Fide President Arkady Dvorkovich (a confidant of Vladimir Putin) says he will ensure everybody gets out safe. Ding Liren’s form was clearly affected by his long lockdown. His compatriot Wang Hao was luckier in that he was in Tokyo but Wang will also return to devastation. You can also feel great sympathy for Teimour Radjabov, who withdrew suspecting this would happen. His substitute, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, has done well.
This is the first time a pandemic has led to a big chess
event being interrupted. When World War I started, a strong event in Bad Mannheim, Germany was truncated. Frenchmen and Russian playing there endured incarceration before repatriation. (They were given prize money. The winner was the young Alexander Alekhine.)
World War II broke out in September 1939 while the Buenos Aires Chess
Olympiad was on. It was a surreal event. Nazi expansion had altered European borders. The Austrians were playing under the German flag while the Czechs were playing as “Bohemia”. Several Jewish members of the Polish team, including Moishe Najdorf (who Latinised his name to Miguel) decided not to risk going home.
In purely sporting terms, the Candidates is wide open. After the first half, Lagrave leads in tandem with Ian Nepomniachtchi (both 4.5) with Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri and Wang Hao, sitting on 50 per cent (3.5 each). Kirill Alekseenko and Ding Liren (2.5 each) trail.
Everyone still has a mathematical chance to win and six players are in with a good shot. The unplanned break could also mean that Ding roars into form. That’s an imponderable. Lagrave beat Nepomniachtchi in an impressive game in Round 7, to catch up. Nepomniachtchi has, in general, maintained pressure when he’s reached good positions and this brought him key wins.
In The Diagram, Black to Play, (White: Nepomniachtchi Vs Black: Ding, Candidates 2020), White seems to be coasting to a win. Indeed, play went 33.—Rc5 34. Qe8+ Kh7 35. Ng1 Rxb6 36. Qxd8 Rxb2 37. Rxb2 Rc1 38. Qh4+ Qxh4 39. gxh4 Rd1 40. f3 (1-0).
Both players missed the insane 33. — Rxb6!! 34. Rxb6 Qxe2! 35. Rb8 Re5!! 36. Rxd8+ Kh7. The only way to defend the backrank is 37. Rh8+! Kxh8 38. Qc8+ Kh7 39. Qxh3+ Kg6 which is roughly equal.