Nepomniachtchi Closer To Victory After Drawing With Caruana
Caruana and Nepomniachtchi agree to a draw. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi Closer To Victory After Drawing With Caruana

| 115 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi survived the important clash with GM Fabiano Caruana in round nine of the 2022 Candidates Tournament on Monday. The Russian grandmaster held the draw from a difficult position based on deep preparation from Caruana, who is still a point behind with five rounds to go.

GM Hikaru Nakamura lost to GM Teimour Radjabov, who scored his first win in a classical game since October 2019. Two more players won their first game in the tournament: GM Alireza Firouzja against GM Richard Rapport and GM Ding Liren vs. Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

How to watch the 2022 Candidates Tournament

Coverage of round 10 begins on Wednesday, June 28 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.

In another wild round at the Candidates, three players won their first game of the event. Ding, Firouzja, and Radjabov will all be quite happy, even though it came a bit too late for all of them. With two losses in a row, Duda is the only player left without a victory.

The biggest story of the day, however, was the one game that ended in a draw. Nepomniachtchi holding his game against Caruana could very well be a key result in the eventual outcome, although there are still five rounds to go and the American player will be the last to stop believing in his chances.

Caruana-Nepomniachtchi ½-½

As commentator GM Daniel Naroditsky pointed out in the broadcast, Nepomniachtchi means "the one who doesn't remember," but it was Caruana who needed to have a "short-term memory problem" and forget about his loss in the previous round.

The big question was whether the American player had found something good enough against the Petroff to play for a win, or whether he would perhaps play an entirely different first move. But no, it was 1.e4, and he did come up with something quite impressive.

Position after 11.Nh4.

11.Nh4!? was virtually a novelty with just one game in the database among two players with a rating in the 1600s. In this position 11.Nc3 is much more common and was also played in one of Nepomniachtchi's world championship games last year but Caruana had also used it to beat GM Vishy Anand in a blitz game last month.

Caruana Nepomniachtchi Candidates 2022
Firouzja and Ding are interested in Caruana's novelty. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi had probably looked at it but had to dig deep in his memory. Staying true to the meaning of his name, he revealed afterward: "I couldn't recall any of my prep because surely I have some but I just decided to play on my own, which I think was not the optimal way."

He spent almost nine minutes on 11…Be6, and uncharacteristically continued thinking on each of the following moves, leading to a clock advantage for Caruana of 49 minutes by move 17. Especially his 17.g3 was impressive, allowing doubled h-pawns but also inviting the move 17...Bf6 with wild complications.

That was also the engine's top choice and better than Nepomniachtchi's 17...Nd6, which Caruana felt was dubious.

Caruana Nepomniachtchi Candidates 2022
Nepomniachtchi trying to remember his notes on 11.Nh4. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

White had two good options there. 17.Qe2 seemed the most natural, but included a tough line where White wins a pawn but gives it back right away. 17.Qa4! was the somewhat nasty alternative ("extremely unpleasant" - Nepomniachtchi) that Caruana chose after 32 minutes. After Nepomniachtchi's quick reply he still had 20 minutes more, but the time advantage was shrinking.

Position after 17.Qa4!

Another big decision came on move 22. Should he go for the concrete line with 22.Ne7+ or play 22.Bf4 first? Caruana went for the latter and still had a chance to throw in that check. He did, but by that time he had less time on the clock than his opponent, who had the fortune of having to play quite a few semi-forced moves while Caruana constantly had choices.

The key moment of the game came on the next move.

Position after 23...Kf7.

Caruana had looked at 24.Bc2 and eventually went for 24.Bxf5, where the engine preferred a third option: the nice retreat 24.Bf1! and White still has good winning chances. Nepomniachtchi had seen 24.Bc2 and 24.Bf1 and felt both were quite promising for White.

Ian Nepomniachtchi close-up
Nepomniachtchi knew he was a bit in trouble today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Taking on f5 led to some exchanges and simplified Nepomniachtchi's defensive task. Caruana noted after the game that Black "drew by one move," where he meant 27...Nd3! At that point, it was Caruana who was getting in time trouble with 12 moves to make in less than five minutes, while Nepomniachtchi had a bit more than half an hour. He had lost the preparation battle but did much better in the time management department.

Play Like Nepo

After 31... Bf8 the game reached a stage where Caruana probably just wanted to force a draw, but even that wasn't easy. He dropped to two and a half minutes for the remaining eight moves, and after 32.Re2 Nepomniachtchi could suddenly think about playing for more. However, he felt like he had had enough and decided to force the draw.

Fabiano Caruana standing Candidates 2022
Caruana came close, but couldn't convert a big advantage in a queenless middlegame that was always very complicated. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After the players gave their interviews, they first had to undergo doping control. In chess, such controls tend to be performed only at the highest level of tournaments and are done so that the sport is in conformity with the Olympic Charter and the IOC regulations.

Firouzja-Rapport 1-0

Before his game in round eight, Rapport said that he “didn't really look at chess” and it’s possible that he did not prepare much for his round nine game either. He thought for two minutes on his first move and spent quite some time on move eight which was still a well-known position in the Ruy Lopez, Anti-Berlin.

Richard Rapport Candidates 2022
Richard Rapport thought for two minutes on his first move. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Still, with many natural moves being played, only 11…Bg4 was new. It turned out that Rapport was insisting on keeping his bishop on the g1-a7 diagonal whereas Black usually puts it on c7 in this line, which is more passive but also more solid as it overprotects e5.

Firouzja: "I was fortunate he didn't remember the theory correctly."

While the Hungarian player was pushing pawns on the queenside, Firouzja opened the f-file on the kingside. Thanks to a nice little central tactic, the French-Iranian player grabbed the initiative but then failed to find the best follow-up.

Position after 19...Qxd4.

20.Bd2! would have been quite strong, while he played 20.Be3, which was only enough for equality thanks to the excellent 21…Be6 reply by Rapport. The threat of attacking the queen was stronger than the execution there.

Soon after, both players didn't seem to be interested in a move repetition that was possible. Rapport had been postponing castling, and after White got a bishop to c5, he wasn't going to any time soon. Even so, Firouzja suspected he might actually be a bit worse.

Alireza Firouzja Candidates 2022
Firouzja finally wins! Photo: Maria Emelianova/

That didn't last long, as Rapport soon started playing inaccurately, allowing White a strong initiative. Firouzja, who had woken up a bit tired after his seven-hour game the other day, was in his element and finally managed to win a game.

"It feels very nice, because it's been a long time since I won a game," he said while visiting the studio of our broadcast. "I had so many good positions in this tournament but unfortunately I couldn't make it work. Today I'm very happy because he's a very strong player and he's in very good shape, so this win, it counts."

As commentator GM Robert Hess noted, Firouzja's win can only be good news for Caruana. If the youngest player in the field is getting into shape, who knows what he can do in his game with White against Nepomniachtchi in round 11?

When IM Danny Rensch noted that he'll have a chance for revenge for his loss in round four against Nepomniachtchi, Firouzja smiled: "Yes, I'm looking forward to that!"

Firouzja Hess Candidates
Firouzja with Hess in the studio. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Firouzja said that he has been enjoying the tournament a lot. While playing tennis with his brother on rest days, he has been having a good time in the playing hall as well: "It feels great actually to play every day against all these top players at their best. It's a very tough thing to do but I'm really enjoying it."

Radjabov-Nakamura 1-0

After a streak of 37 winless classical games, Radjabov won his first game since October 2019. Incidentally, it was also his first-ever classical win against Nakamura (including three losses and 12 draws).

Teimour Radjabov Candidates 2022
Teimour Radjabov finally knows how to win again. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In another Ruy Lopez, Anti-Berlin variation, the Azerbaijani surprised with the move 9.Qc2, where 9.Qe2 or 9.Bxc6 are much more common. Carlsen had played it once though, in a blitz game vs. Kramnik in 2017.

Soon after, it seems that 10.a4 confused Nakamura a bit, who started thinking there. It was already quite the achievement from Radjabov to get his opponent out of his preparation since Nakamura's openings have been very impressive so far. 

Nakamura repeated moves once, but Radjabov didn't play along and continued the game, having a nice time advantage of about 20 minutes on the clock.

Position after 13.Bb5.

The key moment came early. With 13…Bg4, sacrificing a pawn, Nakamura took a risky decision and he criticized himself afterward: "Probably I just had the wrong mindset. I was trying to create something, trying to catch Fabiano I guess. Probably it wasn't great. I think I never had enough counterplay for the pawn that I gave up."

Radjabov Nakamura Candidates 2022
Both players know that Black is lost. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

What followed was a remarkable one-sided game, and, in fact, just an excellent game from Radjabov, who held on to the pawn, avoided counterplay throughout, and eventually decided matters in the endgame.

Here's Nakamura's analysis of the game:

Ding-Duda 1-0

It was a sad day for Duda, who lost his second game in a row, but a good one for Ding. Having missed chances in earlier games, it was about time that the top seed in the tournament scored a victory. In doing so, Ding caught Nakamura in third place, with the two being a point behind Caruana. 

Ding Duda Candidates 2022
Ding beats Duda to score his first win. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The winning advantage came late in this game, as Duda actually defended really well from the black side of an English opening. Shortly before the time control, the Polish GM missed a not-too-difficult draw starting with 36...Nh5, but as he was getting somewhat low on time (seven minutes for his remaining five moves), he missed another chance, and then a third on move 40.

After the time control was reached, Duda was looking at a lost position. He tried his best, but on move 61 he had to throw in the towel, meaning he is now alone in last place. There might be more Candidates tournaments to come for this big talent from Poland.

After a rest day, play continues on Wednesday. In the remaining schedule, Nepomniachtchi has White vs. Radjabov, Black vs. Firouzja, White vs. Nakamura, White vs. Rapport, and Black vs. Duda. Caruana plays Black vs. Duda, White vs. Ding, Black vs. Rapport, Black vs. Radjabov, and White vs. Firouzja.

"A point is quite a lot with five rounds to go, but not insurmountable," Caruana said. Nepomniachtchi: "The tension never goes away until the last round."

Round 9 Standings

FIDE Candidates 2022 round 9 standings

Round 10 Pairings

Round 10 June 29, 2022 6 a.m. PT/15:00 CEST
Rapport - Ding
Duda - Caruana
Nepomniachtchi - Radjabov
Nakamura - Firouzja

Previous coverage:

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