Candidates Day Ten: Maybe Second Place Isn’t So Bad.

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Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

The tenth round of the Candidates Tournament in Madrid has concluded. Ian Nepomniatchi took his third straight draw, which has somehow expanded his lead to 1.5 points. Usually such a lead in this event would mean less excitement because of how meaningless second place is. This year there is an excellent chance the second place finisher will get a spot in the World Championship match as well because current champion Magnus Carlsen has expressed ambivalence about playing.

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.

Richard Rapport – Liren Ding 0 – 1

For mysterious reasons Ding Liren has had trouble finding many games against other Super GMs for the last couple of years. There were questions about what sort of form he would be in for this event, and he seems to have hit his stride at a good moment. This game started out as a slow maneuvering Ruy Lopez before Rapport played a questionable piece sacrifice to free his position. He quickly won an exchange back, but then traded down to an endgame that was probably already lost. In desperation, Rapport gave back the exchange to achieve an opposite-colored bishops endgame that may have been drawable with a more active king. Instead, Rapport’s king was as far away from the action as a king can possibly be while we still use an 8×8 board, and his position was doomed.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Round 10: Jan-Krzysztof Duda – Fabiano Caruana 1 – 0

Caruana Uncharacteristically got the worst of the opening and met Duda’s novelty with a couple of inaccurate moves. He already had some problems around move 14. Caruana’s kingside pawns raced forward to support an attack that never quite arrived, and eventually it was his own king that was in trouble. Duda eventually traded down to an easily winning endgame and finished it off.

Caruana has 0.5 pts from his last 3 games and his dreams of playing for the World Championship now seem to depend mostly on Magnus Carlsen’s level of interest in the event.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Ian Nepomniachtchi – Teimour Radjabov ½ – ½ 

With Nepomniatchi having a big lead in the tournament and Radjabov having a bit of a reputation for quick draws (and a lower rating, and the black pieces in this game) there was some danger of an early end to this one. These two players met in an infamous third-place match for the 2021 FTC Crypto Cup where they blatantly played to work around the event’s anti-draw offer rules as quickly as possible. 

Fortunately, nothing like that happened this time, although the game was hardly played on the razor’s edge either. Nepomniatchi was slightly better throughout a Catalan game, but never any more than that. He understandably wasn’t interested in taking any big risks to try and win, and successfully achieved his draw after 37 moves.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Hikaru Nakamura – Alireza Firouzja 1 – 0

Fans of exciting double edged exciting chess will be sad to see the Najdorf treated so roughly at the top level. The same opening failed Maxine Vachier-Lagrave in a critical game against Caruana towards the end of the last candidates tournament in 2021, and in typical Najdorf fashion it was probably losing before Caruana was even out of his preparation.

In this game Alireza eventually achieved the standard Najdorf d5 break but there was a terrible price to pay. His kingside pawns were a mess, and the dark-squared bishop never quite found a good home. The Kingside light-square attack almost played itself for Naka and Firouzja resigned with mate only a few moves away.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

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