Candidates R5: Remarkable draws

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/23/2022 – For a second time in this year’s edition of the Candidates Tournament, all four games in a single round finished drawn at the Palacio of Santoña in Madrid. It was not for a lack of trying though, as Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren had good winning chances they could not convert into full points against Ian Nepomniachtchi and Teimour Radjabov respectively. | Photo: FIDE / Steve Bonhage

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Missed opportunities

Ding Liren is struggling to return to a fifty-percent score after his loss in the inaugural round at the Candidates Tournament in Madrid. The Chinese had favourable positions for three rounds in a row, but was left with nothing better than three draws. In a long tournament — which saw him qualify only at the last minute — this might bode well for his chances to keep getting good positions in the long run, but dealing with the frustration of failing to win a game when he had the opportunity might also turn out to be a decisive psychological blow for him.

On Wednesday, Ding had the black pieces against Teimour Radjabov. Out of a Queen’s Indian Defence, the Azerbaijani was outplayed in the early middlegame. The material remained balanced and the pawn structures symmetrical, but Ding had better dynamic chances with his more active pieces and safer king.

 

Converting such an abstract advantage is never easy, especially while facing a strong defender like Radjabov. On the last move before reaching the time control, Ding lost his edge by playing 40...g6, when 40...Bxd4 was by far the strongest alternative in the position.

Trading pieces might seem counterintuitive at first, but getting rid of one white knight is crucial in this case. After the text, Radjabov continued with 41.Ng5, attacking e6. Ding thought for 17 minutes before capturing — a move too late — the knight with 41...Bxd4.

Had he grabbed the piece on move 40, Ding would have been the one placing his knight on a strong outpost first — e.g. 40...Bxd4 41.Bxd4 Nf5 42.Bc5 Qc6

 

While Black’s pieces have found active squares and have plenty of potential to create threats against the king and the weakness on e5, it will be hard for White to find moves that do not destabilize his position, which looks to be hanging by a tread — the black queen on c6 threatens to infiltrate along the a8-h1 diagonal, while the white bishop is unable to attack the black pawns on light squares.

The key move missed by Ding would not have granted him a tactical blow, but would have allowed him to slowly up the pressure positionally. Once he noticed what he had missed, he looked visibly frustrated on camera.

A draw was signed after move 50.

 

Teimour Radjabov

Teimour Radjabov | Photo: FIDE / Steve Bonhage

Another player who will perhaps look back at this round with some regret is Hikaru Nakamura. The 5-time US champion could not make the most of a better position in his game with white against sole leader Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Out of a Petroff Defence which seemed to be going well for Black, Nepo made a questionable decision on move 16.

 

Instead of keeping the balance with a retreating move like 16...Qd6 or 17...Qd7, Nepo invited his opponent to harass his queen by playing 16...Qe4. After 17.Bf1, with a discovered attack, Black’s best move according to the engines is 17...Qb1, and the queen will soon be pushed to find shelter on a1 via Rb2.

Why to allow this with Black from the diagrammed position?

Of course, all but trapping one’s queen on the corner is not as enticing for a human as it is for a cold-blooded calculating machine. Thus, Nepo played 17...Qg4, the only other manoeuvre that saves his queen.

In the next nine moves, Black had to move his queen away from attacks no fewer than seven times, while White transferred his rook to e3 and activated his dark-squared bishop.

 

Much like Ding, Nakamura got a positional advantage, which he let go of by playing a single inaccurate move. Here, placing the dark-squared bishop on the long diagonal with 28.Bc3 would have further improved White’s position, forcing Black to once again move his queen.

However, Naka went for the concrete 28.Na5 instead, when after 28...b6 29.Nc6 Bd7, Black has managed to consolidate, and it is difficult for White to make progress.

 

There followed 30.Bc3 Qd6 31.Bb4 Qf6, and the contenders repeated the position three times to finally split the point.

World champion Magnus Carlsen joined the live commentary team on chess24, and thus described Nepo’s position before the players began to repeat moves:

This position is a dream compared to what he had, and he does have half an hour more. I would not bet on him losing this game. Clearly White is better but he kind of escaped!

Moreover, he later criticized the Russian’s decision to accept the draw, as he could have tried to take over, making the most of Naka’s frustration after losing his opening advantage. The Norwegian asserted:

Smell the blood in the water, dude. Be a shark!

 

Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: FIDE / Steve Bonhage

Round 5 results

 

Standings after round 5

 

All games

 

Links


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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