Ian Nepomniachtchi becomes challenger for the title of World Champion

By: Express News Service |

Updated: July 4, 2022 1:10:33 am

The 31-year-old GM has taken an early lead in the tournament and is the only player not to lose a single game. (Twitter/International Chess Federation)

Following a draw in round 13 game against Hungarian Grandmaster Richard Rapport, Nepomniachtchi is on 9/13, a point and a half ahead of the rest of the field, according to a FIDE release. This is his second consecutive victory in the eight-player Candidates.

In the post-game interview, when asked how he is feeling now, Nepomniachni told FIDE: ‘The traditional answer is – I don’t know… In this tournament I was trying more to play chess than playing for a win. That is important… Another important factor is that I never had a six-hour game here. I was lucky enough not to play for too long’, said Nepomniachtchi.

The 31-year-old GM has taken an early lead in the tournament and is the only player not to lose a single game. American Hikaru Nakamura is currently in clear second place with 7.5 points, having won today against Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda. In the final – 14th round – he will be up against China’s Ding Liren who is on seven points, in a direct duel for second place.

The race for second place has become ever more important since five-times world champion Magnus Carlsen has made several suggestions he might not be willing to defend his title. If Carlsen decides not to play in the match which is due to take place next year, he will be replaced by the runner-up in the Candidates.

In Round 13, Ian Nepomniachtchi secured his victory in #FIDECandidates. Nakamura won and is now clear second.

Standings before the last round:
🥇 Nepomniachtchi – 9
2. Nakamura – 7½
3. Ding – 7
4-5. Radjabov, Caruana – 6½
6. Rapport – 5½
7-8. Duda, Firouzja – 5 pic.twitter.com/9ib04Ba2nx

— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) July 3, 2022

In round 13, Ian Nepomniachtchi was White against Richard Rapport who opted for a sharp line in the Richter-Rauzer variation of the Sicilian. However, Nepomniachtchi was looking to calm the game and he forced exchanges, making things simpler on the board. Rapport at one point started advancing his king towards the middle, but he steered clear of dangerous exhibitions such as those in round seven against Nepo, when he refused a draw offer and ended up losing. In an even position, a draw was agreed on move 34 following threefold repetition.

This is all Nepomniachtchi needed to claim first place, with one more round to go.

In light of the debate about whether the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen will defend his title or not, an even more significant question mark grows on who the winner of the Candidates will be facing. When asked who he wants to play in the world championship match, Nepomniachtchi said: ‘Literally, I don’t care. But, of course, it would be quite challenging to play Magnus again.’

Ian Nepomniachtchi: “Extremely happy and extremely thankful to everybody who helped me.” pic.twitter.com/zAFmhO9sgE

— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) July 3, 2022

Ian Nepomniachtchi has been the leader from the very start of the tournament and is the only player in the field not to suffer a defeat in 13 rounds played. He will be hoping to maintain this in the final game, in round 14, and avoid the repeat of 2020/21 Candidates in Yekaterinburg where he also won with a round to spare but then lost the last game.

While the main story of the day is Nepomniachtchi confirming his victory in the Candidates, the most gripping question is – who will be second? This question has dominated the latter part of the event, ever since the prospects of Nepomniachchi’s victory became almost certain.

The main candidates are Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren who entered today’s round with 6.5 points.

The most exciting game of the day was between Hikaru Nakamura and Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The young player from Poland opted for a Najdorf Sicilian – entering a sharp line where both sides needed to calculate a lot. In a game full of ups and downs for both sides, Nakamura seemed to have overstretched himself sacrificing a pawn and gave Black several good chances in the early middlegame. However, as in the previous games, Duda failed in strength and energy to convert the advantage pushed in the centre and gradually gave back the initiative to White. In a tactical position, Nakamura managed to outplay his opponent in the second part of the game and after Black’s serious mistake on move 37, he ended up completely winning. With 7.5/13, Nakamura is alone in second place.

Ding was black against Alireza Firouzja who opted for a calmer line – with the Four Knight’s Scotch. For the first ten moves, the two followed the same line as in the round eight game between Nepomniachtci and Ding, which ended in a draw. It seemed that the two were heading for a speedy draw following quick play and exchanges. However, in the endgame, Ding decided to give up a pawn on the h-file and spice up the position. Firouzja countered Black’s advances well and then found a bishop sacrifice which activated his rook, enabling it to give perpetual checks. Ding was willing to take a risk today and was pushing, but it didn’t go and he didn’t over force it. With 7/13, Ding stands solid chances to take second place. As for Firouzja, anything but a defeat is good news at this stage.

Chess fans honoured Ian Nepomniachtchi with an ovation. 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/HxTByVlDTH

— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) July 3, 2022

In the last round, Hikaru Nakamura will be facing Ding Lireng in a direct duel for second place.

In today’s game Fabiano Caruana was playing with black pieces against the uneasy Teimour Radjabov. In the Catalan, Caruana surprised his opponent in the opening, choosing a rarer line and sacrificing a pawn. Black did get some initiative, but Radjabov quickly simplified and transitioned to an even endgame where the two quickly agreed on a draw. Both Caruana and Radjabov are on 6.5/13 and don’t have chances for second place.

ROUND 13 REPORT:

Ian Nepomniachtchi

½ – ½

Richard Rapport

Hikaru Nakamura

1 – 0

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Alireza Firouzja

½ – ½

Ding Liren

Teimour Radjabov

½ – ½

Fabiano Caruana

STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 13:

1

Nepomniachtchi, Ian

9/13
2766

2

Nakamura, Hikaru

7½/13
2760

3

Ding, Liren

7/13
2806

4

Radjabov, Teimour

6½/13
2753

5

Caruana, Fabiano

6½/13
2783

6

Rapport, Richard

5½/13
2764

7

Duda, Jan-Krzysztof

5/13
2750

8

Firouzja, Alireza

5/13
2793

The final, fourteenth round of the Candidates starts on Monday the 4th of July at 3 PM CEST at the Palacio de Santona in Madrid.

The pairings of round fourteen are as follows:

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Richard Rapport vs Teimour Radjabov
Fabiano Caruana vs Alireza Firouzja
Ding Liren vs Hikaru Nakamura
Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Ian Nepomniachtchi

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