Impressive Defense By Nakamura On Day Of Draws
Nakamura meeting with fans after the round. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Impressive Defense By Nakamura On Day Of Draws

| 82 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Hikaru Nakamura defended brilliantly in his first-ever classical game against GM Alireza Firouzja to hold the draw after 51 moves. It was the fourth draw of the day, meaning that GMs Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi continue to lead in the 2022 Candidates Tournament with 2/3.

How to watch the 2022 Candidates Tournament

Coverage of round 4 begins on Tuesday, June 21 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.

For each single game of chess at the highest level, the most likely result is a draw. It's therefore not unexpected to see at least one day with draws only. The 2013 Candidates, the first tournament with this format in the modern era, even had three of those rounds. But don't worry: the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020-2021 editions all had just one.

The four peaceful outcomes today all came about differently. In Radjabov-Nepomniachtchi, the players didn't really feel like playing, while Caruana-Duda can be called a "grandmaster draw" where neither made a noticeable mistake.

GM Ding Liren, however, missed a good chance to score his first win of the tournament before he had to settle for a draw with GM Richard Rapport, who survived a lost position as Black for the second time. And then there was Firouzja-Nakamura, which had the American GM on the defense throughout due to impressive preparation by the youngster. Nakamura holding the ending was no less impressive.

playing hall Candidates 2020
The playing hall almost half an hour into the round. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Radjabov-Nepomniachtchi ½-½

About one and a half hours into the round, the first game was already over. In modern chess, it is almost impossible to avoid the occasional quick and boring draw, and it took three rounds to see the first.

Radjabov, who came from a loss the other day and a bad Norway Chess tournament before the Candidates (where he lost 19 Elo points), seemed content with a quick half point today. In fact, he is known as a somewhat drawish player in general; since November 2017, the Azerbaijani has a draw percentage of 80 percent over his last 100 classical games.

Radjabov Nepomniachtchi 2022 Candidates
Radjabov and Nepomniachtchi meet at the board. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Being on plus one, there wasn't a huge incentive to take risks for Nepomniachtchi either. He did deviate from his usual recipe against the Catalan by taking White's c-pawn as early as move four, followed by the immediate 5…c5. Last year against GM Magnus Carlsen in the world championship, for example, he played more mainstream and postponed …dxc4 until move six.

In today's game, it was nonetheless theory for 16 moves, when all minor pieces got traded and a completely equal double rook endgame appeared on the board. It took the players 10 more moves to find a suitable move repetition with which they could call it a day. Thus, Radjabov maintained his +1 lifetime score against this particular opponent.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Caruana-Duda ½-½

Caruana went into the third round with the knowledge that he hadn't lost to GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda yet, while he had beaten him three times in six games. That included their most recent encounter in the 2022 Wijk aan Zee tournament when Duda lost as White.

In Wijk aan Zee a year before, Duda was Black and played the Petroff against Caruana, but today he went for the more combative Najdorf, something that he also plays regularly.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda chess Candidates
Jan-Krzysztof Duda chose the Najdorf today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Caruana went for the English Attack, and the Polish number one played it the modern way with an early ...h5, to stop White's idea of g2-g4 for the moment. 

The line has a lot of transpositions and maybe that's what confused Caruana a little, because his play, which involved bringing the knight to c6 quickly, didn't yield him any advantage. The engine showed a more ingenious way for White to get that knight to c6 (16.c4 bxc4 17.Nxc4 Qa7 18.Na5 Rc5 19.Nc6) when it has more hope of staying on that juicy square for a while.

The game quickly reached an endgame where Duda's knight was not worse than Caruana's bishop, especially when the queenside pawns became fixed.

Caruana Duda Candidates 2022
Caruana and Duda already in the endgame. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After the rooks were traded, for a moment Caruana was even a pawn down, but that was all calculated as it was clear that his active bishop would hold things together. A good but somewhat uneventful draw that kept Caruana in the shared lead.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Ding-Rapport ½-½

With the large focus on opening theory in this tournament, surprising the opponent can be hugely important. It was fascinating to see Caruana taking that to the next level the other day by playing something that he knew was dubious (10…Ng4 vs. Nepomniachtchi).

It is funny to note that Rapport, a man known for playing off-beat openings, can surprise in the opposite way: by playing an actual main line! The Grunfeld is one of the most popular and well-respected defenses against 1.d4, and Rapport had never played it before in his career.

Ding Rapport Grunfeld Candidates 2020
Nepomniachtchi and Caruana also witnessed Rapport's first Grunfeld. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Ding, on his turn, had never played the classical 7.Bc4 setup before, so that was perhaps the first small surprise for Rapport. Naturally, the Hungarian GM was well booked up and played 10…b6, which is considered to be one of the main moves there.

A well-trodden path was followed as the players copied the same moves as played in an online Giri-Nepomniachtchi game from 2020 for 17 moves. That included the typical h2-h4 push for White, which has been known for decades to be a positional theme in the Grunfeld but is now also connected to Deepmind's AlphaZero chess-playing program that showed a special love for such pawn moves.

Rapport's 17…Rfd8, also played by Nepo in that online game, looked inaccurate, however, as Ding could immediately attack it with 18.Bg5. But then the idea was revealed: Rapport decided to sacrifice an exchange on the very next move, something he must have planned when putting the rook on d8.

Did Black have enough compensation? Just a few moves later, that didn't seem the case.

Rapport Richard Candidates 2022
Rapport Richard went for a risky exchange sacrifice. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The engine liked the very subtle 22.Kf1 for White to step out of a check and threaten 23.Rc4, and Ding found it. 

The position where Ding found the strong 22.Kf1!

IM Danny Rensch commented: "We thought, there is no way he's gonna find this super weird-looking move. Turns out, Ding Liren is maybe more machine than man!"

In the diagram position, Rapport duly traded knights on e2, even though his rook was hanging on d8. Wait, what?

Well, if White takes that rook, Black will take on e4 with the queen and on g2 next, which does look scary to humans. Ding didn't like the complications that would come out of that and took back on e2 instead.

He won't be happy if he decided to check the game on the computer as the fearless engine just takes the rook, claims a +5 advantage, and says thank you very much.

Ding Liren 2022 Candidates Tournament
Ding Liren missed a big chance today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

It turned out to be the key moment of the game because Rapport managed to make some useful trades, and Ding, who also got into time trouble, at some point bailed out and forced a draw. Rapport cannot complain so far about the fortune he has had, and who knows where that can lead if he starts scoring as White?

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Ding Liren Richard Rapport 2022 Candidates Tournament
The players agreeing to a draw. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Firouzja-Nakamura ½-½

These two players had played hundreds if not thousands of times online, but this was the very first time they faced each other for a classical over-the-board game. It was also very interesting to see how Firouzja would fare in his first white game in the tournament. 

Risto Mejide chess FIDE Candidates
Risto Mejide, a famous TV personality in Spain, played the first ceremonial move. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The French-Iranian player plays 1.e4 about twice as much as 1.d4 but went for the latter this time. His 4.Qc2 move against the Nimzo-Indian defense must have come as a slight surprise, since Firouzja had only played it once, at the Asian Nations Cup in 2016 when he was 12 years old (but already rated 2475!). Also, just a month ago, he went for 4.e3 in his game with GM Leinier Dominguez at the Superbet Classic in Bucharest.

This author doesn't rule out the possibility of a connection with GM Ivan Sokolov, who has worked a lot with the Iranian team and once wrote a book solely about that 4.Qc2 move, although that was 26 years ago.

Caught off-guard, Nakamura had to invest time on the clock much earlier than his opponent. He took his first big think on 13…c5 and then also had to double-check 15...g5 a bit, as it allowed a very sharp reply which Firouzja indeed went for.

Although it was likely a temporary one, the piece 'sacrifice' 16.Nxg5!? got the viewers on the edge of their seats. It was also the first new move (but a known idea in this line), as the players deviated from a recent online game with behind the black pieces Ben Johnson, the host of the popular chess podcast Perpetual Chess.

Knight Sacrifice On g5: Every Sacrifice

When Nakamura made his 20th move, he had only 30 minutes left for the next 20, while Firouzja still had an hour and 51 minutes on the clock. His first real think only came on move 26. Modern chess!

Known as a specialist in faster time controls, Nakamura splendidly found his way through the tactical jungle despite his time deficit. He managed to liquidate to a similar endgame as he had the day before with rook and knight vs. rook and bishop, but in this case, the side with the bishop (Firouzja) had the better chances.

Hikaru Nakamura Candidates 2022
A good game by Nakamura. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The French-Iranian prodigy had to make an important decision on move 37: to continue playing with the rooks on the board, or trade. After a 13-minute think, he chose the latter, which was the most forcing continuation. But was it enough for a win?

The time situation was tricky but not dramatic for Nakamura. After Firouzja's 38.Bd8, he went under five minutes for three more moves. While Firouzja was walking around in the playing hall, commentator Rensch pulled up a Jaws reference (while humming the famous tune), noting that "great white sharks like to circle their prey before they eat them."

Luckily for Nakamura, his 39th and 40th were rather forced, so he made the time control easily in the end. In fact, he played the key move 41…c3! with hardly any thinking as well, even though he just got another hour on the clock. 

The main defensive idea became clear: Black wanted to leave White with just an a-pawn on the queenside, after which he could give his knight for the two white pawns on the kingside to reach a theoretically drawn position.

Firouzja then spent a full hour (!) on his reply 42.bxc3 and continued spending time on the clock for his next few moves.

Firouzja chess thinking
Firouzja spent a full hour on one move. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

This time it was Nakamura's turn to confidently stay away from the board; he only came back to quickly make a move and leave again, non-verbally communicating: "I got this, buddy."

Soon, Firouzja had to give up his winning attempts and as the players shook hands, he was even smiling a bit, perhaps also impressed by his opponent's resilience?

Firouzja Nakamura Candidates 2022
And the draw is agreed. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

All in all, it was a great clash that made it easy to forget that we didn't get to see a decisive game today. It was very interesting to hear about Nakamura's thoughts as he went through his game (as he does each day) on his Twitch channel. Check out Nakamura's video on this game below:

Game of the Day by Sam Shankland

The third round saw four draws but some interesting games. Ding Liren showed more good preparation with White and clearly looks like he came ready with a lot of ideas, but his actual gameplay has been lackluster. The most interesting game of the day saw Firouzja play his first game with the white pieces. He managed to put Hikaru under a lot of pressure, but ultimately was unable to win against an extremely good defense.

Firouzja smile Candidates 2022
Firouzja in good spirits afterward. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Round 3 Standings

FIDE Candidates 2022 round 3 standings

Round 4 Pairings (Tuesday)

Round 4 June 21, 2022 6 a.m. PT/15:00 CEST
Rapport - Nakamura
Nepomniachtchi - Firouzja
Duda - Radjabov
Ding - Caruana

Previous coverage:

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