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Nepomniachtchi Dodges Bullet, Maintains Lead In Madrid
Nakamura missed a chance today vs. Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Nepomniachtchi Dodges Bullet, Maintains Lead In Madrid

PeterDoggers
| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

In round five, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi was in serious trouble for a while against GM Hikaru Nakamura but escaped with a draw and kept his half-point lead at the 2022 Candidates Tournament. On the second day where all games were drawn, GM Ding Liren missed a chance to score his first win.

How to watch the 2022 Candidates Tournament

Coverage of round 6 begins on Thursday, June 23 at 6 a.m. Pacific, 9 a.m. Eastern, and 15:00 Central Europe. You can watch the 2022 Candidates live on Chess.com/TV and on our Twitch, or catch all our live broadcasts on YouTube.com/ChesscomLive. You can also keep up with all the details here on our live events platform.


Many chess fans might be looking at the results and move on. No win? Again??

Hidden behind those four draws, there was a lot of drama as well as some great chess. At the end of the day, Nepomniachtchi was the big winner as he is the one who profits most from the standings not changing at all.

Nakamura street selfie
Nakamura meeting some of his many fans before the round. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Caruana-Rapport ½-½

The shortest game of the round was also the most spectacular. Caruana went into this battle with a 3-1 lifetime score, but the most recent results were in Rapport's favor. The players drew at the 2022 Superbet Romania last month, while the Hungarian GM won as Black in January of this year in Wijk aan Zee.

Caruana's first think came after 5...a6!?, a completely normal move that took him by surprise because somehow Rapport had never played it yet in that position. He had only gone for 5...Qc7 or 5...Nf6 before, while against Duda in the first round, he didn't get the chance because 5.Bf4 was played. 

Caruana Rapport Candidates 2022
Rapport got Caruana thinking as early as move six. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

After 10 minutes, Caruana played the exciting 6.g4, an idea first developed by the Estonian top grandmaster Paul Keres (1916-1975) against the Scheveningen variation of the Sicilian. Keres was ahead of his time because it was mostly in the 1980s and 90s that the strength of this pawn push was truly appreciated, after which that particular line became much less popular.

The position after Caruana's 6.g4.

You could say that the Taimanov variation, named after the Russian GM Mark Taimanov (1926-2016), took over from the Scheveningen in popularity since that time. One of the recent developments there is the line 6.Be3 Qc7 7.g4, but Caruana pushed the pawn a move earlier. It had once been tried by Carlsen in a blitz game too, by the way.

Caruana Rapport Candidates 2022
A short game that required deep focus. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

The 6.g4-move, the most aggressive option White has according to Caruana, is all about chasing away the black knight on f6 while gaining space, but Rapport played his king's knight to e7 instead—almost instantly, even though afterward he claimed to have never seen 6.g4 before.

Rapport: "My so-called creativity comes from the fact that I am out of book by move six already." 

My so-called creativity comes from the fact that I am out of book by move six already.
—GM Richard Rapport 

With 8.Nb3, Caruana stepped away from a possible trade of knights, after which the question was whether Black's knights were stepping on each other's toes. Rapport solved that issue right away with 8...Na5, approved by the engine, but taking on b3 next seemed to help White a little.

12.Rf1 was subtle, and with 15.Rd1 Caruana fully abandoned castling rights. He was going all-in.

Caruana Candidates 2022
Caruana was once again willing to take risks. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Rapport proved up to the task, as he went for the most direct counterplay on the queenside based on pressure along the a5-e1 diagonal combined with weakening White's "base" on b2. The board was on fire, but the engine showed the typical 0.00 evaluation. It had already seen Rapport's follow-up: 19...e5!, which forced a move repetition. 

Caruana said he had missed this move in advance: "I saw it once he played 17...a3 quickly. I understood he was going to play 19...e5, but at that point I didn't see any way to avoid the draw."

A battle that had the potential to become the game of the tournament sadly ended prematurely, but it was fun while it lasted.

Sam Shankland: Game of the Day

The fifth round of the Candidates saw all draws again, but with a lot of missed chances. Ding is clearly very strong and very off form—this is really the only explanation for a guy who is coming better prepared than everyone, getting good positions, having chances to win, and then squandering them. Even though he is on a minus-one score, I could easily see him staging a comeback if he can start cashing in when those moments come. In what was a painful game for me to witness, Hikaru also let some chances slip today against the leader, and a win against Nepo would have blown the standings wide open. But, for today's game, I'll be covering an interesting Sicilian between Caruana and Rapport.

Afterward, Caruana felt that he had played a bit risky. "I didn't feel like I had full control of the game, but I also at some point felt I might be better."

"I was expecting any result actually, so a draw was one of them," Rapport duly noted. He argued that, since both players were more or less on their own by move six, "in a way we didn't play such a short game as it seems."

Firouzja-Duda ½-½

In what was only his second white game in the tournament, Firouzja was clearly looking for blood today. He had beaten Duda four times before and never lost to the Polish GM yet. 

Firouzja Duda Candidates 2022
Firouzja and Duda meet at the board. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It was therefore no surprise that Duda chose to play solid: no Najdorf this time, but a Petroff instead. The 2021 World Cup winner plays 1...e5 about once every four games where White goes 1.e4, but if he does, he normally always follows up with 2...Nf6.

Duda clearly feels at home in this opening as well: he drew an online game earlier this year with the world champion and today's game followed another one of his earlier games for 15 moves.

Afterward, Duda said that because of this, he was surprised that his opponent was "burning so much time."

Alireza Firouzja chess
Firouzja needed much time in a not unexpected Petroff. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

In that earlier game, Duda went for a similar action on the queenside as today. Apparently, the Polish number one likes the dynamic chances for Black that arise from there, and with good reason. 

Using some nice geometry on the board, he could basically trade off a whole bunch of pieces and pawns and take the speed train to Draw Station. That's "job done" if you're Black, while it's often just very tough to get something against the Petroff as White.

Firouzja was not smiling this time and looked quite disappointed after the game. At least he gets to play White tomorrow, against Caruana.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda chess
A smooth and solid draw as Black for Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi ½-½

For their 10th classical game (two wins each, six draws), the Petroff was what Naka worked on the most. As the sole leader, Nepomniachtchi was most likely looking for something solid, and besides, he played it three times against Carlsen in the world championship.

"Obviously I suspected Ian to play something in this Petroff," said Nakamura. "I think I got everything I wanted although I don't know what the objective evaluation is."

Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi Candidates 2022
Nepomniachtchi played the Petroff as well. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Whereas Carlsen played 8.Nbd2 in one of those games, Naka chose the old main line with 8.c4 which he had played once before, six years ago vs. GM Varuzhan Akobian at the 2016 U.S. Championship.

Nepomniachtchi started thinking on both his 13th and 14th moves, and with the latter (14…Bf8), he deviated from that Nakamura-Akobian game. Not much was going on, it seemed, but then the Russian GM suddenly made a big mistake with 16...Qg4, played after just 14 seconds.

GM Robert Hess, who joined the Chess.com commentary for the first time today, said: "Unrecognizable decision-making, but it is something that plagued him in the past."

Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi Candidates 2022
An unexpected mistake early in the game by Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

However, this time it wasn't just a case of playing too fast. Well, Nepomniachtchi did play too fast perhaps, but that was because he got his preparation confused. In another variation, this Qe4-Qg4 actually works, he explained afterward: "It clearly wasn't supposed to happen; I clearly mixed up lines quite badly."

I clearly mixed up lines quite badly.
—GM Ian Nepomniachtchi

As Nakamura played 18.h3, it started to dawn on Nepomniachtchi, who suddenly realized what he had done while holding his head in his left hand, his right hand spinning a white pawn. Meanwhile, Caruana was seen next to the board, looking with a special interest. Could he catch the leader today?

Nakamura continued professionally, repeating moves once to get closer to the time control. He was a bit down on time: 41 minutes vs. an hour for his opponent on move 22.

The engine really liked White's position, and Nepomniachtchi knew he had escaped today when he said: "I never saw something decisive for White, but it is clear that White is near the win."

As the game progressed, it seemed Nakamura did not have enough time to find the most precise moves and keep his opponent under pressure. Nepomniachtchi, on his turn, was finding excellent defensive moves.

Defending difficult positions

White's advantage slowly slipped away and by move 32, Nakamura was shaking his head and looking very disappointed when he went for the move repetition.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

Nakamura Candidates 2022
A disappointed Nakamura after the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

As far as missed chances are concerned, 23.Nh4! was perhaps a bit computerese, but Nakamura was right on point when he mentioned 25.Nd4! instead of 25.Nd2 in the postgame interview, calling it a "sudden brain slip."

You can check out Nakamura's full thoughts on this game in this excellent video below:

Radjabov-Ding ½-½

Ding today missed a big chance to finally take revenge for the World Cup final in 2019, which he lost to Radjabov in the playoff. Indirectly, it was that event that Radjabov got to this tournament.

Radjabov Candidates 2022
Radjabov arriving at the venue. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Ding had played the system with an early ...Bb4+ against the Catalan before, including a draw with Caruana at the 2018 Candidates. So, Radjabov had something to work on in the morning, but he still couldn't get any real edge out of the opening.

The natural-looking 11…c5 was the first new move, although by then only two earlier games were known. 12.a3 looked critical there, now that the communication between Black's queen and bishop was disturbed, but Radjabov chose another way forward.

As the Azerbaijani pushed both his e- and f-pawns, he did weaken his king a little and Ding's 19...Qb7! revealed that. Black was looking good there, and Ding's advantage was growing as he continued maneuvering his pieces.

Ding Liren Candidates 2022
Ding Liren got a promising position today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

One inaccuracy by Ding went unnoticed as Radjabov decided not to try 36.Nf5!?, which should be enough to hold. However, then another one followed: with one move to make until the time control, Ding was looking very nervous and eventually didn't go for the winning move 40...Bxd4.

When Radjabov came to the board, his face revealed relief, and rightly so. Black's advantage was completely gone, and it was not difficult anymore to hold the game to a draw.

Annotations by GM Rafael Leitao.

So that's two missed chances today, for Ding and Nakamura, who play each other in tomorrow's sixth round. It will be interesting to see how they will approach this game, after their disappointing result today. Unlike you would expect, both will play with the same color as today, so it's Nakamura vs. Ding.

Round 5 Standings

2022 Candidates Round 5 Standings

Round 6 Pairings

Round 6 June 23, 2022 6 a.m. PT/15:00 CEST
Radjabov - Rapport
Firouzja - Caruana
Nakamura - Ding
Nepomniachtchi - Duda


Previous coverage:

PeterDoggers
Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by Chess.com in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!


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