Candidates R4: Nepo beats Firouzja in wild Sicilian

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/21/2022 – Ian Nepomniachtchi beat Alireza Firouzja from the white side of a double-edged Sicilian to grab the sole lead at the Candidates Tournament in Madrid. The three remaining games finished drawn, with Ding Liren failing to defeat Fabiano Caruana from a slightly superior position. Thus, former co-leader Caruana is now in sole second place, a half point behind Nepomniachtchi. | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

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Sole leader

With a dazzling win over Alireza Firouzja, Ian Nepomniachtchi took the sole lead at the Candidates Tournament in Madrid. The Russian, who won the previous edition of the event, has a half-point lead over Fabiano Caruana after four rounds.

Nepo had a tough time at the World Championship match in Dubai, and is now the frontrunner in the race to become Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger (for a second consecutive time, in his case). Given Carlsen’s statements after his clear win in Dubai, we wonder whether the reigning champions would agree to face Nepo in another match.

Of course, this is all speculation, as ten rounds remain to be played in Madrid. And when it comes to keeping the conversation light-hearted, we can always count on Anish Giri’s witty sense of humour:

Nepo’s victory was the fourth decisive result in this year’s Candidates. The game featured a typical, double-edged Sicilian with parallel attacks on opposite flanks of the board. Nepo and Firouzja blitzed out 15 moves of theory before the Russian had the first long think of the game.


Russia’s top player continued with the sensible 16.Kb1, as both sides have connected pawns dangerously moving down the board in front of the kings.

Remarkably, the contenders continued to find moves previously seen in correspondence games until move 21. The key difference, though, was that Nepo spent markedly less time than his young opponent — Firouzja invested a whole hour on moves 20 and 21 combined.

Not surprisingly, the pressure to find precise continuations combined with his clock dangerously ticking down prompted the Iranian-born star to falter.


23.Nd6, activating the knight that was sitting on the back rank, is a natural-looking move here. But such sharp positions are all about specific calculations, and Nepo correctly assessed that he could grab the loose pawn with 23...Qxb4 in response. 

Things went steeply downhill for Firouzja from this point on, as Nepo continued to up the pressure by finding the most threatening moves in the position. By move 30, Nepo had one hour to his opponent’s one minute — and there is no increment before move 60 in Madrid!

The Russian got to finish the game in style.


36.Rxh7+ Kxh7 37.Qh5+ Kg8 (37...Qh6 hangs the rook on e8) 38.Nxf5 Bf6 39.Rg1+ and Firouzja resigned. It was a commanding victory by Nepo, whose experience in similar high-pressure confrontations weighed heavily in this game.


Alireza Firouzj

Nobody said it was easy — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Caruana holds Ding to a draw

Rating favourite Ding Liren got a second white in a row on Tuesday, and for a second consecutive day failed to collect a full point after getting a better position out of the opening.

While Ding’s opponent in round 3, Richard Rapport, gave up an exchange out of a sharp Grünfeld, Fabiano Caruana opted for a more cautious approach — but also found himself material down in the early middlegame.


There is a perfectly symmetrical pawn structure on the kingside, while White has an extra b-pawn on the other flank of the board. However, the black pawn on a4 is well-placed to prevent White from making progress quickly.

Ding managed to get a passer on the queenside, but was all but forced to simplify the position into a rook endgame while doing so.


Black’s king and rook are active enough to deal with the pawn. The Chinese star kept trying until move 64, but saw his opponent showing proper technique to secure a draw, and thus keep his second spot in the tournament’s standings.


Fabiano Caruana

A half point behind the leader — Fabiano Caruana | Photo: FIDE / Stev Bonhage

Round 4 results


Standings after round 4


All games



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.