The FIDE Candidates Tournament finished with three decisive games on Tuesday. GM Ding Liren quickly defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi, who had already secured tournament victory.
Just as quickly, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beat GM Wang Hao, who announced his retirement from professional chess citing health issues.GM Anish Giri lost a long game to GM Kirill Alekseenko while GM Fabiano Caruana andGM Alexander Grischuk drew what was the last game of the tournament.
(Tiebreaks: 1. Mutual score, 2. Number of wins, 3. Sonneborn-Berger.)
With Nepomniachtchi having secured victory with a round to spare, the news of the day is the sad departure of 31-year-old Wang from competitive chess. He announced it during an interview alongside his final-round opponent Vachier-Lagrave. In their game, the Chinese grandmaster had shown another shocking collapse where he made a few bad moves in a row, this time losing in under 30 moves.
Asked for his plans after this event, Wang dropped the bomb: "I will probably try to do something else outside of playing professionally because I have some health issues and I just don't think that I can continue this profession. I will do coaching, I will do investment but I think I cannot do anything which gives too much stress."
I will probably try to do something else outside of playing professionally because I have some health issues and I just don't think that I can continue this profession.Wang Hao
Wang said the issues are related to his digestion:"I've had these problems for some years. It was very difficult. Things started to get worse since 2019."
After round 10, Wang even considered not finishing the tournament: "After the game against Grischuk I wanted to quit the tournament because I already saw that I couldn't continue."
MVL and Wang Hao interviewed after their game.
The game itself was indeed kind of a miniature if you take away the 16 moves of Berlin theory. Interestingly, there was a difference of opinion (or memory) among the players.
"There's a lot of details, a lot of finesses and when I managed to get my knight to d6 unchallenged my position got borderline winning," said MVL. Wang's judgment was closer to what the engines say: "I remembered that the position after 19.Nd6 was still equal according to the computer."
However, the Chinese GM couldn't remember the details. "I played very badly and lost easily," he said.
The win meant Vachier-Lagrave finished in second place, half a point behind the winner. "Of course, when you come with the idea to win the event and only the first place matters it's not a great result," he said. "I'm still proud of the way I fought back after I had a lot of very difficult games, a lot of very difficult losses, so I also take the positives. I hope I will be able to capitalize on the work I did prior to the event and the confidence I at least partially restored with the last few games."
The winner of the tournament suffered an equally quick loss. Although it cannot be ruled out that a wild celebration party has taken place, Nepomniachtchi himself explained it differently.
"Actually, yesterday I was very motivated but today when I woke up I felt like my motivation significantly went down," he said. "I wasn't very happy that I had one more game to play."
Even so, Nepomniachtchi had prepared "quite a lot" for this game and as a result, he made a mistake due to mixing up things."I was probably led away by false knowledge," he said.
This way, Ding finished on 50 percent after becoming the "winner" of the second half with 4.5/7.
"I hoped the tournament would be a bit longer since I was just in form now," he smiled. "Of course in the first half of the tournament I played very badly due to a long quarantine [last year, Ding was forced to arrive two weeks in advance for an obligatory quarantine - PD] and I did not prepare too well. I think in the second half of the tournament at least I prepared much better and I had many promising positions. If I had played my best, maybe I would have had some chances."
Here is GM Ben Finegold's video commentary:
After finishing the tournament, Nepomniachtchi returned to social media:
If the disappointment of missing out on the world title match wasn't enough, Giri ended his tournament with a second straight loss. Alekseenko, in turn, managed to avoid the last place which was eventually occupied by Wang.
"I got a slightly better position somewhere in the middlegame and step by step I was trying to gain my advantage but it was very close to equal," Alekseenko described the game. Everything changed with 37.g4 when Giri weakened his kingside.
Alekseenko called it a "strange move" as it allowed Black a knight maneuver to the f4-square. At least, that was the plan but instead, Giri sacrificed his g-pawn.
Alekseenko missed a strong continuation and after the time control, Giri found a tenacious set-up but then lost the thread once again.
"I miscalculated at the crucial moment, but it was already very tough," said Giri."He played very well."
As the Dutch GM pointed out, Alekseenko did much better in this Catalan than a week ago, when he mixed up the lines and lost without a fight against Nepomniachtchi: "It was incredible to see the evolution of his Catalan handling in just a week, from losing in 20 moves to outplaying me so impressively, I thought it's remarkable!"
With a win in the final round, Caruana could have caught MVL in second place but in the end, the American player had to be satisfied with a draw against Grischuk and a fourth-place finish.
Faced with another Four Knights Sicilian (like against Giri), Caruana this time tried 6.Qd3!? and then played a novelty two moves later. Grischuk found a good response over the board and more or less equalized by move 20.
From what was happening on the other boards, the Russian GM concluded that he had to play on:"Then I see that Giri maybe will lose, maybe Vachier doesn't win, and then if I win I take third or even second," he said. "I started to play extremely poorly from some point."
After the time control, Caruana got a bit optimistic when he got f4-f5 in. "I wasn't sure if it was anything real or just a bit tricky for Black."
Grischuk pointed out that for the first time, he hadn't finished on a minus score in a Candidates round-robin but still called his 50 percent "nothing special."
Caruana felt the same about his plus one: "I don't think it matters if you're plus three or minus three if you don't win. That's really what we're all here for."
And so a tournament that lasted over a year is finally over. Nepomniachtchi will definitely be an interesting opponent for Carlsen, who gave a first quick reaction yesterday:
Caruana, Carlsen's last opponent in a title match, had a similar assessment today: "I think it's gonna be very close because he looks really strong now. Not just in this tournament. Over the past year, he has looked incredibly strong so I think he's gonna be a very dangerous opponent for Magnus."
Over the past year, he has looked incredibly strong so I think he's gonna be a very dangerous opponent for Magnus.Fabiano Caruana
With the Candidates coming to an end, so is our voting competition. The following members won prizes: first came @bronze-tiger007 (19 points, good for $1,000), second @GabrielMontori97 (18 points, $500), and shared third @BiancoFalco, @Blunderful_Life, @daavcio, @stormriderzz, and @smulps (17 points, all $100).
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