Luck has very little influence in chess. But there are exceptions that can be crucial. For example, if Russia’s Ian Niepómniashi wins the Candidates Tournament in Madrid, where he leads after five rounds out of fourteen, it is very likely that he will owe that success to two Gifts, American Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura in the 2nd and 5th rounds. “Today was my lucky day,” admitted the Slav. It was actually his second day of great happiness.
All four of Wednesday’s games ended in a draw: Caruana couldn’t beat Rapport (Hungary); Liren Ding (China) spoiled a winning position against Teimur Radyábov (Azerbaijan); and Alireza Firouzja (France) signed a balsamic tie with Jan Duda (Poland). The 6th will take place on Thursday from 3:00 p.m. at the Palacio de Santoña and can be followed live on elpais.com and its YouTube channels.
The beginning of the round served to remind us in a very graphic way that chess is a great mental gym according to several scientific studies to delay brain aging and maybe prevent Alzheimer’s. Kicking off this time was Manuel Álvarez, an active 100-year-old chess player with a mental agility that many much younger people wish for. And the multinational law firm Ashurst invited around twenty of their best clients to watch the gladiators on the board up close for a few minutes. What struck them most was “the tremendous tension that can be felt in the environment,” some agreed.
It was to be expected that the greatest tension would be felt in the Nakamura-Niepómniashi duel, albeit in very different ways for both. Nakamura had the gall to say on Sunday that he was losing money in this tournament compared to what he would make if he spent the three weeks stream (playing and commenting on their own games online), which has made them rich during the pandemic. Logic dictates that a player who doesn’t put his heart and soul into the contestant can’t win it, but it’s true that Nakamura’s talent is gigantic and that playing without putting yourself under pressure can be an advantage put.
At least he’s quite capable of winning a few more games (he beat Radyabov in 2nd place after losing to Caruana in 1st place). And he was close to victory again this Wednesday against the leader. After the Japanese-born American’s twentieth set, the position of the Russian, who plays under the International Chess Federation (FIDE) banner, was pathetic. He wasn’t lost yet, but he was stuck, without harmony.
Lo and behold, Nakamura messed up three times, resorting to sophisticated moves when the more natural ones gave him a tremendous advantage. He then explained that he hadn’t seen a saving move from his opponent’s queen. But that doesn’t sound very convincing. These types of mistakes are usually due to a lack of focus. Given his immense talent, 34-year-old Nakamura could be few more in the elite. Or even play veteran tournaments at 100 like Manuel Álvarez. But it’s very unlikely he’ll have many more opportunities to bring down a world champion by as large a margin as he did this Wednesday at the Palacio de Santoña.
Ranking (after 5th round): 1. Niepomniashi 3.5 points; 2. Caruana 3; 3rd-5th Rapport, Duda and Nakamura 2.5; 6th-8th Firouzja, Ding and Radyabov 2.
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