FIDE / Michal Walusza

Candidates Round 10: Nakamura and Caruana Bounce Back, Lei in Shared Lead

ChessAnalysisChess PersonalitiesOver the boardTournament
Nakamura and Caruana bounced back with wins against Abasov and Firouzja, respectively, while Lei beat Goryachkina to join Tan in shared 1st, with Vaishali winning against Salimova

The Open section of the Candidates remains wide open as the two leaders, Gukesh and Nepomniachtchi, drew their individual game today. Meanwhile, Nakamura and Caruana bounced back with wins against Abasov and Firouzja, respectively. In the Women's section, Tan drew her game against Humpy as she is now joined by a surging Lei, who won against Goryachkina to wedge a one-point lead over their two closest rivals, Gorychkina and Lagno. Tomorrow's rest day will be very important for the players as the tournament winds down to what promises to be a very exciting finish.

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


As was mentioned in yesterday's report, Caruana and Nakamura had good chances today to bounce back, and bounce back they did. With their wins over Firouzja and Abasov, respectively, they have kept their tournament chances alive. Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh drew a rather staid game as Praggnanandhaa and Vidit also did the same.

After being on the wrong side of a decisive game in round 9, Hikaru Nakamura managed to strike back and climb to tied 3rd place in this round. Nakamura essayed the Petrov Defence against Nijat Abasov, with the two players getting into a variation also known as the “French Attack” (not to be confused with the French Defense). Abasov went for a quick c4 and gained space quickly on the queenside. With 18. b3 played by Nakamura, Abasov’s pawn storm soon came to a screeching halt; cxb3 is not a good idea because of Nxb3 (but axb3 targeting the weak a pawn is also an interesting alternative), and White also intends to play a4, so Black decided to play a4 (and later a3) himself. If White’s a-pawn could ever be targeted, Black's pawn could be a big asset. However, in this specific position, this was a big “if” — the a-pawn could always become a weakness for Black as well. In the actual game, though, the events unfolded slightly differently. Due to some sub-optimal choices by Nakamura, Abasov managed to briefly get the initiative, and an edge, getting a few tempos and bringing his rook to e2. To maintain said advantage, however, he would need to find 36... Bc7 (Bd8 could also work), which didn’t happen. Instead, he played Qe6, and soon had to give up an exchange for two pawns. Under the right circumstances such an imbalance can be playable, or sometimes even favourable; however, the three pawn islands and not very well-coordinated pieces weren’t in Abasov’s favour. Nakamura later managed to take advantage of the weak pawns, get an outside passed a-pawn, and convert the advantage into a full point, climbing back to joint 3rd in the standings. GM Brandon Jacobson explains the ups and downs of this turbulent game:

Caruana got his freak on as he played the Freak Attack against Firouzja's Sicilian Najdorf. The game quickly entered uncharted waters as Firouzja temporarily sacrificed his queen to net it back with a common queen trap seen often in the Sicilian Dragon. Caruana got a small, nagging positional advantage out of that operation, though, and soon went on to increase his fortunes as he got gifted a passed pawn on d6. That pawn soon decided the game, for it looked to be unstoppable and cost Black an important queenside pawn, eventually forcing Firouzja to enter a lost bishop endgame. GM Brandon Jacobson covers this unique Sicilian:

As most could expect, the clash between the two current leaders, Nepomniachtchi and Gukesh, was a rather tame affair. The two players did not take any risks in this critical tournament situation; a Ruy Lopez was played, which then steered the game into very quiet and peaceful waters. By move 27, the two players entered a double rook endgame, later exchanging one pair of rooks, and agreeing to a draw on move 40. With this result in the books, the race for tournament victory continues, and will be determined by their results against the rest of the field.

After facing Gukesh in the previous round, Praggnanandhaa in round 10 faced his other compatriot, Vidit. A Berlin Defense was played — not the aggressive, exciting Berlin we saw in round 2 between Nepomniachtchi and Firouzja — but something closer to the traditional, reliable Berlin top GMs love at certain points in particular tournament situations to conserve energy. Praggnanandhaa opted for a slightly different move order and setup than the mainlines; one of the main lines involves Nbd2, O-O, and the b-knight eventually being transferred to c4; however, he went for an early Qe2, exchanging the dark-squared bishops, transferring the knight from f3 to c4, and the b-knight later landing on f4. In any case, the two players entered an endgame with two pairs of rooks and opposite-coloured bishops by move 25. While there was an imbalance in the pawn structure on the kingside, with two doubled pawns vs. three pawns, there was no real way for either side to make any progress, and the game later ended in a draw by repetition, with the two players, and especially Praggnanandhaa, still maintaining realistic chances in the race for first place.

Women's Section


Tan cannot seem to catch a break as after leading the tournament alone for so long, she once again has to share the lead, this time with her compatriot, Lei Tingjie, who won today against Goryachkina, the pre-tournament favorite. Meanwhile, Vaishali won a topsy-turvy game against Salimova.

Goryachkina has been having a very solid tournament so far, but, unfortunately for her and much to the delight of her nearest rivals, she finally cracked, and at a most inopportune time, for now Lei has leapfrogged her in the standings. From an Exchange Slav, Goryachkina was never really better — if anything, slightly worse at some points after the opening. Goryachkina's safety-first approach indeed did backfire as Lei gained space on the kingside with an h-pawn push and activated her king, first to f7 and later to h6, a truly remarkable and very accurate plan. Goryachkina did stabilize at some point, but she could not come up with a clear plan and slowly drifted again, allowing Lei to complicate matters in time pressure as Lei sacrificed her bishop for some passed pawns. Goryachkina still had a draw in hand, but the drawing line hinged on a 50/50 capture, and Goryachkina went for the wrong capture and soon lost the game. A tragic loss for Goryachkina, but a very welcome victory for Lei, who is now in shared 1st after making an amazing comeback after her round 1 loss to Tan. IM / WGM Padmini Rout takes us through the complications in the endgame:

Vaishali did not shy away from confrontation today as today she also played a dynamic opening in the Grünfeld Defense. For her part, Salimova reacted aggressively as well, pushing her h-pawn up the board in what has become a popular way of meeting the Grünfeld Defense. As some super sharp games go, pieces were forced off the board and a relatively equal, but not drawn, position appeared on the board. Salimova eventually got a passed d-pawn, but Vaishali seemed to have it under control; a few moves, later, though, chaos had taken hold of the board and White's king and rook were infiltrating. Salimova allowed Black to get counterplay with a passed f-pawn, however, and it was this passed pawn that would eventually turn the game from a draw (from a winning position for Salimova) to a loss. Certainly this was a heartbreaking game for Salimova, who was of course winning in the early endgame, but Vaishali needs to be applauded for fighting back so valiantly. IM / WGM Padmini Rout explains this second scintillating endgame in more detail:

The Scotch is not such a popular weapon nowadays, but it does have its place at the GM level, being tried a few times here and there. In today's Scotch, Black, Koneru Humpy, was able to grab a pawn, if only temporarily, but Tan Zhongyi was well-equipped to fight in the resulting pawn-down middlegame, easily recovering the pawn. A double rook endgame soon appeared on the board, and while it looked complicated, the position never veered off from equality, and a draw was soon agreed on move 72.

Anna Muzychk has clearly come prepared in 1. e4 e5, both as White and Black. Playing the Black side of an Open Ruy, she got out of the opening unscathed and neutralized White's theoretical opening advantage quite comfortably. With White's pawns slightly overextended, it looked like if any side was better, it would be Black, but of course such a nominal advantage would be difficult to convert in any case. A few moves down the road, Black had to settle for a knight vs. bishop endgame, where of course White's bishop should, in theory at least, give White a slight pull. The specific position was very equal, however, and it was clear that White could not make any sort of headway, so a draw was eventually agreed on move 60.

Round 11 Preview

In the Open, Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa have the White pieces against the surging Caruana and Nakamura, respectively, so they will both be looking to put their tournament hopes to rest. Another important matchup will be that of Vidit against Nepomniachtchi — can Vidit keep producing decisive results, and will they be in his favor? Last but not least, the two players in last and next-to-last place, Abasov and Firouzja, respectively, will play against each other.

In the Women’s section, Tan has the White pieces against Lagno, who remains a threat to Tan's tournament aspirations, so she will be looking to win Wednesday's game. Tournament co-leader Lei Tingjie will also have the White pieces, facing off against Anna Muzychuk. Meanwhile, Goryachkina will face the up-and-down Vaishali, while Humpy will face Salimova.

Make sure to follow the action with us in Round 11!

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