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Reports Jul 3, 2022 | 11:24 PMby Colin McGourty

Nepomniachtchi wins his 2nd Candidates Tournament

Ian Nepomniachtchi has won the FIDE Candidates Tournament with a round to spare for the second time in a row, earning another shot at the World Championship title. Magnus Carlsen was in the venue as Ian made a draw against Richard Rapport, but was silent on whether he will defend his title. If he doesn’t, Nepo will play the runner-up, and that will be Hikaru Nakamura, who defeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda, unless Ding Liren wins their last-round game on Monday.  

Replay all the games from the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament in Madrid.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Judit Polgar and Jan Gustafsson, with Anish Giri joining for the first hour.

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

In the end there was just one win in Round 13 of the FIDE Candidates, but it was an important one.

Anish Giri once again recapped the action, and you can also check out his separate Candidates course on Chessable:

Nepomniachtchi clinches the Candidates

Ian Nepomniachtchi's path to another World Championship match has been incredibly smooth | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Ian Nepomniachtchi went into the penultimate round of the Candidates knowing that all he needed to win the event was to make a draw in either of his remaining games. He was facing Richard Rapport, however, and would be disappointed already on move 1.

When Richard finally made his move he went for the Sicilian with 1…c5. Nepo commented:

My reaction was, pity it’s not a Berlin! I had an idea or two there in the Berlin. This temporary piece sacrifice, maybe you’re familiar with it.

Ian was joking about the infamous line played in the 14-move draw against Nakamura the day before, but Richard wasn’t in the mood to make his opponent’s life easier.

When Anish talks about the previous game he’s referring to the Round 7 clash where Richard thought for an hour and took the almost inexplicable decision to play on in a difficult position rather than take a draw. Victory in that game capped an incredible first half of the event for Nepo and meant he could essentially cruise to the finish line.

Despite the lively opening in Round 13, Ian was able to use his World Championship preparation to kill the game.

He commented:

I was so happy when all these pieces went off from the board, especially the queens… and the rooks… and pawns, and then I saw this fortress.

The players didn’t delay the inevitable for long, and Ian Nepomniachtchi had won a 2nd Candidates Tournament in a row.

Ian put his success down to being able simply to play chess, without chasing wins to catch up. He was also able to preserve energy.

I think I never had a 6-hour game here, so it was more or less every time it was decided even before the first time control — the position was quite plain, it was some repetition. Maybe that’s the trick, I was lucky enough not to play for a win here, so I just played some normal openings. I never was forced to push too hard. Obviously this all became possible because I started so well, beating maybe the main favourite of the tournament with the black pieces. Despite the jetlag, despite he didn’t really have time to prepare because he never knew he would play here until the very last moment, and so on.

Nepo admitted of that first-round game against Ding Liren:

I mixed things up badly in the opening. I could only recall the idea, but I did everything wrong, and also the second game against Fabiano was very shaky.

He would survive another tough position later in the tournament against Caruana, while the closest he came to defeat was perhaps against Hikaru Nakamura. Ian confessed:

It’s a very tough tournament. Basically, you make one mistake and everything goes the wrong way. For example, against Hikaru, I don’t know how to explain, but I never expected 1.e4 from him somehow, so I just didn’t take a look at the Petroff, and then he played e4 and I thought, ok, let’s deviate from some main lines. And then ok, I mixed up everything, and then out of a completely normal position I was lost in two moves, and that’s a good example. And everything could go a different way.

In the end experience proved a huge asset for Nepomniachtchi | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

The way Ian kept cool and fought his way out of those tough positions was extremely impressive, however, and when the chance came to pick up wins he was ruthless, with the victory over Jan-Krzysztof Duda perhaps his most impressive achievement.

The big question everyone’s asking now, however, is whether Ian’s triumph will mean a Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi rematch in 2023. Ian confirmed that he’ll play if given the chance, but Magnus immediately after Dubai said he’s unlikely to play another title match unless a player of a new generation such as Alireza Firouzja won the Candidates.

Magnus was in Madrid for Round 13, and even stopped by the venue…

…but he wasn’t going to give anything away about his intentions.

It seems anyone expecting an announcement in Madrid on Monday will be disappointed, since Magnus has other commitments.

Nevertheless, Leontxo García reports in El País that Magnus talked for 40 minutes to FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich in Madrid. Leontxo concludes, from talking to anonymous sources:

Magnus Carlsen will defend his World Championship title against the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi in April 2023 if the International Chess Federation (FIDE) accepts his demands for changing the format of the duel, according to people very close to the Norwegian and FIDE.

We’d already heard from Nepomniachtchi earlier in the event that he’d been asked by FIDE for his views on possible changes, including a system of “sets” rather than one long match. It could be the system Magnus suggested back in 2018.

My current favourite, which it has been for a while, is to keep the same format as now, except that each day you play 4 rapid games instead — relatively short rapid games, let’s say 15+10, as you play in the World Rapid — and you get one point for each day.

It's worth noting that was implemented almost exactly in the first Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, with the epic Carlsen-Nakamura final only won 4:3 by Magnus after he came from behind three times and was pushed all the way to Armageddon in the final set.

If one person understands exactly why Magnus might be reluctant to go through the ordeal of another match, it’s Ian, who shed some light on what had gone wrong for him in the last match in Dubai. He said he bit off a little bit more chess knowledge than he could chew:

It was really difficult, so I needed to rebuild my opening repertoire, make some corrections about my playing style and so on, so it was quite difficult. And basically I had just not enough time back then. Also, I think I had some very poor timing of my preparation, so it never stopped until maybe a few days before the match, and somehow I found out that in the end I didn’t have any clue why would I play chess. I hate chess completely… what’s going on? For four months, without any rest, I was working, and at some point my brain just refused to work anymore.

Multiply that by five matches and you have an idea of what Magnus goes through, but chess fans will be hoping the Norwegian’s huge will to win and desire to keep setting records will make him decide to return to the World Championship grind.

If he doesn’t, however, 2nd place in the Candidates Tournament will mean a World Championship match against Ian Nepomniachtchi. Two players who no longer have a chance of making that contest are Teimour Radjabov and Fabiano Caruana, who cancelled each other out with a 31-move draw in Round 13.

That left two contenders, Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura.

Alireza Firouzja ½-½ Ding Liren

Alireza Firouzja has had a baptism of fire in Madrid | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Alireza Firouzja began the Candidates as world no. 3, but little has gone his way as he’s slumped to four losses and a solitary win to put him in a tie for last place. On our broadcast Anish Giri put it down to Alireza’s style that “takes the draw out of the equation!” Anish feels that it’s an approach that makes Alireza lethal against 2600 players but, for now, leaves him vulnerable to suffering a lot of losses against the world’s best.

In Round 13 initially it seemed as though Alireza had had enough and wanted to force a draw with the white pieces. Then, however, our commentators thought Firouzja’s natural instincts came to the fore, and saw him taking unnecessary risks.

For a while it felt Alireza had gone too far and would be punished by Ding Liren, but the 19-year-old had seen a way to force a draw.

35.Bxd3! exd3 36.Rxd3+ and, if anything, White is perhaps slightly better with three pawns for the awkwardly-placed black bishop. There was no more drama, however, as the players almost immediately began to repeat moves for a draw.

At the time that seemed like a good result for Ding, since Hikaru was in trouble.

Hikaru Nakamura 1-0 Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Hikaru Nakamura may or may not get to play a World Championship match, but he's shown he's a force to be reckoned with at classical chess | photo: Stev Bonhage, FIDE

Perhaps the decisive result in this game owed something to Judit Polgar, one of the most aggressive top players in recent chess history, making the first move.

Duda has suffered in Madrid, but he’s never given up fighting, and Hikaru admitted that he was surprised by his opponent’s decision to go for the Najdorf Sicilian rather than the Petroff. 7…Be7 saw Duda vary from the line Firouzja had played against Hikaru, and the US star went for 8.h3.

Anish Giri was commentating live on the move and said he’d been wondering what Hikaru was planning here if Firouzja had played it, so he was glad to see and know what he should work on. Then later Hikaru, in his recap, pointed out he’d played the move because of Anish!

This was a move that was recommended in one of Anish Giri’s courses on Chessable, so I thought, why not try and do like Anish!

That almost wasn’t the only influence Anish had on the game, on a day when it seemed like anyone who’s anyone in chess (including, for instance, Vishy Anand!) was visiting the venue.

A fascinating battle ensued, with Hikaru going for an interesting plan of positional domination with 16.h4!?

It didn’t exactly get the computer’s stamp of approval, and a couple of inaccuracies later it seemed as though Duda was about to take over, until he played 33…d5?

In fact simply 33…b4! would have restricted the black bishop and held on to the extra pawn, but it seems Duda was playing not to restrict but capture the bishop, since after 34.cxd5! Rc2 the threat is to play b4 and this time the bishop has no squares.

Alas for Duda, however, he’d overlooked 35.Bd6!

Other moves were in fact also good for White, but this turning of the tables had maximum psychological impact. Hikaru said he saw Duda, “visibly upset and start shaking his head”. There was nothing better than to exchange queens with 35…Rxe2 36.Bxc7, when Black’s advantage had gone, and in fact he had tricky choices ahead.

Hikaru explained of the collapse that followed that Magnus Carlsen is the only player he knows who can keep his head in such a situation and still find the best moves after blundering. He added, “I’ve seen Fabiano doing it occasionally”. The point of no return essentially came already on move 37.

Hikaru explained he felt it was good to make this move fast before Duda could recover, and it worked perfectly as after 37…Nd7? 38.Bxa5 Rxa2 39.Bb4 White had complete control. Instead after 37…Nxd3! 38.d7 Ra8! Black is no worse, but it felt like Jan-Krzysztof was no longer in the right mindset to find such ideas.

The battle ended when the d-pawn reached d7 and would cost Black a piece, with the key resource being the Nf8+ fork.

That meant Hikaru leapfrogged Ding Liren into sole 2nd place.

Given all the potential for messy mathematical tiebreaks for 2nd, it’s a relief to be able to report that the final round will be very simple. Either Ding Liren beats Hikaru Nakamura with the white pieces and finishes 2nd, or Hikaru finishes runner-up.

The other games no longer carry any great sporting significance, but Ian noted that in 2021 his mood was ruined by losing to Ding Liren in the final round after winning the tournament the day before.

Last year in Yekaterinburg it was quite disappointing to lose like this to Ding, and somehow I didn’t have a real celebration. I was so happy after holding this game against Maxime… but then I just starting preparing for the next game and got surprised in the opening and was very, very sad. Tomorrow I’ll try very hard not to let this repeat!

Nepo has Black against Duda, while we also have Rapport-Radjabov and Caruana-Firouzja.

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

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