Nepomniachtchi Increases Lead Further As Caruana Loses To Duda
Duda-Caruana, a crucial game for the standings today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi Increases Lead Further As Caruana Loses To Duda

| 88 | Chess Event Coverage

With four rounds to go, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is 1.5 points ahead of the pack in the 2022 Candidates Tournament in Madrid. A draw with GM Teimour Radjabov was enough for that because GM Fabiano Caruana ended up losing to GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

GMs Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura, who defeated GM Richard Rapport and GM Alireza Firouzja respectively, caught Caruana in second place. Round 11 is on Thursday.

How to watch the 2022 Candidates Tournament
Coverage of round 11 begins on Thursday, June 29 at 6 a.m. Pacific, 9 a.m. Eastern, and 15:00 Central Europe. You can watch the 2022 Candidates live on and on our Twitch, or catch all our live broadcasts on You can also keep up with all the details here on our live events platform.

Nepomniachtchi is getting closer to tournament victory after increasing his lead even further today. While the rest of the field is busy beating each other, he remains cool and collected, doing his own thing, and most importantly: he is not losing.

The winner of the previous Candidates is now close to winning his second Candidates back-to-back, a feat that only one player in history managed in tournaments: GM Vasily Smyslov, who won in both 1953 and 1956. Boris Spassky, Viktor Korchnoi, and Anatoly Karpov would later repeat that in Candidates matches. It's quite an exclusive club that Nepomniachtchi is hoping to join.

Nepomniachtchi Candidates 2022
Is Nepomniachtchi strolling to another victory? Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana's loss was very welcome for the tournament leader as well as for Duda, who was the only player left who hadn't won a game yet. We now have three players in second place, and that fight for second place might become quite relevant in case the world champion will end up not defending his title.

The regulations, by the way, only stipulate a rapid/blitz tiebreak in case of a tie for first place. In case Nepomniachtchi wins the tournament and there's a tie for second place, the tiebreaks are 1) Sonneborn-Berger, 2) number of wins, 3) the result of the games among the players involved in the tie, and 4) drawing of lots. (And in case you want to know, if the remaining four rounds would see draws only, Caruana would get the top spot on S.B. by the smallest of margins.)

Nepomniachtchi-Radjabov ½-½

It looks like Nepomniachtchi is drawing his way towards tournament victory, and who could blame him? Today, he was once again the first to finish as he drew with Radjabov in two hours and 25 minutes.

Nepomniachtchi Radjabov Candidates 2022
Nepomniachtchi and Radjabov, about to start their game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Joining the broadcast after the game, Nepomniachtchi was asked how he was feeling. His quick answer: "No idea!"

He then moved on to discuss the game, saying that he had looked at this particular line of the Catalan from the black side when preparing for the 2021 match. 

"I thought that this 16.Be3 is a very tricky move; I think 16…Qa5 is an inaccuracy," was his conclusion, but at the board he failed to profit: "Somehow it turned out that what he did is quite reasonable. Maybe I am winning the pawn on c4 but I could never find a way. Maybe this is just not good enough for White."

Was he playing it safe? "Obviously, considering the tournament situation, I don't think I'm in the position to take some major risk, but anyway I was trying to pull something out of the opening. You know, it seemed to me that I did, but it has to be analyzed."

Nepomniachtchi was then asked which game he is most satisfied with so far, and he quipped: "I'm most satisfied that it's only four rounds to go! That's the only thing that really warms my heart."

I'm most satisfied that it's only four rounds to go!
—GM Ian Nepomniachtchi

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Ian Nepomniachtchi Candidates 2022
Nepomniachtchi joining the broadcast after his game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura-Firouzja 1-0

Whereas Nepomniachtchi stated that he is basically spending his rest days in bed, Nakamura has more important things to do: satisfying his fanbase. As promised, he played and streamed the (early) Titled Tuesday the night before and finished in third place there. The next day, he just continued the Candidates and played an excellent game.

Firouzja's first signs of ambition came with his choice of the Najdorf. Nakamura took him right out of (most of) his preparation by going for the quiet 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 line, which he had played only once before in his career, back in 2013.

Firouzja started thinking, avoided the main lines as well (starting after 7...Be7) and went 7...Nc6. In his post-game interview in the broadcast, Nakamura said that after 8.Bc4 Be6 he started to get the feeling that Firouza was trying to transpose to their encounter from the World Blitz in Moscow 2019, a slightly puzzling remark as he had played h2-h3 as early as move four in that game.

In any case, Nakamura once again wanted to sidestep his opponent's intentions and went 9.Nd5. A move later, he spent 31 minutes before trading on f6, when Firouzja showed further ambition by taking back on f6 with the pawn—the theoretical novelty.

Position after 10...gxf6.

"When he thought forever to take on f6 with the pawn, I think he thought he was better. He was trying to press for the win," said Nakamura. "Then he kind of had to realize he's worse and I think mentally it was very hard for him to recover from that, and he just kind of went down without a fight."

The dynamics of the extra central pawn and the open g-file didn't have the desired effect for the French-Iranian player, especially when he played 11...Ne7 instead of Nakamura's suggested improvement 11...Na5. After Black took on b3 and pushed d5, he basically had a not-so-great Sveshnikov, where in a similar line Black often can castle queenside.

Firouzja couldn't set his pawns in motion, had to castle kingside, and lost control of the d-file. At least visually, his worst nightmare had come true.

Alireza Firouzja Candidates 2022
Firouzja looking at a highly unpleasant position. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Still, the position would have remained fairly playable if 21...a5 had been played, to prevent White from protecting his fresh passer on c5 with the b-pawn.

Firouzja, however, had spotted a tactic that would gain him an exchange, but that was actually positional seppuku. With such a brilliant knight reaching the f5-square, Nakamura didn't hesitate to allow that "loss" of the exchange.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Hikaru Nakamura Candidates 2022
A confident Nakamura in round 10. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"It seemed like a pretty smooth game overall, despite some big time usage by both of us in the opening," said Nakamura. "I don't know if Titled Tuesday was great preparation, but kind of just playing blitz, I just took on d4 and went 24.Nf5 without even really thinking. If I hadn't played blitz yesterday maybe I would have used more time to do it."

"To be fair, if he hadn't won the last round, I'm not so sure he would have done what he did today. But after winning, he wanted to try to be aggressive and, as we've seen now, in my game against Teimour, Alireza against me today, and Fabiano against Duda, you try to be creative with Black and bad things seem to happen."

You try to be creative with Black and bad things seem to happen.
—Hikaru Nakamura

Rapport-Ding 0-1

Besides Caruana and Nepomniachtchi, Ding is now the third player to win two games in a row in this tournament. Like in the previous Candidates, his second half is already looking much better for him. 

His clash with Rapport was one of the wildest games of the tournament, and also one that was very well played by the Chinese grandmaster, who said: "Today I think I played very well throughout the game."

While Rapport once again hesitated a bit early in the opening (taking one and a half minutes on 3.Bb5), Ding seemed to play aggressively from the get-go, pushing pawns on both sides of the board. Afterward, he revealed that he had prepared this some time ago and that he knew the idea of the maneuver ...Ra8-b8-b7. "The idea is to delay castling," he explained.

On move 21, Rapport sacrificed his c3-pawn to get f2-f4 in, and that wasn't a bad idea at all. GM Daniel Naroditsky: "I think Richard somehow has made lemonade out of lemons here!"

The Hungarian player won the pawn back on move 27, after which the battle turned into an insanely wild middlegame with Black's king staying in the center. And then Rapport played a fascinating piece sacrifice to try to profit from that.

Here Rapport played the amazing 33.Nc4!?

Ding said about 33.Nc4: "Of course I didn't see it!" He was forced to return an exchange and did so quickly, a sign that he was calculating well. He still had two minor pieces for a rook against an extra pawn for White.

Rapport continued energetically and threw in another pawn sacrifice, but Ding's defensive setup, based on 41…Nd3!, was excellent.

Position after 41...Nd3.

This was the key moment of the game, and to be honest, also a moment of bad time management by the Hungarian player. Having reached the time control, he only used 65 seconds to choose 42.Rc3, where the only move to keep equal chances was a forcing move: 42.Be7!.

As it went, Ding simply won another pawn and got a dangerous passer on the b-file. Again missing the best try (45.Rd1), Rapport was just lost on the very next move. He did manage to reach an opposite-colored bishop endgame, but that didn't save him. Remarkably, throughout the game, Ding’s light-squared bishop didn't make a single move.

The 10th round of the Candidates saw the fight for second place blow wide open. Ding's effort with Black against Rapport put him in a reasonable spot, and I am actually not sure the tournament is as over as it might look on paper. Nepo clearly is cruising—for a second white game in a row, he didn't really try much and was happy to make a draw. But he suffered a lot with Black yesterday. With three guys chasing him, I would not be surprised if he needs 2/4 to take clear first. If he's super confident in his ability to draw with Black, I guess cruising is fine. But... it seems a little shaky. In any case, let's get to the game! It was a wild fight.

Rapport Ding Candidates 2022
Rapport and Ding signing their score sheets. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Duda-Caruana 1-0

Duda had just lost two games in a row, was in last place, and had never beaten Caruana in a classical game yet. That didn't stop him from winning convincingly today, helped by slightly risky but also somewhat puzzling play from the American grandmaster in the Italian Game.

In an online course about 1.e4, GM Anish Giri says 9...Be6 might be slightly inaccurate, as it allows White to take on e6 followed by Be3 (his knight isn't on d2 yet!), where he can take on e3 with the rook to avoid the same doubling of the e-pawn.

Duda apparently didn't really agree with that argument and went 11.b4 instead, when Caruana replied with the standard ...Nf6-h5-f4 maneuver.

Position after 13.Nf1.

Here the game continued 13...Qf6 14.Bxf4 Qxf4 15.Qb3 and White had a long-term edge. According to Giri, in such positions the black queen is misplaced on f4: "Ideally, Black wants to recapture the knight on f4 with a rook, and then have the queen around the squares f7-h5."

Things soon got worse for Black when his knight got stranded on the edge of the board, and the same Dutch GM tweeted: "Fabi's chances to win the Candidates are even lower than the chances of the a5 knight to get back in the game."

Even so, the game got more interesting when Caruana unleashed his g-pawn. It was clear that he was going for it with Black, having to catch up with Nepomniachtchi somehow.

Around move 18, the engine showed a remarkably high evaluation for White, close to an advantage of two pawns. Apparently, the kingside could be defended easily, while Black had that knight on a5 and the doubled pawn.

When Nepomniachtchi was in the studio, the game had reached move 24. He also immediately noted the knight on a5, and said: "I think Fabiano played this line quite ambitiously."

Duda found the excellent 24.h4! and got a winning position, but some maneuvers later, he started to doubt himself. Visibly disappointed on camera, he wasn't happy with what the flashy 36.Nh7!? had brought him, and it seemed that he thought he had spoiled it when he had to trade and put the knight back.

Duda Candidates 2022
Duda means 'doubt' in Spanish and for a moment, Duda was full of doubt again. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Shaking his head, Duda then found the best move anyway, 39.f4!. Caruana, with about one and a half minutes for his last two moves before the time control, played a move that lost a piece right away, but according to the engine White was winning anyway. A piece down for two pawns, Caruana kept fighting but to no avail.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Duda Caruana Candidates 2022
Duda finally picks up his first win. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Round 10 Standings

FIDE Candidates 2022 round 10 standings

Round 11 Pairings

Round 11 June 30, 2022 6 a.m. PT/15:00 CEST
Nakamura - Rapport
Firouzja - Nepomniachtchi
Radjabov - Duda
Caruana - Ding

Previous coverage:

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