Candidates Day Seven: Nepomniatchi and Caruana Rocket Past the Field.

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The Seventh round of the 2022 Candidates Tournament is over with Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniatchi winning to increase their lead on the rest of the field. Nepomniatchi is leading the event with 5.5 / 8 with Caruana a half point behind. The #3 player, Hikaru Nakamura, is 2 full points behind the leader.

Daily, Lichess is providing a broadcast of the games played in real-time. We also have a selection of annotated games by GM Nijat Abasov and video recaps by WGM-elect Jesse February.

Game One: Rapport – Nepomniatchi 0 – 1

Nepomniatchi answered 1. e4 with the solid Petrov defense, something that seemed very out of character for him until he started doing it in the previous candidates event. Nevertheless, the game erupted into what should have been brief tactical fireworks that demonstrate the saying “All sharp positions are drawn.” Surprisingly, Rapport played the dubious 19. f3 to avoid a perpetual check and found himself in a worse position. Fabiano Caruana, who is struggling to catch Nepomniatchi at the top of the leaderboard, watched on in confused frustration. “It’s been known for a decade …. If you do go for it you take a draw, because after 19. f3 its worse for white” he later said in an interview.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Game Two: Jan-Krzysztof Duda – Hikaru Nakamura ½ – ½

Duda guided a Nimzo-Indian defense to what looked like a promising “good knight/bad bishop” position, but Super GMs don’t fall apart so easily. Duda sacrificed a pawn briefly to try and push his advantage, but all he achieved for his trouble was mass pawn exchanges and a draw rook endgame.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Game Three: Liren Ding – Alireza Firouzja ½ – ½

After finding no joy with 1. d4, ding switched to 1. c4 and managed to find a very nice looking 2 rooks and knight ending for himself. If chess games were decided by judges, like boxing, he would have certainly taken  the victory. Unfortunately, under current candidates rules checkmate is required. Ding was unable to make any meaningful progress on that front and the game was given up for drawn on move 54.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Game Four: Fabiano Caruana – Teimour Radjabov 1- 0

Perhaps hoping to catch the famously well prepared Caruana on the wrong foot, Radjabov played the extremely unusual 2. a6 in the opening. I’m told this is called the “O’Kelly Sicilian,” although I don’t think it’s wise to give these sorts of openings a name. Similar to cows at the slaughterhouse, assigning names only makes it harder to get rid of them later.

Presumably the effort to get Caruana “out of book” was successful as he was 40 minutes down on the clock by move 11. Unfortunately for Radjabov, the situation ON the chess board was not as rosy. Black’s development lagged behind, and on move 14 Caruana won what looked like a clean pawn.

The conventional wisdom when up material is to keep things as simple as possible, but 2800s sometimes have strange ideas about what qualifies as complicated. The position converted to an exciting race to queen passed pawns and then an insane looking queen ending with both kings ominously unprotected. Fabi never seemed too worried and the killjoy computer analysis confirms that there was never much happening beyond white having a large advantage.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

The Titled Arena.

While not formally a part of the world championship cycle, (anymore) The June Lichess Titled Arena deserves a mention and we try to use our blog posts efficiently. The event was won by GM Arjun Erigaisi who has been putting up some very impressive results recently as he worked his way up to the #3 rated Junior in the world. The next Lichess Titled Arena will be on July 9. 

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