Ian Nepomniachtchi scores another win with the black pieces after Firouzja spends the whole night playing hyper bullet chess online. The former challenger was close to even extending his 1.5-point lead, but Ding Liren managed to prolong his winning streak to 3 games in a row, beating Fabiano Caruana in a nerve-wracking endgame.
With that said, his hopes to threaten Nepomniachtchi’s pole position are slim — unless he takes his streak even further. The fight for the second place remains very much open with Caruana, & Nakamura tied on +1, and the question Magnus Carlsen posed couple of months ago becomes very pressing — will he defend his title if Ian Nepomniachtchi manages to clinch the tournament victory, or will he give up his spot in the World Championship match in favor of the second finisher in the Candidates?
Alireza Firouzja – Ian Nepomniachtchi 0-1
One of the key games of the round was opened by Ex-Real Madrid player Predrag Mijatovic, who made the first symbolic move for Alireza.
Alireza Firouzja made today’s headlines in very early hours of the day already, playing hyper bullet games (30 seconds for each player), finishing his night session a couple of minutes before 6 AM local time.
From the developments of his afternoon game, one could certainly come to a conclusion the unusual routine and lack of sleep had an impact. Firouzja lashed out against Nepomniachtchi’s solid Petroff with the move 16.g4 and then doubled down on his aggressive strategy with 17.h4. That was pretty much all Black needed to precisely exploit his weaknesses and skillfully convert the game into another point.
We managed to catch Nepomniachtchi for a short interview right after the game: “I could not understand what he was doing, but clearly he’s not showing anything close to his normal chess. You can’t really push like this without any development”.
Nepomniachtchi calculated a couple of tactical lines, converting into an endgame with 3 healthy pawns for an exchange. His light pieces and strong bishop pair absolutely dominated the board, forcing Firouzja to resign on move 35.
Teimour Radjabov – Jan-Krzysztof Duda ½-½
This encounter was the shortest one. Jan-Krzysztof Duda gradually equalized, step by step swapping most of the pieces and eventually agreeing a draw in a completely symmetrical rook endgame. Not the most enthusiastic performance from either side, but, unfortunately, we might witness more such games as the tournament is nearing its end and there’s only so much left to play for.
Hikaru Nakamura – Richard Rapport ½-½
Nakamura might’ve seemed to be pressing at some point of the game, but from a higher point of view there was hardly any real danger of Rapport losing. Right after the opening Rapport found himself in a very comfortable situation, easily solving all problems with the Sveshnikov Sicilian. At some point, his position seemed even slightly better, yet he opted for simplifications and ended up with 3 vs 2 pawns in a light pieces endgame.
Nevertheless, the smallest material deficit was not enough to prove decisive and Nakamura’s edge was just academic. 50 moves later, Rapport still did not manage to blunder anything and finally saved a draw, at the price of couple of hours of slightly unnecessary chess torture.
The longest and the most tense game — a win for either side would give them a huge boost. Ding Liren has been more than keeping up with Caruana’s Ruy Lopez preparation.He slipped up in the late middlegame, missing Caruana’s brilliant 33.Nf5! Rxb2 34.Nxd6! trick, winning material, and it seemed as if the Chinese was about to collapse.
Yet he managed to put up tremendous resistance, with Caruana missing a couple of direct options to speed up his strong initiative, namely the brilliant 36.b4!, sacrificing a pawn for a attack. After that, Ding managed the defending task perfectly, liquidating Caruana’s advantage bit by bit. And when it was time to make a draw, the game suddenly entered a completely new phase instead.
Fabiano Caruana blundered his precious passed pawn on e7 with the unfortunate 57.Be3? move, and then missed a golden opportunity to save his position with the 61.Bxg5! piece sacrifice just after the second time control. After not managing to spot the perpetual check, things unfortunately got worse for the disappointed American, and the nail-biter game ended in Ding’s victory.
Replay the broadcast from round 11 here.
Mathematically, Ian Nepomniachtchi is not there yet, but with 3 rounds to go and a massive 1.5-point lead, it would be a disaster for him not to clinch the tournament victory, and a miracle for Ding to catch up. Yet, who would’ve imagined Ding would be in sole second, three rounds ago, when he was still at the bottom of the leaderboard.
The live coverage with grandmasters Alejandro Ramirez, Yasser Seirawan and International Master Dorsa Derakshani continues tomorrow at 7:50 CDT on uschesschamps.com or YouTube and Twitch.