Candidates R3 recap by WGM Anastasiya Karlovich
Replay R3 games:
Ding Liren – Richard Rapport 1/2-1/2
Fabiano Caruana – Jan-Krzysztof Duda 1/2-1/2
Teimour Radjabov – Ian Nepomniachtchi 1/2-1/2
Alireza Firouzja – Hikaru Nakamura 1/2-1/2
More: All Candidates news (collection) / Preview of R3 / Candidates pairings all rounds
Going into the first rest day, the tournament situation is not much clearer than it was one round ago. Two players are tied for first — Caruana and Nepomniachtchi on plus one. All games finished in a draw, even though there was no shortage of chess drama. Both Rapport and Nakamura pulled off major escapes, while Caruana almost overpressed with the White pieces.
Unfortunately, a shadow of the previous Candidates is still hanging above the current tournament after one of the on-site commentators, Jon-Ludvig Hammer, tested positive for Covid during yesterday’s broadcast. On-site interviewing is on hold and measures are reportedly being taken, although an official statement from FIDE is yet to come. We wish GM Hammer a speedy recovery and hope this story will not develop further.
Teimour Radjabov – Ian Nepomniachtchi ½-½
The third round started with a peaceful draw on board three. The first really quick draw we had in the Candidates so far — Teimour Radjabov, perhaps still exhausted from round two marathon loss against Nakamura, did not pose any real problems to his opponent. Players quickly exchanged down to a symmetrical endgame and it was only a matter of time before the game ended with a move repetition in a dead draw rook endgame.
Ding Liren – Richard Rapport ½-½
The Chinese grandmaster was perhaps the closest to a victory today. He skillfully outplayed Richard Rapport in a dynamic variation of Grünfeld. After a typical 17.h4, briefly transposing into an online rapid game between Giri and Nepomniachtchi two years ago, Rapport didn’t play precisely and was forced to give up a full exchange.
Machine-like precision from Ding led to the culmination on move 23 where he was literally one well-calculated decision away from a win. Black took a gamble on him missing the decisive 23.Qxd8! Nxc1 24.Qg5! line, forcing an immediate resignation. However Ding missed it and found himself in an endgame with an extra exchange for a pawn, clearly realizing he must’ve missed a better line instead. It was tough to convert the advantage and Ding Liren simplified the position to an equal queen endgame instead, making a draw on the spot.
Fabiano Caruana – Jan-Krzysztof Duda ½-½
It seemed like Duda putting his head right into the lion’s mouth by playing the highly theoretical and sharp Najdorf Sicilian. Surprisingly enough the American grandmaster was not in his element today, spending a lot of time in a well-known opening position, eventually heading for a marginally better (and also known) endgame.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda held his ground very comfortably and the momentum eventually switched to his side, having a dominant knight over Black’s bishop. It was Caruana’s time to put some damage control towork. Fortunately for the American, there was a way out with the cunning 38.c5! pawn sacrifice, opening diagonals for his bishop, and the game petered into yet another draw shortly after the time control.
Alireza Firouzja – Hikaru Nakamura ½-½
The longest and the most entertaining game of the third round by a far margin. Firouzja was eager to get his first White game, barely surviving two difficult Blacks in a row, and unleashed his home preparation on Nakamura. Firouzja prepared a powerful piece sacrifice, which was not only surprising for his opponent but also objectively sound.
Black strayed off the critical path on move 20, steering the game to a slightly worse endgame instead of keeping the queens on board with 20…Qd7. The torture was yet to start, though, as his French opponent must’ve had this endgame on the board as well. Slowly pushing his pawns forward, he gained a sizable advantage. Nevertheless, Nakamura is one of the most tenacious defenders on the planet and he managed to set up a devilish trap on move 36.
Had White kept the rooks on board with, say, 37.Re1, he’d keep all winning chances and a great position. But Firouzja miscalculated the light pieces ending after 37.Rxf8+? Kxf8 38.Bd8 a4, overestimating the power of his passed pawns and missing the crucial 41…c3! move on the diagram above. The Frenchman spent a full hour on his next move in search of a win, but alas, his opponent calculated everything to the very end. Nakamura blitzed out the rest of his moves, proving his fortress impenetrable and the fourth draw was agreed.
Caruana and Nepomniachtchi are leading for the moment and we might’ve reached the first rest day, but this tournament has only just begun. There’s a pack of the world’s top chess players trailing just half a point behind so we know the best is yet to come.
Tune in the broadcast on Tuesday, June 21 at 7:50 AM CDT together with Alejandro Ramirez, Yasser Seirawan and Christian Chirila for the move-by-move from round 4 live on uschesschamps.com or YouTube and Twitch channels.