The Openings of the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament

chessable candidates 2022 openings

Get ready to explore the best openings by the top players.

In this article, we give a day-by-day breakdown of the openings played in the 2022 FIDE Candidates Tournament, with a short introduction to the openings.

If you haven’t checked out who is playing yet, take a look at our guide to the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

Round 1-Friday, Jun 17, 2022

Game 1: Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Richard Rapport

The Sicilian Defense: French Variation

Duda is one of the most booked-up players, while Rapport is one of the flashiest tacticians playing today, so the first match was promising. In this match the players played a Sicilian Defense, French Variation, beginning with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6.

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Black’s second move is considered more positional than other typical first moves of the Sicilian Defense. From here the typical plan for White is to open the position with 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4. Unlike other Sicilian Defenses, Black has an open diagonal for their dark-squared bishop.

The first game of this tournament ended in a draw. Take a look below.

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Game 2: Ding Liren vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi

English Opening: King’s English Variation

1.c4 e5

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This was one of the most exciting games of the first round, with the number two player in the world losing the game as White to last year’s challenger to the World Championship title.

The King’s English is also known as the Reversed Sicilian Defense. Considered the most radical reply to the English, players either love it or hate it. It is said to show both the beauty and the ugliness of 1.c4. Many English players hope to face it, while others will completely avoid the English so they never have to see it.

Take a look at this fantastic 32-move win by Nepo as Black.

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Game 3: Fabiano Caruana vs. Hikaru Nakamura

The Ruy Lopez: Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

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This is one of the most popular replies to the Ruy Lopez at the top level. It was not played much until the Classical World Chess Championship in 2000 when Vladimir Kramnik used it as a drawing weapon against Garry Kasparov.

Given its reputation as a drawing weapon, it is sometimes called the “Berlin Wall”. It is a natural move as it attacks White’s e-pawn, and Black is much closer to castling than if they play the most popular move, 3…a6. It is also considered less flexible than 3…a6.

This is where we see the Super-GMs shine. This is one of the most studied openings in chess, with these GMs pouring uncountable amounts of study into the latest variations.

Despite this having a reputation as a drawish opening, Nakamura could not secure a draw, and Caruana was able to edge out a win against him in the first round.

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Game 4: Teimour Radjabov vs. Alireza Firouzja

The Queen’s Gambit Declined: Three Knights Variation

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3

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This opening was actually reached by transposition, as 3.Nf3 is a way to deny a Nimzo-Indian, which perhaps Firouzja was trying to play.

This signals a slow and positional game for both sides. No one here is about to blow open the board with mindbending tactics. The parent opening, the Queen’s Gambit Declined, is one of the most sturdy and reliable defenses against the Queen’s Gambit. It is not a thing of just Super-GMs either, this is one of the most recommended openings for beginners.

Firouzja may have wanted to go into a more tactical Nimzo-Indian Defense, but after being denied it after 3.Nf3, he changed gears into this super solid and patient setup.

The game ended in a draw:

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Round 2: Saturday, June 18th, 2022

Game 1: Richard Rapport vs Alireza Firouzja

Sicilian Defense: Chekhover Variation

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4

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The Chekhover Variation was first played in Leningrad in 1938 by Chekhover–Lisitsin. It is uncommon, especially at the top level. It violates the opening principle of bringing one’s queen out too early.

The move 4.Qxd4 differentiates from the standard 4.Nxd4. This was probably an attempt by Rapport to take Firouzja out of his preparation. Despite this novel attempt, the game ended in a draw after 60 moves.

In this opening, White has a win rate of 36.4%, Black’s win rate is 30.6%, while draws make up the remaining 33%.

Chessable has a great free course on Anti-Sicilians, which includes the Chekhover Variation.

Take a look at the game:

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Game 2: Hikaru Nakamura vs. Teimour Radjabov

The Ruy Lopez: The Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

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This is the second time already we are seeing this Super-GM draw weapon, (and the second time with Nakamura playing too). Nakamura needed to play for a win given his loss in the first round against Caruana. Radjabov, as Black, was probably content with trying to secure a half-point with the draw.

Even still, Nakamura was able to break through Radjabov’s Berlin Wall and put himself back into contention by securing a win and one point after 75 moves.

Check out our course The Smart Ruy Lopez Part 2: Break Down the Berlin Defense to fight for a win against this tough defense.

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Game 3: Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Fabiano Caruana

The Italian Game: Giuoco Pianissimo

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 Bc5

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The two players coming off victories in the first round played this third game of the second round and opted for the Giuoco Pianissimo variation of the Italian Game.

Translating to “ultra-quiet game”, this variation is extremely solid, and both sides focus on all the main chess opening principles. Development to ideal squares of the minor pieces, quick castling, and control of the center.

This opening may look tame, but lay beneath it is a potent attacking weapon, full of tactics ready to be unleashed. It is probably one of the best openings beginners can learn to understand how chess should be played. White is waiting to push d4 until the time is absolutely right.

Neither side in this game however was able to squeeze out a win:

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Game 4: Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Ding Liren

The Italian Game: Giuoco Pianisimo

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 Bc5

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In the last game of round two, we get another Giuco Piannisimo and the same result from Duda and Liren.

Chessable has a fantastic course on Thematic Tactics: The Slow Italian Game, to get you learning common tactics in the Italian Game.

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Round 3: Sunday, June 19th, 2022

Game 1: Teimour Radjabov vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi

The Catalan Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3

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Again Radjabov plays 1.d4, and again, Nepomniachtchi may have wanted to go into a Nimzo-Indian Defense. This is very reminiscent of how his game against Firouzja went in the first round.

Instead of transposing into a Queen’s Gambit Declined, after playing the Anti-Nimzo-Indian move 3.Nf3, the game transposed into the Catalan.

The Catalan has been quite popular in recent times. Magnus Carlsen used it as one of his main openings in the World Championship against Nepomniachtchi last year.

The Catalan does not have a strict move order and may be reached via many different moves. White prepares to fianchetto the light-squared bishop to have long-term pressure on the h1-a8 diagonal. This pressure will most be felt if Black plays c5 or takes on c4.

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Game 2: Ding Liren vs. Richard Rapport

The Grünfeld Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

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The Grünfeld is one of the most theory-heavy openings in all of chess, so much so that players below the 2000 level are recommended to avoid it.

Black counters in the center with 3…d5, which allows White a significant amount of latitude in choosing their setup.

In the 1920s, the Grünfeld revolutionized how people thought about chess. It showed that a pawn center, instead of just being a positive, could be an object of attack. The Grünfeld helped usher in a new way of thinking about chess; the hypermodern school of thought.

The Grünfeld was first played in 1855 by Moheschunder Bannerjee, an Indian chess player who had remarkably transitioned from the Indian rules of chess to the modern rules.

Let’s take a look at the featured game:

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Game 3: Fabiano Caruana vs Jan-Krzysztof Duda

The Sicilian Najdorf

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc6 a6

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Called the Cadillac or Rolls Royce of openings due to its sturdiness, the quiet move 5…a6 is a deceptively looking powerful move and one that entails much theory.

This opening is, along with the Grünfeld and the Ruy Lopez, one of the most theoretically studied openings in all of chess and is a reminder of why chess is such a beautiful game. New ideas are constantly found many lines deep. It is an opening that keeps on giving, like the Ruy Lopez.

In contrast to the Ruy Lopez, this world-class opening can be very tough for beginners to grasp. A certain level of theoretical knowledge is necessary. 5…a6 is simply completely counterintuitive.

However, for those willing to put in the work, the Najdorf can be one of the most rewarding and rich openings to add to one’s repertoire.

Let’s see how the featured game went down:

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Game 4: Alireza Firouzja vs Hikaru Nakamura

The Nimzo-Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

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This is one of the best defenses for Black against 1.d4, and it can be quite torturous for White. In fact, it causes White such headaches that the most common move after 2…e6 is 3.Nf3 to completely avoid the headaches the Nimzo causes for White.

Of course this is not at all unplayable for White, but Black has a highly flexible system with their dark-squared bishop developed to its most active square, pinning the knight, preventing White from playing d4, and threatening to saddle White with doubled c-pawns. That’s quite a lot for one developing move on move 3.

Furthermore, Black has not committed to a pawn structure, so this gives Black much flexibility in the setup they choose to employ.

First played by chess player and theoretician Aron Nimzowitsch, this was one of the first hypermodern openings to get noticed, and it remains a favorite today.

Attesting to its greatness is the fact that it has been played by every World Champion since José Raúl Capablanca.

Let’s look at it in the featured game:

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[To be updated soon]

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