Nepo leads the Candidates with three games left after another inexplicable drama

Imagine the reader a Manchester-Real Madrid of five and a half hours. This is what happened this Wednesday in Toronto, a drama between two formidable players with which the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi He reached first place in the Candidates tournament classification. Chess is the greatest spectacle in the world. The biggest difference with football, although it may seem incredible to the uninitiated, is that it requires a certain training of the public.

The photographer Michal Walusza He left several images that we will continue to admire in a few years. In one of them, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi He stands up, with his hands on his head, still unable to believe the tragedy he has just co-written and starred in. Nepo, whom we have seen puffing several times, closes his eyes in his chair, still unable to believe the miracle. He was against the ropes twice and they didn’t finish him off. Then, Vidit was not satisfied with the draw, because he needed to win, and ended up falling. The referee himself seems to reflect on whether everything has been legal, whether his role could have been more active.

It is another difference with other sports. Luckily, in chess a referee can warn a player if he is making too much noise, but normally he only intervenes as a notary. The grandmasters themselves write the minutes, which are their sheets with the plays.

This Wednesday, we saw several extraordinary events in Toronto, in a day that could have been fateful for the Russians, but that in the end favored Nepo, as always. The Russian plays his third Candidates and only knows two positions: leader or colder. It is his tournament, when the rest of the year he will seem like one more among the elite. On the eleventh day of this double-round league, it seemed that it could finally be surpassed by Hikaru Nakamura, but once again it was saved, like Real Madrid in the Champions League. Beyond the whims of chance, something will do right.

Nakamura, pluriemployed

The thing about the Japanese American is also unusual. On the eve of his game against PraggnanandhaaOn a rest day, Naka played and broadcast the weekly rapid tournaments on the platform. The latter won, furthermore, a good omen and at the same time an apparent irresponsibility. On the networks he celebrated the victory and commented half jokingly that he would return to his “holiday tournament”, which is the Candidates.

As if that were not enough, every night the American records a video in which he comments on each of his games. It is his real job, the one with which he earns the most money, and he does not leave it even when he could concentrate on another temporary company, for all his rivals the most important of the year and in general of his life.

Michal WaluszaFIDE

After his multitasking display, Naka played a very intelligent game against Pragg. The 18-year-old Indian demonstrated talent, resources and courage, but the American demonstrated that experience is no less important. The victory was scored and everyone thought that the day would end among the leaders, given the tie between Gukesh with Caruana (both too perfect for anything else to happen) and the difficult situation of Nepo against Vidit.

India, United States or Russia

In the end, the title is played between three very different powers. There are millions and millions of Indian fans who dream of the victory of one of their three representatives. Gukesh, only 17 years old, stumbled and recovered, and has played an impeccable game, incredible for a boy his age. He has time to win, but in front of him he has rivals as good as him and with many more draws, not just chess ones.

In the United States and in much of the planet they long for an American victory. Nakamura is the greatest ‘showman’ of the boards and would make chess even more popular. Just because of the faces he makes, the 64-square game will become a first-class television show. My little daughter calls him “the mysterious one.” You don’t need to understand much to enjoy his performances, which a strict director would try to control. This Wednesday we also saw him with his adoptive father, who brought him from Japan when he was a baby. He was a sign of family strengthening, after Naka confessed that he managed to recover from a previous defeat thanks to his wife, also a chess player and of Iranian origin.

If Nakamura wins in Toronto, he will be the big favorite to defeat Ding Liren in the World Championship to be held at the end of the year. We could have the first American champion since more than half a century ago, when Bobby Fischer starred in the best movie in the history of chess.

The third candidate and the best placed now is Ian Nepomniachtchi. He has always won the Candidates in which he has participated, although then he did poorly in the World Cups. He is the only undefeated player in Canada, although he has come close to defeat several times, and seems to have the luck of champions, which is also necessary in chess. Guardiola said last night, naively, that he tries to believe that luck does not exist. What happens is that his distribution is not by pure chance, as we see time and again on the grass and in the 64 squares.

The fourth place finisher in Toronto is another American, Fabiano Caruana, who, barring a miracle, will be left without the final prize. Of the first four, he is the one who has put the least soul into his games. Very cerebral and without a doubt the most complete after Carlsen, he needs to give himself more in these appointments, give his all and not just his neurons.

Female candidates

In the women’s tournament, the level is lower and the turnarounds in the games are even more surprising, but the stars wanted the excitement to fade sooner. The title is up to the two Chinese chess players and the winner will face the world champion, also Chinese, Ju Wenjun. Little international tension. The dictatorship of the Asian giant in women’s chess allows little joy and turns this tournament into a minor event next to the absolute one. FIDE scheduled both competitions at the same time to highlight the female Candidates, but the effect seems counterproductive. The eclipse has been seen clearly in Canada.

After 11 games of the 14 scheduled, Tan Zhongyi He is the leader after also saving several match points. Follows her halfway Lei Tingjie, who has an extraordinary streak. Thanks to that he has managed to stay in the wake of his compatriot. In three games he needs to cut half a point to reach the tiebreakers in quick games. The situation is complicated, but if he maintains his winning inertia it is still more than possible.

The disappointment in Toronto has been the Russians, Aleksandra Goryachkina y Kateryna Lagno, who would have needed Nepo to give them a little luck or give them a survival lesson. Surely they are things that are not inherited or transmitted so easily.

In the interviews after the games, we also learned that Alireza Firouzja is not thinking about retirement. They are things that are said in the heat, he explained, that he himself has repeated a thousand times. He plans to continue playing and, one day, demonstrate why Carlsen chose him as his heir, a role that he has yet to play.

2024-04-18 09:00:02
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