Battle for Silver
Review of Rounds 13-14 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament by GM Sergey Grigoriants
Round 13 gave us the Candidates Tournament winner, and I take this opportunity to congratulate Ian Nepomniachtchi and his team! We must give credit to Rapport, who tried to impose a fight, but Ian was focused and pragmatic. The game was not at all about fireworks, but it deserves attention as being the one that determined the tournament outcome.
Nepomniachtchi – Rapport
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6!?
Against Nakamura Rapport chose 5...e5, but today he is after more complex positions from the Rauser variation.
6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 a6 8.0–0–0 Bd7
Here Ian plunged into deep thinking, and, apparently, unsaddled his opponent with a rare continuation.
9.f4 or 9.f3 have been seen more frequently.
9...Bxc6 10.f3 h6
The transposition of moves leads to a relatively harmless line 8...h6 9.Bf4.
11.Bf4 d5 12.Qe1 Bb4 13.a3 Bxc3
According to theory, 13...Ba5!? is not bad either, but even there White has ways of simplifying the game, if he is willing to do so.
14.Qxc3 0–0 15.Be5
This is when the smoke has cleared.
15...Rc8 16.Bxf6 Qxf6 17.Qxf6 gxf6 18.exd5 Bxd5 19.Rd4
The endgame is slightly more pleasant for White, and Ian steers it to the first place with an iron hand!
19...f5 20.Bd3 Bc6 21.Rd1 Kg7 22.Be2 Kf6 23.Rh4 Kg5 24.g3 Rfd8 25.Rhd4 Rxd4 26.Rxd4 e5 27.f4+ exf4 28.Rxf4 Be4 29.c3 Rd8 30.Bd1 Rd7 31.Bc2 Re7 32.Bd1 Rd7 33.Bc2 Re7 34.Bd1 Draw.
In the only decisive game of the round, Nakamura defeated Duda in a fairly equal tactical struggle and has advanced to a clear second place.
Nakamura – Duda
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3!?
This rare line of recently seemed to me as if a surprise designed specifically for Firouzja. But no, it has turned out to be part of Nakamura's serious preparation for more than one game of this tournament.
Firouzja had opted for 7...Nc6 8.Bc4 Be6 and, as we may recall, dangerous experiments with the pawn structure followed shortly after that eventually ended in Firouzja's textbook failure.
Nakamura is the first to take his opponent by surprise. 8.Bc4 is the mainline.
Black was probably apprehensive of something along the lines of 8...Nc6 9.g4!?
9.Bc4 Be6 10.Bb3 Nc6 11.Nh4!?
An attempt to complicate the game. The trades on d5 after 11.Nd5 would have simplified the game.
A rather risky decision. The engine votes for 11...Rc8!?, or even 11...Nxe4 12.Nxe4 d5!
12.Bxe6 fxe6 13.Ng6 Rg8 14.0–0 Nc4 15.Bc1 Rc8 16.h4
Worthy of attention was the unpretentious 16.b3!? Na5 17.Bb2 Kf7 18.Nxe7 Qxe7 19.f4!, with initiative for White.
16...Rc6 17.Qf3 Kf7 18.h5 Qc7 19.Nd1 Nb6 20.Ne3 Nbd7! 21.c4 Nf8
Nakamura again avoids any simplifications. 22.Nxe7!? Qxe7 23.b4 with a slight edge was a safer approach.
Black's maneuvering is on spot (note the knight's route to h7!), and his chances are at least no worse.
23.b3 Ng5 24.Qe2 Ngxe4
This elusive knight has brought Black an extra pawn, but White's compensation is still sufficient.
25.Bb2 Re8 26.Ng6 Kg8 27.Rad1 a5 28.Ng4 Bd8 29.Nxf6+ Nxf6 30.Rd2 Nd7 31.Rfd1?
This natural move proves underwhelming. Better plan is 31.f4!? exf4 32.Nxf4, with compensation.
31...Bg5! 32.Rd3 b5! 33.Ba3
A couple of strong moves secured Duda a tangible advantage, but he immediately lets it go. After 33...b4 34.Bb2 it was possible to go for the tactical 34...e4, and for the calm 34...a4!?
34.cxd5 Rc2 35.Bd6!?
Black must have missed this counter blow. It should be added, however, that White had other ways of maintaining balance: 35.Qf3 or 35.d6.
It would have been a fun to see the consequences of the cool-headed 35...exd5!?
36.Bxc7 Nc5 37.d6 Nd7?
A decisive moment in this tense battle! Black needed to go for 37...Nxd3! 38.d7 Ra8 39.Rxd3 Rxa2, and the a-passer forces White to put up with the perpetual check, for example: 40.d8Q+ Bxd8 41.Bxd8 a4 42.bxa4 bxa4 43.Rd7 a3 44.Ne7+ Kh7 45.Ng6 Kg8.
38.Bxa5 Rxa2 39.Bb4 Bd8
Tougher is 39...Rea8 40.Rc3 Kf7 41.Rc7 Ke8, securing the stem or Black's defence, the d7-knight.
It turns out that the bishop is not at all an obstacle for the white rook to show up on c7!
40...Bb6 41.Kh2 Kh7
41...Rxf2 42.Rc7! Rf7 43.Rb7 is of no help.
42.f3 Ra7 43.Rc6 Be3 44.Bd2 Bd4 45.Bc3 Be3 46.Rc7
Pressure along the penultimate rank and a very explosed position of the king render Black's situation hopeless.
46...Rea8 47.Kh3 b4 48.Bxb4 Rb8 49.Bc3 Rxb3 50.Rc8 Rb8 51.Rxb8 Nxb8 52.d7 Black resigned.
The final round was, to some extent, a mirror image of the entire tournament. The game of the winner Ian Nepomniachtchi against Duda was a tense draw and turned out to be the only high-quality game of the day in which creative attack and defence balanced each other out. Something miraculous was underway in the other three games, in which the combination of not the best athletic shape and accumulated fatigue of the participants sometimes led to hard-to-explain decisions...
Rapport – Radjabov
Rapport is true to its style and is the first to spark fire on the board. Such less sharp continuations as 19.h4 or 19.Nh4 were also promising.
19...hxg5! is more precise, and after 20.h4 Bxc4 21.dxc4 Kf7! 22.hxg5 Rh8+ 23.Kg2 Nf8 both kings feel uncomfortable – the chances are equal.
White goes too far. White develops dangerous initiative after 20.h4! Bxc4 21.dxc4 g6 22.hxg5 h5 23.Nh4 Kh7 24.Nf5!?.
Way more precise is 20...Bxc4! 21.bxc4 hxg5 22.Rxg5 Be7! (an important rerouting that stifles White's offensive) 23.Rh5 Bf6 24.Rg1 Qe7. The engine claims that Black should win, although White had some practical chances as well.
After 21...Bxc4 white has an important intermezzo 22.Rag1! with unpredictable complications to follow.
23.Qh3! maintaining balance and rough equality.
White must have missed this counter blow in his calculations 24.Nxe5 Nxe5 25.Bxe5 Rxe5! 26.Rxe5 Bd6 27.Qg5 Qh7, with the edge for Black. Anyway, it was the best chance.
Black fends off the attack and converts his material superiority.
25.f4 Rg6 26.Nf3 Qh3 27.fxe5 Rxg1+ 28.Qxg1 Bh5 29.Ng5 Qg4 30.Qe3 Be7 31.e6 Rf8 32.Nf7 Bxf7 33.exd7 Be6 White resigns.
Caruana – Firouzja
White's positional edge is obvious, but he needs to come up with some perspective plan.
The engine claims 26.f3!? to be a better move. White will follow by committing his rook to g1 and gradually preparing the g4-break, maintaining a tangible advantage.
Fabiano chooses a totally different path. Obviously, there remained no self-possession left to maneuver patiently.
27...exd4 28.Rxd4 h4!
Black is completely fine now.
29.gxh4 Rf4 30.Qc4+ Kh8 31.Ng5 b5!? 32.Qd3?
Having probably missed the opponent's previous move, White commits a mistake immediately. Some slight tightrope walking 32.Qe6! would have allowed to keep balance.
32...Qxd3 33.Rxd3 bxa4 34.bxa4 Bd6
As a result, there came about a difficult endgame, which White, with titanic efforts and not without help from his opponent, of course, managed to bring almost to a dead draw.
35.Rc3 Rxa4 36.Rxc6 Rxh4 37.f4 Rhxf4 38.Rxf4 Bxf4 39.Ne4 Ra8 40.Rc4 Be5 41.Ra4 Kg8 42.Kg2 Kf7 43.Nd2 Bc3
43...Bd6!? 44.c3 Be5 was worthy of attention.
44.Ne4 Bb4 45.Kf3 Ke6 46.c3 Be7 47.Ke3 c6 48.h3 Bd8 49.Nc5+ Kf5 50.Nb3 Bb6+ 51.Kf3 Ke5 52.h4 Kd5 53.h5 c5 54.Nd2 Bc7 55.Ke2 Rh8 56.Rg4 Rxh5 57.Rxg7 Kc6?!
57...Be5! is stronger
58...Be5 59.Rf7 a4
A draw already seemed inevitable, and the last move of the second time control was yet to be made, and there suddenly followed
Anyplace but not here! It takes 60.Nb1 or 60.Nf3 to maintain the balance. It looks like fate had yet another bitter pill in store for Fabiano.
61.Kc4 Rh4 62.Kd3 c4+! is also winning.
61...Kd5 62.Nf2 Rxc3 63.Rf5 Rg3 White resigns.
Ding Liren – Nakamura
This was a decisive game in the battle for the second place. The American was half a point ahead of his opponent and confidently sailing to the coveted draw. White has had no advantage out of the opening, and the game has transposed into an approximately equal endgame with the weak h5-pawn compensated by the greater activity of the white pieces.
31.Bd6 Ng4 32.Bc5
White indeed finds it hard to come up with anything constructive in terms of playing for a win. However, for some reason Black shies away from the repetition himself... A mystery!
I may only guess that Nakamura was not happy about 32...Nf6 33.Rd6, even though Black is completely fine after 33...Nxh5, and the engine can find nothing better than 34.Rd7+ Kg6 35.Rd6+ with equality.
33.Rd7+ Kg8 34.g3 Bg5
Bringing the rook into play was enough to maintain equality via counterplay: 34...Rd8! 35.Ra7 Bg5.
Black's passive play defies understanding. Some kind of a panic fear for the fate of the a6-pawn suddenly plunges Black into a difficult position. Now 35...Rd8! was simply a vital move, which, by the way, was sufficient and not hard to find! 36.Rxd8+ Bxd8 37.Bd6 Kf7 38.Nc5 Be7 39.Bxe7 Kxe7 40.Nxa6 Kd6 41.Nc5 Nf6, with equality.
36.Rb7 f4 37.gxf4 exf4 38.e4?
After 38.exf4 Nf6 39.Nd4 Nxh5 40.f5 the powerful e6-knight gives White a substantial advantage.
Missing the newly-presented 38...f3! opportunity to get an excellent chance of saving the game and, who knows, maybe even of participating in the championship match?!
A decisive time control move! There is no taking on e4 due to the fork from f3 by the king. The position has shifted into a technical stage.
40...Ne5 41.Nf5 f3+ 42.Kg3 Nc4 43.Be7 Bb2 44.Kxf3 Bxa3 45.Kg3 Ne5
45...a5 46.Bc5 is somewhat tougher, but should not help save the game either.
46.Bc5 Nf7 47.f3
The rest is simple as White is dominating.
47...Bc1 48.Ra7 Bd2 49.Rxa6 Be1+ 50.Kg2 Bc3 51.Ra7 Ng5 52.Ne7+ Kh8 53.Ng6+ Kg8 54.Ne7+ Kh8 55.Nd5 Bb2 56.Ra2 Bc1 57.Rc2 Ba3 58.Be3 Black resigns.
It's amazing what happened to Nakamura at the end of this game, which actually started with the refusal to repeat moves! Perhaps, it was a fortune's way of telling that it had been necessary to put up fight in game 12 in the first place...
Anyway, the tournament is over and its outcome is a reflection of what was happening along the way. Ian's performance was more stable than that of others. As they say, he did not provide but rather exploited the opportunities that came his way. Overall, other participants also finished according to the performance demonstrated. I feel somewhat sorry for Caruana, who looked no worse than Ian up to a certain point, but now he can draw proper conclusions about a more rational distribution of forces during the tournament.
As for the low average quality of the games, there is no lack of experts' opinions on this topic. It is clear that in planning a qualification system we have to solve the eternal problem of democracy on the one hand and adequacy on the other. Besides, there has too much of online chess recently. In any case, we have nothing else but wait for the next Candidates Tournament to understand how reversible the changes are that have occurred in the chess world in recent years.