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Caruana and Nepomniachtchi shine in R1 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament

Candidates R1 recap by WGM Anastasiya Karlovich

Replay games, analysis:  Jan-Krzysztof Duda – Richard Rapport / Ding Liren – Ian Nepomniachtchi / Fabiano Caruana – Hikaru Nakamura / Teimour Radjabov – Alireza Firouzja Video: Nakamura analyses his game against Caruana / A miniature in Ding – Nepomniachtchi

Round 2 live: Rapport – Firouzja / Nakamura – Radjabov / Nepomniachtchi – Caruana / Duda – Ding Liren

MoreAll Candidates news (collection) / Preview of R1 / Candidates pairings all rounds

Eight of the world’s best players have gathered at the spectacular Palace of Santoña in Madrid, Spain, to compete for the right to challenge the World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. The lead up to one of the most anticipated events of this year was rocky to say the least, as Ding Liren jumped in at the last moment.

Ding Liren – Ian Nepomniachtchi 0:1

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen’s challenger in the 2021 World Championship match in Dubai, opened the tournament with a bang, beating the second seed. Fearless attacking strategy, starting with the 13…Qh5 move, offering a pawn sacrifice, paid off in a brilliant win. Starting with the move 17.Na4, his Chinese opponent started losing the thread, missing chances to get counterplay with b4-b5. Ding Liren soon found himself under a mating attack on the kingside, and Nepomniachtchi finished the game off with a nice rook sacrifice.

The 28…hxg2! 29.Rxe8+ Kg7 30.Kxg2 Rxf2+ line, checkmating, just seconds before the decisive 28…hxg2! move appeared on the board.

The winner himself remained very modest: “A win is always a win, but I guess it was quite smooth. Highest-rated or lowest-rated, everyone here is a pretty strong player, it’s not such a great difference. It’s great that I managed to score.” 

Photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Teimour Radjabov – Alireza Firouzja ½-½

The Iranian-born French chess prodigy, handpicked by the world champion himself as one of his potential rivals for the title, clearly wanted to take Radjabov into muddy waters, even if playing the Black pieces. But the offbeat 4…dxc4 5.e4 b5 line in the Queen’s gambit, carrying significant strategic risk, turned out to be a double-edged weapon. Teimour Radjabov, who’s been in a bad shape lately, finishing second to last in Norway Chess earlier this month, stood firm and gradually gained the upper hand.

Forcing Firouzja’s king to take a dangerous walk into the center of the board, the Azeri grandmaster let his young opponent off the hook on move 31, allowing him to simplify matters by exchanging pieces on e4. Radjabov eventually won a pawn in a rook endgame, but it was no difficult task for the Frenchman to prove the theoretically drawn endgame on the board. 

Photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Jan-Krzysztof Duda – Richard Rapport ½-½

For a long time it seemed like Duda, the rising Polish star who eliminated Carlsen in World Cup 2021, would be the first Candidate to score a full point, but alas. Richard Rapport, still representing Hungary before his transfer to Romanian chess federation is finalized, got into trouble as early as on move 8, carelessly weakening the dark squares with 8…g6. Computer precision play from the Polish grandmaster led to him being on the verge of winning a couple of moves later, missing the final touch of spotting 16.Rxd1! Bxa2 17.Nb5!.

A superior endgame arose, but then Richard Rapport proved to be stronger in the game of nerves. Jan-Krzysztof could’ve fixed his advantage with the solidifying 33.a4 move but got tempted by a chance to win a pawn instead. This in fact proved to be a cunning trap laid by Black, disrupting White’s coordination and leaving him with just an academic edge he was unable to prove. Clearly disappointed Duda was the last to leave the playing hall today, after exhausting all the possibilities in the position and exchanging down to almost no pieces on the board.

Photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Fabiano Caruana  – Hikaru Nakamura 1:0

Finally, perhaps the most anticipated game of the round. Fabiano Caruana, qualifying from the 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss, facing Hikaru Nakamura, who made a huge comeback to over-the-board chess by winning this year’s FIDE Grand Prix. Caruana obtained a slight edge from the opening which eventually petered out, but the critical moment came at move 21. 

Nakamura’s castling to the exposed kingside opened a whole Pandora’s box of problems for his weakened king. The concept proved to be too adventurous even for one of the most resourceful players on the planet and Caruana never really let the advantage slip, forcing his opponent to resign on move 50.

In the post-mortem, Caruana admitted he did not know where exactly things went from bad to worse for Nakamura, but was confident he was safely playing for a win after Black castled. He’ll face Nepomniachtchi with the Black pieces tomorrow and had nothing but praise for his play today: “It looked like he just blew him off the board”. The gloves will be off tomorrow, though, as we’ll have a clash of tournament leaders as early as in round two!

Round 2 of the 2022 Candidates will take place Saturday, June 18 starting at 7:50 AM CDT. Catch all the action with live grandmaster commentators Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila, and Alejandro Ramirez on and on YouTube and Twitch channels.

Results of Round 1

Standings after round 1

Photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

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