Russian Grandmaster sets up world title clash with Carlsen
Ian Nepomniachtchi, the Russian Grandmaster and current seventh-ranked player in the world, will challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a 12-game match in November after he secured victory at the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Spain on Sunday.
Nepomniachtchi, 31, needed a draw in two rounds in Sunday's play after stretching his advantage in recent days over Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura, and did so against Richard Rapport to set up a high stakes clash with the world's top player in late 2022.
'Nepo', as he is known to some, was authoritative throughout, playing aggressively when he needed to but also showcased his keen eye for identifying threats against him as he was forced to defend positions on several occasions.
In the end, the Russian Grandmaster - who was playing under a neutral flag to due sporting sanctions placed on Russian players in the wake of the country's military operation in Ukraine - was consistently head and shoulders in front of his competition, some of whom floundered at inopportune moments throughout the event.
The Russian star eventually achieved a score of 8.5/12 with 5 wins, as well as a 2792 live rating - ultimately winning the event with a round to spare.
He also won the same event last year before losing 7½-3½ to Carlsen.
"He was criminally underrated by pundits and betting odds, but I still thought that Ding or Fabiano were even bigger favourites. But kudos, he's done really well!"@MagnusCarlsen on Nepomniachtchi's #FIDECandidates performance in talk with @NastiaKarlovich for @STLChessClub. pic.twitter.com/o7cBLAjm7K— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) July 3, 2022
Nepomniachtchi summed up his win with typical extravagance: “As I said two years ago, it’s very important to try not to lose. If you don’t lose, it’s surely going alright.”
Carlsen, meanwhile, praised Nepomniachtchi's performance immediately after the tournament's conclusion.
“He's playing very well,” the Norwegian announced. “He's making the most of his chances. There have been many interesting games but he's converted all of his advantages very well and saved bad positions, so he's been by far the best.
“No I didn't expect [him to win] but he was criminally underrated by pundits and betting odds but I still thought that Ding or Fabiano were even bigger favorites.
“But kudos, he's done really well.”