There’s the potential of a runaway train steaming to victory at the Fide Candidates Tournament in Madrid. Ian Nepomniachtchi was the beneficiary of an unexpected error from Richard Rapport that allowed the Russian to not only easily hold onto his lead at the top but then go on to extend it, after his nearest rival, Fabiano Caruana, found himself becoming the victim of a major Hikaru Nakamura upset and revenge crush in round seven.
And keeping with the train analogy, Nepomniachtchi’s extended lead at the top came as Caruana found himself hitting the buffers by being on the wrong end and result of a line that was made famous by a railway worker: Englishman Vernon Dilworth (1916-2004), the humble Manchester railway clerk who became one of the very few genuine amateur players to have an opening variation named after him.
Dilworth used his 11…Nxf2!? idea in early 1940s postal games to single-handedly rehabilitated an old line of the Ruy Lopez Open. His analysis was published in BH Wood’s CHESS magazine and caught the eye of the great Mikhail Botvinnik, who used the tricky line as a surprise weapon against rival Vasily Smyslov in the 1943/44 Moscow Championship.
With the Botvinnik seal of approval, Dilworth became famous overnight as it was eponymously named after him in recognition of his pioneering work; and who remained faithful to his pet-line right up to his death at the age of 88. To this day, the big main line, the ‘Dilworth Ending’ has never been refuted, and it still proves to be difficult for White in praxis.
And although the Dilworth is a rarity at top-level, Bent Larsen, Vassily Ivanchuk, Nigel Short, Peter Leko and Artur Jussupow have all tried it in their careers (the latter multiple times). It’s biggest fan today is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – who uncorked it to surprise Magnus Carlsen in last year’s Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final – and Caruana also has deployed it, so I doubt if it had to come as much of surprise to Nakamura, especially as both players quickly raced to move 20 before they started to think.
And now Caruana needs to dig deep to find a way to somehow beat Nepomniachtchi in the crunch ninth round match-up between the leaders on Monday, otherwise the Russian – playing under the neutral flag of Fide due to the Ukraine invasion – might well be unstoppable going down the homestretch of the remaining five rounds of the competition.
1. I. Nepomniachtchi (Fide) 6/8; 2. F. Caruana 5 (USA); 3. H. Nakamura (USA) 4½; 4. R. Rapport (Hungary) 4; 5. Ding Liren (China) 3½; 6-8. JK. Duda (Poland), T, Radjabov (Azerbaijan), A. Firouzja (France) 3.
GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Fabiano Caruana
FIDE Candidates Tournament, (8)
Riy Lopez Open, Dilworth Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 The late, great Danish legend Bent Larsen once contested that the Open Variation was the only ‘correct way’ for Black to play against the Ruy Lopez. 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3 Bc5 10.Nbd2 0-0 11.Bc2 Nxf2!? The so-called ‘dangerous Dilworth’. The plan is only dangerous as the game opens up with …f6 and strong pressure for Black down the open e- and f-files. 12.Rxf2 Bxf2+ 13.Kxf2 f6 14.Nf1 This is the modern approach, avoiding 14.exf6 Qxf6 and the direct ‘Dilworth Ending’ that doesn’t seem to offer White anything at all; indeed, if anything, Black is the one who has all the ‘fun’. 14…fxe5 15.Kg1 Qd6 16.Be3 Bf5 17.Bb3 Rad8 18.Qe1 Na5 19.Qf2 Nb7 20.Re1 c5 Both players quickly raced to this moment with little or no thinking time involved – so clearly Nakamura had anticipated this line from Caruana. Visually, Black has an imposing and impressive pawn centre but White has excellent piece-play with the material imbalance – and herein lies an intriguing struggle ahead. 21.Ng3 Bd3 22.Qd2 c4? A costly miss-step. On reflection, a better approach might well be 22…e4!? simply to leave the pawn on c5 to cover White establishing apiece on d4 – something which happens in the game, after which Caruana has problems. 23.Bd1 Rd7 24.Bf2 Rdf7 25.Nh1! A wonderful and imaginative strategic retreat from Nakamura, which threatens Bg3 and no way to defend the e5-pawn. The net result is that Caruana is forced into playing …e4 that only offers Nakamura’s pieces the squares they want. 25…e4 26.Nd4 Qg6 27.h4! It just takes a couple of brave moves from Nakamura, and suddenly Caruana is in big rouble as White gains space on the kingside to bring his pieces to life. 27…Nc5 28.h5 Qd6 29.Bg4 h6 Black is in trouble after 29…Rf4?! 30.Bg3 Rf1+ 31.Kh2! Qf6 32.Rxf1 Bxf1 (If 32…Qxf1 33.Bd6! wins.) 33.Nxb5! and Black’s position collapses with the hit on d5 winning back the piece. 30.Qe3 Qf4 The trade of queens only helps Nakamura – but Caruana probably thought better now that keeping the queens on risked being over-run by White’s very active minor pieces coming to life. 31.Qxf4 Rxf4 32.Ne6 Nxe6 33.Bxe6+ Kh7 34.Bxd5 As Black’s pawns drop-off, so his position becomes more and more untenable. And by now, I reckon Nakamura had to be enjoying the revenge torture he was inflicting on his long-time rival and fellow countryman. 34…R8f5 35.Bc6 Rxh5 36.Bd4 Rhf5 37.Nf2 When the e4-pawn falls, Black is in big trouble. 37…Rf7 38.b4 For sure, Nakamura can safely take the e4-pawn with 38.Bxe4+ Bxe4 39.Nxe4 R7f5 40.Nd6 Rd5 but Black’s rooks do get a little more active here. But with the pawn not going anywhere, instead Nakamura just fixes his opponent’s queenside pawns to set-up the winning endgame. 38…h5 39.a4 bxa4 40.Bxa4 Now White has pawn targets on both e4 and a6; perhaps even c4. 40…h4 41.Be3 R4f5 42.Ra1! h3 43.Ra2! [see diagram] The best practical winning try. After 43.Nxh3?! Rf1+ 44.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 45.Kh2 Re1 46.Ng5+ Kg6 47.Bf4 Ra1 48.Be8+ Kf6 49.Bc6 a5! suddenly Black’s rook is very active and the queenside pawn threat neutralised. 43…hxg2 44.Bd1 R7f6 45.Bg4 Rd5 46.Kxg2 Rg6 47.Kg3 Bf1 48.Bd4 Not so much keeping the rook out of the game but rather freeing up the e3-square for another of his pieces. 48…Bd3 49.Kf4 Kg8 50.Bf5 Nakamura is in his element here, with Caruana all but paralysed and struggling just to make moves as he gets pushed off the board. 50…Rh6 51.Ng4 Rhd6 52.Ne3 Nakamura has masterfully brought all his pieces into the game to work as a unit, and now it is just a matter of time before he makes the winning breakthrough. 52…Rb5 53.Bc5 Rf6 54.Ke5 Kf7 55.Nd5 The quick kill, according to our Silicon Overlords, was 55.Rf2! Ke8 (If 55…Rb8 56.Be6+ Kg6 57.Nf5 Rb7 58.Rg2+ Kh7 59.Rh2+ Kg6 60.Ne7+ wins.) 56.Rg2 Kf7 57.Bd7 Rb8 58.Nf5! and Black can resign. 55…Rxf5+ A little bit of relief for Caruana – but it is too little too late now. 56.Kxf5 e3+ 57.Ke5 e2 58.Bf2 Rb8 59.Be1 Re8+ This is the best Caruana has had in the game since his mistake with 22…c4 – but he is still hopelessly lost. 60.Kf4 g5+ 61.Kg3 Re6 62.Kf2 Rh6 63.Ke3 Re6+ 64.Kf2 Rh6 65.Ne3 Rf6+? A missed late moment for Caruana, as more resilient was 65…Rh1! 66.Ng2 g4 67.Bd2 Rh3 68.Ne1! Be4 69.Ra5 g3+ 70.Kxe2 Rh2+ 71.Kd1 g2 72.Rg5 Kf6 73.Rg3 Rh3 74.Rxg2 Bxg2 75.Nxg2 Rh1+ 76.Ke2 but eventually the B+N will pick-off Black’s pawns. 66.Kg3 Rf1 67.Ng2 When the a6 or e2 pawn falls then Black’s resignation will not be far behind. 67…Rf6 68.Bf2 Kg6 69.Ra5 Re6 70.Ne1 Bf5 71.Nf3 Rd6 72.Nd4 Bd3 73.Re5 Kf6 74.Nf3 1-0 And Caruana resigns with g5 set to fall, and also Re3 and Nd4 picking off the e2-pawn.