Nepomniachtchi On The Brink As Firouzja Goes Berserk
Ian Nepomniachtchi won his fifth game today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi On The Brink As Firouzja Goes Berserk

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GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is on the brink of winning the 2022 Candidates Tournament after beating GM Alireza Firouzja with the black pieces on Thursday. The French-Iranian grandmaster was over-ambitious and put up poor resistance, having played online bullet chess for seven hours in the middle of the night.

GM Ding Liren is in sole second place as he scored his third win in a row, this time against GM Fabiano Caruana, who dropped to fourth place. GM Hikaru Nakamura tried for long but had to settle for a draw with GM Richard Rapport, a result that was also reached in the game between GM Teimour Radjabov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

How to watch the 2022 Candidates Tournament
Coverage of round 12 begins on Friday, July 1 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.

After scoring his fifth win in the tournament, Nepomniachtchi is not just on the verge of winning another Candidates Tournament; he could be doing that with a record score in the modern era. GMs Magnus Carlsen (2013), Viswanathan Anand (2014), Sergey Karjakin (2016), and Nepomniachtchi himself (2021) won with an 8.5/14 score, while Caruana clinched first in 2018 with 9/14. It's crazy to think that Nepomniachtchi only needs a draw tomorrow to get to 8.5 as early as round 12.

Meanwhile, the Russian GM also crossed his peak rating of 2792 from the May 2021 FIDE rating list as he is now on 2792.7 after earning 26.7 points in Madrid so far. He will likely be the world number three on the new rating list and even has a chance to win the tournament tomorrow with two rounds to spare.

Chess live ratings 2022
The live ratings after today. Image: 2700chess.

While Carlsen remains silent about the topic of defending or not defending his world title, the fight for second place continues to have potential significance. Ding now has the best chances for that spot, being half a point ahead of Nakamura. If he wins his final three games as well, and the tournament leader ends with three draws, we could even have a tiebreak for first place.

Ian Nepomniachtchi round 11 Candidates 2022
Nepomniachtchi isn't there yet, but is getting pretty close. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Firouzja-Nepomniachtchi 0-1

The story of the day actually started the night before. It is known that Firouzja hadn't played classical chess for six months, and hardly any online games either. Both Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi have stated that that wasn't a very good idea. After his tough loss yesterday, something must have snapped inside, as Firouzja decided to go online and play some chess.

He started playing 30-second hyperbullet (a total of 30 seconds only, for the whole game) at 22:47 on Wednesday evening. After two games, he stopped (for dinner?) but then continued two hours later, meeting a few different players. He then started playing GM Daniel Naroditsky, a commentator for in Madrid, just after 2 a.m. and the two only stopped playing at 5:43 a.m. in the morning. By then, Firouzja had played 337 games in total, of which 250 games vs. Naroditsky.

Among others, the nocturnal session was noticed by the world champion:

Especially after his sub-par performance on Thursday, Firouzja's bullet session was mostly criticized by experts. Not only was it irresponsible for himself, but it also might have affected the tournament outcome, they argued.

How to be lucky in chess

Early in the round, Naroditsky himself said that he thought it could actually help Firouzja blow off some steam, to take some of the stress off. But as the game progressed, it became clear that the 19-year-old prodigy didn't exactly profit from his lack of sleep.

Firouzja had decided to take command of the opening early on by choosing the 5.c4 line against the Petroff, hoping to avoid symmetrical pawn structures and once again showing ambition. Nepomniachtchi was ready for it, having played it himself several times as well, including a very nice game vs. GM Sanan Sjugirov.

Black has different tries, but Nepomniachtchi chose what he thought to be most solid: 5…Nc6 and 7…Be7.

Firouzja was out of book after 14…Qb6 but anyway got a time advantage of about 20 minutes, which he lost altogether after spending 23 minutes on the daring move 16.g4. We've seen a lot of …g5 pawn moves from the black side in this tournament, but this one by White looked quite risky.

Asked what he was thinking at that moment, Nepomniachtchi said: "Well, I was waiting for more!"

The position after 16.g4.

Firouzja took a big think after 16…h6, and that was not a good sign. Especially taking into account how the remainder of the game went, Naroditsky described well what was going on (unlike Firouzja, our commentator didn't seem much affected by the bullet session):

"For the second game in a row I think Alireza has made a mistake that is very similar to ...gxf6 against Hikaru: he's forcing it. He's coming to the game with an agenda. That agenda is to create tactical complications and rather than letting the position come to him, he's trying to impose his will on the position. When you're somebody who is playing in as good a form as Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura, you can't get away with that and I think he's learning that in a very painful way in this Candidates."

Showing further uncharacteristically bad play, Firouzja followed up with 17.h4 after a 36-minute think ("I couldn't find a good plan there," he said afterward), when Nepomniachtchi replied almost instantly with 17…Re8. He continued playing strong moves quickly and confidently. The game had hardly left the opening, and Firouzja was already lost.

Alireza Firouzja chess
Firouzja is far from showing his top form in Madrid. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

GM Robert Hess: "I don't know if Alireza is not seeing things today, or he bluffed with his pawn pushes, or he really did believe in his attack, but he's the one about to get attacked, and his king is the one in danger, and he's about to lose several pawns, and with it, the game."

Not that it mattered much, but there was, at some point, a slightly more convincing win available for Nepomniachtchi. Initially, he had planned on 23…Bf8, but then saw that 24.Qd2! holds everything together. He also looked at 23…Bd8! (the strongest option) but said about that moment: "I couldn't make myself to calculate more lines."

Ian Nepomniachtchi
Nepomniachtchi could afford not calculating everything today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After 21…Bxg5, Firouzja could be seen yawning at the board—he wasn't going to have the energy to pull off a miracle. Nepomniachtchi, on his turn, was on top of all the tactics and finished off the game strongly to reach eight points.

As someone in the Twitch chat noted, 8/11 is a Titled Tuesday score, not a Candidates score. It's that impressive.

The 11th round of the Candidates Tournament more or less saw the event round up, or at least the fight for first place. I'm always very hesitant to call things before they are over. I nearly always give conservative estimates for any one individual player, and I'm always bothered by people who make ridiculous claims like: "X player will totally win this tournament, 1,000%
sure!" But, cautious as my nature might be, I am calling this tournament for Nepo and there is no longer a remotely realistic universe where he does not win it. Furthermore, his play has been so much better here than it was last time. Last year, he struggled with stamina, lost round seven twice, and got lucky to pick up a free win against Alekseenko when the latter confused his preparation and was hopelessly lost by move 10. This does not mean that he did not deserve to win; he certainly did. But this year he has been absurdly dominant and powerful, showed no signs of waning stamina in later rounds as in the past, and I hope Magnus will feel inspired enough to face him again as a challenger who will be much tougher and more worthy than he was last time.

"I didn't really understand what was going on today from his side," Nepomniachtchi said afterward. "I would say he played in a very optimistic manner. Every game here he plays for a win, but we know sometimes the way he plays is a little bit artificial."

It's striking how well Nepomniachtchi has been doing in both Candidates Tournaments he's played in. Asked what it is about this tournament that allows him to thrive so much, he replied: "Unlike maybe some normal round-robin tournaments, in the Candidates I'm trying really hard!"

Unlike maybe some normal round-robin tournaments, in the Candidates I'm trying really hard!
—GM Ian Nepomniachtchi

Caruana-Ding 0-1

Caruana's lifetime score vs. Ding got even worse as the Chinese GM won his sixth classical game vs. two for the American, with six draws. More importantly, Ding is now in sole second place, winning three consecutive games just as he did in the final three rounds of the previous Candidates.

Caruana Ding Candidates 2022
The start of the 14th classical game between Caruana and Ding. If those 14 games were a world championship match, Ding would have won convincingly. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

This game, an Anti-Marshall Ruy Lopez with 8.a4, saw a novelty on move 15 when Caruana put his knight on h4, but the players clearly had prepared things much deeper. Even when White fianchettoed his knight on g7 (wait, what?), the players were still following games played by top engines. 

Position after 18.Ng7.

It was at move 22 that Caruana lost the thread a bit, and with the cool move 22…Kh8! Ding started to ask questions about the knight that was infiltrated so deeply into his camp. Was it still possible to get it back? It was, thanks to a tactical sequence, but Ding was completely fine after that.

However, on move 30, the Chinese player missed a tactic that changed the scene completely.

Position after 33.Nf5.

Earlier in his calculations, Ding must have thought to have a simple double attack, but he probably missed that if he'd go 33…Rxb2 here White has 34.Nxd6! with a big advantage.

Caruana got a nice advantage in a middlegame with opposite-colored bishops, because his bishop was clearly stronger. However, he couldn't find the right plan, while Ding defended very well until the position became equal, despite White running his pawn all the way to e7.

Caruana Ding Candidates 2022
Ding defended well in the middlegame. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Just when the game seemed to be ending in a draw, Caruana suddenly blundered 57…Qg3. Fatigue must have stepped in. With just 4.5 minutes left for his remaining, tough-to-find three moves until the next time control, he was in trouble.

He made it unscathed, but despite getting the extra 15 minutes at the right moment, Caruana missed 61.Bxg5! that would have forced the draw. Ding could hold onto his extra pawn, and Naroditsky said: "Fabi is completely out of sorts!"

The position where 61.Bxg5! would have drawn the game. The rooks will be traded and then the white queen gives a perpetual.

The queens were traded, and Ding still had an extra pawn in an endgame with opposite-colored bishops and rooks. It should have been holdable, but practically speaking it was very tough for Caruana.

Caruana Ding Candidates 2022
After a good first half, Caruana is not at his best anymore in the second half of the tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The 2018 winner initially escaped on move 72 as Ding played too fast and missed an opportunity to get his rook to the second rank (or trade bishops and win the rook endgame), but a few moves later Caruana walked into a similar pitfall. On move 78, he resigned, all shattered.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Nakamura-Rapport ½-½

This game featured a Sveshnikov Sicilian, an opening Rapport had never played before. Caught off guard for this particular encounter, Nakamura chose a solid but not very critical line that involved the fianchetto of his king's bishop. Still, it was only on move 17 that the players left earlier played games.

Rapport then sacrificed his weak d-pawn and got sufficient compensation thanks to his active pieces. A few moves later, he played it slightly inaccurately and again had to do without a pawn, but this time, that was in an endgame with heavily reduced material: a knight and three pawns for Nakamura vs. a bishop and two pawns for Rapport, with pawns on the same wing. There was no reason to offer a draw just yet, and Nakamura tried and tried for a long time.

Hikaru Nakamura Candidates 2022
Nakamura trying to squeeze water from stone in this endgame. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

At some point, the game reached a three-fold repetition (after moves 60, 70, and 72), but Rapport must have missed that and didn't claim. It happened again (after moves 65, 67, and 81), but perhaps the Hungarian player wasn't even paying attention so much because the position was just too easy to defend. On move 96, the inevitable result was finally there.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Nakamura Rapport Candidates 2022
A game that lasted almost 100 moves. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Radjabov-Duda ½-½

The day started with a quick and quiet game between Radjabov and Duda, where the Azerbaijani GM played the English Opening and fianchettoed both his bishops. It's a very solid but also not very dangerous setup if Black knows what to do, and Duda had already completely equalized by move 15.

Teimour Radjabov Candidates 2022
Radjabov was disappointed that he didn't get more out of the opening. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After the game, Radjabov stated that he had entered the game in a fighting mood but that he had played a few moves too quickly, after which he lost any way to play for the c6-square. Instead, he went for a liquidation that vacuum-cleaned the whole queenside, and by move 25, a double rook endgame had been reached with four against four pawns on one wing.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

FIDE Candidates 2022 round 11 standings

Round 12 Pairings

Round 12 July 1, 2022 6 a.m. PT/15:00 CEST
Rapport - Caruana
Ding - Radjabov
Duda - Firouzja
Nepomniachtchi - Nakamura

Previous coverage:

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