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Reports Jun 27, 2022 | 8:41 AMby Colin McGourty

Madrid Candidates 8: Nakamura shocks Caruana

Hikaru Nakamura took revenge on Fabiano Caruana in an epic Round 8 FIDE Candidates Tournament game to move within just half a point of his US rival. That meant that Ian Nepomniachtchi’s quick draw against Ding Liren extended his lead to a full point, but Fabi has a chance to catch Nepo in Round 9 if he can win their individual clash. Elsewhere Richard Rapport picked up a 1st win with a sudden attack against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, while Firouzja-Radjabov was drawn in 7 hours and 93 moves.

Hikaru Nakamura got revenge for his loss to Fabiano Caruana in Round 1 | 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!

There were two wins again in Round 8 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament, a 2nd for Hikaru Nakamura and a 1st for Richard Rapport.

Ian Nepomniachtchi ½-½ Ding Liren

Ian Nepomniachtchi saved all his energy for Caruana in Round 9 | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

The hope for those chasing Ian Nepomniachtchi is that his Achilles’ heel, a tendency to collapse in long tournaments, will strike again, but that’s unlikely if we get more games like this one.

While preparing for the World Championship match Nepo must have thought long and hard about how to shut games down when needed, and in Round 8 he preserved his +4 score by forcing a quick draw in the Four Knights against world no. 2 Ding Liren. Nepo needed no more than around two minutes for any move as he picked up a half point.

Ding Liren told Dina Belenkaya afterwards:

If he didn’t play this drawish line I’m ready for a fight, but unfortunately he went for this theoretical draw.

Ding remains winless in Madrid, something he partly put down to the lack of an increment before move 60, since he spoilt two winning positions in time trouble. How will he approach the remainder of the event?

I’ll just take it as a normal one, not the Candidates, and try to enjoy the tournament.

The draw for Nepomniachtchi gave Fabiano Caruana a chance to catch the leader before their Round 9 clash, but instead Fabi would crash to defeat after a long and painful game.

Hikaru Nakamura 1-0 Fabiano Caruana

Hikaru Nakamura has had a fairytale return to classical chess this year | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Fabiano had looked hugely impressive when he defeated Hikaru in Round 1 of the 2022 FIDE Candidates, but Hikaru bounced back in the very next round and was clearly in top form himself. That made him a dangerous opponent for Fabi in Round 8, though the danger would probably have been neutralised if Hikaru hadn’t mixed up the opening!

The players blitzed out their first 20 moves in a line of the Open Ruy Lopez, also known as the Spanish.  

Here Fabiano quickly played what he probably hoped to be a surprise, 20…c5, but he in turn was shocked when Hikaru spent under a minute on 21.Ng3!? It turns out that was just a mistake by Hikaru, who commented:

Now here, despite the fact that I spent two hours looking at this Open Spanish last night, I made a slight mistake. The irony to me making a mistake is that if I’d played the line that I looked at last night and not confused variations I probably would not have won this game.

Hikaru, as he remembered later during the game, had intended to play the move the computer is crying out for, 21.Bg5!, when play would probably have continued 21…c4 22.Bxd8 cxb3 23.Bh4 bxa2 24.Ra1 Bb1 25.Qa7.

Black, it turns out, is doing ok here, with Hikaru commenting:

The funny thing is if I’d actually played this undoubtedly Fabiano would have prepped the whole line, and he would have had something, whether it’s Qc6 or Qg6, time will tell. I’m sure we’ll see this occur in an over-the-board game at some point, but the fact I kind of confused the move-order actually helped me, as Fabiano then spent a long time thinking after Ng3, as we were both out of book here.

Jan Gustafsson on our broadcast was pointing out that the complicated lines of the Open Spanish are a dangerous place to be out-of-book, and sure enough Fabiano went astray almost immediately after 21…Bd3 22.Qd2.

Hikaru described it as “a fairly serious positional mistake” that after 21 minutes Fabiano here opted for 22…c4!? instead of the alternative 22…e4!, when Black is at least fine.

The problem with the move in the game was that it would later take away the chance for Black to go for the d4-break, though only after some impressive play from Hikaru. 23.Bd1! Rd7 24.Bf2 Rdf7 25.Nh1! followed.

Anish Giri quipped in his recap:

Never, ever do that, never put your knight in the corner of the board, but here it’s a very special case. Only Hikaru and some other big streamers are allowed to do it — you are not allowed to do that!

Anish Giri also has a separate Candidates course on Chessable:

The point is to defend the f2-bishop, making Nxe5 a very real threat. 25…e4 was all but forced, and while you can argue the knight on d4 is not doing too much after 26.Nd4, Black has what Hikaru described as a “dead bishop” on d3.

There was no respite for Fabiano, since after 26…Qg6 Hikaru followed up with 27.h4!, aiming, as he explained, to get the g4-square for his bishop.

Anish was referring to former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik’s comments about a supposedly low level of play in Madrid.

In hindsight 27…h5! was essential to stop the Bg4 idea, though as Hikaru rightly pointed out his position looks very pleasant after 28.Qg5. In the game, however, after 27…Nc5? 28.h5! Qd6 29.Bg4 Caruana was in deep trouble both on the board and on the clock.

Nakamura was in complete control, and seemed to be the savouring the situation.

After 38…h5 here, however, he missed the killer 39.Be8!, or rather he saw it but underestimated how strong it was. Fabiano made the time control with a position that was dire but not entirely hopeless.

Another slight inaccuracy after the time control allowed Fabi to whip up some counterplay, when suddenly precision was required.

“I have to play this annoying move 43.Ra2!” said Hikaru, defending against the threat of h2+ and capturing on f2.

With 43…hxg2 44.Bd1! Hikaru was back on track, and then it seemed smooth sailing all the way until move 55.

Resigning is a serious candidate move for Black around here, but Hikaru let things slip. He explained:

Here I made a huge mistake! Obviously in my mind I knew I’d been winning the whole game, but I got a little bit careless and I played a move which was not precise. I played 55.Nd5!?, which was a fairly serious error. I’m still winning the game, but now there’s counterplay and a very clear-cut plan for Black, whereas here if I play a move like 55.Rf2, with the idea of Nd5, Black does not have a clear-cut plan, there’s no clear move, and it should just be game over, basically.

Instead Fabi was able to sacrifice and get his e-pawn moving with 55…Rxf5+! 56.Kxf5 e3+ 57.Ke5 e2 58.Bf2 Rb8 59.Be1 Re8+ 60.Kf4 and here he played “a very nasty move” Hikaru admitted he’d overlooked, 60…g5+!

You can’t take the pawn due to Re5+, while Kf3 runs into Be4+, so 61.Kg3 was made by process of elimination. As Hikaru pointed out, if Fabi had found 61…Re5! 62.Nc7 Rf5, driving the white knight away from the e2-pawn, the outcome of the game might have been different.

Even after 61…Re6!? the tension was maintained, however, and Hikaru had to dig very deep.

Hikaru didn’t play the position perfectly, but then neither did Fabi, and in the end it was only fair based on the overall flow of the game that Hikaru managed to stabilise one more time, getting his bishop and knight in the perfect place to prevent the e2-pawn promoting.

In the final position the g5-pawn is about to fall, and there’s nothing Fabiano can do about it.

Fabiano resigned.

That result saw Hikaru join Ian and Fabi on a plus score, and piles the pressure on Caruana going into his clash with Nepomniachtchi in Round 9.

Richard Rapport 1-0 Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Richard Rapport became only the 4th player in the Candidates to pick up a win | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

This game felt all about Richard trying to recover from his completely unnecessary loss the day before. When asked if he preferred the loss and win he got to two draws, he responded:

I don’t think it’s so fair towards Fabi that I lost like this to Ian, so I would have preferred to have two draws, but of course today’s game was total desperation from my side — trying to get a game without opening theory being a factor. I guess you can do this any day on this level, but usually it’s not supposed to pay off.

You might say Richard was playing the joker, and he said of his pink jacket: “my wife insisted on me wearing it yesterday, which proved to be very smart that I avoided that, because it wouldn’t have been fair towards the jacket!”

Richard played the Four Knights, quipping of 3.Nc3, “I figured it would be hard to lose in 15 moves if I protect the pawn”. He then went on to play g3, d3, b3, h3 and a3 in relatively quick succession. When he then began an attack on the kingside it didn’t look likely to succeed.

Duda could have played a very hard-to-lose endgame if he’d gone for 19…Qxg5, while in the game everything suddenly turned around after 21…Bxh3.

Duda is dreaming of Re6-g6 and a big advantage, but here Richard mixed things up with the zwischenzug 22.Rg1!, threatening mate on g7. That inspired Duda to get tricky himself with 22…Ng5?!, but after 23.hxg5 Bc8 24.Rg2 Rae7?! the Polish no. 1 had misplayed things.

Richard pointed out that Black needs that e7-square so the black king can evacuate via f8 and e7. After 25.Qf3 g6?! 26.Rh1! the threat of checkmate was becoming powerful, and the game wouldn’t last long: 26…f5 27.Kg1! b4? 28.exf5! gxf5 29.Ne4!

Black’s main threat is to bring the queen to h5 and give checkmate, but for that it helps to open the f-file, which would happen if Black takes the knight. If Black doesn’t take it, however, the knight is a lethal addition to the attacking forces.

In fact, Duda simply resigned here, after some painful moments spent reflecting on a game where he had chances to win but instead slipped to a defeat that left him on -2.

Duda has company in misery, however, since the remaining two players, Alireza Firouzja and Teimour Radjabov join him in last place on a winless -2.

Alireza Firouzja ½-½ Teimour Radjabov

It's proved to be a cycle too early for Alireza Firouzja, but in another couple of years he'll be at the age when the likes of Carlsen, Kramnik and Kasparov claimed the title | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Alireza Firouzja’s superpower, as mentioned once by Vishy Anand in Wijk aan Zee, is an ability to seemingly win on demand against the world’s best players, but in the Candidates it just hasn’t worked out. He was pushing for over 7 hours and 93 moves in an Italian against Teimour Radjabov, but he never got a clear advantage.

In fact in terms of clear-cut opportunities it was Teimour who once again missed the kind of tactic that in his heyday you expect he might have found in a flash. 26…Nhf4+! would have turned the game around.

After 27.gxf4 exf4 White can get into trouble fast, e.g. with 28.Re1 Nxh4+! 29.Kf1 h5! and the point is that Black wins back the sacrificed piece as the white knight has nowhere to go. 28.Rh3 h5! is more convincing for White, but it would still be Black playing for any advantage.

Instead Teimour was tortured in the longest game of the day for a second day in a row, but this time he held on for a draw.

That means that the standings are suddenly a lot more interesting after Round 8.

Caruana-Nepomniachtchi is where all eyes will be focused in Monday’s Round 9, with Jan Gustafsson commentating on our live broadcast:

If Fabi's refuted the Petroff, tomorrow would be as good a time as any to show the world!

If Caruana wins he would of course catch Nepomniachtchi, but the stakes are high, since if Fabi overpresses and loses Ian will have taken another giant step towards winning the event, while Hikaru, who has Black against Radjabov, could move into 2nd place if he completes a clean sweep against Teimour.

If the top game peters out into a draw, Firouzja-Rapport is a good backup for entertainment purposes — Alireza is still hunting that first win, while Richard knows that another win or two might still put him into real contention for 1st place.

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

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