The Longest Day - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The summer solstice, otherwise known as the longest day of the year, came on Tuesday 21 June, a dateline that  clashed with the fourth round of the Fide Candidates Tournament in Madrid. But for Alireza Firouzja, the day proved to be even longer, as Ian Nepomniachtchi inflicted a midsummer mauling on the 18-year-old young pretender to Magnus Carlsen’s crown to storm into the early sole lead.

With the only win of the round, Nepomniachtchi – playing under the neutral Fide flag due following the Russian invasion of Ukraine – took a tentative step towards yet another crack at Carlsen’s crown, as the young Frenchman was outplayed after he’d inadvertently strayed into a Najdorf minefield all of his own making.

In a highly theoretical position, where White has just pushed with the provocative 15.f5, the databases will throw up hundreds of games where Black continued 15…a4 and 15…Bxb3, Firouzja opted for a twist with the least known option of 15…Bc4. It was a move that initially confused Nepomniachtchi, but after making logical follow-ups, he sidestepped Firouzja’s prep with 19.gxf6 that just confused the teenager, who soon strayed into a hopelessly lost position.

Firouzja’s shaky position was still playable until he blundered big-time by dropping his b-pawn that allowed Nepomniachtchi to ruthlessly move in for the kill, and to admit after the game that he could sense it wasn’t so much a blunder but rather desperation from his young opponent.

And going into the lead with the only win of the round, now all the chatter is the possibility of Nepomniachtchi joining a very select club of Vasily Smyslov, Boris Spassky and Viktor Kortchnoi, being the only players to have won back-to-back Candidates. Smyslov won the fabled Zurich 1953 Candidates and repeated again in 1956; Spassky won in 1965 and 1968; and the last was Kortchnoi in 1978 and 1980.

There’s live coverage throughout, with top Grandmaster commentaries on the official tournament site and also on Chess24.

Standings:
1. I. Nepomniachtchi (Fide) 3/4; 2. F. Caruana (USA) 2½; 3-5. JK Duda (Poland), R. Rapport (Hungary), H. Nakamura (USA) 2; 6-8. Ding Liren (China), T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), A. Firouzja (France) 1½.

Photo: Nepo storms into the sole lead with an impressive midsummer mauling | © Stev Bonhage/2022 Fide World Candidates

 

 

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Alireza Firouzja
FIDE Candidates Tournament, (4)
Sicilian Najdorf
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 Rather than the deep labyrinth of one of the many über-sharp Najdorf main lines, Nepo is looking to take the game into a sort of English Attack set-up with Be3 while sidestepping the annoying …Ng4 lines. 6…e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.Be3 Be7 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 Nbd7 11.g4 b5 This is all typical fare in the Sicilian Najdorf with both sides castling on opposite sides of the board: White throws everything into the kingside, while Black does likewise on the queenside – and if someone blinks first, they will find themselves in difficulties. 12.g5 b4 13.Ne2 Ne8 14.f4 a5 15.f5 The general consensus was that this game was just going to be a draw as the engines were already flashing up the dull as dishwater assessment of “0.00”. 15…Bc4!? I believe previously popular was the forcing line 15…a4 16.fxe6 axb3 17.cxb3 fxe6 18.Bh3 Rxa2 19.Bxe6+ Kh8 which usually petered out to a draw – but Firouzja has come into the Candidates with a new twist to keep a bit more tension in the game, that unfortunately backfires on him. 16.Kb1 a4 17.Nbc1 d5 18.f6 gxf6 19.gxf6 Ndxf6 20.Ng3 Got to love how wild the position looks yet our Silicon Overlords think it is just the dreaded “0.00”. 20…Bxf1?! The engines much prefer getting the king off the open g-file immediately with 20…Kh8 and leaving White to decide how to handle the …Bc4. 21.Rhxf1 a3 22.b3 Kh8 23.exd5 Nd6? In such double-edged positions, often just a minor slip-up can see a perceived “0.00” assessment changing very dramatically and very quickly! Correct and more accurate was 23…Qc7! 24.Rxf6! Bxf6 25.Nd3 with interesting play ahead for both sides. It seems though that Firouzja simply miscalculated the dynamics of the position, and Nepo wastes no time in coming in for the kill. 24.Qxb4! Rc8? The best try was 24…Nd7 and hope for something, anything down the long h8-a1 diagonal that might possibly salvage the game. But now it is too late, and Nepo doesn’t even think twice about how to win from here. 25.Bb6! Preventing the awkward …Qc7 – but the key to this being a silent killer is being able to spot White’s follow-up move. 25…Qd7 26.Qe1!! [see diagram] Often in chess, a retreating queen move all the way back to its own back-rank can be a difficult winning move to spot. And here, Firouzja has overlooked the killer blow coming on e5. 26…Rb8 No better was 26…Nb5 27.c4! Qb7 28.Qxe5! Qxb6 29.d6 Bd8 30.Rxf6! Rc5 31.Qa1! and Black is basically sitting in Death’s Waiting Room, the engine going for 31…Rxc4 32.Rf3+ f6 33.bxc4 Nc3+ 34.Kc2 Nxd1 35.Kxd1 Qxd6+ 36.Rd3 Qe6 37.Qd4 and with an extra piece and no danger to the White king, Black can resign. 27.Ba5 Nc4 28.d6! More clinical than 28.Bc3 Ng8 29.d6 Bg5 30.Ne4 Bh6 31.Qh4 etc. 28…Bd8 29.Bc3 Qe6 30.Nd3 Nd5 31.Nf4! Nxf4 32.Rxf4 f6 33.Qe2 Nb2 Firouzja is just dead in the water, and no better was 33…Nxd6 34.Bxe5! Nb5 35.Ba1 and an easy win. 34.Rdf1 Re8 35.Rh4 f5? By this stage, with the forlorn look on Firouzja’s face, not to mention his uncomfortable body-language signs, it was obvious he had decided he was going to hang for the sheep rather than the lamb. 36.Rxh7+! The rook sac is a fitting finale to a finely played game from Nepo – and a win that is likely to increase his confidence to win a second successive Candidates Tournament! 36…Kxh7 37.Qh5+ Kg8 Of course, easily winning was 37…Qh6 38.Qxe8! 38.Nxf5 And now with the g-file opened, Black can’t stop the mating attack. 38…Bf6 39.Rg1+ 1-0 Firouzja resigns, but it would have been nice to have allowed Nepo the crowed-pleasing mate with 39…Kf8 40.Qh6+ Kf7 41.Rg7+! Kf8 (If 41…Bxg7 42.Qxg7#]) 42.Qh8+ Qg8 43.Qxg8#

 

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