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R9 of the FIDE Candidates Chess 2022 finishes with three decisive results

FIDE Candidates Chess 2022 R9 recap by Milan Dinic

Round 9 results:
Alireza Firouzja – Richard Rapport 1-0
Teimour Radjabov – Hikaru Nakamura 1-0
Fabiano Caruana – Ian Nepomniachtchi 1/2-1/2
Ding Liren – Jan-Krzysztof Duda 1-0

Ian Nepomniachtchi remains in the lead on 6.5/9, a full point ahead of Fabiano Caruana. A step behind, on 4.5, is Hikaru Nakamura joined by Ding Liren who gradually made progress and has now scored his first win having had a very poor start to the tournament. Following their first victories in the tournament, Teimour Radjabov and Alireza Firouzja are on four points, where they join Richard Rapport who lost today. On three points out of nine, Jan-Krzysztof Duda is alone on the bottom of the board.

It was a day of big upsets and decisive outcomes in Madrid as three out of four games ended with a victory, while there was just one draw.

The derby of the round was between Fabiano Caruana who had to win against tournament leader Ian Nepomniachtchi if he wanted to equalise for first place. The two drew their first game, in round two. Following a difficult day in round eight where he lost after seven hours of play, Caruana had a challenging task as White in today’s game. The American came out with excellent home preparation in the Petrov and got an edge straight out of the opening. However, Nepomniachtchi managed to overcome the complications, showing resourcefulness in defence and equalising with a sequence of only moves as Caruana lacked precision in keeping things tense. A draw was obviously a satisfactory result for the leader of the event and somewhat a disappointment for Caruana.

Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

This game was a direct duel for first place. With this draw, Nepomniachtchi secured that he enters the remaining stage of the tournament with a full point ahead of his runner-up Caruana, his most serious contender for winning the Candidates.

The events of the day also played into Nepomniachtchi’s hand as the only two other players who stood reasonable chances of making their way to the top – Hikaru Nakamura and Richard Rapport – lost their games. With a day of rest ahead, Nepomniachtchi is in a very comfortable position.

Richard Rapport lost as Black to Alireza Firouzja in what is the first win for the youngest player of the event. In the Berlin defence, White captured the initiative early on. While Firouzja didn’t play in the most precise way and even allowed Black chances to turn the tables, in the critical moment of the game Rapport made an error after which he could no longer recover. With a weak pawn structure, exposed king in the centre and undeveloped rook on h8, Rapport stood no chance to defend from Firouzja’s attack and he resigned after 41 moves.

Rapport is again back in the red, while Firouzja has finally broken the spell and scored his first victory in his first Candidates ever. The 19-year-old’s biggest challenge is fighting his own nerves. With this victory, Firouzja has shown that he has the strength to pull through difficult times. This will hopefully help boost his confidence and stability.

Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Teimour Radjabov also has reasons to celebrate as he scored not only his first victory in this tournament but the first win since 2019. Playing with white pieces he surprised Hikaru Nakamura in the Berlin and gained initiative early in the game. Nakamura offered a repetition of moves twice, but Radjabov refused. This was already an early sign of things to come. The position transpired to an endgame where White had two unopposed runners on the queenside. Nakamura tried to create some complications but without any success.

Radjabov’s last victory was on 2nd October 2019, in the World Cup against Ding Liren. Today’s success is a great boost for his self-confidence and, hopefully, an opener for his creativity and innate dynamism which, blended with his newfound solidity, make him an extremely difficult opponent to face, regardless of where he is on the scoreboard.

With this defeat, Nakamura is back to 50 percent, a point behind Caruana and two points behind Nepomniachtchi. Had the game gone a different way and black ended up winning, Nakamura would be sharing second place. It will be interesting to see how and if Nakamura recovers from this.

Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

The last game of the day to finish was between Ding Liren and Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Following an even position in the neo-Catalan, White transpired into a slightly better endgame in which Duda did not demonstrate necessary accuracy. Ding managed to preserve his a-passer which eventually decided the game. To make things worse for Duda, White put his rook on c7, threatening to take the pawn on f7 and completely cut off black’s king while assisting the advance of his a-runner. Duda was struggling, but Ding was confident and, in the end, got his king to help provide support for the pawn on the a-file. With all options exhausted, Black accepted defeat after more than five hours of play.

Duda has clearly crashed and seems he cannot recover from the defeat in round six to Nepomniachtchi. In the last four games, he won just half a point. Ding, on the other hand – finally won a game and did so in a convincing fashion. With 4.5/9, he is now in the middle on 50 percent, the same as Nakamura. While it is unlikely he will manage to achieve much in this tournament, this victory could help Ding get back into his element and score some more points in the remaining five rounds.

Tuesday the 28th of June is a rest day. The players will have time to rest and Nakamura will stream Titled Tuesday. Round ten of the Candidates starts on Wednesday the 29th of June at 3 PM CEST at the Palacio de Santona in Madrid.

The pairings of round ten are as follows:
Richard Rapport vs Ding Liren
Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Fabiano Caruana
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Teimour Radjabov
Hikaru Nakamura vs Alireza Firouzja

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