FIDE / Maria Emelianova

Candidates Round 9: Vidit and Tan Win As Tan Is Back in the Sole Lead

Vidit wins against Nakamura for the second time as the standings at the top of the Open remain unchanged, while Tan's victory against Vaishali propels her to the sole lead

Can draws be more exciting than decisive games? Certainly! In some cases, games are decided by big blunders or early inaccuracies that just snowball into a loss — this makes for rather technical and "unexciting", or at least less flashy, games. Draws can be at times very exciting, too, with intrigue and tension eventually allowing one side to escape with some forced repetition. Today's round showcased this curious chess fact rather well. Vidit and Tan defeated Nakamura and Vaishali, respectively, but it was the Firouzja - Nepomniachtchi game that produced a spectacular and thrilling draw. With these results, the standings at the top in the Open have not changed; in the Women's, though, Tan is once again in the sole lead after her victory against Vaishali.

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


Vidit truly does have a problem with draws. Win or lose, a decisive result is in Vidit's playbook. The field remains wide open as two players are on 5.5 points, one is on 5 points, and three are on 4.5 points — just one misstep by the leaders is enough to completely change the tournament situation. With five more rounds to go, truly anything goes. A tournament like the Candidates is indeed a high test of nerves, so it remains to be seen who will hold out the longest in the coming rounds.

An early h6-g5 in the Italian is nothing new nowadays (and it is an active area of research!), but it always does leave a negative impression what with all of the kingside weaknesses created — the same kingside where Black's king will find shelter. Those weaknesses did come back to haunt Nakamura as Vidit's rook got lifted, infiltrated the kingside, and picked up a few pawns. It was even unclear where Nakamura went wrong; it just seemed like a small series of inaccuracies was enough for Vidit to capitalize and attack Nakamura's airy king. GM Brandon Jacobson reveals the intricacies of this complex Italian game:

The "double fianchetto", as it so crudely known, is not often played at the top level because it is quite an innocuous opening against which Black has many playable systems. It is, however, a good opening to avoid theory, and that is exactly what Firouzja wanted to avoid against Nepomniachtchi. It has to be said that Firouzja's strategy seemed to have worked. After Nepomniachtchi closed down the position, Firouzja was given free reign on the kingside and was able to push his pawns there, creating a strong initiative. Nepomniachtchi defended brilliantly, though, and appreciated the locked nature of the position quite well, going for a long king walk reminiscent of world champion Ding Liren's king walks. Firouzja then sacrificed an exchange, which was surely a commendable decision, but the position was simply too closed and a draw was soon agreed.

Gukesh clearly tried to provoke Praggnanandhaa today, but it was clear that Praggnanandhaa would not take the bait. After the opening experiment, both sides had play in what was a relatively rich middlegame position. Gukesh, though, of course must have had some sort of advantage as he had the semi-open f-file to work with. Just as it seemed like Gukesh's attack would be dangerous, with White's pieces aiming at Black's weakened kingside dark squares, Praggnanandhaa opened up the queenside and infiltrated with his heavy pieces, giving him enough play to steady the ship and achieve equality. GM Brandon Jacobson unveils the secrets of the Ruy in his annotations to this game:

From a Ragozin-esquue position, which wasn't a Ragzoin proper due to the absence of the knights on f3 and f6, Abasov had a slightly worse queenless middlegame against Caruana. Caruana's pull remained entirely theoretical, however, as Abasov played precisely and the position was simply too sound to allow for any imbalances to occur. Caruana tried to create chances, but liquidation soon forced him to agree to a draw.

Women's Section


Just as in the Open section, the Women's section today was quite peaceful. Even Tan's win against Vaishali was not a spectacle, but a rather technical conversion after Vaishali went astray early on. With this win, Tan once again leads the tournament alone, which is quite remarkable considering she is coming off a loss in round 8.

With the Alapin, Vaishali clearly wanted to play quietly against Tan's aggressive Sicilian, but Tan did not acquiesce and kept the position complicated, going for a rare idea against the Alapin. Vaishali went wrong soon after, making a series of inaccuracies which cost her the game in just a few short moves. An uncharacteristic off day for Vaishali, but one which was definitely very much welcome by Tan.

After three back-to-back wins, Lei could have made it a four-peat today. From a sharp Philidor Defense — and here Salimova must be applauded for choosing such a maligned opening — Lei had the advantage early on, but the position looked incredibly difficult to navigate, and soon Lei went for a queen trade when there was an option to keep the queens on the board. There was also a more human way of pushing for the advantage, which IM / WGM Padmini Rout showcases in the annotations. Of course, one cannot fault such a practical decision, and Lei did play a shorter game today, allowing her more time to recover before her important game against Goryachkina tomorrow.

As IM / WGM Padmini Rout notes, Anna Muzychuk is a very booked-up player, so today's deep and forcing game is no surprise. From a well-known line in the Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense with Re1, Muzychuk went for a deep bishop trap, which may or may not have been an idea she had been familiar with from her opening analysis. The idea backfired, though, as Goryachkina had the chance to be much better — basically winning, especially in a practical game — for one brief move, move 33. Alas, Goryachkina missed her chance as Muzychuk was applying clock pressure from the start of the game, and the game soon petered out to a draw.

Taking a page from Caruana's book, Lagno also essayed the Ragozin against Humpy today, though, in this game, we did get to see the Ragozin Defense proper. Similar to Caruana's game against Abasov, pieces were traded and an opposite-colored bishop middlegame was to be played. There was some intrigue, of course, but imbalances never really took hold and it was clear that only a draw would be the logical result of this game.

Round 10 Preview

In the Open, the two co-leaders will battle it out, with Nepomniachtchi taking the White pieces. If Nepomniachtchi wins against Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa fails to win against the volatile Vidit, Nepomniachtchi will have excellent chances to win the Candidates for the third time. Meanwhile, there are two other players with chances to win the Candidates: Nakamura and Caruana. For that to occur, though, they need to string together a series of wins, and they do have good chances to do so as they're playing White against the tournament's 8th and 7th place in Abasov and Firouzja, respectively.

In the Women’s section, the important clash between Goryachkina and Lei promises to be an exciting matchup. The other two tournament hopefuls, — one the sole leader! —, Lagno and Tan, will have the White pieces against Muzychuk and Humpy. Vaishali, who has been having a bad run lately, will look to bounce back against Salimova, the last seed according to ratings but tied for 5th place in the actual standings.

Make sure to follow the action with us in Round 10!

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