Candidates R2: Nakamura bounces back

A rescue for the birthday boy

Alireza Firouzja turned 19 at the Candidates Tournament in Madrid. The youngster came out of a first-round draw from a slightly lesser position against Teimour Radjabov. On his birthday, he had the black pieces again – and he had a much more difficult task fighting for a draw against Richard Rapport.

White could have improved his position further with 38.Rg7+ Kh8 (38…Kf8 leads to mate) 39.Rgd7, inviting Black to trade a pair of rooks. In the simplified theorem, Rapport would have proved that his active king and advanced pawns are large enough to claim a win in this particular endgame.

Instead, Rapport refused to give up his seventh-row rook pair by playing 38.Ke4, giving black a chance to fight back – albeit from an inferior position. At the time, Firouzja was in serious time trouble and Rapport played fast to increase the pressure on his young opponent.

The Hungarian’s decision backfired, as Firouzja defended resourcefully until he finally got half the point. Although it wasn’t easy at all, Firouzja managed to escape with draws in the two games with Black that marked the start of his first appearance at a Candidates Tournament.

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

An almost lost novelty

Referring to the novelty he played on move 10 in his match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana said:

I knew that Ng4 would come as a surprise. I don’t know if many people have analyzed this movement. […] It’s almost losing, a huge gamble.

Indeed, the American grandmaster managed to surprise his well-prepared opponent.

Known for his quick play even in classic matches, Nepo spent about 35 minutes on his next five moves, while Caruana continued to excel in his home preparation.

The Russian used a sensible approach in response to the novelty, but on move 17 decided to try his chances by giving up a pawn while raising his queenside turret to the third rank.

17.Ra3 left the d4 pawn hanging. For the first time in the game, Caruana used a significant amount of time, as he took 9 minutes to capture the sacrificed pawn.

With Black’s kingside pawns on g5 and h6 in front of his own king, a tense battle ensued. Finally, Caruana got behind the wheel, but he also began to notice that he was short on time. Around move 30, the American chose to repeat the position and secure the half point.

Nepomniachtchi and Caruana continue to share the lead after two laps in Madrid.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Naka defeats Radjabov

Two elite grandmasters who made a name for themselves using sharp King’s Indian Defenses – then switched to a more positional approach – played the only decisive game of the round. Hikaru Nakamura had the white pieces against Teimour Radjabov, and got a comfortable lead in the early middle game.

When the queens left the board and a rook-and-knight against a rook-and-bishop endgame appeared on the board, Radjabov decided to prioritize activating his rook rather than defending his weak pawn on move 35.

The Azerbaijani could have tried to defend the subordinate position with passive play as it is difficult to find a way to progress with white. Instead he went for 35…Rd5allowing 36.Rc6when there is no way to defend the a-pawn.

Converting the position was not trivial at all. Or, like the Dutch GM Max Warmerdam put it

From this position, Nakamura needed 16 more moves to take the full point and return to a fifty percent score after his first round loss to Caruana.

Hikaru Nakamura, Teimour Radjabov

Six and a half hours later — Teimour Radjabov | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Results round 2

Standings after round 2

All games


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