Hikaru Nakamura was caught in deep preparation by Alireza Firouzja in Round 3 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament but escaped after setting a trap for his opponent. Alireza thought for over an hour afterwards on a single move, but it was too late. Ding Liren also missed his chance to hit back after his earlier loss when he found some brilliant moves but then missed a clear win against Richard Rapport. Jan-Krzysztof Duda comfortably equalised with Black against Fabiano Caruana, while Radjabov-Nepo was a quick and uneventful draw.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and Jan Gustafsson.
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Round 3 of the Candidates featured all draws for the first time in the 2022 event, though not everyone was complaining!
Anish Giri once again recorded a recap of the day’s action — he also has a separate Candidates course on Chessable: chessable.com/candidates
Round 3 of the Candidates saw the first entirely uneventful game, with Teimour Radjabov content to recover from his loss the day before by swapping off queens on move 7 of his game against Ian Nepomniachtchi, before the players made a draw in 30 moves.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda had some cause for frustration at how his start with two Whites had gone, but the way he handled the black pieces against tournament co-leader Fabiano Caruana was a good sign for his overall chances. In a 6.f3 Najdorf Duda effortlessly equalised, following a line which was popular at the top level a decade ago. Towards the end it was Black, if anyone, who might have taken over, though Fabi successfully shut things down when he recognised the danger.
Anish Giri had said in his recap the day before that Ding Liren having White against Richard Rapport was almost a must-win game for the Chinese no. 1 to get back into the tournament, with Magnus Carlsen clearly not alone in feeling that Richard is extremely vulnerable with the black pieces against top-level preparation.
So it proved, as after 17 moves we’d reached a Grünfeld position that featured in a Giri-Nepomniachtchi game from the first ever major online event after the pandemic struck, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational.
Giri played 18.a3 but, as the computer shows, 18.Bg5!, as played by Ding, gives White a big advantage. The key moments would follow soon afterwards, with play continuing 18…Nxd4 19.Bxd8 Rxd8 20.h5 Be5 21.a4 Kg7?!
Here the computer was giving White an almost decisive advantage, but only after the mysterious 22.Kf1! The more you think about it, however, the more logical it becomes, since preventing Nxe2 being a check is clearly desirable. After 18 minutes Ding made the move, but then after 22…Nxe2 he failed to exploit the big advantage of putting the king on f1 and not h1.
If the king was on h1, then 23.Qxd8? would lose to 23…Qxe4 with Qxg2 and checkmate threatened. In the game, however, 23.Qxd8! would have been winning, though it’s not for the faint-hearted. 23…Nxc1 is met by the only move 24.Qg5!, while 23…Qxe4 is parried with 24.Bxe2 Qxg2+! 25.Ke1 (again, this is why f1 for the king!) 25…Qh1+ 26.Kd2 Bf4+ 27.Kc3 Qc6+ 28.Kb3 Bxc1 and now, even if you’ve seen all this way, with many potential forks along the road, you have to spot the only winning move.
29.Qd4+! and White is winning.
Such calculation would be tough for mere mortals, but perhaps not for a Ding Liren at the top of his game. So far in Madrid, however, Ding has been a shadow of his usual self, and though very quickly going for 23.Qxe2?! looked a practical decision, the Chinese star then played inaccurately when given some more chances by his opponent.
If Richard’s play was itself shaky, he nevertheless found some nice moves to secure a draw, including 35…Qc6!
Black is threatening both mate on h1 and to take the a4-pawn, and while 36.Qg4 defended against both threats, 36…e5! secured the bishop and renewed the threat to the a4-pawn.
Ding wisely decided the time had come to call it a day, sacrificing the exchange with 37.Rxd4! in order to immediately force a draw by perpetual check with 37…exd4 38.Qxd4+ Kg8 39.Qd8+ and so on.
That wouldn’t be the day’s only missed chance, since Alireza Firouzja, after having to put up grim defence for two days with the black pieces, got to play his first White… and also his first classical game against Hikaru Nakamura.
If Nakamura has a clear weakness it’s a somewhat limited and predictable opening repertoire. Hikaru knows his lines inside out, but it allows his opponents to target him. Alireza, who had 6 months to work before the tournament, sprung a small surprise by playing 1.d4, and Hikaru followed his usual Nimzo-Indian setup, until 13.Qc2!? appeared on the board.
As Hikaru explained, it was a variation on known ideas rather than completely new, but it ultimately allowed Firouzja to play 25 moves with barely a thought, while Hikaru sank behind on the clock. The line in the game featured a piece sacrifice.
16.Nxg5! hxg5 17.Bxg5 came as no surprise — any moves other than the sacrifice lose — but after 17…Nc6 18.Qc1 Hikaru sank into a 42-minute think before going for 18…Rxd4.
Hikaru explained what he’d been thinking about in his recap video.
Hikaru soon steered the game towards an endgame, which looked a practical decision, but the danger was far from over, and he called his 30th move “a fairly serious blunder”.
Hikaru explained that initially he’d planned 30…e5! but then “sort of lost concentration” and also got spooked by 31.g4 Ke6 32.h5 Rg8 33.h6!, a trick that would feature in the game as well.
He went for 30…c4!? instead, when after 31.g4 the white kingside pawns were becoming extremely dangerous. It all culminated in the following position.
Hikaru is offering a trade of rooks on f8, and after 13 minutes Alireza took up the offer. Hikaru commented:
Alireza thought for a long time and he played this move 37.Rxf8+, which makes sense. It looks very attractive. However, it is a mistake, and after we go into this endgame it should be a draw.
Hikaru said he thought Alireza would have won the game if he’d gone for 37.Rh1! (other rook moves such as 37.Rc1 also maintain the tension), with one idea being 37…Rh8 38.Bd2! b4 39.Rf1! As you can see, it’s very tricky, but Alireza had all the time in the world to try and calculate it out.
Instead in the game we got a forced line, where Black had to find a couple of crucial only moves. 37…Kxf8 38.Bd8 a4! 39.g5 Kf7 40.h7 Kg7 41.g6 and now the clincher, 41…c3! Our commentators were impressed by Hikaru blitzing it out (he noted in his recap that he’d initially thought 41…e5? also worked, before realising it didn’t).
Black is balancing on the edge of a precipice since the black king can’t take the g6-pawn without allowing the h7-pawn to queen, while all White needs to do is get his bishop onto the a1-h8 diagonal to force promotion. It’s not possible, however, with removing the c4 and b2-pawns crucial to leave Black the option of creating a passed pawn later with b4.
It was now that Alireza really got down to thinking, but he spent a remarkable 61 minutes in a position where there was no solution. There were, however, still chances for Hikaru to go wrong, even at the very end.
49…a2? 50.Bb2 Nc6 and, although the diagonal is blocked for now, the white king will be able to break the deadlock and win the game.
Hikaru wasn’t going to let this one slip, however, and wrapped things up with 49…Nd5! 50.Bxa3 Nf4 and the elimination of the kingside pawns.
It was a game that showed that Alireza means business in Madrid, but also that Hikaru is in excellent form. The US star summed up:
A very, very exciting game. It was very wild, but I am pretty happy with my play, because I used a lot of time between moves 14 and 20, an hour and a half, but I made some practical decisions, getting into the endgame, and overall it’s a very good result — can’t complain!
What Hikaru did have some complaints about was FIDE making dress code demands on the players despite the extreme heat in the Spanish capital.
All draws in Round 3 meant we kept the status quo going into the first rest day, with Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi continuing to lead, while Teimour Radjabov and Ding Liren are in last place, but only a point behind the leaders.
Round 4 on Tuesday is again packed with intriguing battles. Ding Liren vs. Caruana is a clash of the pre-tournament favourites (Ding can catch Fabi with a win), but Rapport-Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi-Firouzja also have huge potential.
The FIDE Candidates Tournament, with Judit Polgar and Jan Gustafsson commentating, is live from 15:00 CEST.
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