Two games of the starting rounds clearly stand out by richness of their content and similarity of their plots: one of the players comes up with a powerful novelty, but his unprepared opponent finds the best reaction and eventually wins after a lengthy fight.
In this position 12.Qb3 was played many times and was widely considered as White's only viable option. After 12...d5 13.Bxc4 dxc4 14.Qxb5+ Qxb5 15.Nxb5 Black would choose between 15...Bb4+ 16.Ke2 Ke7 and 15...Ra5 with an equal ending in both cases.
12.Rc1! A novel and very deep idea. 12.b3 Bb4 13.Rc1 d5 can also lead to a position from the game, but it gives Black more promising options.
12...d5. The b2-pawn is poisoned, as usual: after 12...Nxb2? 13.Qb3 Qc6 (13...Na4 14.Nxa4, and the knight cannot be taken because Black has problems with his queen and c8-bishop; 13...Ba3 14.Rc2, and Black loses material) 14.Rh5! Na4 15.Bxb5 Nc5 16.Qb1 White has a huge lead in development.
After 12...Bb4 13.a3 Bxc3+ 14.Rxc3 Nxb2? is bad because of 15.Qb3 Na4 16.Bxb5 Nxc3 17.Bxd7+ Bxd7 18.Qxb6, while after 14...d5 15.Qc2 White has good compensation for a pawn in a complicated position.
13.b3 Bb4! It is easy to see that Black can regain a piece, but Ian needed to read a lot deeper in order to make this decision while knowing that his opponent had studied the position at home.
14.bxc4 Ra3 15.Be5 f6. 15...Qa5 also deserves attention.
16.Bd4 Qa5 17.Be2. Protecting the knight again is pointless because of е6-е5.
17...Bxc3+ 18.Rxc3 Rxc3.
19.Kf1! The idea of Giri and his team is revealed. White sacrificed an exchange, a pawn, and a tempo, and now intends to trouble the enemy king starting with g4-g5. If Black tries to keep all his extra material, his position will crumble quickly and miserably. I am sure Anish has a separate branch dedicated to 19...Ra3 20.g5 e5 21.gxf6! gxf6 (or 21...exd4 22.fxg7 Rg8 23.Qxd4, and White's rook and bishop are joining the decisive attack) 22.Bh5+ Kd8 23.Qf3! Qa6 24.Qxd5+ Bd7 (24...Kc7 25.cxb5 Qe6 26.Qc5+ и 27.Qxa3) 25.Bg4 Qc6.
26.Bb6+! Ke7 (26...Kc8 27.Rxh7!, checkmating) 27.Bc5+ Kd8 28.Qxd7+ Qxd7 29.Bxd7 Rxa2 30.Bxb5, and two bishops will easily outmatch a rook.
19...b4! Ian finds the best way to return an exchange – his rook will be replaced with a dangerous passed pawn.
20.g5! e5. 20...Qxa2 also looks good, intending to trade the queens by ...Qc2.
21.Bxc3 bxc3 22.gxf6 gxf6 23.Qb1. After 23.cxd5 Qxa2 White has a number of ways of dealing with the c3-pawn. For instance, on 24.Qd3 (24.Bd3; 24.Kg2) Black does not gain anything by 24...Bh3+ due to 25.Kg1! (25.Rxh3? c2) 25...Bd7 (25...c2 26.Kh2 Qb2 27.Qc4 Bd7 28.Kg2 and 29.Bd3 only helps White coordinate his pieces) 26.Bh5+ Ke7 27.Qxc3 Qxd5, and the minimal material deficit is balanced out by a safer king.
23...Qc7. The queen protects a pawn on h7 while keeping an eye on the potentially lethal passed pawn. 23...d4!? leads to a complicated game, in which both sides need to play very precisely: 24.exd4 exd4 25.Rh5 (25.Rh4 Qc5 26.Qe4+ Qe5) 25...f5 26.Bd3 (26.Qc1 Qe5) 26...0-0 27.Qc1. The evaluation remains unchanged – White has sufficient compensation for a pawn.
24.Qd3. 24.Rh4 deserves attention, activating the rook as soon as possible. White would get a safer version of the actual game.
24...b5! A brilliant thrust! Black brings another b-pawn to the c-file, which is very beneficial for his army.
25.Qxc3. 25.Qxd5? Bb7 26.Qe6+ (26.Qxb5+ Bc6 wins a rook) 26...Qe7 27.Qxe7+ Kxe7 28.f3 b4, and Black's advanced pawns should decide the game.
25...bxc4 26.e4 dxe4 27.Rh4. The exchange of 27.Bxc4? Ba6 28.Bb5+ Bxb5+ give Black the upper hand. The ending after 27.Qxc4 Qxc4 28.Bxc4 Bf5 29.Bd5 Bg6 (planning to meet Rh4 by ...f5) 30.Kg2 Ke7 31.Re1 f5 32.g4 or 28...Bg4 29.Bd5 Bf3 30.Rh4 f5 31.Rh6 should give White a draw, although in the latter variation he has some problems because of his restricted king.
27...Be6 28.Rxe4 0-0 29.Bxc4 Kg7!
White can only dream about a comfortable game. Getting rid of the pin is not easy.
30.Qb3 (30.Qd3 Bf5) 30...Rb8 31.Bxe6. This is correct. White is in greater danger after 31.Qa4 Bd7 32.Qa3 (32.Qd1 Bf5) 32...Rb1+ 33.Ke2 (33.Kg2 Bc6) 33...Bf5 34.Rh4 Qd7.
36.Rg8+? This is a mistake, and Ian showed great technique utilizing it. White could build a fortress by 36.Rh4 followed by transferring the bishop via c4 to f1.
36...Ke7 37.Rg7+ Kd6 38.Rh7 Qf3 39.Rh8 e4. Had the rook been on h4, it would get an excellent outpost on f4 now.
40.Rd8+ Ke7 41.Bd1. If White keeps the rook on the g-file, Black breaks through by ...f5, then ...f4 or ...h4.
41...Qc3 42.Rd5 h4! 43.gxh4 f5! 44.Rxf5. Giving up a bishop for this pawn was in any case unavoidable.
44...Qe1+ 45.Kg2 Qxd1.
46.Rg5. Starting from the move 24, White is always a little short. On 46.Re5+ Kf6 47.Rxe4 Black replies 47...Qd5 48.f3 Qxa2+, reaching a baseline textbook position, where Black wins by coming with his queen from behind and gradually pushing the white king upwards. White's defensive setup loses harmony, and he loses a pawn. Having one more pawn does not change anything apart from making Black's task more time consuming.
In addition, White must not allow е4-е3 with the same idea of unsettling the f2-pawn. Therefore Anish transfers his rook on the third rank.
46...Qa1 47.Rg4 Qb1 48.Rg3 Qxa2 49.Rh3. An important nuance: on 49.Kf1 Black wins only by 49...Qd2! This is yet another baseline position, which we will see once again in the very end of the game.
49...Qd5 50.Kf1 Qd1+ 51.Kg2 Qg4+ 52.Rg3 Qh5. Not 52...Qxh4? 53.Kf1, as the white king must not be allowed on е1 or е2.
53.Ra3 Qd5 54.Kg1 Kf6 55.Rg3 Qd1+ 56.Kg2 Kf5 57.Rg5+ Kf4 58.Rg3 Qd5 59.Kf1 Qd2 60.Kg2 Qd1 61.Re3. White's extra pawn forced Black to make corrections to a standard plan. Now Ian returns to the right path.
62...Kf6! The king goes to h5 in order to remove the obstacle himself. White cannot prevent it, as 63.Kh2 is met by 63...Qf1, 63.Rg5 runs into 63...e3, and on 63.Re3 there is 63...Kg6! 64.Rxe4 Qd5 65.f3, transposing to the baseline position discussed above.
63.Rh3 Kg6 64.Rg3+ Kh5 65.Rh3 Qb1 66.Re3 Kxh4 67.Rg3 Kh5 68.Rh3+ Kg4. A concluding stage begins – the king returns to the center.
9...e5! Naturally, White's exposed king provokes an energetic reaction. Previously Black used to sacrifice a minor piece: 9...c5 10.e4 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Bxe4 12.fxe4 Nxe4+ 13.Kg1 Nxc3 14.Qe1 cxd4 or 9...Bg6 10.e4 c5 11.Na2 Nc6 12.Nxb4 Nxb4 13.Qb3 Nxe4+ 14.fxe4 Bxe4. One can jokingly say that Caruana decided to save material. After 10.dxe5 Nfd7 Black indeed obtains a great game at a minimal cost. However, after 10.e4 exd4 11.Na2 he must give up a bishop: 11...Bc5 12.exf5 b5. Nevertheless, White in unlikely to enjoy life after 13.Na3 d3+ 14.Kg3.
10.Nxe5 Bc2. This sacrifice is fake, of course.
11.Qd2 c5 12.d5!? 12.e3 Bb3 13.Bc4 (13.Nd3!?) is more cautious. However, Ding wants a big fight.
12...Bb3. The tactical idea 12...Be4!? gives White a choice between the safe 13.Nd3 and the sharp 13.g4 Qe7 14.g5 Qxe5 15.gxf6 Qxf6.
13.e4. If White manages to mobilize his forces, the powerful pawn center will secure him a large advantage.
13...Re8 14.Qf4. If the knight retreats, there are tactics for Black: 14.Nc4 Rxe4! 15.fxe4 Nxe4+ 16.Nxe4 Bxd2 17.Nexd2 Qh4+ 18.g3 Qd4+ 19.Kg2 Qxd5+ 20.Kg1, and White has to fight for a draw. 14.Nd3 Rxe4 15.Nxb4 Rxb4 is even worse for White, as Black has strong initiative with equal material. The move in the game seems to be perfect in every aspect – it gives White's dark-squared bishop room (while the light-squared one is ready to jump to b5 with tempo), protects the е5-knight, and freezes the f6-knight by glancing at f7.
14...c4! Caruana's outstanding idea combines concrete variations with positional maneuvers. Well, it makes Ding Liren's achievement even more formidable, as he managed to realize the dangers White is about to encounter.
15.Nxc4. On 15.Bxc4 Black responds by 15...Bd6, and the sharp-witted 16.Qe3 (16.Bxb3? Qb6+) runs into the even more sharp-witted 16...Nbd7! 17.Nxd7 Nxd7 (still threatening ...Bc5) 18.Qe2 Bc5+ 19.Kf1 Bxc4 20.Qxc4 Qh4 21.Qe2 f5, where Black's initiative fully compensates the sacrificed pawns.
15...Nbd7 16.Be3 Nf8! Fabiano is prepared to bring the queen's rook into action (the immediate 16...Rc8? is bad because of 17.Nd6). His minor pieces also begin to bother the enemy queen. 16...Bxc4 looks tempting: 17.Bxc4 Ne5 (17...Nb6 deserves attention, too) 18.Be2 Ng6, but here White makes series of the only moves and escapes: 19.Qf5 (not 19.Qg3? Bxc3 20.bxc3 Rxe4 – one must be constantly aware of the captures on е4)
19...Re5 20.Qh3 Rh5 (the imaginative 20...Bc5 21.Bxc5 Nf4 22.Qg3 N6h5 23.Qg4 Rg5 runs into 24.Qxg5 Qxg5 25.g3, and the pieces are stronger than a queen) 21.Qg3, and the computer sees nothing better than bringing the rook back to e5, as 21...Bd6 is parried by 22.f4, attacking the rook and threatening е4-е5.
If Black inserts 19...Rc8 20.Rac1 and then goes 20...Re5, White has 21.Qh3 Rh5 22.Qxc8! Qxc8 23.Na2 followed by capturing on b4, and he gets an advantage.
17.Bd4! White cannot waste time on Bf1-e2xc4, and after 17.Nd2, attacking the bishop on b3, Black develops initiative by 17...Ng6 18.Qg3 Bd6 19.f4 Rc8, giving away hints about vulnerability on the e4-pawn.
17...Ng6. It looks like Caruana's memory started to let him down somewhere around here. 17...Rc8 is stronger, although White has more or less prepared for a blow on e4: 18.Ne3 Ng6 19.Qg3 Bxc3 20.bxc3 Rxe4 21.Kg1, and White's pieces are solid. However, the tricky machine finds the way to cleverly rearrange its cavalry: 18...Nh5 19.Qg4 Ne6!, and nothing is clear.
18.Qf5. I was unable to make my engine refute 18.Qc1!? After 18...Rc8 19.Nd2 it begins sacrificing on e4 and d5, but does not consider these sacrifices convincing. Possibly this is the one and only inaccuracy made by the Chinese grandmaster in the entire game.
18...Bxc4. 18...Rc8 deserves attention. After 19.Ne3 Bc5 Black obtains a good game on dark squares thanks to his lead in development. 19.Nd2 is met by 19...Ne7, utilizing the idea 20.Bxf6?? Qb6+. White can, however, solve his queen problems radically by sacrificing it for a rook and a bishop: 20.Qxc8! Nxc8 21.Nxb3, and the position finally stabilizes, although it remains very complex.
19.Bxc4 Qc7 20.Be2. A very good guess by Ding Liren. White does not win a tempo by 20.Bb5 because of 20...Bc5 21.Bxc5 Qxc5+ 22.Kf1 Re5 23.Qh3 a6 24.Be2, and he helps the opponent make a correct decision on the 22nd move.
20...Bc5 21.Bxc5. The time to link the rooks has not come yet: 21.Rhd1 Re5! 22.Qh3 Rh5 23.Qg3 Bd6 24.e5 Rxe5!, and White faces serious problems.
22...h6?! Black has nothing against 22...Qb4 23.Rb1 Rac8, but Caruana sees a strong defensive idea 23.Qg5! Qxb2 24.Qc1 and decides to prevent it. The correct way of doing it is more dynamic – 22...Re5 23.Qh3 Qb4 24.Rb1 Nf4 25.Qg3 N6h5 26.Qe1 f5, and leads to a complex game with all three results possible.
23.Rd1. A refined maneuver – the rook is transferred to an unassailable post. 23.g3 Qb4 24.Rb1 Rac8 25.Kg2 also prevents attacks on b2, but gives Black a chance to regroup by 23...a6, as 24.Kg2 in this case is refuted by 24...Re5 25.Qh3 Rh5.
23...Qb6. 23...Qb4 24.Rd2 a6 should be preferred. The queen on е3 looks active but is actually quite inefficient.
24.Rd2 Qe3 25.Rc2 a6 26.Qh3. The queen follows the rook in the same unhurried manner. Surprisingly, Black has no way of creating any serious threats, thanks to White's strong pawn shield and generally closed position.
26...b5 27.Qg3 b4 28.Nd1 Qb3 29.Rd2 Qxa4. Black regains one of the pawns, but White is about to get a complete hold on the center.
30.Qf2 Qd7 31.g3. The immediate 31.Qd4 is fine as well, but Ding Liren welcomes the black queen on h3 – it cannot stay there for long anyway.
31...Qh3+ 32.Kg1 a5 33.Qd4 Nh5 34.Nf2 Qd7 35.f4. 35.Kg2 is just fine, too, but Ding Liren is not afraid of ghosts. The move in the game practically forces a desperate piece sacrifice from Caruana.
35...Nhxf4 36.gxf4 Nxf4 37.Kf1. The rest does not require commentary. Black didn't get any chances to survive.
Previously Black would always place a bishop on d6, preventing the d-pawn advance. Caruana played 13.d6 very confidently, showing how well he is prepared in the scheme that is new for him.
13...Bf8 14.h3 Bh5 15.Nb5 Re6?! The machine recommends 15...Rb8! 16.Nc7 (16.Nxa7 is weak – 16...Bxd6 17.Qxd6 Rxe2) 16...Re4 17.Bd3 Bxd6 (17...Rd4? 18.Nb5) 18.Bxe4 Qxc7 with good compensation for an exchange.
16.Bf4 a6 17.Nc7 Re4 18.Bh2?! White could solidify his advantage by 18.Qd2 Bxf3 (18...Rc8 19.Rad1) 19.Bxf3 Rd4 20.Qe3 Rc8 21.Rad1. Fabiano plays in the most forceful manner, but it gives the opponent a chance to create counterplay.
18...Rc8 19.g4 Bxg4. 19...Nxg4 is more promising – 20.hxg4 Rxg4+ 21.Kh1 Rg6! The rook is very effective on the 6th rank – it attacks the d6-pawn (...Nb6) and creates threats against the white king (...Rh6). The move in the game removes Black's most active pieces from the board.
20.hxg4 Nxg4 21.Bd3 Nxh2 22.Bxe4 Nxf1 23.Qxf1.
23...Bxd6? The decisive mistake. 23...Nf6! is correct. After 24.Bf5 (if 24.Bxb7?, then 24...Rb8 followed by ...Qxd6 traps a knight, and Black gets a material advantage) 24...Rb8 25.Ng5 (or 25.Rd1 Bxd6 26.Nd5 g6) Black must make the right choice: 25...Bxd6? 26.Bxh7+! Nxh7 (26...Kf8 27.Nce6+) 27.Qxf7+ Kh8 28.Nce6 Qg8 29.Qg6 Nxg5 30.Nxg5 leads to a checkmate, while 25...Qxd6 26.Nd5 h6 the game is in full swing.
24.Nd5 g6. 24...Nf6 is no longer viable: 25.Nxf6+ Qxf6 26.Qh3 with a double attack on с8 and h7.
25.Qh3 Kg7. Neither 25...Nf6 nor 25...Ne5 26.Nxe5 Bxe5 27.Qxc8 Qxc8 28.Ne7+ in any good for Black. And while he is taking care of the ill-fated knight, the opponent prepares the decisive kingside attack.
26.Kh1 Ne5 27.Nh4 h5. 27...Rc6 is more tenacious, avoiding weakening the kingside. Now Caruana begins a direct assault.
As for Ding Liren, the impressive victory against Caruana became even more valuable because the Chinese had lost the first two games, both times let down by his f-pawn.
Ding Liren-Wang Hao
30.f4? This thematic advance requires thorough preparation.
30...exf4 31.Bxf4 Nxf4+. 31...Bxf4 32.gxf4 Nxh4+ 33.Kg3 Ng6 34.Nxb6 is better for White, but Black is not obliged to play straightforward chess.
32.gxf4 f5! 33.e5 Re6! The rook eventually arrived on g6, the king came to е6, and after some time trouble adventures Wang Hao won the h4-pawn and the game.
15...f5? Don't judge my vocabulary too harshly, but this thematic advance also requires thorough preparation – by, say, 15...f6 (it is useful to overprotect the е5-square).
16.axb5 axb5 17.Rxa8 Bxa8 18.c4! Black's queen and rook are located on a diagonal that is about to be opened. At the same time, the bishop continues to work quite efficiently along the а2-g8 diagonal despite having two pawns on its way. 18...bxc4 or 18...b4 runs into 19.Ba4, 18...Rf8 leads to 19.cxb5 Qxb5 20.Nxe5!
Ding Liren preferred 18...Nf7 19.cxb5, lost a pawn, then tried to create some kingside play, but it only made matters worse for him.
Only in the fourth round we saw all games ending peacefully. Nevertheless, there was nothing peaceful about the fighting spirit of the players. Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave had clear scoring chances against Nepomniachtchi and Grischuk respectively. Below is a fragment of the latter game. To be fair, Alexander also missed a number of promising opportunities in three first games.
Ten moves ago White sacrificed a pawn for the pressure on f7 and continued in a very determined manner. Now he makes an excellent move, expanding the front of his attack.
29.a4! On 29.e6 Black would respond by 29...f6, as he did later in the game. 29.Nxf7? fails to 29...Bxf7 30.e6 Bg8, and after 31.Bg5+ Ke8 32.Rd1 Nd5 33.c4 Bxe6 34.Re5 Kd7 35.cxd5 cxd5 White is two pawns down, and the position is nowhere near sharp. However, the automatic 29...a5 give White the upper hand: 30.Ba3+ Ke8 31.Nxf7! Bxf7 32.e6.
29...Nxa4. Capturing the pawn could cost Black the game. In order to prove it, we will have to explore a number of brilliant and difficult variations.
The correct defense is 29...Be6. On 30.Ba3+ Black must choose:
a) after 30...Ke8 31.Rf4 (preventing 31...Nc4) 31...Nd5 32.Nxe6 fxe6 33.Rf3 b6 34.Ref1 c5 35.Rf7 White gets to the 7th rank, but the computer calmly protects pawns with rooks as is confident that Black can hold;
b) after 30...Kd7 (planning to recapture on е6 with a king) 31.Rd1+ Nd5 32.Rf4 (32.c4? Bxf5 33.gxf5 Rxh5) 32...b5 33.c4 bxc4 34.Nxe6 Kxe6 35.Rxc4 Kd7 36.Rf1 f6 37.exf6 gxf6 or 35...Ne7 36.Bxe7 Kxe7 37.Rxc6 Rac8 Black will have to suffer in the resulting ending, but just a little bit – the most likely outcome is a draw.
The game went on 30.Ba3+ c5 31.e6 f6 32.Bxc5+ Nxc5 33.Rxc5 fxg5 34.Rxc7+ Kd6 35.Rxc4 a5 with a draw in a rook ending.
Grischuk was under the time pressure, Vachier-Lagrave had enough time, and both of them underrated how strong 30.Re4! is.
30...Nb6 31.Ba3+ allows White to execute one of his key ideas: 31...Ke8 32.Nxf7! Bxf7 33.e6 or 31...Kd7 32.e6+! fxe6 33.Rf7+ Kc8 34.Nxe6.
After 30...b5 an exchange sacrifice creates a decisive attack despite very limited material: 31.Rxc4! bxc4 32.Rxf7+ Ke8 33.Rxc7, and after, say, 33...Rd8 there is 34.Ba3 c5 35.Nf7 Rd1+ 36.Kg2 Rf8 37.Nd6+ Kd8 38.Rxa7.
30...Be6 31.Nxe6 does not help Black either.
After the natural 31...fxe6 32.Bg5+ Ke8 33.Rf3 White wins a tempo by attacking the knight and then invades the 7th rank: 33...Nb6 34.Ref4 Nd5 35.Rf7 Rg8 36.c4 Nf6 37.Rxc7 Nd7 38.Rxb7, winning.
The most curious variation occurs after 31...Nc3 32.Ng5 Nxe4. On 33.Nxe4 b6 the engines happily show that Black is at least not worse. However, if White goes for 33.Rxf7+! Ke8 34.Rxg7 instead, his domination on the 7th rank should yield him a victory.