Candidates Round 1: 4 Draws in Open, While Tan Draws Blood

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Overall, round 1 of the Candidates in Toronto ended peacefully in the Open section, with four draws — although Nakamura had a somewhat lucky escape. The Women’s section was almost equally harmonious, apart from tournament favourite Lei Tingjie suffering a defeat at the hands of compatriot Tan Zhongyi.

As well as broadcasting the live games from the two tournaments, Lichess is providing a live stream of every single day of the Candidates. Make sure to tune in to our Twitch or YouTube, with streams starting from 14:15 Toronto time (18:15 UTC).

We’re also providing daily annotations on some of the games from GM Brandon Jacobson, IM / WGM Padmini Rout, and IM Lasse Løvik (Round 1).


Round Recap

Open Section

It was a pretty quick day in the office for Nijat Abasov, who declined the Queen’s Gambit offered to him by Nepomniachtchi. Despite verging into novelty territory, they transposed back into well-travelled lines and the game looked drawn out of the opening. There were no fireworks by Nepomniachtchi here; he deigned to trade major material off the board, and after a series of repetitions, a draw was made on move 34.

It was a similar story between compatriots Gukesh D and Vidit Gujathri. Going into a Tarrasch, Gukesh, after having played the very rare 9. Ra2!?, ended up in quite an ugly but practical position. Vidit offered potential fireworks with 17…Bg4?!, offering a poisoned sacrifice. If White were to accept, it would allow Black’s now connected rooks great mobilisation possibilities, and leave White’s pieces looking disconnected and ungainly. Gukesh, of course, did not accept the poisoned sacrifice, and instead found a repetition, drawing the game on move 21. This quick draw with the Black pieces was also a good result for Vidit, allowing him to save energy and prepare for his next round battle against Nakamura.

Perhaps the most dynamic game of the day promised to be the Alireza Firouzja game against R Praggnanandhaa. Firouzja ended up out of the Open Ruy Lopez with quite an unconventional pawn structure, at one point even briefly having tripled f-pawns. Praggnandhaa kept the pressure on Firouzja, forcing him onto the back foot, but Firouzja maintained his cool, defending perfectly. Praggnandhaa found an opportunity to force a repetition, beginning with a knight sacrifice spotted and predicted on stream by GM Matthew Sadler. Praggnandha found it, much to Sadler’s delight in predicting the flow of play correctly, and Firouzja was forced into a threefold repetition.

Two of the tournament favourites also clashed today, fellow countrymen Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. After e4, Nakamura went for a Sicilian, causing some surprise with 5…e5 rather than the more expected 5…a6. Caruana confidently began building up initiative, with better piece placement and control of the board. Caruana exploited Nakamura’s inaccuracies with absolute precision, finding the only line to maintain and build his advantage. Under time pressure, however, and with no increment to rely on until move 40, Caruana slipped and in a handful of moves lost his advantage, with material being traded and the position looking decidedly less lethal and more drawish. Shortly after reaching the additional time control on move 40, the players agreed to a draw — an opportunity lost that Caruana will likely be disappointed to have not fully seized upon.

Following these results, our simulations show that Hikaru Nakamura has now closed the gap as the second place tournament favourite, primarily because he drew a game with the Black pieces against the only player higher rated than himself.

Player Win probability Most frequent predicted position Predicted points average
Fabiano Caruana 31.5% (-2.2%) 1 (=) 8.2 (-0.1)
Hikaru Nakamura 28.2% (+3.9%) 1 (=) 8.1 (+0.1)
Alireza Firouzja 10.3 (-1.2%) 4 (=) 7.2 (-0.1)
R Praggnanandhaa 9.3% (+1.3%) 5 (+1) 7.1 (+0.1)
Ian Nepomniachtchi 9% (-1.8%) 5 (-1) 7.0 (-0.3)
Gukesh D 6.3% (-0.8%) 6 (=) 6.8 (-0.2)
Vidit Gujrathi 5.1% (+0.8%) 7 (=) 6.7 (+0.1)
Nijat Abasov 0.2% (=) 8 (=) 4.7 (+0.2)

Women’s Section

The Women’s tournament was almost as equally peaceful as the Open. Salimova opted for a Petrov against Muzychuk, with players following a game played between Naiditsch and Fridman in 2013 before diverging on move 18. The players traded down, with Muzychuk with the White pieces forcing a repetition — an important result for Salimova, who obtained a draw with the Black pieces against one of the stronger and most experienced players in the Women’s Candidates.

It was a similar story for Vaishali, new to the Women’s Candidates and less experienced than her opponent, the doyenne Humpy Koneru. Vaishali diverged into (essentially) novelty territory quickly with 7. Nbd2 — our records found an ICCF game from the Norwegian Correspondence Championship which their game followed — before entering true uncharted territory. Neither side made any real errors, despite Vaishali living on the increment. Unable to make headway, Koneru drew the game by repeating moves just after time control was reached.

The tournament favourite (in terms of the statistics), Aleksandra Goryachkina, faced compatriot Kateryna Lagno. Lagno went for a Nyezhmetdinov-Rossolimo Sicilian, and actually the engine slightly preferred her for almost the entire game. However, what the engine likes and what a human can see are obviously two very different matters, and the outcome of the game looked pretty equal overall. Much like the other games, a repetition was made and the game fizzled out into a draw just before the time control was reached.

The final game was between compatriots Lei Tingjie and Tan Zhongyi, who had a small score to settle after Lei knocked Tan out of the previous Women’s Candidates. Transposing from an Indian Game into a Queen’s Gambit Declined, Lei looked to have a slight edge. However, Lei potentially misjudged the trading of queens, losing momentum and allowing Tan to have the pendulum swing in her favor. The game was potentially looking like an uncomfortable draw, until an unusual blunder from Lei followed by a series of inaccuracies allowed Tan to kingwalk in such a way that she could threaten a beautiful pawn mate. Lei, of course aware of this, opted instead for an exchange sacrifice, but the damage was done and Tan had a variety of beautiful endgames to win. At one point, virtually every move Lei could make would culminate in a mate in 30 to 60 moves — such was the extent of her theoretical loss. Tan held on to her advantage and successfully converted the full point, taking a critical victory with the Black pieces against one of the tournament favourites!

Following these results, our simulations show that Tan Zhongyi has leapfrogged significantly, to presently be the new tournament favourite — not a surprise having taken a full point off one of the tournament favourites with Black. However, the tournament is still young, and many unpredictable twists are surely yet to come!

Player Win probability Most frequent predicted position Predicted points average
Tan Zhongyi 25.3% (+15.4%) 1 (+4) 7.9 (+0.8)
Aleksandra Goryachkina 20% (-1.7%) 1 (=) 7.7 (-0.1)
Kateryna Lagno 19% (+2.6%) 1 (=) 7.7 (+0.2)
Humpy Koneru 17.9% (-0.5%) 1 (=) 7.6 (+0.1)
Anna Muzychuk 7.1% (-2.5%) 6 (-1) 6.8 (-0.3)
Lei Tingjie 6.8% (-13.5%) 6 (-5) 6.8 (-0.9)
R Vaishali 2.9% (+0.2%) 7 (=) 6.2 (+0.2)
Nurgyul Salimova 0.9% (+0.2%) 8 (=) 5.4 (+0.3)

Round 2 Preview

In the Open, there’s a potential golden opportunity for Fabiano Caruana with the White pieces to push against Nijat Abasov. A whopping rating difference of 171 points implies victory 73% of the time — assuming the ratings are entirely accurate (e.g., the players are not over/underrated).

In the Women’s section — will Tan Zhongyi, with the White pieces against R Vaishali, be able to push and try to increase her lead? Will Lei Tingjie stop the bleeding, or potentially even try to push and reverse her fortune with the Black pieces against Nurgyul Salimova?

Make sure to follow the action with us in Round 2!

As well as broadcasting the live games from the two tournaments, Lichess is providing a live stream of every single day of the Candidates. Make sure to tune in to our Twitch or YouTube, with streams starting from 14:15 Toronto time (18:15 UTC).

Additionally, Lichess is providing daily annotations on some of the games from one of the top chess players in the US, GM Brandon Jacobson (except for Round 1), and one of the top women chess players in India, IM / WGM Padmini Rout.

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