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Reports Jun 26, 2022 | 6:09 AMby Colin McGourty

Madrid Candidates 7: Nepo & Caruana win again

Ian Nepomniachtchi ended the first half of the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament on a phenomenal +4 score after Richard Rapport rejected a draw and crashed to defeat in what Fabiano Caruana described as “one of the most shocking games I’ve seen from a top player in a long time”. Fabi is still just half a point behind after winning a pawn early on and then navigating complications to beat Teimour Radjabov, while 3rd placed Hikaru Nakaura trails Fabi by 1.5 points before their Round 8 clash.

Rapport-Nepomniachtchi left everyone, including Richard, puzzled | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

You can replay all the games from the 2022 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!

As in Rounds 1 and 6, the wins in Round 7 came for Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana.


Anish Giri has analysed the games from Round 7, and also has a separate Candidates course on Chessable: chessable.com/candidates

Richard Rapport 0-1 Ian Nepomniachtchi

Everything so far is going Ian Nepomniachtchi's way | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

When Ian Nepomniachtchi was asked about his tournament so far he commented:

Despite the score, I think it’s very much up and down, because I had some really poor positions, like against Fabi and against Hikaru. I would say mathematically in both games I was losing, but especially it was more or less obvious in the game against Hikaru. I just mixed up everything, and the game against Fabi he played also brilliantly, but he didn’t come up with some computer line in the end. He went for a repetition.

In Round 7, however, absolutely everything went Ian’s way. He’d raced to +3 in the 2020 FIDE Candidates Tournament but then played the hyper-sharp Winawer French against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and lost. This time there would be no mistake, as Nepo played one of the most solid options available to him, the Petroff, and said afterwards that he'd looked at the particular line in the game on the rest day.

To the untrained eye the position that arose seemed to be one where White was getting to play a new idea. Anish Giri, however, instantly gave the verdict that it was just a draw.

It turned out it was no secret to the top players, with Fabiano commenting:

The line that’s played is known. It’s been known for like a decade that it’s a draw.

Play continued 11…Be7 12.Nxe4 Qxd4 13.Qxb7 Qxd4 13.Qxb7 Qxe4 14.Qxa8 and here, it turned out, something had gone badly wrong either with Richard’s home preparation or his memory.


14…Bh3! surprised Richard, who was expecting 14…Bd6 first.

I guess I have to throw away my computer, because I’m pretty sure the line is Bd6 instead of Bh3, Qxa7 then Bh3, it’s a draw, so I figured I should be better here. But I played so badly. Even afterwards, I’m probably just worse, so I guess I kind of tricked myself.

The 14…Bd6 line is drawn, but so is 14…Bh3!, as even a low-powered computer will tell you. Play continued 15.gxh3 (it was already a bad sign that Richard spent over 2 minutes on an absolutely only move) 15…Qg6+ 16.Kh1 Qe4+ and now the Hungarian star spent around 50 minutes in total before finally deciding not to take a draw and playing 19.f3.

Dina Belenkaya asked Richard, who had drawn his first six games, if he’d made the decision based on his chess style and wanting to fight. He responded, “maybe, but it’s more like I wanted to lose than anything else!”

Hikaru made the reasonable point that if you were going to choose to play on you had to spend no more than 15 minutes or so on the decision, since otherwise you’d give the already fast Ian Nepomniachtchi even more of an advantage. Richard, however, spent another 10 minutes before he finally burned his bridges with 22.Nd2?!, when it was still possible to take a draw with 22.Kg2.

The move in the game allowed Black to trap the white queen with 22…Qd7!, when after 23.Ne4 Na6 White was forced to play 24.Qxf8+.

At first glance the white position didn’t look so bad, with two rooks for the queen, but Nepo commented, “I knew Black is better if White decides not to repeat,” and he set about proving it with fast and accurate moves. Richard was not only fighting against his ever-deteriorating position, but also an overwhelming sense of regret.

I got really upset about this that I played on, for what reason exactly, when the position clearly seems dangerous. And also many other small things which were not going my way before the game already. Clearly it was extremely stupid for me to play on regardless of the evaluation of the position.

If anyone felt worse it was Fabiano Caruana.

I felt kind of sick, to be honest. It’s one of the most shocking games I’ve seen from a top player in a long time…  He’s down an hour on the clock and without preparation. Why is he going for this? It’s totally insane! It’s like some sort of hypnosis or something. I can’t explain it otherwise.

Towards the end Hikaru Nakamura walked by and expressed the same thoughts in a single facial expression.

At least Richard’s agony ended relatively quickly, with resignation coming on move 43, when Ian had a full two hours left on the clock.

Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen reached +3 in six rounds in the 2013 Candidates Tournament, while Nepo himself had managed that in 2020, but reaching +4 in seven rounds was unprecedented.

Perhaps the only comparable achievement in an event of the same significance in recent chess history was Veselin Topalov’s phenomenal 6.5/7 in the first half of the San Luis World Championship tournament in 2005.

Back then Veselin was almost guaranteed to win the tournament, but this time round there’s one other player still very much in the hunt for 1st place.

Fabiano Caruana 1-0 Teimour Radjabov

Fabiano Caruana has arguably played the most impressive chess in Madrid so far | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Teimour Radjabov came into this clash having won none and lost four classical games to Fabiano Caruana, which provoked him into going for the earliest surprise of the day, 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6!?

Fabiano thought for 9 minutes before opting for 3.c4 and playing a Maroczy bind type of structure, but the US star had used up almost half an hour when Teimour continued with the prepared pawn sacrifice 6…d5.


“I thought I was seeing a lot and playing well,” said Fabiano about his victory over Alireza Firouzja in the previous round, and this time as well he got down to business after the opening surprises. 

Teimour’s decision to castle long seems to have been inaccurate, while the 26 minutes it took him also gave up most of his edge on the clock.

Fabiano was able to pick up the pawn with 14.Rxe5 and set about consolidating, and if he didn’t find the perfect moves he did, with 7 minutes left on the clock, find a powerful king march.


30.Kg3! was the start of a march that saw the white king pick up the g7 and f6-pawns, clearing the way for the white f-pawn.

The time trouble phase was incredibly tense, however, with Radjabov staking everything on his own activity on the queenside.

Fabiano commented afterwards:

That was the most difficult game I’ve played in a long time. It was kind of crazy at the end. I was just worried I’m going to blunder mate or blunder something, blunder a rook. I think I kept things under control for the most part.

Both players queened a pawn.


Radjabov was able to give the first check with 47…Qg6+, but while Fabi was understandably worried he navigated the play that followed perfectly, until on move 56 Teimour resigned, with the white e-pawn unstoppable.

Fabiano commented on how things have gone so far:

It makes me feel like I’m controlling the situation well, but I know from experience that the second half is a whole different story. It just feels totally different.

He did add, however, that it looks like a two-horse race between himself and Ian Nepomniachtchi, calling it, “nearly a 100% chance that one of us will win the tournament”.

The stats agree.

There are some very big games coming up, however, and if Ding and Nakamura beat Nepomniachtchi and Caruana in Round 8 things would look very different. Then on Monday we've got Caruana-Nepomniachtchi in Round 9.

Frustrating draws

Duda-Nakamura never caught fire | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Hikaru Nakamura is the only other player to have won a game in Madrid so far, but he never got any real chances to add to his one win against Jan-Krzysztof Duda in Round 7.


Here Hikaru said he was hoping for 15.Ba2, but Duda went for exchanges with 15.Nxd5 Nxd5 16.Bxd5 exd5 17.Bf4.

He decided to trade on d5 and I was very disappointed to see this, because I saw this line from a distance and I thought it should be pretty equal.

In fact there were some chances for Duda — Hikaru pointed out 23.b4?! as a mistake by his opponent — but the balance was never seriously upset before the game ended in a draw offer on move 40. Hikaru summed up:

If people like Ian are going to win every game there’s not much I can do about that, but I don’t feel any pressure at all.

Alireza Firouzja's World Championship match dreams currently look as though they'll have to wait for the next cycle | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Alireza Firouzja and Ding Liren must feel under pressure, however, with the weight of their pre-tournament expectations. Neither has been able to win a game and, despite a tense clash, neither came close to a win in Round 7. Alireza once again raised questions about his form when he spent over 48 minutes on his 13th move.

Time did indeed get short at the end, and the multiple attempts to hit the clock suggested nerves, but Alireza made move 40.

The position was level rather than lifeless, but the 54-move draw that followed was the logical outcome of the struggle.

Ding Liren and Alireza Firouzja are also suffering on the rating list, with Firouzja down to 5th and Caruana close to taking over from Ding as world no. 2 | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

That means the standings look as follows at the halfway point of the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament.


As we mentioned, however, we have some big games to follow, including Nepomniachtchi-Ding Liren and Nakamura-Caruana in Round 8. Rapport-Duda is a clash between players on -1, and Firouzja-Radjabov between players on -2, with all four knowing that they need to start winning very soon if they’re going to have a chance of getting involved in the fight for 1st place.


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

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