Candidates Day Eleven: Hyper-Bullet, the Breakfast of Champions

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The eleventh round of the Candidates Tournament in Madrid has concluded. Ian Nepomniachtchi extended his lead to an almost insurmountable 1.5 points with 3 rounds remaining by beating Alireza Firouzja, who prepared for the game in an unusual way.

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

Alireza Firouzja – Ian Nepomniachtchi 0 – 1

The discussion of this game begins some 14 hours before it started. Around that time Alireza logged onto Lichess and began playing 30-second games with GM Daniel Naroditsky who was also in Madrid as a commentator. The match continued for some 5 hours, with Naroditsky coming out on top 142–108. Many of the chess commentariat understandably questioned if this was the ideal pre-game evening/morning for a chess player playing in the biggest tournament of his life. 

Personally, I would agree that this sort of thing is sub-optimal, but it’s not clear at all how much effect it had in the end. Alireza was having a disappointing tournament long before hyper-bullet games were involved, and the math just barely checks out for him to have gotten a perfectly reasonable amount of sleep anyway.

The game itself went south for Alireza quickly. Nepomniachtchi played the Petroff against 1. e4 which now seems to be his go-to weapon. In a fairly even position, Alireza lashed out with 16. g4 and 17 h4. Unfortunately for him, the king-side pawn storm had very little effect. Nepomniachtchi’s pieces were pushed away by the wave of pawns, but only to arrive at better squares than they sat on before. The position remained muddy for a few moves, but that’s well within the calculation abilities of a Super GM and on move 35 Alireza resigned.

Nepomniachtchi sits on an incredible +5 score, or 8/11. This is in an event where +2 or +3 is often enough to win.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Fabiano Caruana – Liren Ding 0 – 1

A Ruy Lopez seemed to be going in Fabi’s direction, even arriving at positions that our esteemed GM annotator would call winning. Unfortunately, the advantage slipped away and Ding arrived to a position that he wouldn’t fear defending. Maybe this game could have been quickly drawn under other circumstances, but with the tournament situation being what it is, draws weren’t enough to bring the two players back into contention. So the game continued on, and not to Caruana’s benefit. As we arrived to move 70 of this marathon affair, Ding had a solid advantage, which he managed to push through to a full point after Caruana blundered with 75 Bc7. 

The win is Ding’s 3rd straight and put him into clear second place on +2, just a point short of Nepomniachtchi’s winning score in the last Candidates Tournament. However, the standards are a bit higher this time. Meanwhile, Caruana has now tail-spinned to gaining 0.5 points in his last 4 games and has fallen all the way down to fourth place.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Hikaru Nakamura – Richard Rapport ½ – ½

The first big surprise arrived on move 1; A Sicilian! I almost thought they’d abolished that opening given how little it’s been played in this event. Perhaps such flights of fancy aren’t appropriate for serious grown-up candidates chess.

The line they played perhaps gave away why the opening has dropped in popularity as they arrived to move 15 with many previous Grandmaster games having the same position. Move 17 was the first “novelty,” and not one that is likely to catch on. Nakamura won a pawn while allowing his opponent lots of activity and the 2 bishops. The same exchange was quickly executed in reverse, and although the game limped on for 94 moves, there was never any significant advantage for either player.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Teimour Radjabov – Jan-Krzysztof Duda ½ – ½

The competitive perfection of the double round-robin format can be easily overrated, and this game is a prime example. If you put two GMs in a competitive situation where they both need to win, you are likely to see a very interesting game. If you put them in a situation where neither one will see much point in fighting for a win, they will dutifully conserve their energies for a moment when they do.

This game was exactly the sort of game you’d expect from two players hanging around the bottom of the table, safely beyond any strong possibility of winning.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

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