Ian Nepomniachtchi held on to a critical draw against Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces in Round 9 of the Candidates Tournament on Monday, inching him closer to a second straight berth in the Chess World Championship.
Unibet now lists Nepomniachtchi as an overwhelming -10000 favorite to win the Candidates Tournament.
Caruana novelty not enough to topple Nepomniachtchi
That number overstates the Russian’s advantage, though perhaps not by all that much. With his draw in Round 9, he remains a full point ahead of Caruana with five games to play. Furthermore, the American no longer has a head-to-head opportunity to catch the leader. Unibet lists Caruana as a +550 pick to win the Candidates Tournament.
Caruana played 1. e4, welcoming Nepomniachtchi to play his solid Petroff Defense. However, the American grandmaster unleashed a novelty on move 11 that seemed to take Nepomniachtchi out of his preparation.
11.Nh4 from Fabiano Caruana seems to be a novelty at the top level! https://t.co/JjEpiLIz3n #c24live #FIDECandidates pic.twitter.com/0H7M03W0Wa
— chess24.com (@chess24com) June 27, 2022
Caruana held the advantage through much of the middlegame, with computer engines giving him reasonable chances to play for a win. However, one mistake on move 24 brought the game back to equality, with Nepomniachtchi actually holding the edge for a short time.
“That’s just bad luck, I guess,” Caruana said afterwards. “It’s by one move that Black draws, but I guess it’s enough.”
Both sides held their ground well enough to secure a draw – a result that was only good for Nepomniachtchi.
“A point is quite a lot with five rounds to go, but not insurmountable,” Caruana said of his deficit after the draw.
Loss sinks Nakamura’s Candidates Tournament chances
Hikaru Nakamura entered Round 9 with a realistic chance of getting into the mix, but left it with faint hopes of contending for first place at the Candidates Tournament. The popular streamer had closed to within 1.5 points of Nepomniachtchi, and had Black against last-placed Teimour Radjabov on Monday.
Nakamura knew he had to play for a win, but couldn’t find an advantage in the Berlin Defense. Worse still, he pressed hard in an effort to create complications, only to end up losing in just 41 moves.
“This is what I would say was my attempt to go for it, to try and create something unbalanced and to try and win and give myself an outside chance of perhaps winning the tournament,” Nakamura said of his loss. “As it turns out, unfortunately it’s a very serious error, and I simply end up with a much worse position after what happened in the game.”
Nakamura is now two points back of Nepomniachtchi, and Unibet gives him a +3000 shot at winning the Candidates Tournament.
White had a blast in Round 9 of #FIDECandidates!
Standings after 9 games going into a free day:
1. Nepomniachtchi – 6½
2. Caruana – 5½
3-4. Nakamura, Ding – 4½
5-7. Radjabov, Firouzja, Rapport – 4
8. Duda – 3
The tournament will resume with Round 10 on Wednesday, June 29. pic.twitter.com/xKVnbURX3p
— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) June 27, 2022
“Effectively the tournament is over in terms of competing for first place,” Nakamura said. “But there are still five more rounds to go.”
Ding Liren (+2000) is also two points back after beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda to complete a bloody day with three decisive results.
While Nepomniachtchi may have a stranglehold on first place – at least for the moment – the rest of the field still has something to play for. With Magnus Carlsen potentially opting out of defending his World Championship, the match between the top two finishers at the Candidates Tournament could still determine the world champion.