Today in Chess: FIDE Candidates 2022 Round 8 Recap
A tense day in Madrid — Hikaru Nakamura took down Fabiano Caruana in an epic battle, while the leader of the tournament, Nepomniachtchi secured his lead with a quick draw. Everything is still open, though, and we might even have more players re-entering the race for the World Championship match spot depending on how the ninth round plays out.
Ian Nepomniachtchi – Ding Liren ½-½
At the beginning of today’s big events, Ian Nepomniachtchi decided to give up his white pieces and make a short draw. There was no tension in the notoriously boring Four Knights endgame whatsoever, regardless of Ding’s efforts to shake things up. An understandable decision for the former challenger, as he’s scored more than enough victories already and he saved energy for the critical encounter with Caruana tomorrow.
Hikaru Nakamura – Fabiano Caruana 1-0
Nakamura was thirsty for revenge against his countryman after the painful loss in round 1, while Caruana was in need of points even with the black pieces; and we were set for a spectacular fight. The opening featured a long and complicated line of the Open Spanish, with Fabiano Caruana showing an interesting idea on move 20, inviting Nakamura into a rook sacrifice line after 21.Bg5 c4 22.Bxd8 cxb3 23.Bh4 bxa2 24.Ra1 Bb1.
Nevertheless, Nakamura refused to go for such complications and quickly played 21.Ng3. The winner of the game mentioned he had a look at sharp lines of the Open Spanish just before the game and that there were “some tricks” after Bg5, but it still remains unclear whether his game move was a product of deep preparation or just very well and quickly played bluff.
Black did not meet Ng3 move with the critical 22…e4 line and moved his c-pawn forward instead — and things started to go downhill from there. White started out with a small advantage, cleverly increasing it by pushing h2-h4 forward with queens still on the board, and Caruana’s position simply collapsed.
Nakamura got a commanding position with his two pieces dominating Caruana’s rook, and it seemed as if resignation was imminent before the second time control. Yet Nakamura erred with 60.Kf4, the control move, even though he still had more than enough time on the clock, and Caruana got a golden opportunity to pose White serious practical problems, or potentially even save the whole game.
Unfortunately for the defender, Caruana went astray at the critical moment and opted for 65…Rf6+? instead of the 65…Rh1 maneuver, which would pose Nakamura serious practical problems. After this misstep, White was back on track and comfortably led the game to the victory
Richard Rapport – Jan-Krzysztof Duda 1-0
Both players seemed to have a solid start into the tournament, yet they eventually became very shaky. Duda started to fall apart in round 6, losing to Nepomniachtchi, while Rapport collapsed against the same opponent one round ago. Luckily for the Hungarian grandmaster leading the white pieces, his play was dubious in the opening only. He opened with an interesting version of Four Knights with 4.g3 (an opening which was featured in the Nepomniachtchi-Ding game as well), following up with the mysterious 8.b3 move.
From the positional point of view, his position was dubious, and he doubled down on the risky strategy by opening up the kingside with the g4-g5 push. The turning point came around move 22, when Jan-Krzysztof Duda opted for the artistic 22…Ng5?! instead of just solidly defending his king with 22…g6, stabilizing his position and securing an edge thanks to the better pawn structure and White’s overextension.
Instead, the Polish star opened the h-file for Rapport’s mating attack, and added another blunder on top with 24…Rae7, blocking his king’s escape route. Rapport started mounting a deadly attack and there was no way back after this. Duda sped things up, missing a knight jump into the center which ruined black’s defence. A nice comeback win for Rapport who’s back on 50%. Read more: Rapport on the R7 game vs Nepo: “I should probably throw away my computer”
Alireza Firouzja – Teimour Radjabov ½-½
Funnily enough, the 74-move battle of two Americans analyzed above was not the longest game of the round — Alireza Firouzja has been trying to breach Radjabov’s defenses for a full 7 hours. Always keeping at least the initiative if not an advantage, the young Frenchman finally did not manage to break through and the long maneuvering Italian game eventually ended in a draw on move 93.
Fabiano Caruana is in a practically must-win situation tomorrow — should he beat Ian Nepomniachtchi, it can suddenly be anybody’s tournament again as Hikaru Nakamura’s inching towards the first place as well. And he’s facing the struggling Radjabov, even if playing the black pieces.
Join us for the show with Alejandro Ramirez, Yasser Seirawan and Dorsa Derakshani tomorrow at 7:50 CDT on uschesschamps.com or our YouTube and Twitch.