The biggest applause of the day at the Santoña Palace in Madrid went to the Hungarian Richard Rapport. He had just lost to the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi, but the public recognized his fighting spirit and his sportsmanship. He was able to make a draw in a few moves, but he refused the repetition even knowing that everything could get complicated. If he still had any chance of winning the Candidates tournament, where only first place matters (in principle), he had to try to beat the leader.
Unfortunately for him, bravery often pays off and he ended up losing the game. He himself did not explain what had happened. 'Stranger things', he even said. And he wasn't talking about the Netflix series.
«It should be tables. I don't understand anything », she answered. When did her preparation end and she had to start improvising? "I would like to know. Something has gone wrong, of course. It's hard to understand. I have to explain it to myself." He appreciated the applause, of course, but it wasn't comforting enough.
One of Nepo's coaches, his compatriot Nikita Vitiugov, confessed behind the scenes that to win such a tournament "you also need luck". The old saying, so applicable to chess and to life, is also true: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Today he had it because under normal conditions his rival would have had to settle for a draw after seeing that he had nothing. The Russian team, which seems more relaxed than ever, does not want to guess and only think "game by game". On the other hand, they know that they have to insulate themselves from the pressure of the war in Ukraine and not take any false steps.
Nepo's victory, on the other hand, was the perfect example of how hard and useful it is to prepare in chess. It was a 'free' point. After the game he confessed that he had studied everything until move 25, a less common circumstance than the neophyte spectator thinks. Not even NASA's most powerful computers are able to drill down 25 moves without getting lost.
That yes, if you have prepared one of the millions of possible lines, your rival enters the rag and you are able to remember everything, the advantage of the one who has studied better is scandalous. The Russian only had to repeat what he had learned, live the emotion of checking if his rival was satisfied with the draw and, if he did not, see if he would know how to resist later in such a delicate situation. Neither of these things happened and the consequence is that Nepomniachtchi is the leader with 5.5 points in 7 games, a performance worthy of the days of Bobby Fischer.
Only Fabiano Caruana tries to keep up with him. Teimour Radjabov looked like a likely opponent to try for victory, given his poor form. The American, a professional riveter of screws, always unalterable, has been tightening for more than four hours and Black's structure begins to look like the house of the first little pig. It is a long game, which has not yet finished and which has also become dangerously complicated, although the machines assure that it is still in a position to finish off. Even if he wins, as it seems, he continues to rack up more attrition than the leader. At least he is there, well placed and waiting for Nepo to change the wind.
The second fastest game of the day was a neat draw between Poland's Jan-Krzysztof Duda and the other American in the tournament, Hikaru Nakamura. There was no play out of the ordinary, no mistakes or surprising moves. In front of 'Stranger things', 'Little house on the prairie'. Naka, relaxed, went to the Chess.com studio to discuss the stakes after his game.
In the Asian duel, although Alireza Firouzja already plays under the French flag, the Iranian-born player withstood the downpour in style against Ding Liren, who did not quite take off. Both are still locked in an ending that looks like clear draws, although we already know that to err is human and appearances are deceiving. When the Chinese grandmaster takes off, Nepo and Caruana may already be on another continent.