Nepomniachtchi wins Candidates Tournament with a round to spare
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi claimed victory at the 2022 Candidates Tournament with a round to spare by drawing with GM Richard Rapport on Sunday. Nepomniachtchi has now qualified for the 2023 World Championship against GM Magnus Carlsen.
GM Hikaru Nakamura sits in the only second place after beating GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, while Firouzja-Ding and Radjabov-Caruana ended in draws.
Monday’s final round will see the clash between Ding and Nakamura, where the Chinese player must win on demand in the fight for second place. If Carlsen decides not to defend his title, Nepomniachtchi will play second instead.
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The tournament is not over yet, but with the impressive score of 9/13, Nepomniachtchi has already secured a second consecutive World Championship game. As previously mentioned, he is now only the second player in history to win two consecutive Candidates tournaments, after fellow GM Vasily Smyslov did the same in 1953 and 1956. GMs Boris Spassky, Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov would have repeated later than in Candidates matches.
Nepomniachtchi now hopes to join the small group of players who became world champions on their second attempt: Smyslov, Spassky and GM Garry Kasparov.
Ian Nepomniachtchi: “Extremely happy and extremely grateful to everyone who helped me. pic.twitter.com/zAFmhO9sgE
– International Federation of Chess (@FIDE_chess) July 3, 2022
GM Anish Giri, who was on hand today and joined Chess.com, pointed out that Nepomniachtchi also won the previous Candidates Tournament with one round to spare. This time the Russian GM did it unbeaten (so far) and Giri was impressed: “He showed a level of madness.”
According to the Dutch grandmaster, it made all the difference that Nepomniachtchi started working much harder on chess a few years ago: “Now he is one of the best prepared players in the world.”
Nepomniachtchi’s own reaction after today’s game: “I feel extremely tired. It’s an incredibly difficult tournament. Despite the score, it was never easy. Every game could have some danger, I don’t I could never feel safe, maybe until I had two runs in two rounds to go; I felt that would give me a good chance.
When asked if he had a message for Carlsen, he replied, “Maybe: stop playing that nonsensical h4, a4!?”
It’s good that the final round also has content: we still have this big clash between Ding and Nakamura. Since we don’t know the importance of second place yet, we just have to assume that it could be very important and therefore Ding should go all-in.
Carlsen, also at Madrid, commented: “We’ll see.”
Nakamura, also interviewed on the show, remained down-to-earth about the match, saying his tournament is already “a success, no matter tomorrow”. The reason? Because he played “good chess”, which was his main goal before the tournament.
Rapport had played Taimamov and Sveshnikov before in the tournament, so her pick of the classic Sicilian must have come as a surprise today, but only a small one. He’s already played it once this year at the FIDE Grand Prix, but it was the first time in five years.
Unlike the Najdorf, where there are a lot of sixth moves, the Rauzer with 6.Bg5 is really the only way for White to go these days, and that’s what Nepomniachtchi did.
The ninth move was White’s first choice moment, and what he did made sense: facing c6 and the solid f2-f3. Remember that Nepomniachtchi only needed a draw in this game.
“I knew this f3 system was very strong but I wasn’t sure,” he said afterwards, noting that Rapport could have kept his king’s bishop on the board with 13… Ba5 which he rated as unclear. After 13…Bxc3 played, “White has a very good position”, said Nepomniachtchi.
A few moves later, other welcome developments followed in the form of many exchanges. “This endgame is the kind of position you can only lose on purpose with the Whites,” said the tournament winner, who had no trouble forcing the draw quickly.
Notes from General Manager Rafael Leitao.
Nakamura expected more Petroff than Najdorf today, but Duda opted for the latter. We had a game!
A “strange” match for Nakamura, who felt he came out of the opening better and maybe still after giving up the e4 pawn, but seeing the evaluation of the engine afterwards, he was surprised to realizing that he may have misjudged the position.
There were other disagreements between the computer and the human: Nakamura called his 28.Ng4 a “dumb move”, even though it’s the engine’s first choice.
A little later, it turned out badly for him. Nakamura: “I just couldn’t come up with a plan, I started drifting.”
With 31…Bg5! and 32…b5! Duda found a tactical way to seize the initiative, but then became overly optimistic.
Position after 33.Ba3.
Nakamura was expecting 33…b4 here, as White really lacks pawn compensation and is in trouble. After 10 minutes, Duda has played 33…d5? instead, and Nakamura took his chance with 34.cxd5 Kc2 35.Bd6! Rxe2 36.Bxc7 Nc5 37.d6
Position after 37.d6.
Undoubtedly affected by White’s unexpected 35th move, Duda couldn’t pull himself together and with six minutes for four moves he went 14 seconds into 37…Nd7? after which he found himself in a lost position.
Nakamura: “The thing is, he thought for so long about 33…d5 and he thought he was much better. And the fact that he’s already, he wasn’t out of time but he only had 15 minutes, mentally I think it’s very upsetting, he just couldn’t stay together here.
In the position that arrived on the board, it takes a while to realize that black can barely move. White could play slowly, because black simply had no counterplay. Another very disappointing day at the office for Duda, as Nakamura is now one draw away from finishing in second place.
The penultimate round of Candidates saw what everyone knew would happen for a while become a mathematical certainty: Nepo won the event. I’m actually very curious to see how he does tomorrow. Last time he also won the tournament with one trick to spare, played against black in the last trick and was completely crushed. But this time his game seemed much stronger to me, and I don’t think he will repeat such a disaster. The fight for second place is still very relevant, and Nakamura had a huge success today in a messy match.
As always, Nakamura shared his thoughts on his game on his Youtube channel:
Like Nepomniachtchi earlier in the tournament, Firouzja played the Four Knights against Ding. Was this a sign that Firouzja had had enough of the tournament and was playing for a draw, unlike all the other games before?
Either way, Ding decided not to follow up on his quick and uneventful draw with the Russian GM. “I deviated from that game and tried to play something new,” he said, although he is still following a match he played against Rapport in 2019 in China.
That changed when Firouzja went 20.Bg4 instead of 20.Bd7, to which Ding offered a surprising pawn sacrifice. Would you have considered pushing your h-pawn there?
Position after 20.Bg4.
Ding played 20…h5!? and Firouzja raised the gauntlet with 21.Rxe5 fxe5 22.Bxh5, winning a pawn but giving Black three pawns in the center. This offered a nice compensation, but no more.
“20…h5 was risky but I think after sacrificing a pawn I shouldn’t be worse but in the end it got very tricky,” Ding said. He felt that if Firouzja had not sacrificed his bishop, he could become dangerous for him and when he did it was a draw.
Notes from General Manager Rafael Leitao.
The quieter game of the round saw deep preparation from Caruana on the black side of a Catalan. A first pawn sacrifice on b4 was followed by another, then another!
Such dynamic play, more often seen in the Grunfeld, is difficult to encounter when the opponent makes the moves (except for the eighth move, where Caruana double-checked things for seven minutes) and so Radjabov decided against opt for the critical hit. third pawn capture with 13.Qxb6. After another somewhat shy 16th shot from the Azerbaijani, Caruana could equalize straight away.
Notes from General Manager Rafael Leitao.
Classification of the 13th day
Round 14 matches
|Round 14||July 4, 2022||6:00 a.m. PT/3:00 p.m. CEST|