Ian Nepomniachtchi (left) faces Maxime Vachier-Lagrave at the Candidates Tournament on Monday 26 April © via Reuters

Russian champion Ian Nepomniachtchi has triumphed in the marathon Candidates tournament, which was suspended for a year at half-way due to the pandemic, and will challenge Magnus Carlsen for the Norwegian's world crown in a 14-game, €2m series in Dubai in November. 

The 30-year-old Muscovite gained a winning lead this afternoon in the 13th and penultimate round when he drew in a favourable position against France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave while his Dutch rival Anish Giri, who began the day half a point behind, lost to Russia’s Alexander Grischuk.

Nepomniachtchi starts Tuesday’s final round on 8.5/13 against Giri’s 7.5/13, and is at worst assured of first place under the tie-break rules due to winning their individual game in the very first round of the tournament, played more than 400 days ago in March 2020.

This is the biggest success by far of Nepomniachtchi’s career. He is a distinctive personality at the board with his man-bun, and is also an expert at the team video game Dota 2. His style is characterised by speedy play, a tactically orientated game, and a wide opening repertoire.

He will be the heavy underdog against Carlsen, who some consider the greatest champion of all time ahead of Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer. One factor in the Russian’s favour is that he is the only top player with a plus score in classical games against the Norwegian, although this dates back to junior championships 20 years ago. Recently he defeated the champion in the online Magnus Carlsen Invitational.

Last week Carlsen was asked about his potential opponent, and noted the Russian’s fast play and imaginative tactics, but suggested that Nepomniachtchi’s weakness at the very top could be his oscillating form with a significant gap between his best and worst performances.

Carlsen himself still has something to prove in matches. He won the crown from India’s Vishy Anand convincingly, but was laboured in his ensuing title defences against Anand, Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, and Fabiano Caruana of the US. Caruana, the world No 2, was favourite to renew his challenge this week, but faltered in the closing rounds.

Puzzle 2417

White mates in four moves. This easy-looking puzzle, composed by Oswald von Krobshofer in 1904, is a classic with a nasty trap for solvers. The true answer is just a single line of play.

Click here for solution

This column has been republished with a picture from the tournament

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