He’s not quite the Rodney Dangerfield of top chess, but general manager Ian Nepomniacic didn’t get much respect ahead of the FIDE Candidates Championship in Madrid, though Just won the same event a little over a year ago.
The Russians suffered a disastrous and frustrating loss in the 2021 world title race against Norwegian champion Magnus Carlsen, an uneven result that was swayed by the challenger’s fundamentals, handicapers say. Destroyed by mistakes. This year’s Candidates Tournament features a number of strong competitors, including U.S. general manager Fabiano Caruana, top Chinese star general manager Ding Liren, and – many of the pundits’ pre-match selection of fashion rookies – the young Iranian-born French superstar general manager Alireza Firouzja. Putting aside the shadow of the Ukrainian war (which Nepomniachtchi valiantly denounced) over Russian chess, “Nepo” seemed likely to claim a second victory in Carlsen’s crown.
I guess that’s why they play games.
Nepomniachtchi took first place in Madrid on Sunday with an unexpectedly dominant performance and finished with an impressive 9½-4½, 1.5 points above the field.
Fighting for second place in Monday’s final round could be just as important, as Carlsen, who stopped at the playing field on Sunday, has widely suggested he may no longer be interested in defending his crown scene again after a decade of dominating chess. With Monday’s final-round win over general manager Hikaru Nakamura, Ding Junhui passed the American star 8-6 into second, and he can now get a spot against Nepomniachtchi if Carlsen asks to go.
Carlson again declined to discuss his plans in a brief interview on Sunday, where he made some insightful comments about the show. Although he also leaned towards Caruana and Ding before the game, he said Nepomniachtchi was almost “grossly underrated”.
He noted that the Russian cashed in every time he was in a promising position, including a first-round tone with Black against Ding, and played tough and aggressive defense in those games where he was under pressure. This is a useful formula for success at any level.
Nepomniachtchi’s sixth-round win over Polish general manager Jan-Krzystzof Duda was a prime example of a hands-off opponent’s self-destruction. Black was surprised by Nepo’s Reti opening, but got a reasonable position before failing to react to the storm of king-winged pawns clearly heralded by White. Duda missed 20…Kh8 and soon had to surrender his restless bishop in exchange for three pawns.
The extra pawn might be useful in the endgame, but it never goes that far: 27. Rb1 Qf6 28. Rxb7 Rxe2? (See diagram; Black is already under heavy pressure, but 28…g6 holds out longer) 28. Rxf5!, and 28…Qxf5?? 29. Qxg7 are partners. The pressure on Black’s g7 side is unbearable, and in the final position, moves like 35…Qa2 meet 36. Rf8+ Rxf8 37. Qxf8+ 38. Qxg7 teammates; Duda gives up.
The final round between Ding and Nakamura was the most stressful match in recent memory due to a possible place in the world title race. The Americans went into the final round with a half-point lead, and for most of the game, Black held the edge. But Ding as White slowly but surely maintained a small positional advantage after the first control on move 40, when his better-positioned pawn, plus White’s king, was able to strike.
White’s rook is seventh (after Nakamura’s earlier false rejection of a two-car deal, Black’s problem appears to be at 38. e4 Bf6?! (f3!?, limiting White’s king style, widely recommended here) ) at 39. Nd4 Re8 40.Kg2, Ding has weak spots in both the king and rear wing to target, his rook is largely a factor of right and wrong, Black does not have a good way of defending a pawn, while Ding is methodical The ground increases his advantage as an opponent and is increasingly eager to counterattack.
Finally, after 55. Nd5 Bb2 56. Ra2! Bc1 57. Rc2 Ba3 58. Be3!, the black bishop’s escape route is cut off and the pawn will soon be lost. Nakamura resigned.
Nepomniachtchi-Duda, FIDE Candidates Championship, Madrid, June 2022
1. 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Bg4 3. Bg2 e6 4. OO Nd7 5. h3 Bh5 6. d4 Ngf6 7. c4 c6 8. cxd5 exd5 9. Ne5 Nxe5 10. dxe5 Ne4 11. Nd2 Nxd2 12. Bxd2 Bc5 13. Rc1 Qe7 14. Kh2 OO 15. g4 Bg6 16. f4 h6 17. Qe1 Rfe8 18. Qg3 Bh7 19. h4 Rad8 20. g5 hxg5 21. hxg5 Bb4 22. Bxb4 Qxb4 23. f5 Qxb2 24. e6 fxe6 25. g6 exf5 26. gxh7+ Kh8 27. Rb1 Qf6 28. Rxb7 Rxe2 29. Rxf5 Qh6+ 30. Kg1 Rxa2 31. Rbf7 Ra1+ 32. Bf1 d4 33. Rg5 Qd6 34. Qf2 Qa3 35. Rg3 Black resigns.
Ding-Nakamura, FIDE Candidates Championship, Madrid, July 2022
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c5 5. e3 Nc6 6. a3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 a6 8. Bd3 b5 9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. b4 Be7 11. OO Bb7 12. Bb2 OO 13. Ne4 Nxe4 14. Bxe4 f5 15. Bb1 Qxd1 16. Rxd1 Rfd8 17. Ba2 Kf7 18. h4 h6 19. Rdc1 Bd6 20. Rc2 Ne7 21. Nd4 Bd5 22. Bxd5 Nxd5 23. Rac1 Rd7 24. Nb3 B Bef6 25. 26 . Bd4 e5 27. Bc5 Bd8 28. Rd2 Nf6 29. Rxd7+ Nxd7 30. Rd1 Nf6 31. Bd6 Ng4 32. Bc5 Bh4 33. Rd7+ Kg8 34. g3 Bg5 35. Kf1 Bd8 36. Rb7 f4 37. gxf4 38. e4 Bf6 39. Nd4 Re8 40. Kg2 Ne5 41. Nf5 f3+ 42. Kg3 Nc4 43. Be7 Bb2 44. Kxf3 Bxa3 45. Kg3 Ne5 46. Bc5 Nf7 47. f3 Bc1 48. Ra7 Bd2 49. Rxa6 Be1+ 50. Kg2 Bc 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.
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