Nepomniachtchi Draw Away From Winning Candidates Tournament

Nepomniachtchi Draw Away From Winning Candidates Tournament

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi increased his lead to two points and only needs a draw on Sunday to clinch the 2022 Candidates Tournament. After drawing his game with GM Hikaru Nakamura in just seven minutes today he saw GM Ding Liren, his closest rival, lose to GM Teimour Radjabov

GM Fabiano Caruana is still in fourth place, now with Radjabov, as he had to settle for a draw against GM Richard Rapport. GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda was close to victory against GM Alireza Firouzja, but this game was drawn as well.

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Due to Ding’s surprising downfall on Friday, Nepomniachtchi has a two-point lead now, meaning he has secured himself at least a tie for first place. It took him just 12 rounds to reach 8.5 points, the winning score after 14 rounds in four of the previous five Candidates tournaments.

Nepomniachtchi, already on 8.5 points. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The Russian grandmaster is likely going to clinch the tournament on Sunday with another draw, as he gets to play the white pieces again. His opponent, though, is Rapport, one of the more unpredictable players in the field. Maybe the Hungarian GM will want to play?

Ding’s loss was good news for Caruana, Nakamura, and even Radjabov, who are all still in contention for second place. As mentioned here before, only a tie for first place would lead to a rapid/blitz tiebreak, but otherwise Sonneborn-Berger is going to be the first tiebreaker.

Both Ding and Nakamura have now stated in interviews that it would be better for the players to play for second place as well, while Radjabov is OK with the tiebreak rules as they are. A last-minute change of the regulations would be tough to arrange and can only be done by the FIDE Council. But if all parties were to align, this could still happen.

Nakamura Candidates 2022
Like Ding, Nakamura thinks it’s better to play for second place.  Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

All this might turn out to be irrelevant if Carlsen decides to defend his title against the winner after all. Nakamura said today that he would understand it if Carlsen wants to do other things in life, but at the same time he still thinks he’ll play another match: “If he doesn’t play I’d be shocked. I just don’t buy it.” Radjabov is of a similar opinion: “I’m sure he will play the match. I don’t know why everyone is so stressed out about it.”

I’m sure he will play the match. I don’t know why everyone is so stressed out about it.
—GM Teimour Radjabov

Nepomniachtchi-Nakamura ½-½

A very quick draw was already very likely to appear as soon as Nakamura played his third move. Going for the Berlin, his mean weapon anyway, was a sign that he was OK with a draw, and whether Nepomniachtchi was OK with a draw wasn’t even a serious question.

Nepomniachtchi Nakamura Candidates 2022
Nakamura’s 3…Nf6 basically predicted the whole game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Conveniently, that Berlin includes an infamous variation that leads to a threefold repetition as early as move 14. Literally hundreds of games have ended in a draw like this, and this was no exception. 

Seven minutes into the round, Nepomniachtchi stopped the clock, and after the arbiter confirmed everything was in order, the players shook hands and exchanged a few smiles. This time, Nakamura hadn’t even put his jacket back on yet; Nepomniachtchi left the playing hall with an almost full bottle of tea.

Nepomniachtchi Nakamura Candidates 2022
The players exchanging some smiles after a short “game.” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It wasn’t great for the fans, but it did make sense for Nakamura as well, to save energy, with one more white game on Sunday to focus on and then, if needed, he could still go all-in vs. Ding in the final round.

Nakamura said that going for e.g. the Sicilian wasn’t really on his mind, taking into account the last Sicilian he played against GM Vladimir Fedoseev in the Chess.com Rapid Chess Championship just before he left the United States for Madrid. “He absolutely killed me, I just got absolutely destroyed in that game, so I didn’t think the risk-reward was there.”

Nakamura Candidates 2022
Nakamura: “I didn’t think the risk reward was there.” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi thought it was hard to say whether 1…e5 and the Berlin was the right choice for Nakamura: “Basically the ball was on his side.” The tournament leader had prepared for the Pirc and some rare Spanish lines, in case Nakamura was really going to go for it. “I thought if Berlin, then OK, that’s it. I can’t say I was really into refuting the Berlin today.”

I can’t say I was really into refuting the Berlin today.
—GM Ian Nepomniachtchi

Nakamura, by the way, expressed some nice words about his opponent: “I think a lot of people have been critical of Ian. They feel like he’s been getting a lot of gifts, he’s been lucky … But when you play well throughout the way he has, you make your own luck, so I think it’s very deserved in terms of how Ian has performed.” 

Ding-Radjabov 0-1

Radjabov may never have been close to even start dreaming of tournament victory, but he has actually been playing a pretty good event in which he defeated two players who were in good form: Nakamura and Ding. Well, to be honest, Ding’s good form was all gone today as he played, well, his worst game of the tournament. Just like at the FIDE World Cup, he stumbled against the Azerbaijani grandmaster.

Ding Radjabov Candidates 2022
Radjabov plays the Nimzo-Indian. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It seems 8…Na6 caught Ding off-guard, as he took his first think there. Afterward, he said he regretted his opening choice and was out of book there. “It was very difficult to adjust myself,” he said. “I [wanted] to play for a win, but this is not the way to play for a win.”

Radjabov allowed the doubling of his a-pawn but got the bishop pair and an extra open file in return. In his interview after the game, he said he was surprised by Ding’s 12.b4 and then also about the fact that the pawn push b4-b5 wasn’t followed up by a3-a4.

Position after 13…a5.

Nakamura commented briefly on this game when it had reached move 13. He “hated” how the opening had gone for White and said: “I have a feeling this one is gonna fizzle pretty fast.” However, when looking at it a bit longer, he started to like Black, who had a lot of easy moves while White was a bit behind in development.

Ding Candidates 2022
Ding: “It was very difficult to adjust myself.” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

As it turned out, Nakamura had predicted it well as things went downhill pretty fast for White. Ding continued showing “very nervous play” (Radjabov) and was facing a very tough position already before move 20. 

“He wanted to castle and give up the pawn on a3, but 19…Bxh3 is a very nasty thing,” Radjabov said. “He was very confused about the position. He could still resist better; what he did was just completely lost; I don’t know what he was doing.”

When Ding missed the pretty 21…Rxe3! (Letelier-Fischer vibes!), it was all over and he was just blown off the board.

Every Chess Tactic Explained: Decoys

Remarkably down to earth, the Chinese player commented afterward: “Yesterday I won a lost position, but today I lost the game, so chess is fair.”

The 12th round of the Candidates Tournament saw Nepo clinch at least a share of first with two rounds to spare. For the third time in a row, when he made a quick draw with White, his closest rival went down.

Teimour Radjabov Candidates 2022
An excellent game by Radjabov, who gave a nice interview afterward in the Chess.com broadcast. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Duda-Firouzja ½-½

Duda had never beaten Firouzja yet (while losing four classical games, with two draws), and has himself to blame that he didn’t do so today. With similar, somewhat reckless, play like the day before—which again involved a premature push of his g-pawn—Firouzja got a lost position, but Duda failed to convert.

Duda-Firouzja Candidates 2022
Duda had Firouzja on the ropes. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The opening was a Semi-Slav, something Firouzja had played only a few times in his career as Black—he’s more into Grunfelds and King’s Indians. A sharp line came on the board, which was in fact theory for more than 20 moves, but Firouzja seemed out of book earlier as he spent some time thinking on his 15th and 16th moves.

The line involved Black sacrificing an exchange but getting a passed pawn all the way on b2 for it. It’s dynamically equal there, but not after 22…g5—oops, he did it again!

Position after 22…g5.

This was a novelty, but a dubious one, where 22…c5 had been played in Dubov-Shirov, Moscow 2013.

Firouzja must have missed or, more likely, underestimated White’s natural reply 23.f4, after which he had to let go of his pride: that pawn on b2. But didn’t White weaken his kingside too much there? Well, no. It was weakened, but also was relatively easy to defend.

Naroditsky: “Alireza is in free-fall right now!”

The evaluation bar was looking good for White, but just a few moves later, it suddenly dropped to “equal.” Duda’s 27.Rf2? was somewhat clumsy and based on a miscalculation, when Firouzja could have reached a draw instantly.

However, visibly tired, again yawning at the board, the youngster missed his chance and remained an exchange down.

Duda Firouzja Candidates 2022
Firouzja was close to losing again today—twice. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Naroditsky: “Something is just not screwed on right for Alireza in this tournament.” Our commentator felt it was a lack of stubbornness: “It’s like he has already resigned himself to the way this game is gonna go.”

But that’s not what happened either because Duda, probably due to tiredness after 12 long and grueling rounds, played too fast on move 37. With 7.5 minutes on the clock, he spent only 21 seconds on 37.Rxf7?, blundering Black’s reply which forced a draw after all.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao .

Duda Firouzja Candidates 2022
A disappointed Duda agrees to a draw with Firouzja. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Rapport-Caruana ½-½

After their quick but very sharp draw in round five, the players split the point again, this time in a more quiet way. Rapport chose the rare move 6.h3 in the Ruy Lopez, Anti-Berlin Variation, and on move 13 he had made seven knight moves, leading to a very solid position for White.

The game got interesting when Rapport pushed his h-pawn for a second time, anticipating Black’s plan of …0-0-0, …g5 and …h5. Caruana castled queenside anyway, which meant he didn’t mind having to take on b6, away from the center.

Caruana Rapport Candidates 2022
An Anti-Berlin in Rapport-Caruana. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Rapport decided to move his king to the queenside as well, after which most of the action took place on the other side of the board. Shortly before the time control, the players went for an exciting tactical sequence that, however, led to a lot of trades. Caruana ended up with an extra pawn in a rook endgame, but because his rook was in front of the passed pawn, he didn’t have any winning chances.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Rapport Caruana Candidates 2022
The players were in good spirits after their game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

FIDE Candidates 2022 round 12 standings

Round 13 Pairings








Round 13 July 3, 2022 6 a.m. PT/15:00 CEST
Nepomniachtchi Rapport
Nakamura Duda
Firouzja Ding
Radjabov Caruana


Round 14 Pairings








Round 13 July 4, 2022 6 a.m. PT/15:00 CEST
Rapport Radjabov
Caruana Firouzja
Ding Nakamura
Duda Nepomniachtchi

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#Nepomniachtchi #Draw #Winning #Candidates #Tournament

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