Mai 18, 2024

FIDE Candidates: Nepomniachtchi and Tan in the lead again

The FIDE Candidates is entering its final stages and the tension is palpable. Many games in Round 11 were double-edged, with players missing multiple chances. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi’s game against Vidit Santosh Gujrathi was the last to finish today. Playing with the black pieces, Nepomniachtchi had a dubious position. 

Instead of the defending move 34. Kd3, which led to Black’s overtaking the initiative, White could have opted to play 34. h5! clearing a pathway for the king to reach the f5 and g6 squares; White could also potentially push the pawn to h6. The h5-break was the first thing Vidit showed to Nepomniachtchi after the game finished, clearly disappointed that he did not go for it.  

Following this critical moment, the position was still balanced, but White made another grave mistake. Nepomniachtchi thought Vidit was in „sort of a panic,“ in reference to 60. Nb2+ (instead of 60. Ne5+).

After that, White was lost. This win is a very important result that made Nepomniachtchi the sole leader again on 7 points. 

Nepomniachtchi’s co-leader going into Round 11, Gukesh D, made a solid draw against Fabiano Caruana and is now trailing by half a point. 

Grandmaster Evgeny Bareev, Canada’s #1 chess player and a previous participant of several Candidates events, made the ceremonial move 1. d4 in the game between Praggnanandhaa R and Hikaru Nakamura.

The American player controlled the game solidly with Black before capitalising on his opponent’s mistakes and adding an important win to his scoresheet. Praggnanandhaa could have gone for a draw several times in the game. Instead, he always chose more complex continuations and played on, which resulted in Nakamura’s position getting better and better. The American player was precise in converting his advantage, leaving no chances for counterplay for his opponent. 

Alireza Firouzja capitalised on Nijat Abasov’s blunder and won in just 24 moves. Black was doing fine in the Zukertort Opening, but on move 15, Abasov made a grave miscalculation. 

Instead of 15…e5, the move that cost Black the game, Abasov could have gone for 15…Qe6 and kept a balanced position. In the line that occurred in the game, Abasov missed that after 15…e5 16. Nc4 f6 17. Rd5, Black cannot play 17…Be6 because of 18. e4 Qg5 19. Be3 Bxd5 and White simply takes 20. exd5 trapping the black queen: 20…Qf5 21. Bg4 Qe4 22.f3. Abasov had to play 17…Rxd5, and Black’s position collapsed soon after. 

With three rounds to go, Ian Nepomniachtchi is a sole leader again on 7 points. He is followed by Gukesh and Nakamura on 6.5 points. It is important to note that Nakamura still has two white games and will meet Nepomniachtchi with Black in round 13 followed by Gukesh with White in the last round.

In the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament, Tan Zhongyi won an important game against Kateryna Lagno. With Lagno low on time, Tan chose to play in a risky and aggressive manner, giving her opponent an amazing chance. 

27…f4! would have cleared the way for the black queen to land on g4 (after Bxe5) or h3, and Black’s assault on the white king could have cost White a point. Unfortunately, Lagno missed this possibility and soon found herself in a lost position after 27…Bxb3? 28. Rxd8 Bxd8 29. Qxa7

Lei Tingjie, Tan’s compatriot, was also playing bold and aggressive chess today against Anna Muzychuk. Lei sacrificed a piece with 19. Bxh6 for a kingside attack and was on the verge of winning. The path to victory was a difficult one, and after the game, Lei said that she had not considered the right continuation. 

She should have played 22. Kh2 – a tricky move. The point is that after a logical continuation like 22…f6, White can play on the other side of the board with 23. b3. After 23…axb3 24. axb3 Qxb3 25. Rxa8 Rxa8, White proceeds with 26. Nh4 and Black does not have Rd7 defensive option, resulting in White having a winning position. 

Lei did not find this difficult path and instead went for a messy position with 22. Nxe5, hoping for a perpetual check. The tables then turned, with Black having a winning position objectively, but now it was Anna Muzychuk who missed her chance; Lei found the perpetual check she had sought after, and the game ended in a draw. After the game, Lei said she was lucky to escape. 

Vaishali R helped the Chinese duo by taking down Aleksandra Goryachkina in an intense battle of many mistakes. Vaishali surprised her opponent in the opening and gradually outplayed Goryachkina but let her advantage slip away one move before reaching the time control.

After 39. Rf3! White was winning as 39…Qe4 fails to 40. Nb4, but Vaishali played 39. Bf6? instead. As a result, her enormous advantage evaporated. However, she was still the only one playing for a win in this game, as White’s queen and knight were chasing the black king. At some point, the position repeated three times, but not consecutively, so Goryachkina was checking her scoresheet. In the end, she decided not to claim the repetition, as she was not entirely sure. „She was probably thinking that I would repeat again,“ explained Vaishali after the game.

However, the young Indian player demonstrated a fighting mentality in this game as she continued playing, hoping to find more chances. She was duly rewarded in the queen and pawn endgame, where her experienced opponent finally blundered and had to resign. 

In the last game of the women’s event, Humpy Koneru defeated Nurgyul Salimova in a solid and straightforward game to come back to a 50% mark. 

The results of Round 11 were extremely important for the tournament standings. Tan Zhongyi is now the sole leader on 7.5 points, closely trailed by Lei Tingjie on 7. Goryachkina, Koneru, and Lagno are the three players two points behind the leader – a gap that is almost impossible to close in three rounds. It is now clear that the race for first in the FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament will be between two Chinese players, Tan Zhongyi and Lei Tingjie. 

„If one of us can become first and the crown will stay in China, for me it is a good thing for Chinese chess,“ said Lei Tingjie. „Tan is leading, so now I have no pressure at all.“ 

The 12th round of the event will commence on the 18th of April at 14:30 EDT (Toronto).

Standings after Round 11:

Open:

1. Nepomniachtchi – 7
2-3. Gukesh, Nakamura – 6½
4. Caruana – 4
5. Praggnanandhaa – 5½
6. Vidit – 5
7. Firouzja – 3½
8. Abasov – 3

Women’s:

1. Tan – 7½
2. Lei – 7
3-5. Goryachkina, Koneru, Lagno  – 5½
6-7. Vaishali, A. Muzychuk – 4½
8. Salimova – 4

Round 12 pairings:

Open

Nakamura – Firouzja
Abasov – Gukesh
Caruana – Vidit
Nepomniachtchi – Praggnanandhaa

Women’s:

Lagno – Lei
A. Muzychuk – Vaishali
Goryachkina – Koneru
Salimova – Tan

Written by WGM Anna Burtasova

Photos: Michal Walusza and Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Official website: candidates2024.fide.com/