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U.S. Grandmaster Hideki Nakamura has won the last automatic qualifying spot in the Candidates Tournament that will be held this June and July to select the challenger to Magnus Carlsen in the 2023 World Championship. Nakamura and Grandmaster Richard Rapport of Hungary earned the right to participate by taking the top spots in the FIDE Grand Prix tournament series that began in February.

The earlier qualifiers were Grandmasters Fabiano Caruana of the U.S., Ian Nepomniatchi and Sergey Karjakin of Russia, Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan, Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland and Alireza Firouzja of France. However, the world chess federation (FIDE) has banned Karjakin from playing due to statements he has made in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russian Chess Federation has appealed, but if Karjakin’s suspension is upheld, he will be replaced in May by the nonqualifying player with the highest FIDE rating.

Nakamura was not considered one of the favorites at the start of the Grand Prix, due to a slide in his world ranking (he has been ranked as high as second) and a two-year pause in playing classical chess during the pandemic. But Nakamura has played very well during the Grand Prix, with six wins and only one loss in the 15 classical games that he’s played.

Nakamura, playing black, clinched his Candidates Tournament entry with the following win against Andrey Esipenko of Russia.

White: Esipenko (Russia)

Black: Nakamura (USA)

1e4 e5 2Bc4 Nf6 3d3 Nc6 4Nc3 Na5 5Qf3!? This is less popular than 5Nge2 Nxc4 6dxc4 Bc5 7Qd3, followed by Be3.

5…Nxc4 6dxc4 d6 7Nge2 Be6 8b3 Be7 90-0 0-0 10a4 Nd7 11a5 a6 After completing his development and taking steps to lock down the queenside, white turns his attention to the kingside.

White to move

12Ng3 Bg5 13Nf5 Bxc1 14Raxc1 g6 15Ne3 c6 16Ra1 Qe7 17Qd1 Rad8 18Qd2 Nf6 19f4 exf4 20Rxf4 Nh5 21Rf3 Qg5 22Raf1!? White sacrifices his a-pawn in order to further his kingside attack.

22…Qxa5 23g4 Ng7

White to move

24Nf5!? Qe5 If 24…gxf5, white gets an attack, but black can defend his position with accurate play. After 25exf5 Bd7 26Qh6 f6 27Rh3 Rde8 28Qxh7+ Kf7 29Qg6+ Kg8, white has nothing better than 30Qh7+, repeating the position seen at move 28.

25Nh6+ Kh8 26Nd5!? White offers to sacrifice a second piece to continue his attack.

Black to move

26…g5?! A risky move by black. Black’s safest defense is to play 26…cxd5. The game could have continued 27exd5 Bxd5 (giving back a piece to slow white’s attack) 28cxd5 f5, and black has freed up his kingside.

27Qf2? This move only appears to increase white’s pressure on the f-file. White could have played 27c3 to further limit black’s queen while keeping his own queen on d2 to watch black’s pawn on g5.

27…f5! By sacrificing his f-pawn, black keeps white’s rooks and queen from using the f-file and opens up the h5 square for his knight.

28gxf5 Bxd5 29exd5 Nh5 If white’s queen were still on d2 he could now play Qxg5, with a winning position.

30Re1 Qg7 31Ng4 Nf4 32f6 Qd7 33Rxf4!? gxf4 34Qxf4 Rde8 Now white has to worry about his rook on e1 and his knight on g4.

White to move

35Rf1? White’s only defense is 35Rxe8. After 35…Qxe8 36Qxd6 Rg8 37h3 h5, black wins white’s knight, but white has 38Qe6! hxg4 39f7 Qxe6 40dxe6, and black has to give up his rook to stop white’s advanced passed pawns.

35…Qf7 This stops white’s f-pawn, allowing black to use the g-file to attack white’s knight and king.

36Kh1 Qg6 Even stronger was 36…cxd5 37Nh6 (37cxd5 Qxd5+) Qg6 38cxd5 Re4.

White to move

37Rg1? White’s best chance was 37c5, trying to remove black’s d6 pawn so his knight can jump to e5. However, black can play 37…cxd5 38cxd6 Qe4+, forcing a queen trade and reaching a favorable endgame.

37…h5 38Ne3 Rxf6 resigns. After 39Qd4, Qe4+ forces the exchange of queens and places black’s rooks in dominating positions.

White to move

To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://chess24.com/en/watch/live-tournaments/fide-grand-prix-2022-leg-3-all-groups/6/1/2.

Keith Holzmueller

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...

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