One of the strongest tournaments of the year — in honor of the eighth World Champion — began Monday

Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia has taken the early lead of the Tal Memorial tournament in Moscow after he beat Evgeny Tomashavsky, a countryman, in Round 1.

The 10-player tournament, which includes a number of the world’s top players — among them, Anish Giri of the Netherlands, Viswanathan Anand of India, and Levon Aronia of Armenia — is being held in Moscow at the Museum of Russian Impressionism. It has a prize fund of $200,000, with $45,000 for first place. 

The tournament is in its tenth year and named for the eighth World Champion. It is one of the relatively limited number in honor of great former players. 

The tournament started on a somber note: A minute of silence to honor Mark Dvoretsky, a great trainer and author, who died morning at age 68. I never met Dvoretsky, but I thoroughly enjoyed his writings and, in my opinion, “Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual” (Russell Enterprises, 2003; now in its fourth edition), is the best piece of chess literature ever written.

While Tal was known for wild games with lots of excitement, Round 1 did not produce a lot of drama. Three games were drawn without any fireworks or either player ever having a significant advantage. In his game against Nepomniachtchi, Tomashevsky became confused in the opening and lost quickly.

Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Evgeny Tomashevsky
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 1 | 26 Sep 2016 | ECO: C45 | 1-0
Bg7?! Tomashevsky spent some time on this move. He probably forgot what he had learned about this position, which has been played before and is reasonably well known.
10... d6! White has not had good results in this position lately. It would be interesting to know what Nepomniatchi had in mind if Tomashevsky had played this move.  )
11. Qf2! Black is already much worse. He has to lose time moving his knight while White develops very quickly.
11... Nf6 12. Ba3 d6?! Another bad move
12... Ng4 The engine recommends this move. It's probably right but Black would still not have equal chances.
13. Qe2 Qe6 14. Nc3 Black's bishops are terribly positioned.  )
13. Nc3! O-O 14. O-O-O! Black has to move the knight, losing more time for development. In addition, d6 is coming under siege. White already has a sizable advantage.
14... Ne8
14... Ng4 15. Qf3 Was not any better for Black.  )
15. g3! Simple and strong. White develops his last piece. Both Black bishops are limited by White's pawn walls, Black faces multiple pins, and the knight on e8 has no good squares. All in all, it is a very sad sight for Black.
15... Bb7 16. Bg2 f6 17. exd6 Nxd6 18. c5! Nf5 19. Rhe1 Qf7 20. Bf1! The final touch; Bc4 will soon follow.
20... Rfd8 21. Rxd8+ Rxd8 22. Bc4 Rd5 23. Qe2 Not a good day for Tomashevsky.

If the clocks online are correct, Nepomniachtchi spent less than half an hour on the entire game. A good start for Nepomniachtchi, who also had a fantastic start in the recent Chess Oympiad

The only really interesting game of the day — including the one between Nepomniachtchi and Tomaashevsky, which was really one-sided — was between Peter Svidler and Vladimir Kramnik, who are also Russian. The two of them always seem to have real dogfights whenever they play, which partially explains the high number of decisive results. The game in Round 1 wound up being a draw, but it had a lot of interesting moments and Svidler had serious winning chances.

Peter Svidler vs. Vladimir Kramnik
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 1 | 26 Sep 2016 | 1/2-1/2
g5?! An ambitious move by Kramnik.
17... Ng6 This was safer. After
18. Be3 d5 Black has a slight edge.  )
18. Be3 d5 This position looks like a nightmare for White, who is uncoordinated and ill-prepared to deal with the opening of the center. But Svidler changes the character of the game with a bolt from the blue:
19. Bxg5! Let the fun begin!
19. cxd5? Nxd5 20. Nxd5 Rxd5 With Bc5 and g4 to come next, Black is much better.  )
19... hxg5 20. Qxg5+ Ng6 White is down a piece, but...
21. Nxe6! White wins a third pawn and decimates Black's pawn cover
21... Rd6
21... fxe6? 22. Qxg6+  )
22. Nf4 This position is really difficult for Black. White has three very strong pawns for a piece, his forces coordinate beautifully, and Kramnik's king is in a terrible spot.
22... Ne4 23. Qg4 Nxc3 24. Rxc3 d4 25. Rcd3 Rad8
25... Qc8 Was a bit more resilient, but after
26. Qxc8+ Rxc8 27. Nxg6 fxg6 28. Rxd4 I think White has close to a decisive edge, if he finds the best moves.  )
26. Nd5 Bf8 27. Rxd4 White wins a fourth pawn. It looks as if the game is beyond saving for Black, but Kramnik keeps fighting.
27... Bg7 28. R4d2
28. Nf6+!? I would have been very tempted by this move.
28... Bxf6 29. Rxd6 Rxd6 30. Rxd6 Qe7 31. Rd2 Qe3 32. Rc2 Bd4 33. Qe4! And White should be able to win without too much trouble.  )
28... b5 29. Qe4
29. Nf6+ Again, this move looks strong  )
29... Qb8 30. c5 Re8 31. Qg4
31. Qxe8+! Qxe8 32. cxd6 And White's d-pawn should be the decisive factor.  )
31... Rde6 32. e4 Qc8 33. Rc2 Ne5 34. Qf5 Qb7 35. f4 Nc6 36. e5 Nb4 37. Rcd2 f6 38. Qe4 Nxd5 39. Rxd5 fxe5 40. f5 Ra6 41. R1d2 Black got a lot more counterplay than he deserved, but the time control has been reached and White still has a huge advantage. The pawn on e5 is firmly blockaded, White has a dangerous pawn majority on both sides, and Black's bishop does not have much scope.
41... Kh8 42. h4 Rh6 43. Kf3? One mistake and everything is different. Top level chess is a brutal game.
43. b4 A simple move like this would have preserved excellent winning chances.  )
43... Rh5! White cannot prevent Rxf5+.
44. Qg4
44. g4 Rxh4 And White would have to play carefully not to have the inferior position.  )
44. Kg2! Offering to repeat moves was probably best, while hoping to improve his position if Black were to play Rh6. But he won't:
44... Bf6! And Rg8 followed by Qg7 gives Black substantial counterplay.
...   )
44... Rxf5+! 45. Qxf5 Rf8 Black is now fine. Yes, his king is still exposed and he has to be concerned about White's passed pawns, but the position is roughly equal. A draw now became the natural result.
46. Qxf8+ Bxf8 47. b4 Qf7+ 48. Kg2 e4 49. Re5 Qf3+ 50. Kh2 Qc3 51. Rdd5 e3 52. Re8 Kg7 53. Kh3 Qe1 54. Rde5 Qxb4 55. Rg5+ Kf7 56. Rxe3 Bxc5 57. Rf3+ Ke6 58. Rg6+ Ke7 59. Rg7+ Ke6 60. Rg6+ Kd7 61. Rg7+ Be7 62. Re3 a5 63. h5 Kd8 64. Rg8+ Kd7 65. Rg7 Kd8 66. Rg8+

Hopefully Round 2 on Tuesday will be a bit livelier.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 5 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.