FIDE / Michal Walusza

Candidates Round 7: Nepomniachtchi, Tan Lead Halfway Through

ChessOver the boardTournamentAnalysis
Gukesh loses to Firouzja, handing over the sole lead to Nepomniachtchi as Tan neutralizes Goryachkina and retains her lead

Halfway through the event, we have two clear leaders in both the Open section and the Women's section. With a solid draw against Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi is now the tournament's sole leader as Gukesh lost to the volatile Firouzja, who has played four decisive games so far, which makes him tied for having the most decisive games alongside Vidit. In the Women's section, Lei continues to surge as Tan was able to neutralize Goryachkina with the White pieces to maintain her lead over the field. The players will take a much needed rest day, after which the second half of the tournament promises more excitement (is there such a thing?) as all eyes will be on the leaders to see whether or not they can finish off what they've started.

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


All players in such a prestigious event as the Candidates tournament did not reach their stature in chess by simply drawing games. It was clear from the start of today's round that players like Firouzja and Abasov, who have had quite a poor start to their Candidates run, were still willing to fight, even immediately after losing. Fight they did as Abasov at one point had some advantage against Vidit, while Firouzja defeated round 6's tournament co-leader, Gukesh.

The swashbuckling players in the Candidates this year seem to be insistent on proving that the Petrov is a dynamic, attacking weapon. Indeed, Nakamura with the White pieces wanted to go for a win against tournament co-leader Nepomniachtchi, so he went for a very chaotic line of the Petrov where White’s queen gets sidelined on a8, but White wins some material as compensation. The position remained highly complicated, with the machine at some point liking Nakamura’s position enough to give it “+1”. The advantage, though, if it is present and not an artifact of Stockfish’s evaluation function, was not at all easy to realize. Nakamura eventually sacrificed his queen, and with the previous exchange he had won, was left with a rook + knight + bishop for the queen — a winning advantage usually, but not here, for the pieces were uncoordinated and the queen was active. A draw was thus the logical result. GM Brandon Jacobson analyzes today's wild game:

Much to commentator Eric Rosen’s delight, Firouzja today decided to win — yes, win — with the London. Gukesh went for a very principled variation with an early Qb6, attacking the London’s weakened b2-pawn. Firouzja kept matters interesting by playing Rh3, lifting the rook to activate it, and eventually castling artificially, AlphaZero/Leela-style. The rook eventually made its way to g3, where it eyed Black’s king. Firouzja sacrificed some pawns and at some point he was worse, but Gukesh perhaps did not capitalize in the best way possible and eventually went for a spectacular knight sacrifice, gaining more pawns, for a total of three as compensation for the sacrificed piece. Firouzja’s position did seem to be a bit more difficult to play as his king was not safe and Black’s pawns looked solid, but as the endgame loomed, it did not look so dire for Firouzja. In severe time trouble, Gukesh proceeded to immediately blunder after allowing a knight incursion by Firouzja, and a tense game ended abruptly. GM Brandon Jacobson shows us the Firouzja way:

Praggnanandhaa is simply playing fresh chess. Knight sacs in the Petrov, the Schliemann against the Ruy Lopez, and now a French. The French is a bit of a rare sight nowadays at the top level, but it does have its place, occasionally riding the winds of fashion. It must be mentioned that three frequent practitioners of the French are in this tournament — Nepomniachtchi, Firouzja, and Caruana himself! As Caruana chose to go for the Advance instead of the Tarrasch or the Paulsen (3. Nc3), it was clear that he did not want to wade the highly theoretical waters of the Winawer, or the Steinitz, or some Tarrasch main lines. As most Advance French’s, White has a slight pull in a solid position, so the position remained stable out of the opening. Caruana allowed his bishop to get traded on the 17th move, giving away all hopes for an advantage. The position remained sound, however, and a draw was eventually realized on the 41st move.

In contrast to Caruana’s game, Vidit’s game was anything but stable. From a topical line in the Exchange Ruy Lopez, Abasov kept the position dynamically held-together. A potential pawn target on f6, — reminiscent of his game against Caruana — though, gave Abasov a slight edge in the middlegame. Soon, the tables turned and it was Vidit who had a pull after Abasov went for a passive knight retreat. It seemed difficult to capitalize, however, and the game soon petered out to a draw.

Women's Section


Today's round in the Women's section could be described as, well, expected. With the rest day tomorrow, and especially after yesterday's all-decisive round 6, seeing three draws was no surprise. The fourth game, however, between Lei and Vaishali, was a different story; Tingjie managed to capitalize on her momentum and climb into tied 3rd place.

After yesterday's Round 6, Goryachkina and Tan occupy sole 2nd and 1st positions, respectively. Their encounter for the penultimate round of the first half was probably practically the best they could hope for from a tournament strategy point of view — a generally calm game ending in a draw. Essaying a Queen's Gambit declined, Tan got a middlegame with hanging c-d pawns. These pawns can both be a strength — due to the squares they control and the space — but also a weakness in the endgame, as they can be attacked easily, especially by the rooks. In the position the two players reached, however, there were some concrete details, too; while it's not easy to move the d-pawn due to the fianchettoed bishop, the c-pawn serves an additional purpose, even after the d-pawn falls, and can still be an asset despite being weak — it helps realize the a5-a4 idea, ruining White's pawn structure. With the queens, a bishop for a knight, and the d- for the e-pawn being exchanged, this exact idea was executed on the board. Despite Black being temporarily left with a passed c-pawn, such pawns in these positions can easily be controlled, and, indeed, the game ended in a draw by move 40.

With two wins in a row, Lei is in it with a shot — a shot to win it all, even. From a complex Italian, it was clear that Lei would win after she executed her 20th move as she achieved the knight cube, which everyone knows is an auto-win, of course. Well, there is truth to be found in that statement, for that knight on e4 eventually hopped into f6, destroying Black's defenses. There were some missed opportunities for Vaishali, that's for sure, but Lei played a stellar game and showed fighting spirit. IM / WGM Padmini Rout explains Vaishali's missed chances and Lei's aggressive play in more detail:

Salimova played another fresh idea today as she chose to go for the Cozio Defense in the Ruy Lopez, an opening which has been sidelined for a long time, especially at the highest of levels — though Cozio-esque ideas in the Ruy Lopez have been gaining traction at the top level. Pieces were traded early on, and when it looked like Salimova's attack would be dangerous, Lagno traded more pieces and went for an endgame where only should could be better. Salimova maintained the balance, though, and a draw was soon reached. IM / WGM Padmini Rout sheds light on this game's key moments:

Muzychuk's game against Humpy was as tame as tame can be in such a volatile tournament. Funnily and spectacularly enough, the Cozio was also tried by Humpy, but, as Lagno, Muzychuk also found a way to retain a slight edge, which eventually similarly fizzled out into a draw.

Round 8 Preview

In the Open, Nepomniachtchi on paper has a golden opportunity to increase his lead, or maintain it, as he's playing White against Abasov. Theory rarely meets practice, though, and Abasov has shown that he's going to roll with the punches. Two surging players, Nakamura and Praggnanandhaa, will face Caruana and Firouzja, respectively. After today's win, Firouzja has definitely regained some of his confidence, while Caruana has shown stellar preparation so far and will be looking to keep up the pace with Nepomniachtchi. Vidit will play against Gukesh, who is still obviously in the running, but may not be in the best state of mind after his loss to Firouzja. Vidit will be looking to capitalize on any potential psychological weakness, then, as his tournament so far has not been all too terrible, all things considered, and he has chances, however slight, to make a late comeback.

In the Women’s section, Tan will face the rising phoenix, Lei Tingjie. Tan will be looking to (basically) run away with the tournament with a victory as White against Lei, though Lei's deep and aggressive openings may not allow that to happen. Goryachkina, Tan's closest rival, will play Lagno, who is also still in it to win it. In the battle of veteran vs. rookie, Humpy will take on Vaishali, while Salimova faces Muzychuk, two players who have played quite a bit against each other recently and who have a somewhat similar tournament situation.

Make sure to follow the action with us in Round 8!

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