Candidates R4: Nepo beats Vidit in masterful game, leads

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/8/2024 – Ian Nepomniachtchi scored a remarkable win over Vidit Gujrathi to become the sole leader at the Candidates Tournament in Toronto. The champion of the event’s two previous editions now has a half-point lead over Fabiano Caruana and Gukesh D, who drew their round-4 direct encounter. The players will get their first rest day on Monday. | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

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Nepo leading after round 4, again

Ian Nepomniachtchi has played (and lost) two matches for the World Championship title. The 33-year-old from Bryansk obtained the chance to fight for the title by remarkably winning two Candidates Tournaments in a row. Now, in his third consecutive appearance at the 8-player double round-robin, he has grabbed the sole lead after four rounds of play.

The first time Nepo won the Candidates, at the 2020-21 edition in Yekaterinburg, he finished the fourth round sharing first place with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wang Hao, each with 2½ points. In Madrid 2022, on the other hand, he became the sole leader for the first time in the event by beating Alireza Firouzja in round 4 — by then he had collected 3 points, much like he has now after beating Vidit Gujrathi in Toronto.

A greatly prepared Nepo — who has Jan Gustafsson as his second in Canada — agreed to enter a Berlin Defence against Vidit (i.e. he did not go for the 4.d3 line he had employed against Firouzja in the second round). A strong, pragmatic opening strategy and refined positional play ended up granting the Russian a memorable 44-move victory.

Points were split in the remaining three games, with Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana getting small advantages which they (unsuccessfully) tried to convert into wins in what turned out to be long encounters against Nijat Abasov and Gukesh, respectively.

Going into the first rest day of the event, Caruana and Gukesh are sharing second place a half point behind the leader. In Tuesday’s fifth round, Praggnanandhaa R, the only player with a fifty-percent score in the standings, will have the white pieces against Nepomniachtchi.

Results - Round 4

Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura could not get much with white against a well-prepared Praggnanandhaa R | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Nepomniachtchi 1 - 0 Vidit

The much-explored Berlin Wall Defence saw Nepo surprising Vidit with his 12th move, the sneaky 12.Nh2. By then, both players had blitzed out their moves — but Vidit spent 35 minutes thinking before replying with 12...g5

Nepo was ready to face this variation, as he continued playing quickly in the ensuing queenless middlegame.

The nature of the position prompts players to choose between various setups — i.e. play is not forced like it often happens in the Najdorf, for example. Nepo and Vidit improved their pieces naturally until move 24, when Vidit opted for a creative yet questionable plan.

Ideas like 24...Bd8, preparing ...Ne7, or 24...b5, intending to push the pawn to the fourth rank later, spring to mind here. On the other hand, Vidit’s 24...Ra5, looking to attack the weakness on b2 from b5 (as was seen in the game) is surely playable, though in hindsight, given what happened later in the game, looks a bit artificial.

There followed 25.Rde1 Rb5 26.Bc1 Rb3

Note that Black has used three tempi to place his rook on b3, and now that the white bishop has returned to c1, it seems unlikely that the b2-pawn will ever be captured — moreover, that rook looks rather stranded amid all the pawns.

At this point, Nepo had both a clear strategic advantage and almost an extra hour compared to his opponent on the clock. What followed was a masterclass in positional play.

Simplifications left White with a dangerous passer on the e-file, while the black rook remained completely out of play on b3.

After 36.Rd1, Vidit erred with 36...Kc6, while after 37.Ke4, the Indian’s 37...Be8 gave Nepo a chance to increase his advantage by force via 38.Rxd5 Bxh5 39.Bc1

The bishop has done its job defending the pawn on e7, and now returns to its initial square, where it keeps the rook unable to break free.

White continued to find subtle manoeuvres in the ensuing sequence — the game continued 39...Bg6+ 40.Ke5 b4 41.Kf6, leaving the rook undefended on d5.

Black cannot grab the exchange by capturing the rook, as the bishop is the only piece defending e8, while after 41...Be8 42.Rd8, the bishop is running out of squares to maintain the pawn at bay.

Vidit tried 42...bxa3, but threw in the towel after 43.bxa3 Bd7 44.Kf7

A monumental win by Nepo!

Vidit Gujrathi

Vidit Gujrathi has played three exciting decisive games in a row (a win and two losses) | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

More photos from round 4

Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu

Following two tactical encounters, Praggnanandhaa decided to keep things under control in the fourth round | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja obtained a small edge but could not get more than a draw against... | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Nijat Abasov

...underdog Nijat Abasov, who will play black against Gukesh on Tuesday | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Dommaraju Gukesh

Gukesh held top seed Fabiano Caruana to a 74-move draw with the black pieces on Sunday | Photo: FIDE / Michal Walusza

Standings after round 4

All games

When the brother-sister duo strikes!

Vlog from Toronto: Pragg the braveheart

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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