Hikaru Nakamura injected new life into the Candidates race by winning a hugely impressive game against his countryman Fabiano Caruana in Round 8. Hikaru’s 2nd win leaves him just half a point behind Fabi, with Ian Nepomniachtchi now leading by a full point after making a quick draw against Ding Liren. Caruana-Nepomniachtchi in Round 9 will be huge!
Ian Nepomniachtchi had stormed to +4 in the FIDE Candidates and the hope of the other participants was that he’d suffer one of the collapses that have marred his career so far. He wasn’t going to make that mistake in Round 8, however, as he made a quick and effortless draw against pre-tournament co-favourite Ding Liren.
That meant Fabiano Caruana could catch Nepo with a win, but when the dust of 21 blitzed out moves had settled, Fabiano found himself with a tricky choice to make against Hikaru Nakamura.
22…e4! and the computer prefers Black, but Fabi spent 21 minutes before going for 22…c4?!, giving Hikaru a grip on the position that he never let go.
In fact it was a masterpiece of a game, with the creative 25.Nh1! drawing high praise.
When Hikaru then set his h-pawn in motion, Fabiano was in huge trouble — Anish here refers to Vladimir Kramnik talking of 2300-level play in Madrid.
Hikaru was clearly enjoying himself as he rotated a piece in full view of his opponent…
…and though Fabiano made the time control, you could see that his emotional reaction was less relief than a sigh at the dire position he found himself in.
You could point to some minor inaccuracies or missed kills for Hikaru, but those small blemishes only emphasised the remarkable quality of the rest of his play.
Here, for instance, he found the far from obvious 43.Ra2! hxg2 44.Bd1!, the only way to maintain control.
Fabiano wasn't going to go down without a fight, however, and put up huge resistance just when it seemed it was only a question of when he would resign. 60...g5+! was a key move.
There were signs of real frustration from Hikaru.
It seemed Fabi might escape from Hikaru's clutches, just as Nepo had earlier in the event.
But, with some help from his opponent, Hikaru finally did manage to stabilise again, and this time there was no mistake as he went on to score a richly-deserved win.
A huge result for the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament!
Elsewhere, just when Richard Rapport looked on tilt after his needless loss the day before, he suddenly took over and crashed through for victory against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Duda resigned here, since he’s essentially getting checkmated on the h-file, and any chess player can sympathise with the pain the Polish no. 1 was feeling.
That killed any last hopes for Duda, who is now on -2, while Richard, on 50%, could still get back into the picture.
Firouzja-Radjabov saw Alireza do absolutely everything to try and get his first win, but after 7 hours and 93 moves the game finally ended in a draw.
All eyes will be on Caruana-Nepomniachtchi in Monday’s Round 9. If Fabiano bounces back and wins that game, while Nakamura beats Radjabov with Black, we would have three players within half a point at the top of the standings!