FIDE / Maria Emelianova

Candidates Round 12: Three-ways Tie in Open, Tan Maintains her Lead

ChessAnalysisOver the boardTournament
Nakamura and Gukesh catch up with Nepomniachtchi in Open, while Tan maintains a safe distance from everyone - except Lei

A critical day at the Candidates tournament, as we went into Round 12 with Ian Nepomniachtchi as the sole leader on 7 points, and Hikaru Nakamura and Gukesh D both chasing on 6.5 points in the Open section. Critical pairings had Gukesh against the lowest seed, Abasov, as Nakamura faced Alireza who has been having a weaker tournament. Meanwhile, tournament leader Nepomniachtchi had his second meeting against Praggnanandhaa. After an eventful round, Gukesh and Nakamura ground down their opponents, while Nepomniachtchi couldn’t do better than a draw — giving us 3 leaders on 7.5 points with just two rounds left. In the Women’s section, inevitable fatigue is starting to kick in — much like in the Open section, also. Vaishali cleanly outplayed Anna Muzychuk, Koneru drew Goryachkina by repetition in a game where it was only Koneru that could push for a win, whereas Salimova and Tingjie got an advantage against their opponents. First place in the Women’s section becomes a game for two, with Zhongyi at 8 points, closely followed by Tingjie with 7.5, and maintaining a safe distance of 2 points from the rest of the opposition - with 2 rounds to go.

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.


Candidates Schedule - Round 12

Round Recap

Open Section

The sole tournament leader, Nepomniachtchi, continued his unbeaten streak; the last time Nepomniachtchi was defeated in the Candidates was by Ding Liren in April 2021. That impressive consistency was maintained here. After a French Exchange with an early novelty, major material was pretty quickly traded off and despite some attempts by Nepomniachtchi to get some chances from the position, Praggnanandhaa — coming off a loss — wanted to stop the bleeding and shut down any attempts. Praggnanandhaa successfully defended, and the game ended in a draw — making Praggnanandhaa’s chances to win the Candidates virtually mathematically impossible, but also stymying Nepomniachtchi from clinching a clear sole lead.

Gukesh has long been keeping pace with Neopmniachtchi, and with a pairing against Abasov this round was perceived as having decent chances due to the rating difference, despite Gukesh having the black pieces. With an early novelty in the Nimzo-Indian, Gukesh created long term positional headaches for Abasov with a horrific pawn structure. However, Gukesh’s own knight was cramped for a long stretch of the game, confined to the back rank. Nevertheless, Gukesh managed to free his knight and make use of the greater positional advantage, and eventually ground Abasov down in the endgame into a completely winning position — racking up a full point and putting Gukesh back into the joint lead, also on 7.5 points.

Nakamura has also recently had a terrific resurgence in the tournament, coming off two victories on the trot. Today was no different, as he managed to rampage against a desultory Firouzja, who had the black pieces. Also playing a French Exchange, the two speed demons went into a sharp and double-edged position which resolved to clearly favour Nakamura. A surprise happened with a mistake by Nakamura, giving up his advantage, but in a flurry of moves Firouzja blundered just after making the time control, and this time Nakamura did not give away his advantage. A third win in a row for Nakamura, joining the leading pack now also on 7.5 points, and a terrible result for Firouzja, who appears to struggle in the Candidates format.

It was another good result for the American supporters, as Caruana went for a Giuoco Pianissimo against Vidit. Caruana ground down Vidit, constantly pressuring and harrying at his position, building up a considerable positional and then material advantage. A series of mistakes, blunders, and inaccuracies by both players both before and after the time control made it feel as if Vidit could at one point hold a draw, but multiple errors by Vidit cost him the game; tournament fatigue perhaps setting into all players. The result puts Caruana on 7 points, just a half point away from the three tournament leaders — meaning the tournament is virtually open for any of the players in the top 4 of the leaderboard to take.

Women Section

Salimova has been getting very pleasant, often advantageous positions in this tournament, but - maybe due to stress, maybe due to lack of experience compared to other participants, or maybe other reasons entirely, has also been struggling when it comes to converting them into the full point. That was the case too with her game between the tournament leader, Tan Zhongyi. Salimova, playing 1.Nf3 and entering a King’s Indian Attack position, managed to get a good position already out of the opening. The game developed with Salimova having a good control over the centre, and getting a bigger advantage after 25... b6. However, Salimova was not able to capitalise with it; the first slip came with 43. f6. Zhongyi managed to equalise and the game later ended with a draw, in a lucky escape for the tournament leader.

The game between Goryachkina and Koneru was another one ending in a draw - and a very fast one. With the Catalan played on the board, black managed to get an advantage after 17.Nxc4. While Goryachkina managed to ruin her opponent's pawn structure, Koneru got the pin on the a-file and better piece activity in return. After 22. Rd7, one way to continue the game would be to play Bd8, followed by Ra6 (to unpin the c pawn) aiming to play c6 and exploit the pin. That being said, Koneru opted to repeat moves, with the game ending in a draw.

Lei Tingjie has been chasing her compatriot, Tan Zhongyi, and is still in close contention to win the Women’s Candidates. Facing against Kateryna Lagno with the white pieces, Tingjie went through a French Defence Advance, going into quite a rarely played sideline. Lagno appeared to be out of preparation, and Tingjie gained an early advantage, which by the early middlegame looked imposing. However, maintaining the advantage required precision with virtually any other move other than 26...Qb6 making the position drawn. Tingjie likely found the move, but discarded it, and instead played 26...Nf3, giving up her advantage and allowing for a trade of material and an eventual draw.

Anna Muzychuk has unfortunately had quite a bad tournament performance, but with a pairing against the newcomer Vaishali Rameshbabu may have been an opportunity for the veteran to get a win. With white, Muzychuk opted for 1. e4 going into a well-known Open Ruy Lopez line. However, as soon as getting out of the (well-travelled) opening line chosen, Muzychuk made a few inaccuracies that gave Vaishali the leverage to get into the position. Playing perfectly, Vaishali gradually built up her advantage until it was completely crushing — the engine giving several forced mating lines before Muzychuk resigned — giving the newcomer, Vaishali, another win.

Round 13 Preview

In the Open, Ian Nepomniachtchi versus Hikaru Nakamura could be absolutely pivotal for both player’s chances. Given both players style and the stakes on offer — this game could offer glittering tactical fireworks and give us a clear leader going into the final round. Equally, Gukesh D versus Alireza Firouzja gives Gukesh a great chance to get a point from a weakened Alireza with the white pieces, and allow Gukesh to avenge his own loss in their first encounter.

In the Women’s Candidates, Tan Zhongyi versus Aleksandra Goryachkina could be instrumental for Goryachkina who needs to win to keep the mathematical possibility of her winning the Women’s Candidates. Equally, Vaishali R plays against Lei Tingjie, which if Tingjie wins or draws will keep her chances alive.

Round 13 - Women

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