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Reports Jul 5, 2022 | 7:07 AMby Colin McGourty

Madrid Candidates 14: Ding Liren beat Nakamura to snatch 2nd

Ding Liren will play Ian Nepomniachtchi in a World Championship match if Magnus Carlsen chooses not to play after the Chinese no. 1 defeated Hikaru Nakamura on demand in the final round. A brutal day also saw Teimour Radjabov tie Nakamura for 3rd after beating Richard Rapport, while Alireza Firouzja finished 6th after inflicting a 4th defeat of the 2nd half of the event on Fabiano Caruana. Ian Nepomniachtchi drew against Jan-Krzysztof Duda to finish with an unbeaten 9.5/14.

Ding Liren won 4 of his last 6 games to potentially earn a World Championship match | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

You can replay all the games from the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament using the selector below.

And here’s the final day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and Jan Gustafsson, who were joined at the start of the show by David Howell.

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

The final day was in keeping with the fighting spirit we’d seen throughout the Candidates Tournament, with just one game ending peacefully.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda ½-½ Ian Nepomniachtchi

Jan-Krzysztof Duda wasn't going to make Ian Nepomniachtchi's final game an easy ride | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Ian Nepomniachtchi went into the final day of the 2022 Candidates Tournament hoping to avoid the bitter end to the 2021 event, when after winning the tournament with a round to spare he lost to Ding Liren in the final round.

It wasn’t easy, as Jan-Krzysztof Duda was out for blood, but the Polish no. 1 lacked some precision at the key moments, and then when he did launch an all-out assault it turned out it was only enough for a draw.

26…hxg6 27.Qe4! Kg7 28.Rb1 Bd5 29.Rxb2 Bxe4 30.Nxe4 Rb6! and we’d reached an equal endgame that fizzled out into a draw.

Ian Nepomniachtchi had managed not just to score five wins but to finish unbeaten for a stunning 9.5/14, which saw him finish 1.5 points ahead of the Ding Liren.

Ian’s seconds who had stuck around since the World Championship match, Ildar Khairullin and Nikita Vitiugov, had a lot to celebrate (and got to quote Christiano Ronaldo).

The big question now is who Ian Nepomniachtchi will play in the next World Championship match. Magnus Carlsen is reported to be negotiating with FIDE over the terms of a potential match.

For Jan-Krzysztof Duda it had been a disappointing first Candidates Tournament, though finishing in a tie for last place was par for the course given he entered as the lowest-rated player. 

He told Anastasia Karlovich “I think I played a little bit better than the result might indicate,” and things might have gone differently if Jan-Krzysztof had won a position he was winning in 10 moves vs. Richard Rapport in Round 1. In the end he picked up his one and only win only in Round 10, against Fabiano Caruana, while suffering four losses.

Ding Liren 1-0 Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura had avoided nerves all tournament, but stumbled when it mattered most | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

This was the one game in the final round with real sporting significance, since it would decide second place and, potentially, a player who gets to play the next World Championship match.

The scenario was simple, with Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren having to win on demand with the white pieces to finish 2nd, while any other result would mean see Hikaru Nakamura take that spot and the €36,000 2nd prize.

Hikaru sprung a small surprise with the Semi-Tarrasch on move 4…

…and initially things seemed to be going his way. By move 15 Hikaru got the chance to exchange off queens.

But after 15…Qxd1 16.Rxd1 Rfd8 17.Ba2 Kf7 18.h4 he felt his next move contained the seeds of his destruction.

He explained in his recap:

Here I start going wrong. It’s worth noting that at this point I’d not used a lot of time, I was feeling very good about myself, I thought the game was going to be drawn very soon, and because of this mindset, and the fact that I was feeling so confident, I played this move 18…h6 very quickly, and I would regret it very, very soon. What I should have done was 18…Rxd1+ 19.Rxd1 Rd8.

Hikaru felt that would have been an easy draw, while after 18…h6 19.Rdc1 he said he now had to be “a little bit careful”.

There were lots more similar moments, until the first crucial mistake of the game came on move 35, when instead of 35…Rd8! Hikaru played 35…Bd8?

That ran into 36.Rb7! and Ding was clearly on top. Hikaru said of his mistake:

I felt like my timing was a little bit off throughout this game. I don’t know if it’s just because I was feeling nerves or what was going on exactly, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to use a lot of time until it was too late. I think it was in my mind that I have to make moves, I have to keep the tempo going, and I did not use my time very well here.

Hikaru called his 36…f4! “a desperation shot”, though the idea of giving up a pawn to win the h5-pawn was a good one, and almost worked. Play continued 37.gxf4 exf4 38.e4!? (38.exf4!)

It turns out 38…f3!, restricting the white king, would have posed real problems for White, and Hikaru said, “in retrospect I’m a little bit confused as to why I didn’t do it,” since he was sure he’d seen the idea.

After 38…Bf6 39.Nd4 Re8 we got the last crucial moment of the game.

Hikaru initially thought he was saving the game at this point, but as Ding got down to his last minute Hikaru realised it wasn’t so simple. Ding had at first struggled with the time control in Madrid, but he found 40.Kg2!, with the tactical point that 40…Rxe4 runs into 41.Kf3.

Hikaru again blamed nerves as after 40…Ne5 41.Nf5 he quickly blitzed out 41…f3+?! rather than the more resilient 41…Nc4!, and after 42.Kg3 Nc4 43.Be7! Ding had total dominance and went on to give a masterclass in how to win a winning position.

Hikaru was animated in the post-mortem.

The US star had won 4 games, moved up to world no. 8, and demonstrated to everyone that he remains a force to be reckoned with in classical chess. He said he would have been “ecstatic” before the tournament to score a plus score, but that with the last-round loss, “I throw away what would have been one of my greatest results ever”.

For Ding Liren, meanwhile it completed a remarkable comeback. He started the tournament with a loss to Ian Nepomniachtchi, and commented:

I think the first round is quite different from the other rounds, because this time when I played the first game I didn’t feel so well, maybe jetlag for me, also I didn’t sleep well, so the mood is very strange. I’m going to make some quick draw, but after the opening it became clear that it was a fighting game, then I just couldn’t calculate anything, so I lost very badly.

Ding said he then “tried to treat it as just a normal tournament and not the Candidates, to not put too much pressure on myself”, but 7 draws in a row gave little hint as to what was to follow. Then, however, he won 3 games in a row, but that led him into trouble in Round 12 against Teimour Radjabov.

At one point when I won 3 games in a row, I felt obligated to play for a win with the white pieces to try to catch him, although it backfired. But I think it’s the only chance to fight for the first place. After the loss, of course I’m very satisfied to have 2nd place.

The win against Hikaru might see Ding Liren, who only got to play the Candidates after Sergey Karjakin was banned from chess, play a match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, though Ding doesn’t believe it.

There are chances he might not play. I guess he lacks motivation to defend the title again. Also it takes a lot of energy and a lot of preparation compared to the other tournaments, so maybe that’s a reason he’s not sure if he’ll play or not, but I believe when the World Championship is approaching maybe his inner heart will start to burn with fire, so I guess he’ll play in the end.

We’ll see, but what we won’t see, alas, is much more of Ding Liren at a board this year. The Chinese team aren’t playing the Olympiad and Ding says COVID is still making it very difficult to travel.

Richard Rapport 0-1 Teimour Radjabov

Richard Rapport won all the style points, but not the final game | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Teimour Radjabov was give 0/15 when it came to his chances of winning the Candidates Tournament by the Chicken Chess Club. In a way their assessment wasn’t proven wrong — since they did note he was unlikely to finish last while 2 losses in the first half meant Teimour was never in the race for first place — but there was definitely vindication for the Azerbaijan star as he won 3 of his last 6 games to finish tied for 3rd place.

It wasn’t just any wins, either, as he landed huge blows on the high-flying Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren. Then in the final round he prevented Richard Rapport, who scored a disappointing -3, from ending the tournament on a high note.

Once again it was a player taking too many risks against Teimour’s super-solid chess. Richard stayed absolutely true to his style as he launched an attack with 18.g4!?

After 18…h6 19.g5!? fxg5 it would have been strong to continue 20.h4!, but the piece sac 20.Nxg5!? was going a little too far.

“It was a good game of tired people”, Teimour summed up, and despite being understandably worried about the attack on his king, he managed to parry all the threats and wrap up a final victory.

That saw Radjabov move up to world no. 15 and almost catch Rapport, who dropped to world no. 14.

The final game of the day to finish, meanwhile, saw Alireza Firouzja overtake Fabiano Caruana to finish as world no. 4 on the live rating list, despite a tough event.

Fabiano Caruana 0-1 Alireza Firouzja

Fabiano Caruana arguably had a more convincing first half of the FIDE Candidates than Ian Nepomniachtchi. He won three games, looked fresh, and came armed with surprising and dangerous novelties. Then it all fell apart after Hikaru Nakamura mixed up his opening preparation in their Round 8 game and managed to outplay Fabiano in a position neither player was familiar with.

That long, painful game was followed by Fabiano missing a great chance to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi, before tough losses to Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Ding Liren. The all-or-nothing approach had led to nothing, and it was clear Fabiano had already checked out of the tournament with a few rounds to go.

Vishy Anand was on hand to make the first move in Caruana-Firouzja | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Alas for Fabi, in the final round he met an Alireza Firouzja who, despite never getting into the event, was still burning with ambition. The 19-year-old had lost four games and won just one against Richard Rapport, but as Giri put it:

The thing is if you have a bad a day against Alireza, and you are a 2800 player, you’re going to lose, 100%! You’re not going to salvage a draw, because he took the draw out of the equation. That’s how I feel when I see his play.

In the late middlegame Fabiano had a position which it seemed all but impossible to lose, but he went astray and found himself in an endgame a pawn down. It still seemed he should hold the draw, but 60.Ne4? was the final mistake, with Alireza pouncing with 60…Rh3+!

Both players looked shell-shocked as they played the last moves of the event, with Fabiano’s eyebrows doing a lot of work.

That final win meant that Firouzja leap-frogged Rapport and Duda out of last place, while Fabiano finished only 5th. Ian Nepomniachtchi ended a stunning 1.5 points clear of Ding Liren. 

Click a result in the table below to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player's name to see all his results.

So that ends the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament, with the toughest event in chess leaving only Ian Nepomniachtchi and potentially Ding Liren able to count themselves as winners.

Ian Nepomniachtchi's trophy, with a somewhat bizarre slogan | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

The chess world doesn’t stop turning, however, with many star names likely to be in action as the German Chess League ends in Bremen Germany with four rounds from this Thursday 7 July to Sunday, while on Sunday the 10th the next Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event begins, with details to follow very soon!

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