kitchen, all until the move 25, Caruana played almost instantly, and had five minutes above the time he started with! Maxime’s 26… Ne4 obviously was the first unexpected move for him. He was probably expecting 26… Ra7.

27. O-O+ Kg6 28. Nxa8 Nc6 29. Nb6 Rd8 30. Nxc8 Rxc8 31. Ba3 Rc7 32. Rf4 Nf6 33. Bb2 Ne7 34. Bxf6 gxf6


The smoke has settled, and we see that Fabiano has a Rook against a Knight and two free and connected pawns. The first task is to eliminate both of them.

35. h4 h5 36. Rg3+ Kf7 37. Rg5 Rc1+ 38. Kh2 Ng6 39. Rf2 Nxh4 40. Rxh5 Ng6 41. Rh7+ Ke6 42. Rxb7 Ne5 43. Rb6+ Rc6 44. Rxc6+ Nxc6 45. Kg3 Kf7 46. Rc2 Nb4 47. Rd2 Nc6 48. Kf4 Kg6 49. Rd6 Ne5 50. Rxa6


Mission acomplished! Now the second phase – bringing white King into a direct contact with the black pawn.

50… Nf7?! 51. Ke4?! Nh6


Magnus Carlsen was commenting this match live, and he got bored with this position. He assessed it a draw, since Black (Maxime) has a fortress with all approaches to the pawn covered. But Caruana wouldn’t listen to Carlsen anyway. He didn’t go through such preparations to let it go at the end. Yes, doors of the fortress from the Queen’s side may be locked, but he found a way to the key… and then squeezed through the keyhole – square h5.

52. Ra5 Nf7 53. Ra3 Nd6+ 54. Kf4 Nf5 55. Rd3 Nh6 56. Rg3+ Kf7 57. Ke4 Ng8 58. Kf5 Ne7+ 59. Kf4 Nd5+ 60. Kg4 Kg6 61. Kf3+ Kf7 62. Ke4 Ne7 63. Kf4 Nd5+ 64. Kf5 Ne7+ 65. Ke4 Ng8 66. Rh3 Kg6 67. Ra3 Kf7?


This is what a fatigue from the long defending tasks do to you – pressure gets too high in a critical moment when you have to take just another 33 precise moves without exchanging anything and get a draw. Attention falls, and then even Stockfish can break the opponent’s position: Mistake. Ne7 was best. 67… Ne7 68. Ra5 Nc6 69. Rd5 Ne7 70. Rc5 Ng8 71. Kd5 Nh6 72. Ke6 Nf7 73. Rc4 Ng5+ 74. Ke7

From this moment one mistake leads to another:

68. Kf4 Nh6 69. Rg3 Ng8 70. Kg4 Ne7 71. Kh5

The Keyhole for the King

71… Nd5? The last mistake. 71…Nc6 was the best attempt to hold a position. 72. Rf3 Ke6 73. g4 Ke5 74. Kg6 and Maxime resigns in this position:


In the Round 9 Anish Giri punished a mistake of Wang Hao, while all other participants went for fighting draws. Just look at the opening Ding Liren chose against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave:


WhiteRound 9Black
GM Alekseenko, K.½-½GM Caruana, F.
GM Grischuk, A.½-½GM Nepomniachtchi, Ian
GM Giri, Anish1-0GM Wang, Hao
GM Ding, Liren½-½GM Vachier-Lagrave, M.

Round 10 has just finished, and the results are going like this:

WhiteRound 10Black
GM Caruana, F.½-½GM Ding, Liren
GM Vachier-Lagr.½-½GM Giri, Anish
GM Wang, Hao½-½GM Grischuk, A.
GM Nepomniachtc.1-0GM Alekseenko

The standing after ten rounds looks like this:

FIDE Candidates-2021-04-19_143846.jpg

1Nepomniachtchi, Ian6.5/92789
2Caruana, Fabiano5.5/92820
3Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime5.5/92758
4Giri, Anish5.5/92776
5Wang, Hao4.5/92763
6Grischuk, Alexander4.5/92777
7Ding, Liren4/92791
8Alekseenko, Kirill4/92696

See the matches and analysis at at, at Twitch:


or YouTube:

Don’t forget, on Friday, April 23 13:00 (CET) you can see maybe a decisive match of the tournament, Nepomniachtchi vs. Caruana!

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