Today in Chess: FIDE Candidates 2022 Round 7 Recap

One more round and we reached the middle of the FIDE Candidates Tournament. Ian Nepomniachtchi scored another victory with the black pieces after Rapport overpushed, refusing a move repetition early in the game. Fabiano Caruana stays in the race as he won a full point against Teimour Radjabov.

We’re just halfway through, yet the whole tournament has reduced to a two-horse race now. There’s a massive 1.5-point gap between the first two players and it does not seem like anybody except for Caruana can stop Nepomniachtchi’s run.

Round 7 results

Round 7 standings

Ian Nepomniachtchi has incredible +4 after the game with Rapport; photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Richard Rapport – Ian Nepomniachtchi 0-1

Initially it seemed as if this game would end in a draw after a couple of minutes, Ian Nepomniachtchi deployed his World Championship Petroff preparation and easily repelled Rapport’s try to catch him in a rare sideline. His home preparation led all the way to a move repetition — as he admitted after the game, he knew any attempt to avoid the draw from White would give him an advantage.

Rapport spent almost an hour thinking about his options and eventually refused a draw by repetition, He headed straight into an inferior endgame with two rooks against Nepomniachtchi’s queen. It was really hard to defend for Richard being a full hour down in a complex position his opponent studied carefully.

It was a smooth ride for Nepomniachtchi who never had to spend more than ten minutes on any single move and Rapport’s position quickly collapsed. Very angry Rapport blamed his opening disaster on the home preparation mix-up: “I guess I should throw away my computer,” saying he was looking at 14…Bd6 instead of the critical 14…Bh3. Hovewer, the main mistake in the game was his refusal to make a draw.

Hikaru Nakamura comfortably defended a slightly worse endgame; photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Jan-Krzysztof Duda – Hikaru Nakamura ½-½

Good display of defensive skills by Hikaru Nakamura in this game. Jan-Krzysztof Duda got a slightly more pleasant isolated pawn position out of the opening, transforming into a nice endgame with a ‘good’ knight against ‘bad’ bishop. Black’s setup went against all chess principles, putting all his pawns on the color of their own bishop. Nevertheless, engines were telling equality all the way, and Nakamura defended his position in a very professional manner.

Nakamura has managed to hold his ground so far and surprisingly, his solid 50% performance is enough for sole 3rd place. There were some saves and some misses for Nakamura, but he seemed to be content with how the tournament’s going so far: “When you have so many strong players, it feels like there are very few opportunities to win games. And all the opportunities seem to be in Nepo’s games and (to a lesser extent) Fabiano’s”.

Despite risky time management, Firouzja was never in any real danger; photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Ding Liren – Alireza Firouzja ½-½

Opening with the English (and the so-called King’s English variation), players soon found themselves in an unbalanced position with White dominating in the center while Black kept nice dynamic pressure on it in style of King’s Indian defense. White’s position was fine, but so was Black’s — there was no real advantage for Ding after the opening and plenty of natural moves available for Firouzja.

However, the Frenchman seemed shaky, spending almost fifty minutes on an innocuous 13…Qa7 move. Spending so much time on a neutral move was a clear sign he did not feel comfortable, thankfully for him, he still managed to keep the game under control and deflected all Ding’s attempts to squeeze out an edge. Pieces and pawns were gradually exchanged and eventually there was nothing left to play with — and a draw was agreed.

Fabiano Caruana – Teimour Radjabov 1-0

Caruana managed to keep the focus until the very end of the nerve-wrecking game; photo: FIDE/Stev Bonhage

Caruana is always coming heavily prepared and Radjabov tried to escape Caruana’s famous preparation with a surprise as early as on move 2, playing the rare 2…a6 move in the Sicilian. There was more behind this idea as Black broke out in the center couple of moves later. 

Yet Radjabov’s knowledge was not enough and he did not manage to find the correct recipe to equalize against 9.Bd3. Perhaps castling on move 11 instead would eventually allow the Azeri grandmaster to equalize.  Caruana cleverly simplified the position into an endgame with an extra pawn, and the grind mode was on.

His advantage steadily grew, and his king made its way into the opponent's position, turning the advantage into decisive. Nevertheless, there was more excitement for us in store, as Caruana let Radjabov start a dangerous counterplay on the queenside and the game turned into a mad pawn race. Still clearly winning for computers but far from clear for humans: “It was the most difficult game I’ve played in a long time”, Caruana admitted in the post mortem.

Black queens first and delivers a check on g6, yet White’s position remains clearly winning!

Thankfully for the American, his calculating skills never let him down, another set of the queens that appeared on the board got eventually swapped off the board and Radjabov resigned after putting up a huge fight. 

Replay the broadcast from round  on our YouTube.

Still one round to go before the most important game of the tournament so far, Caruana–Nepomniachtchi. The second half of the tournament starts tomorrow and we’ve got the all-American Nakamura-Caruana rematch, and Ian Nepomniachtchi will face the struggling Ding with the white pieces. Follow the games from round 8 live with our grandmaster commentators Alejandro Ramirez, Yasser Seirawan and Christian Chirila from 7:50 AM CDT on or our YouTube and Twitch.