Candidates Day Five: Fighting Tooth and Draw

The fifth round of the Candidates Tournament in Madrid has concluded with four draws --- some pretty quick and painless, others more hard-fought and drawn out.

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: Caruana v Rapport: ½ -- ½

One of the more exciting games of today, the players opened with a Taimanov Sicilian before going a little off the beaten track again. By move 6 the players were entering "here be dragons" territory of the opening at the master level, and completely arrived in uncharted territory (at the master level) by move 9. Caruana took some risks with 13. g5 followed by 14. f5 risking possible overextension or over-aggression later on in the game. The gamble possibly didn't pay off for Caruana, who may have wanted to press a little more with the white pieces, but ended up in a congested position with a stuck queen. With a threefold, the game came to a fairly bloodless and peaceful end by move 24.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Game Two: Radjabov v Ding: ½ -- ½

Radjabov opened with a Catalan, trying to get an edge against Ding, well known for his frequent use of the Catalan. Ding looked to be more in form than he had been in other games of the tournament so far, developing a small but consistent advantage against Radjabov and capitalising on Radjabov's small errors. Making incremental progress and slowly improving the position, it was looking decidedly in Ding's favour by move 39, with Stockfish giving him a positional advantage equal to a knight or bishop. But tragically for Ding, on move 40 --- with only 5 minutes left on his clock, he played the seemingly safe 40... g6, potentially assuming that it changes little in the position and would allow him more time to calculate more ambitious lines. But this was a blunder, 40... Bxd4 was required to keep his edge although the continuations for why are difficult to see. Although Ding played this shortly after, it was too late, allowing white to escape from the threat, and transition to a very equal-looking position. On move 50, the players agreed on a draw, to Ding's obvious frustration.

Credits: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Game Three: Firouzja v Duda: ½ -- ½

This encounter on paper seemed like it could be particularly exciting, with Firouzja's head-to-head record against Duda being 4 wins and one draw (+4 =1 -0). In theory, it seemed this would be a ripe game for Firouzja to push a little, but after a slightly surprising loss against Nepomniachtchi yesterday, perhaps Firouzja preferred to not take any risks to prevent a second loss and tilting. Duda played his usual Petrov Defence against Firouzja's 1. e4 and both players went down a solid line of the Petrov which once again proved its reliability again today. Neither played was able to create an imbalance or exploit a weakness from their opponent (as none were made!) so with a symmetrical pawn structure on the kingside and just a queen on the board by move 32, the players drew by threefold repetition shortly after.

Game Four: Nakamura v Nepomniachtchi: ½ -- ½

Another encounter with a lot of explosive potential was this match-up. Similar to game three we saw another Petrov Defence, an opening Nepomniachtchi employed against Wang Hao in the 2020 Candidates Tournament, and also in the 2021 World Championship match (with mixed results). The players went down a mainline played by Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik, Ivanchuk, and Leko amongst others, so a well-tested and dependable line. The first deviation came on move 14 with Ra2, which Nakamura had previously played with, and won against his opponent, in 2016. However, Nepomniachtchi found a better move 14... Bf8 which compatriot Kirill Alekseenko had faced against in 2017 (and went on to win). Whilst the position out of the opening looked quite equal, Nepomniachtchi played the risky chess he is known for with a series of inaccurate and imbalancing moves that Nakamura seized upon. Nepomniachtchi, on the back foot, defended tenaciously. A soft draw offer with a position repeated two times was made around move 22, but Nakamura ultimately decided to press on. A few moves later, the position now looked to be more in Nepomniachtchi's favour and Nakamura was in time trouble with six minutes to make six moves to reach the additional time control. Consequently, a repetition was made again with both players opting for it this time.

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