Reports Jun 23, 2022 | 10:16 AMby Colin McGourty

Madrid Candidates 5: Magnus Carlsen — ‘Be a shark!’

Magnus Carlsen joined our live commentary on Round 5 of the 2022 Candidates Tournament in Madrid and spared no-one! He said Ian Nepomniachtchi was “getting back to his true self… playing poor moves quickly!” after an opening disaster against Hikaru Nakamura, but then criticised Nepo for not playing on at the end when he’d survived the crisis. All four games were ultimately drawn, but Caruana-Rapport was a thriller and Ding Liren was a move away from beating Teimour Radjabov.

Ian Nepomniachtchi was on the brink of collapse | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

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Magnus Carlsen on the Candidates

For Round 5 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament Judit Polgar, Jan Gustafsson and David Howell were joined by the player everyone is competing to play in Madrid, current Chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen. You can watch his appearance below.

What does Magnus think about how the tournament has gone?

Frankly I don’t think anybody’s played particularly well so far! There have been a surprising amount of interesting games. Normally there’s going to be a bit more non-games, but there’s been, I think, one actual non-game played so far.

Magnus wasn’t entirely ignoring the tournament leader.

Obviously Ian is leading and he’s done well, but I think he’s gotten a couple of pretty nice gifts, that he’s obviously taken, but still a bit better than you can expect. I think it’s easy to forget that he was probably lost against Fabi in the final position, but still I guess he’s the one who’s stood out so far.

Round 5 was not going to be Ian Nepomniachtchi’s finest hour, however.

Hikaru Nakamura ½ - ½ Ian Nepomniachtchi

Hikaru Nakamura could have caught the leader | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Nepomniachtchi switched to the Petroff Defence for Round 5 (check out an overview of all the Candidates Tournament openings at Chessable) but he certainly didn’t catch Nakamura off-guard. The US star went for an old line and managed to surprise his opponent with a “rather strange-looking move” 14.Ra2.

The curiosity was that Hikaru had actually played it before, in a crushing win against Varuzhan Akobian from the 2016 US Chess Championship, when the a2-rook came to e2. In his recap of the round Hikaru explained that he’d looked at the move with Sam Shankland and Wesley So for the Olympiad.

Magnus said of Hikaru’s performance so far in Madrid:

He’s played very well after the first game. The first game was horrible, but after that he’s been pretty impressive. His defence of these double black games has been pretty good and he won the game he needed against Radjabov, so he’s really growing into form in this tournament, and now he’s managed to spring a pretty major surprise on Nepomniachtchi, got him out of his prep, as far as I can see.

Ian went into the tank for 16 minutes before coming up not with Akobian’s move 14…Na5, but 14…Bf8!?, then after 15.cxd5 Qxd5 16.c4 his next move condemned him to a world of pain.

“Much to my surprise Ian pretty much instantly went 16…Qe4?!” said Hikaru, with Anish Giri pointing out that was a move that’s standard if White has a bishop on f4 and controls the e5-square. In this case, however, 16…Qd7! would have made complete sense for Black, since 17.d5 can be met by 17…Ne5.

Things soon went from bad to worse for the tournament leader, as after 17.Bf1 he didn’t play 17…Qb1, the only move of both Hikaru and the computer, but 17…Qg4?!

Magnus was enjoying himself!

He summed up:

What an opening disaster for Ian! It's very strange. Hikaru just played the same sideline he played 6 years ago and Ian decided to make a few very natural, good moves and then decided, f*ck this solid Petroff position, I'm going to get my queen chased round half the board instead!

Don't try this at home | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Ian was balancing on the brink of a precipice, but Hikaru couldn’t quite find the killer touch. To be fair, there was no easy blow, with 23.Nh4! very strong, but resting on the evaluation of an endgame 7 moves down the line.

Hikaru didn’t kick himself for missing that “very tricky and hard to spot” move, but he was extremely frustrated when he played 25.Nd2!? instead of 25.Nd4 (Hikaru noted that Nepo told him afterwards he was planning the suboptimal 25…Bg6?!, when 26.Rb3! would be very strong).

As he explained:

As soon as I played 25.Nd2 I got up from the board and realised instantly that now Black has 25…Qa1 and after 26.Nb3 he does not have to stay on b1 or a2. He can now go to f6, guarding the knight on e7, and suddenly, just like that, I’m still better, but it feels like the advantage is slipping away here.

After 27.Bd2 Ng6 Magnus was describing Black’s position as “like a dream” compared to what had gone before.

Hikaru admitted he couldn’t cope with the change in scenario.

In a sense I tilted at this point. I felt like the artist where I’ve sketched this painting for the past three hours and, just like that, I made a mistake, I completely ruined the painting, and I just mentally cannot reset here and see the objective evaluation, where I still have good chances to win the game.

28.Na5?! gave away almost all the remaining advantage, and in fact towards the end Magnus was once again highly critical of Nepo, but this time for not playing for a win! 

Magnus said he would have played 30…Qg5!? instead of going for a repetition, and when he saw Qd6 he thought at first Ian was just playing with his opponent.

I would go Qg5. Maybe he’s playing it really nicely. Playing Qd6 once, making him sit there and shake his head for 5 minutes, and then he actually goes…

At this point Nepo blitzed out Qd6 again.

How do you play Qd6 in one second? That’s so undisciplined. Smell the blood in the water, dude, be a f*cking shark!

The commentary, and Hikaru’s facial expressions, were both unmissable.

The draw still ensured Nepo remained the sole leader, however, since Fabiano Caruana found no way through against Richard Rapport.

Fabiano Caruana ½-½ Richard Rapport

Perhaps to no-one’s great surprise, Caruana-Rapport featured an offbeat opening.

Magnus was asked who had the best opening preparation in Madrid and had little doubt.

I would say it’s probably Fabi. He has more ideas in general, surprising ideas that the engines don’t necessarily come up with… He did have a bunch of surprising ideas a couple or maybe even three years ago, but then when they were re-checked it turned out they were all Leela’s first line, so then I guess in retrospect they weren’t surprising at all! But he keeps finding ideas here that the computers are not showing, so that’s been impressive.

Magnus was asked if he liked Fabiano’s 9…g5!? against Nepomniachtchi in Round 2.

Yes. It’s so outrageous that people wouldn’t look at it! There are a million other problems you would check in the Italian as Black before that, and having actually prepared that and been into the details, it’s such an advantage. I love the fact that he went for it, even though it may not objectively be good. I don’t think he’s going to essay this a second time, but just the fact that he had the guts to go for such an outrageous line I think it’s awesome, and it’s probably a decent EV move as well.

Fabiano Caruana has looked good so far in Madrid | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

The Round 5 game against Rapport would be even more spectacular, with 12.Rf1!? just the first time Fabiano almost castled…

Our commentators weren't alone in making that observation!

Richard’s 12…Bc6! was an equally stylish move, however, defending the b5-pawn so that the a-pawn could advance. That could have been dangerous for White if he’d castled queenside, so…

It was a wonderful fight, but after 15…Bb4 16.Qd4 it seems 16…Bxc3+! was the way to try for a win, since after 16…Qa5 17.Qxg7! a3 18.Kf2! axb2 19.Ne2! e5! it turned out we were heading only for an amazing draw.

Magnus was referring what seems to be the tendency of Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to occasionally stage spectacular draws. The game ended 20.f5 Bf8! 21.Qf6 Be7 22.Qg7 Bf8 and was drawn by repetition.

Judit Polgar asked Magnus what he thought about her countryman Richard Rapport.

It’s very hard for me to judge, because he plays very well against everybody and then he plays really poorly against me, so that makes it hard for me to be completely unbiased, but I think when he’s on form he deserves to be a Top 10 player, and certainly there’s room for him to improve even further. I think his understanding of the game is just superb, really.

Magnus on Richard Rapport: "His understanding of the game is just superb" | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

What about Richard playing offbeat openings?

He does it, but a little bit less than he used to. He’s clearly better prepared than he used to be. He has all these strange lines that he plays, he’s studied them, he’s even going for some main lines, and I’ve always said of his career that he’s always been very good positionally, good at endgames and all of this. And playing all these weird lines was partly just a matter of taste and also because he probably didn’t work hard enough to play the main lines. But in terms of his understanding and talent there are very few players who are superior.

Alireza Firouzja ½-½ Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Firouzja has made a slow start, but Magnus comments, "he's made huge comebacks before!" | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Magnus was also asked about a player who he said would motivate him to play another World Championship match, 19-year-old Alireza Firouzja. Magnus commented:

I have to say I was pretty optimistic about his chances before yesterday, because I thought he survived his first couple of black games, that was kind of his baptism of fire, he really withstood some serious punches in those games. Then against Hikaru I think he did fine, maybe he could have put even more pressure, but he came up with a good idea and Hikaru had to find a bunch of only moves to hold, so I think the tournament was heading in a positive direction, and then yesterday was just a really, really risky opening choice. Clearly you have to know the line better than he did to play it, especially against someone like Ian who’s like a fish in water in those lines… It was a very risky choice and it didn’t pay off. Now obviously he’s not in a great spot. He’s made huge comebacks before, so it’s not like he’s incapable, but it’s going to be tough.

David Howell suggested that Alireza had been showing poor time management and looking more nervous than usual, but Magnus didn’t agree.

Let’s say yesterday his position just sucked. I think it’s just the way he plays! Obviously it’s not ideal, but I think to some extent he spends his time well. He can calculate really, really deeply and he does these things even when he plays well. Whether it’s nerves… that dude is always nervous, regardless of the situation! So obviously he’s nervous, but I’m not sure I can see in his play that he’s been a lot more nervous than usual.

In Round 5 it seemed as though Alireza was surprised by Jan-Krzysztof playing the Petroff instead of the Sicilian, but there looked to be some chances for White until a strange decision on move 25.

Here Alireza quickly played 25.Nc3?! when, with the help of a small back-rank tactic, Duda soon liquidated the position for a draw. 

Instead 25.Qb1! would have kept the game going, with the point that after 25…Rb8 26.Nxf6+ Black can’t reply 26…Qxf6??

Here 27.Qxb5! is crushing. 27…Rxb5 runs into 28.Re8# mate, but with the b8-rook and the c4-knight attacked, and checkmate threatened on e8, there’s no defence. Of course Duda could dodge that disaster, but he’d still have to defend a tricky position.

Anish Giri commented:

I don’t think [Firouzja] missed this very simple tactic with Nf6 Qxf6 Qxb5, based on the back-rank mate, but I don’t know why he didn’t do this. You may hold, but White would be happy. He seems not to have fully recovered from yesterday’s loss. He’s capable of finding it in half a second.

Anish Giri also has a separate Candidates course on Chessable:

The final game of the day to finish saw more heartbreak for the Chinese no. 1.

Teimour Radjabov ½-½ Ding Liren

Ding Liren let a win slip on move 40 against Teimour Radjabov | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Magnus said about Ding Liren, who he’d considered the pre-tournament favourite alongside Fabiano Caruana:

Ding has been a negative surprise. I don’t think he’s looked good at all so far, but there’s a long way to go, and at the very least his play’s kind of normalised over the last couple of games.

One win would get Ding right back into the picture, and just as against Richard Rapport in Round 3, he came close to getting it against Teimour Radjabov. The Azerbaijan star played the Catalan and had a perfectly solid position, but ill-judged pawn pushes left Magnus with just one word for what Teimour had done!

At one point Ding had a chance to take a draw by repetition, but after repeating once he played on with 29…h5!, the move about which Magnus commented, “because he’s a shark!” 

The problem for Ding, however, was that the critical decision of the whole game fell on move 40, when he made his move with just 12 seconds to spare.

It was crucial to play 40…Bxd4!, with Anish speculating that Ding was spooked by the line 41.Bxd4 Nf5 42.Bc5 Qc6 43.Qd8+ Kh7 44.Ng5+, but it turns out that after 44…Kg6! there are no checks and Black is winning.

45.Rd7 is impossible due to checkmate: 45…Qh1#

Instead after 40…g6? 41.Ng5! it turned out White was just in time to save the game by steering it towards a drawish endgame.

“With every single miss he’s getting further and further from his dream of winning this Candidates Tournament”, said Anish. Ding Liren remains 1.5 points behind Ian Nepomniachtchi, the sole leader with more than a third of the tournament behind us.

We have three clashes in Round 6 between famously combative players: Firouzja-Caruana, Nakamura-Ding and Nepomniachtchi-Duda, so that we can’t expect a quiet day before the second rest day.

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

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