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Reports Jul 2, 2022 | 10:42 AMby Colin McGourty

Madrid Candidates 12: 14-move draw puts Nepo on brink as Ding defeated

Ian Nepomniachtchi is on the brink of winning his 2nd Candidates Tournament in a row after Hikaru Nakamura allowed a 7-minute draw in their Round 12 game. That left Nepo two points clear of both Hikaru and Ding Liren, who crashed to a 26-move defeat with the white pieces against Teimour Radjabov. Nepo now needs only a draw in one of his remaining games to guarantee victory, but the battle for 2nd is intense, with Teimour and Fabiano Caruana just half a point behind Nakamura and Ding.

Everything has gone Ian Nepomniachtchi's way in Madrid, with Hikaru Nakamura deciding not to fight for first place in Round 12 | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

You can replay all the games from the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Madrid using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and Jan Gustafsson.

Go Premium during the Candidates and get 50% off using the voucher code CANDIDATES2022 — a 1-year membership comes with a free Candidates mug!

Round 12 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Madrid went perfectly for leader Ian Nepomniachtchi, since he drew against rival Hikaru Nakamura while his closest challenger Ding Liren lost and Fabiano Caruana was unable to beat Richard Rapport.

Anish Giri once again recapped the action, and you can also check out his separate Candidates course on Chessable:

Hikaru Nakamura decides not to fight for 1st

All eyes going into Round 12 of the FIDE Candidates were on Nepomniachtchi-Nakamura, since it would transform the tournament standings if Hikaru was able to beat the leader with Black and move within a point, while Ding Liren could potentially close the gap to just half a point with two rounds to go.

Anish Giri once again put it all on the line.

Meanwhile in Madrid, Hikaru had to run the gauntlet of fans to get inside…

…and was teased when Chessable CEO Geert van der Velde made the ceremonial first move 1.b3.

Alas, the move was replaced with 1.e4 and Hikaru stuck to his usual Berlin Defence. We’d seen a number of Anti-Berlins with 4.d3 in Madrid, but Ian understandably went for the infamous 14-move draw by repetition that we first saw in countless online events.

The whole game was over in under 10 minutes, and you can watch it all, only slightly sped up, below!

Afterwards Nepo was asked if he was surprised, but responded, "I thought it’s the most natural because he sticks to his best openings," later adding, “I can’t say I was really into refuting the Berlin today.”

There was a lot more explaining for Hikaru to do, since the result abandoned any realistic hope of first place. On the official broadcast he said he didn't "think the risk-reward was there really" and referred to a recent loss he'd suffered when playing the Sicilian against Vladimir Fedoseev.

In Hikaru’s recap he expanded on the theme by referring to the final games of Karpov-Short in 1992, Anand-Kramnik in 2008 and Karjakin-Caruana in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, where attempting to win with the black pieces had backfired or simply failed.

The other explanation was that he thought it wasn’t yet do or die, since second place in the Candidates might matter. He compared himself to Fabiano Caruana, who had crashed to three losses in the past four games.

Fabiano has been playing every game, taking huge risks. So it’s very clear that Fabiano does not believe for a second that second place is in play. It’s very clear he thinks Magnus is full of baloney, let’s put it that way, and I generally have the same attitude as well, but I still want to have a chance where maybe there’s that backdoor option where maybe I can get second place.

If Magnus chooses not to play Ian Nepomniachtchi again, Hikaru’s decision may look pragmatic, especially as he got the perfect result in the other key game of the day.

Ding Liren 0-1 Teimour Radjabov

Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren went into this game on a run of three wins in a row that had catapulted him into clear second place. Then within ten minutes of the start he knew that a fourth win would see him close to within just a point of the leader. An exciting final battle for first place was possible, but in fact the game would prove a disaster for Ding.

Teimour Radjabov has now beaten both the players above him in 2nd place, Ding and Nakamura | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Teimour Radjabov had already landed a heavy blow in the tournament, beating Hikaru Nakamura just as the US star seemed to be on fire after defeating Fabiano Caruana. Teimour also noted that he’d traumatised Ding in the past by winning the 2019 FIDE World Cup final, but the way he started the game didn’t suggest any intention to land a knockout blow. He commented:

Today I wanted to play some King’s Indian, to try to spice it up, but then I decided I don’t have enough energy to look at the lines and everything, and he’ll go for some g3 line and you’re not getting the real King’s Indian.

Instead we got a Nimzo-Indian, where Teimour sprung a surprise on move 8. Then on move 12 Ding started to lose his way.

“I was very surprised when he went with 12.b4!?” said Teimour, and although the move in itself wasn’t so bad, Ding Liren went on to delay castling again and again as he played on the queenside. It felt like the first game of the tournament again, when Ding made a whole string of questionable decisions against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

For instance, after 12…Bd6 13.Bb2!? a5 14.b5!? a6 it still wasn’t too late to stabilise.

Teimour pointed out that 15.a4! should still be relatively solid, but after 15.h3!? Bd7 16.bxa6!? (again 16.a4! was best, or White could castle at the cost of a pawn) 16…Rxa6 17.Rd1 Ding was in real trouble.

Things escalated very fast, with each move by Ding once again a mistake, while Teimour was finding all the best moves: 17…Rb6 18.Rd2!? Qc8 19.f3!? Re8 20.Kf2!? Qb8!

Even here there were ways to try and limit the damage, e.g. 21.Bc1!, which would have stopped, or at least defanged, the blow that followed after 21.Qc1?

After 21…Rxe3! the problem is that 22.Kxe3 runs into 22…Bc5+ 23.Nd4 Qe5+! and Black wins back the piece with interest, but that wasn’t much worse than what happened in the game after 22.Nd1 Re8.

White was completely busted, which must have made Hikaru feel better about his life choices.

Teimour was merciless in the few moves that followed, with 26…Bf4! a final blow that saw Ding Liren resign on the spot.

After 27.Nxf4 Qxf4 28.Re2 Black’s most crushing win is 28…Nxg4+! 29.Kf1 Rxf3+! but it would really just be a question of taste.

“I’m more motivated to play against the players who are leading,” said Teimour, who now has a chance himself of 2nd place and, potentially, a match against Nepo. “I’m sure that he'll play the match!” Teimour said of Magnus potentially conceding his title without a fight, though as Anish commented:

Richard Rapport held on to deny Fabiano Caruana a place in the tie for 2nd | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Fabiano Caruana could have made it a 3-way tie for 2nd place, but it wasn’t to be. He probably felt that even playing the Berlin Defence he would get chances against the ever inventive Richard Rapport, and that proved to be the case, but when the dust settled they found themselves in an endgame where Black’s extra pawn was only a nominal advantage.

Neither first place nor second place was on the line in Duda-Firouzja, but that didn’t prevent an entertaining battle between two ambitious but no doubt disappointed players.

Alireza Firouzja finds himself in last place, but stemmed the blood loss | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Alireza had lost two games in a row but that didn’t stop him going for another g-pawn push, which also happened to be the first completely new move of the game.

Duda thought for 25 minutes but responded correctly by breaking open the position with 23.f4! gxf4 24.gxf4 Bxf4 25.Qxb2 and the Polish no. 1 looked very close to scoring a second win in three games.

He missed some chances, however, and finally let any advantage slip in a time scramble on move 37.

37.Rfg2! and Firouzja would still be on the defensive, but after 37.Rxf7 Ng3+! 38.Kg2 Rb2+! 39.Rf2 Rxf2+ 40.Kxf2 Bd4+ 41.Kxg3 Bxg1 Alireza had won back the exchange and emerged with an extra pawn. It was a dead draw, however, and for once Alireza decided to call it a day without playing on.

So the standings look as follows with just two rounds of the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament in Madrid to go.

Ian Nepomniachtchi knows that a draw with the white pieces on Sunday will confirm he earns the right to a World Championship match, while if that fails he also has Black against Duda in the final round.

Even if he lost both games it will only matter if Nakamura (White vs. Duda and Black vs. Ding) or Ding (Black vs. Firouzja and White vs. Nakamura) win both their games. As you can see, Monday’s Ding-Nakamura could be a thriller to decide 2nd place!

The FIDE Candidates Tournament, with Judit Polgar and Jan Gustafsson commentating, is live from 15:00 CEST.

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