Candidates Day 1: Half decisive, half drawn

A good day for previous candidate winners...

Credits: Stev Bonhage / FIDE

The first day of the Candidates Tournament in Madrid has concluded with an action-packed first day.

Daily, Lichess is providing a broadcast of the games played in real-time. We also have a selection of annotated games by GM Nijat Abasov and video recaps by WGM-elect Jesse February, further below.

Game One: Duda v Rapport: ½ - ½

Rapport is known as a creative attacking player, and Duda also has his moments of considered aggression, so this game promised to be interesting and possibly unconventional. The first couple of moves were a standard Taimanov variation, before leaving any trodden path by move 7. Definitely an unconventional start. A curious 8... g6 by Rapport in an attempt to fianchetto seemed bizarre with convention ordinarily indicating not to fianchetto if your pawn is on d6 (as Rapport's was). Duda pressed hard, and still in the opening had a considerable advantage. Rapport had to tread carefully; in some lines misplaying led to forced mates in 9. Rapport did indeed tread carefully, and by the middlegame Duda's momentum had largely fizzled out. A cagey game of cat and mouse ensued, with the main chances and the bishop pair with Duda. But, Duda couldn't build up the same dominance he'd achieved in the opening, perhaps due to nerves - being his first Candidates tournament, and failed to convert the game with it ending in a draw.

Credit: Maria Emelianova

Game Two: Liren v Nepomniachtchi: 0 - 1

Liren opted for the English, 1. c4, a potentially explosive opening. The players went down a line less traveled early on, with Liren maintaining the typical small advantage white has in the opening. By move 20, going into the middlegame, Nepomniachtchi had nullified Liren's slight advantage and actually built up a small one of his own. Nepomniachtchi built up his attack, getting his pieces coordinated on perfect squares for an eventual g5 push to exploit a potential weakness of his opponent on h4. A few moves later, Nepomniatchi was ready to push g5 and Liren misplayed allowing a crushing attack on his king. A clearly upset and disappointed Liren attempted to play on and confuse the position, but a few moves later could only resign.

Credits: Stev Bonhage / FIDE

Game Three: Caruana v Nakamura: 1 - 0

An all-American showdown as Candidates veteran Caruana played Nakamura who recently came out from an OTB hiatus with a series of 2850+ performances. They're also no strangers to each other, with at least 46 encounters (slightly in Caruana's favour by 1 win). Caruana opened 1. e4 and Nakamura opted for the Berlin Defense line, made famous by Kramnik as a consistent drawing line for black. A flurry of exchanges in the centre released some tension but left Nakamura with a scary looking pawn structure and attack on the kingside. Cold-blooded Caruana stared it down, mitigating the attack and breaking it down - with Nakamura now looking dangerously overextended. A series of careful maneuvering moves later, Caruana had a clear advantage and with classical surgical fashion it was only a matter of time before Nakamura was dispatched.

Game Four: Radjabov v Firouzja: ½ - ½

Radjabov recently has seemed to have a slump in form so it was difficult to know what to expect from him. Likewise, Firouzja has been preparing away from the chess circuit with very little recent play, like some kind of Kung Fu master meditating in solitude. Overall, the game seemed to be a little nervy from Firouzja, perhaps easing himself back into the saddle. Firouzja seemed to be pushing more for a win, and at stages Radjabov seemed to be more on the backfoot, but ultimately Radjabov's defenses were sufficient, or Firouzja's attacks weren't quite pressing enough, and neither seemed at any serious risk of losing. In a theoretically drawn position, Radjabov played it out a little but Firouzja wasn't going to slip up and the two players agreed to a draw.

Credits: Stev Bonhage / FIDE

Round 2 of the Candidates tournament starts at 13:00 UTC. Watch it live on Lichess.

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