Ding Liren, Alireza Firouzja, and Teimour Radjabov ended their winless droughts in round 9 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022. It’s almost like the trio conspired in a plot to leave Jan-Krzysztof Duda as the only winless candidate so far. Meanwhile, the top dogs of the arena settled on a share of the spoils.
Alireza Finally Breaks The Duck
Eyebrows were already being raised as to how prepared Alireza was coming into this elite tournament. The young Frenchman is starting to show his more aggressive side, as he played the lengthiest game in the previous round while looking for a win. Instead, he opted for Ruy Lopez in this game, and move 6 saw the first trade of pieces.
11…Bg4 was a rather irrelevant development move, and 12…Bc5 made the position worse for black. Meanwhile, Alireza was preparing a kingside attack with 13.Kh1 to unpin the f-pawn. 13…a5?! lost some tempo for black as white started the kingside pawn attack with 14.f4. A good-looking Knight for pawn exchange for a Bishop and Queen pawn fork gave Alireza better control of the center.
But the 19-year-old appeared to have squandered his slight advantage with 20.Be3?! He was down two pawns but still had the initiative, but as soon as Rapport was starting to gain ground in the game, he made an amazing blunder. 26…Bc4 is a move that attempted to create a strong outpost, but he ignored the potent threat on his kingside.
Alireza almost squandered another chance to capitalize on the blunder, but a string of mid moves saw the teenager regain his advantage. 32.e5 saw white create the powerful outpost bishop black earlier dreamed of. The safety of black’s king became increasingly questionable. Rapport’s final blow came when he missed a crucial tactic before capturing a pawn which cost him an entire piece, and he resigned.
Round 9 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022: Alireza Firouzja 1-0 Richard Rapport
Nakamura Suffers The Second Loss In Round 9 Of The FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022
Teimour Radjabov sealed his first classical win since 2019 against an online speed chess king, Hikaru Nakamura. We saw the Ruy Lopez played here again, and both sides played rather firmly in the opening twelve moves. Nakamura responded to 13.Bb5 with 13…Bg4?! This inaccurate move gave Radjabov a slight edge.
Nakamura never truly recovered from this inaccuracy as Stockfish stayed in Radjabov’s corner for the rest of the game. Radjabov started his grand plan by reducing the quality of his opponent’s pawn structure before going up a pawn, not minding a potential discovery tactic.
The window to recover his pawn deficit through a tactic he would usually spot in a bullet game presented itself, but Hikaru had other plans with 17…Nh5. The kingside became the focal point of attack, but the focus soon shifted to the advancing pawns on the queenside, including a passed pawn.
One passed pawn became two with 36.bxc6, although they were no longer connected, reducing their efficiency. Not often do we see a Knight get forked into a Zugzwang, but that was the case when Radjabov played 41.Nb6 to force Nakamura to extend a hand in resignation.
Round 9 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022: Teimour Radjabov 1-0 Hikaru Nakamura
Tournament Leaders Choose The Path Of Peace
Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana settled on a draw after 40 moves of play. The only draw of the round opened with the Petroff Defense, which we had seen several times in this tournament. However, by move 10, Fabiano Caruana seemed to have the tiny advantage, with Stockfish giving him a +0.7 evaluation.
White’s first inaccuracy came when Caruana played a Knight to the rim with 11.Nh4. It wasn’t a fatal error, but it made him lose some tempo in development. 18.Qa4 was a Queen trade offer which Nepo declined with 18…Bf6?!. Caruana proceeded with the exchange, and both central pawns came off the board. At this point, we had five minor pieces of contrasting colors lined in a file, a rare sight.
Caruana soon made a mistake of his own with 24.Bxf5 and Nepomniachtchi seized the opportunity to trade off three pieces and simplify the position going into the endgame. By move 30, both sides had a bishop, a rook, a Knight, and three pawns each. Although Caruana had a three-pawn chain, Nepo had a slight advantage because his pieces controlled better squares.
From move 37, we had a threefold repetition to settle the game after both sides tried maneuvering with no desired result.
Round 9 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022: Fabiano Caruana ½ – ½ Ian Nepomniachtchi
World Number 2 Finally Gets A Win
After playing seven draws and one loss in the eight previous rounds of the tournament, Ding Liren finally forced a win out of a struggling Jan-Krzysztof Duda in round 9 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022. The highest Chinese player in history went for a rather uncommon opening in this tournament, the English opening.
The kingside fianchetto followed, and both sides played the opening masterfully. 11.dxc5 Bxc5 saw a trade of pawns to open up the c-file while the dark-squared bishops exited the game on move 13. Now, we had open files on c and d. In comparison, Ding formed a Queen-double rook battery, almost like the Alekhine’s Gun, on the d-file with 17.Qd2, Duda formed a Queen-rook battery on the c-file. Finally, 18…Qxf4 19.gxf4 saw the exit of the queens, and the strategic fun began.
Back rank problems saw Duda go down a pawn, but the main problem, like others, came when he captured an e4-pawn on the move 40. The move saw him lose significant tempo, which he never got to recover, and Ding created a passed pawn on the a-file that was almost untouchable.
Duda realized his loss on move 61 and resigned.
Round 9 of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2022: Ding Liren 1-0 Jan-Krzysztof Duda