FIDE / Michal Walusza

Candidates Round 11: Nepomniachtchi, Tan Back in Sole Lead

ChessAnalysisChess PersonalitiesOver the boardTournament
Nepomniachtchi and Tan lead alone once again, while Nakamura's win puts him in shared 2nd with Gukesh

After today's round of thrilling chess, Nepomniachtchi and Tan will need to buy some cushions because certainly the tournament situation is still not offering them any sort of cushion; Nakamura and Gukesh are breathing down Nepomniachtchi's neck, while Lei is breathing down Tan's. For their part, Nepomniachtchi and Tan did what they had to do today and won their games against Vidit and Lagno, respectively. For Tan, her win against Lagno knocked out a near rival, Lagno herself, with now only Lei half a point behind Tan — Goryachkina, who lost to Vaishali today, Lagno, and Humpy, who won against Salimova today, are on 5.5/11, a full point and a half behind Lei. In the Open, Nepomniachtchi is half a point ahead of Gukesh, who drew Caruana, and Nakamura, who won against Praggnanandhaa today.

As well as broadcasting the live games from the two tournaments, Lichess is providing a live stream for every day of the Candidates. Make sure to tune in to our Twitch or YouTube channels, with streams starting from 14:15 Toronto time (18:15 UTC).

*We're also providing daily annotations on some of the games from GM Brandon Jacobson and IM / WGM Padmini Rout. The full study can be found here.


Round Recap

Open Section


Nepomniachtchi continues his unbeaten streak, but it does not seem to be enough as Nakamura and Gukesh are still in close pursuit only half a point behind. Certainly, Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura can be happy to have won as Black, but with three more rounds to go, all possibilities remain on the table, and it will again be a test of nerves to see who will be able to make the final push. If Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura tomorrow are able to not lose as White against Praggnanandhaa and Firouzja, respectively, their round 13 clash will be of extreme importance to the conclusion of this fiery Candidates.

Vidit played rather calmly today, but turbulence seems to follow him irrespective of his chosen style of play. From a 4. Nc4 Petrov, which is far less explored than other Petrov lines, Vidit and Nepomniachtchi got into a very unconventional position with an isolated a4-pawn and doubled c3- and c4-pawns for White. Those pawns would usually be terribly weak, but in the specific position type reached in the game, they had their plusses and minuses. After a skillful pawn sacrifice by Vidit on move 23, White had a lot of activity to compensate for the damaged structure and was even better at some point, potentially winning on move 37, with an extremely complicated line beginning with 37. Nxd5! Vidit did not find the correct plan, however, and had to settle for an equal position which also looked difficult to play as Nepomniachtchi's king was marching forward. In fact, on move 58, Vidit made a slight inaccuracy and then outright blundered on move 60, allowing Nepomniachtchi's pawn to reach the promised land and give Nepomniachtchi a crucial victory. GM Brandon Jacobson shows us the intricacies of the complicated endgame position reached in the game:

Nakamura had a good chance to be in shared 1st today if it weren't for Vidit's unfortunate loss to Nepomniachtchi. Regardless, Nakamura can be very happy about his victory today, which put him in shared 2nd place with Gukesh, only half a point behind Nepomniachtchi — surely a welcome result after he was a point behind and the field was much more bunched up. By all means, Nakamura's game today was "smooth" as he outplayed Praggnanandhaa from an equal queenless middlegame position. First order of business was achieving space; second on the agenda was restricting White's pieces, with moves like Bb3 greatly annoying White's development. Under the duress of this grand positional force, Praggnanandhaa blundered, eventually losing a knight after having committed to a wrong positional idea with the White king walking a tightrope. Nakamura converted the resulting piece-up position with ease and will go into tomorrow's round a happy juicer. GM Brandon Jacobson explores how Nakamura outplayed Praggnanandhaa:

The second encounter between the current tournament leader, Gukesh, and Caruana, was meant to be another draw. The two players transposed into a Queen’s Gambit Declined position, though not one close to the main lines. Black had gained space on the kingside with h6-g5, while White did so on the queenside with b4-a4. Do note, though, that an attack against the White king isn’t really a plan for Black; the doubled g-pawns, together with Rae1-e4 if Black attempts to attack before castling, will very much prevent it. In the game, White gained space on the queenside, and Black replied with a6, while on the other side of the board Black gained more space with f5. Black may have a weak c5 square, but the knight will be captured the moment it steps there. After bxc5, the b-pawn would indeed be weak; the problem for White, however, is that the b-pawn can never actually be attacked as Black has enough pieces to defend it. Indeed, the light-squared bishop, while objectively not Black’s best piece, can now serve an important duty very well — protect the b-pawn forever, if such a need arises. The e5 square was also a weakness, but the knight could just be exchanged for Black’s bishop there, which also happened in the game. On the other hand, there was no easy way for Black to make any considerable progress on the kingside either without considerably simplifying. The two players eventually watered down the position into a queen endgame, with the game ending in a draw by move 40.

After round 10's missed opportunity versus Nakamura, Abasov faced Firoujza with Black, in a game that turned into a quick loss for him. Firouzja went for a Nimzo-Larsen, getting a pleasant position out of the opening. After 14. Rc1, with the bishops already on d4 and f3, eyeing Black’s queenside and limiting his development, Abasov had to find a solution to this immense positional pressure. Abasov tried 14...Ne8, offering to exchange the dark-squared bishops, and possibly aiming to re-route the knight. 15. Rc5 was played as an intermediate move; had Black replied with a move like Qe6, it would lead to a pretty playable position. Instead, Black went for e5. Of course, White’s bishop isn’t threatened, so he has enough time to play Nc4, ready to take the pawn on the next move. The alternative, which was played in the game, was playing f6, which would only further weaken Black’s position. After 17. Rd5 Rxd5 18. Bxd5+ Kh8 19. Bc5, Black was almost in a middlegame zugzwang with no moves that do not further weaken his position or lead to material loss. A demonstration of how distressing the position (and possibly the tournament situation) was 20...Rb8??, which not only lets the pawn hang, but soon leads to further material loss, after Nb6 — indeed, Abasov resigned after a few moves.

Women's Section


With Goryachkina's loss against Vaishaili and Lagno's loss against Tan today, it seems like it's now a two-horse race between Tan and Lei, who have 7.5 and 7 points out of 11, respectively. Lagno faces Lei in the 12th round, Goryachkina faces Tan in the 13th round, and Humpy faces Lei in the 14th round, though, so it is not a foregone conclusion that only Tan or Lei can win the Candidates.

Sometimes, games in double fiacnhetto systems can look so simple. White gets long-lasting positional pressure, puts some pieces on central squares, then breaks through with the major pieces — quite simple, right? Tan did truly make it seem so simple, but, of course, Lagno had her chances. Well, chances to hold, for the only time she was technically much better in the game, on move 27, she had to find the rather unbelievable and deep point, 27...f4!!, which is a strong, subtle move only the engine can really appreciate. In any case, after that missed chance, Lagno was just down a pawn, and Tan converted ruthlessly. IM / WGM Padmini Rout tells us the full story in her annotations of this game:

In a game full of excitement, action, and twists, Lei Tingjie secured a draw against Anna Muzychuk — a result that will probably leave both players with mixed feelings. With an Italian played on the board, Lei was going to get her attacking opportunities early on in the game. Muzychuk’s 15...h6 called Lei to take a decision and either exchange the knight with her opponent’s bishop or retreat, both coming with their own set of advantages. Lei decided to retreat, but that h6 pawn (whose move was natural in this position, and objectively good), would soon become White’s target. With Bd2 - Qc1, the Chinese GM was now ready to sacrifice her piece for that pawn — aiming to open up her opponent’s king position. With Bxh6 played, Muzychuk decided to accept that sacrifice, getting into a complicated and sharp position. After 20...Ne8 21. Rd2 Qh6, Lei, possibly not being able to see another way to continue her attack fast enough (or finding the computer’s not-so-intuitive Kh2 followed by a chaotic long line) decided to sacrifice a second piece by playing Nxe5. This time she had a way get back the material, though she would get into an endgame with a rook and two pawns against two pieces, with her opponent having the bishop pair. That would be bad news for Lei because it’s only Black who could push for a win in such a position. Indeed, Muzychuk got the advantage, and in a final attempt to save the game, Lei sacrificed her rook, too, aiming to get a perpetual. With two and a half minutes left on the clock (plus the increment) to make her last two moves until the time control, Muzychul found, at the very last moment, 40...f6 — the only move that maintains her winning advantage. However, that worked if — and only if — she gave up her bishop with 42...Ke8 Qxc6 43. Kd8, which didn’t happen in the game. Instead, she played 42... Bf7, and Lei, with some accurate play and finding a few only moves, managed to save the game and force a draw by repetition. IM / WGM Padmini Rout explores the game more deeply:

Vaishali once again tried out her trusty Alapin, going for the rare 8. Bc2, which Goryachkina unsurprisingly knew how to play against. Despite emerging from the opening with a reasonable position, Goryachkina soon collapsed under the pressure as White's solid French-like d4-e5 pawn grip made it difficult for Goryachkina to make headway with any plan. Vaishali seemed well on her way to converting her advantage, but, by move 38, she still had not gained any material advantage and her edge remained only positional in nature. Goryachkina was then able to claw her way back to a draw, but, on move 64 in queen endgame, she went for a wrong pawn push in 64...d4 and soon had to resign just a few moves later.

After a slow start, Humpy is slowly surging and now sits on shared third. In today's game in a topical line in the Slav, Humpy played almost perfectly — with 96 percent accuracy (with all of the caveats that come with accuracy metric!). Indeed, it was difficult to pinpoint where exactly Salimova went wrong. If one's opponent is playing perfectly, just a small series of inaccuracies are enough to lose the game. With today's perfect win, Humpy will definitely go into tomorrow's round against Goryachkina with renewed confidence and energy.

Round 12 Preview

In the Open, Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi will not mind having White, and Gukesh will not feel too badly about his chances, either, as he has Black against Abasov, who is always dangerous but has not been having the best second half of the tournament. Meanwhile, the volatile Vidit will face Caruana as Black — if Caruana wants to remain in contention, he has to win tomorrow's game against Vidit.

In the Women’s section, Tan and Lei will play Black against Salimova and Lagno, respectively. Lei will have a tough test as Lagno will be looking to bounce back with the White pieces to remain in contention for the 1st place finish. A surging Humpy will face Goryachkina, who after having had a stellar tournament, is coming off two back-to-back losses. Vaishali, who seems to be finding her momentum now, will play as Black against Muzychuk, who has had her fair share of great positions, but was unable to convert many of them.

Make sure to follow the action with us in Round 12!

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