Ian Nepomniachtchi is one of a cadre of strong Russian players who sometimes are overlooked because there is so much talent in Russia. But at a recent super tournament in China, he reminded everyone of how well he can play.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, a Russian grandmaster, is one of the most creative chess players around. But because there are so many great Russian players, it is never easy for a Russian to regularly play in the super tournaments, unless his name is Vladimir Kramnik or Sergey Karjakin. Recently, however, Nepomniachtchi got a chance to play in the Hainan Danzhou tournament in China. Nepomniachtchi marked his return to super-tournaments in style by capturing first place, a full point ahead of his nearest competitors. 

Usually, when a player wins a tournament such as Hainan Danzhou, he does it without losing a game. But Nepomniachtchi lost two! He more than made up for that by winning five games. His wins appeared to be almost effortless - like the way that Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, regularly wins his games. That is not necessarily surprising as Nepomniachtchi is one of Carlsen’s seconds and regularly works with him. But it was also clear that Nepomniachtchi had many fine and subtle ideas. After all, no one expects a player rated 2700 to just collapse by shuffling pieces around, as appeared to happen to Bu Xiangzhi in the following game. 

Nepomniachtchi, Ian vs. Bu, Xiangzhi
7th Hainan Danzhou GM | Danzhou CHN | Round 8.4 | 16 Jul 2016 | ECO: C78 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bb7 7. d3 Be7 8. Nc3 d6 9. a3 This setup has become popular recently. It used to be that White would play c3 and Nbd2, and then bring the knight to g3 via f1. But then many players realized that the knight can go to g3 via e2 - and the bishop might also be well placed on a2.
9... O-O 10. Re1 h6 11. Ne2 Re8 12. Ng3 Bf8 13. c3 Qd7 14. d4 Na5 15. Bc2 Now White needed to defend the pawn on e4.
15... Nc4
15... c5 16. d5 c4 seems a much more typical setup. Black would ideally like to have his knight to c5, but that can only be achieved in a few moves with Qc7, Bc8, etc. In the meantime, White will start playing on the kingside, so it is not clear how good it is to reposition the knight. Nevertheless, compared to the game continuation, it might have been better because I think White would have something to worry about on the queenside.  )
16. a4 Rad8 Again, I feel like Black should have worried more about White's plan to close the center.
16... c6!? is a typical idea in such Spanish positions. Black seems to have shut in his bishop, but he also is preventing d5, which keeps more tension in the center.  )
17. b3 Nb6 18. a5 Nc8 The knight is not necessarily worse on c8, and perhaps Black thought that closing the queenside is no big deal. But the problem is that after
19. d5! the bishop on b7 is blocked for good. White's light-squared bishop isn't much better at the moment, but Whites extra space gives it better prospects. White also has more space to move his pieces around and shift them to the kingside, particularly now that the queenside is blocked.
19... c5 20. h3 A typical move with the idea of Nh2-Ng4 in order to create some weaknesses in Blacks kingside position.
20... g6 21. c4 Closing the queenside completely. This is a better way to do it than by playing b4 because White further supports the pawn on d5. Otherwise, Black could perhaps try to play f5 to undermine the d-pawn and gain some activity for his bishop on b7. Now that bishop is truly dead.
21... b4 22. Ra2!? At first, this move seems rather strange as it does not appear that the rook can do much on the second rank. But the ideal setup for White is not clear and it is impossible to foresee what will happen next in the game. So before beginning a concrete operation, White tries to improve the position of his pieces. And putting the rook on the second rank is certainly better than leaving it on a1.
22... Bg7 23. Bb1 The bishops would be just as effective on d3 and e3, but, from an aesthetic point of view, they are nicer on b1 and c1. On those squares, they don't interfere with any of the other pieces, yet they are just as useful.
23... Ne7 24. Nh2 g5? A surprising reaction. I think Bu was not comfortable with a slightly passive position. Black's position was not so bad so long as White continued to maneuver and slowly improve his position. But Bu underestimated or overlooked White's idea:
24... Kh7 25. Ng4 Neg8 would have been slightly passive, but it would been a typical defensive idea.  )
25. Nh5! Bu obviously expected White to play
25. Ng4 Bc8 26. Nxf6+ Bxf6 which would be similar to the game, but then Ng3 isn't very useful because Nh5 is hardly a big threat. By switching the typical move order, Nepomniachtchi left his other knight on h2. It is now perfectly positioned to go to g4 after White first plays Qh5. That is much more dangerous for Black.  )
25... Bc8 26. Nxf6+ Bxf6 27. Qh5! and Ng4 will be next.
27... Kg7 28. Ng4 Rh8 Again, if Black gets a few moves to regroup -- after Ng6, Qe7, etc. -- White may have a slightly preferrable position but not much more than that.
29. f4! gxf4
29... exf4 runs into a cute mate
30. Nxf6 Kxf6 31. Bb2#  )
30. g3! Suddenly the rook on a2 is very useful! It is amazing how the decision to open the second rank really worked out!
30... Ng6
30... Rdg8 31. Rg2!  )
31. gxf4 Qe7 32. Nxf6 Qxf6 33. fxe5 dxe5 34. Rg2 Qd6 35. Rf1 Rde8 36. Kh1 Re7 37. Be3 Rc7 38. Rgf2 The simplest plan is to play Rf6. Now it is all over.
38... Rh7 39. Rf6 Qxf6 40. Rxf6 Kxf6 41. Bxh6 Rxh6 42. Qxh6 Re7 43. h4 Re8 44. Qg5+ Kg7 45. h5 Rh8 46. Bc2 Rh6 47. Bd1 f6 48. Qg1

—————————————————————

Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 90 in the world, he just finished his sophomore year at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.