Ian Nepomniachtchi won to leapfrog Anish Giri, who lost, as the leader of the tournament on a day when four out of five games were decisive.

Round 6 of the Tal Memorial tournament on Sunday was full of action and it produced a new leader.

Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who led after Round 5, lost after he was outplayed by Levon Aronian of Armenia. Meanwhile, Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan to leapfrog Giri and take over sole possession of first place. 

Nepomniachtchi has 4.5 points, Giri 4, and three other players — Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and Viswanathan Anand of India — each have 3.5 points. 

The tournament, which honors the eighth World Champion, is being held in the Museum of Russian Impressionism. It has a prize fund of $200,000, with $45,000 for first place.

Elite tournaments sometimes have a reputation of being a bit dull because there are often a high percentage of draws. But Round 6 was the antithesis of dull as four out of the five games ended decisively. It was almost five for five, but stubborn and accurate defense in an unpleasant endgame by Anand against Evgeny Tomashevsky of Russia led to a draw.

Aronian’s win over Giri was the most important. Aronian had drawn his first five games, but I thought that he was playing pretty well. I even wrote that in my report on Round 5. In Round 6, he came up with an opening idea that I didn’t really understand, but he cruised to victory with it.

Levon Aronian vs. Anish Giri
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 6 | 02 Oct 2016 | 1-0
Be7 8. Be3!? This is very unusual
8. Nc3  )
8. a3  )
8... O-O 9. Nbd2 I have never seen this setup before. It really is begging Black to play Nd5 and take the bishop on e3.
9... Be6?! Losing the only chance to grab White's dark-squared bishop.
9... Nd5! This looks strong to me, and I would prefer Black's position. It would be interesting to know what Aronian had in mind if Black had played 9... Nd5.  )
10. Rc1! Now Nd5 can always be well met by Bc5.
10... Qd7 11. a3 Bh3? This seems to be a mistake.
11... f6 Was solid and probably fine for Black.  )
12. Bxh3! Qxh3 13. b4! Black's queen on h3 is not nearly as threatening as it might look at first glance. The knights are nowhere near g4, and White is ready to start advancing on the queenside.
13... Bd6
13... Qd7 This might have been the lesser evil, but after
14. b5 Na5 15. Bc5 Black is undeniably worse.  )
14. Qb3 Black's pieces are uncoordinated, while White is ready to jump in with moves like Ne4, Nc5, b5, etc.
14... Ne7 15. d4! Opening the center before Black is ready to deal with it.
15... exd4 16. Bxd4 Nc6 Nc6-e7-c6 does not look great, but it is hard to recommend anything else.
16... Qg4 17. Rfd1 With a nice edge for White.  )
17. Ne4! Nxd4 18. Nxd4 Qd7 19. Rfd1 Black's position is already pretty hopeless. His center is gone and he will soon be saddled with several weak pawns. And his knight on b6 is a poor piece and likely will remain so for a long time.
19... Be5
19... Rfe8 Might have been a bit better.
20. Qf3 White has a clear edge.  )
20. Nc6! Qe8
20... Bd6 21. Na5 Was not much of an improvement for Black.  )
21. Na5! I like this more than the engine's choice.
21. Nxe5 Qxe5 22. Nc5 The computer prefers this continuation, but I like Aronian's choice more. The engine's would have allowed Black to trade some pieces and pawns.  )
21... Rb8 22. Nc5! The pawn on b7 cannot be saved
22... Qc8 23. Qf3! Maximum firepower achieved. The only way to save b7 is
23... c6 But after
24. b5! Black's position is blown to shreds.
24... Bb2
24... cxb5 25. Nd7! Wins material  )
25. bxc6! The sacrifice is only temporary
25... Bxc1 26. Rxc1 Qc7 Allowing a passed pawn on b7 destroys any hope Black had for saving the game. The rest requires no comment.
26... bxc6! 27. Nxc6 Re8 28. Nxb8 Qxb8 Black is down a pawn and has no compensation, but the position has been simplified a bit. If he can trade the a-pawns, the four pawns vs three pawns on the kingside might be a draw if the right pieces can be exchanged. I would expect White to win more often than not in such a position, but at least it would have given Black a fighting chance.  )
27. cxb7 Na4 28. Ncb3 Qe7 29. Nd4 Qg5 30. Qf4 Qxa5 31. Qxb8 Rxb8 32. Rc8+ Qd8 33. Rxd8+ Rxd8 34. Nc6

Giri’s loss was a tough blow, but it was made worse by Nepomniatchi’s win over Mamedyarov, which catapulted the streaking Russian into sole possession of first place.

Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 6 | 02 Oct 2016 | 1-0
14. Nb3 White chose the Italian opening and has a nice position, but it is nothing too special. However, Mamedyarov begins to make some strange-looking moves and Nepomniatchi is able to punish him.
14... Ne7?!
14... dxe4 Looks more natural to me. After
15. dxe4 Nh5! Black should be fine. I dont believe that these symmetrical positions can give White much of an edge, something I learned against Hikaru Nakamura at the 2015 World Cup where I failed to get an advantage.  )
15. exd5! Qxd5
15... Nexd5 16. Rxe5 And White is up a pawn.  )
16. c4! Qd6 17. Nc5! White is not concerned about temporarily sacrificing a pawn. Black has no choice but to accept it as the rook on e6 is trapped.
17... Bxc5 18. bxc5 Qxc5 19. Ba3! Qa5 20. d4! The point. White's play in the center will easily allow him to restore material equality and he will have a strong initiative.
20... Ng6
20... exd4? Would lose a piece
21. Rxe6 fxe6 22. Bxe7  )
21. Bb2! Hitting e5 a second time
21... Rae8?!
21... exd4? Would cost Black a piece.
22. Rxe6  )
21... e4 This was probably the most resilient continuation.
22. d5! Ree8 23. Nd2 Qc5 24. Nxe4  )
22. Bc3! Qb6 23. Rab1! Qa7 A sad necessity
23... Qc6? 24. d5 Wins material  )
24. dxe5 White has restored material equality and now Black's pieces are scattered an uncoordinated.
24... Nd7 25. Rbd1! Black had some pressure on the e-pawn, but since he can't take it, the knight has to retreat and the pressure is reduced.
25... Ndf8
25... Ndxe5? 26. Nxe5 Nxe5 27. Rxe5 Rxe5 28. Bxe5 Rxe5 29. Rd8+ With mate next move.  )
26. h4! White now chases the other knight. Black's pieces are being driven back.
26... Qc5 27. h5 Ne7 28. Re4! Rc6 29. Nd4 Qxc4 30. Nxc6 Qxc6 31. Qd3 Black does not have enough compensation for being down an exchange.
31... b5 32. axb5 axb5 33. Bb4 Qb7 34. Bxe7
34. e6!? This might have been even stronger  )
34... Rxe7 35. Rd4! Rxe5 36. Rd8 Material equality has again been restored, but White's pieces are super active.
36... Qc6 37. Qd7! Qc5?
37... Qxd7 38. R1xd7 And Black is tied down and probably cannot survive.  )
37... Qc3! This was the only way to offer real resistance. Still after
38. Qd2 White preserves excellent winning chances.
...   )
38. Qc8 White wins the knight on f8. The rest requires no comment.
38... Rxh5 39. Rxf8+ Qxf8 40. Rd8 Qxd8 41. Qxd8+ Kh7 42. Qd7 f6 43. Qxc7 b4 44. Qc2+ Kh8 45. Qc4 Re5 46. g3 Kh7 47. Kg2 b3 48. Qxb3 Kh8 49. Kh3 Rh5+ 50. Kg4 Rg5+ 51. Kh4 Re5 52. f4 Ra5 53. Qc3 Rd5 54. Qb4

While the games in the fight for first place were what mattered most for the tournament standings, Kramnik opened with 1. e4 yet again, and yet again he stole the show. I’ve really been enjoying his experimentation with Fischer’s old “best by test” king’s pawn, and he has played some sparkling games recently. Round 6 was no exception as he defeated Boris Gelfand of Israel in a complicated Najdorf Sicilian.

Vladimir Kramnik vs. Boris Gelfand
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 6 | 02 Oct 2016 | ECO: B96 | 1-0
1. e4! Good move, Vladimir!
1... c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 Kramnik does not shy away from the mainline of the Najdorf Sicilian, even against a known expert like Gelfand.
6... e6 7. f4 Nbd7 This is not a bad move, of course, but I never trusted the setup. In my opinion Black has better options.
7... h6 Nowadays this is more commonly played
8. Bh4 Qb6 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France has won many games from this position playing Black.  )
8. Qe2 Qc7 9. O-O-O b5 10. a3 Bb7?! I don't like this move. The White e-pawn is very well defended and the queen on c7 blocks Black from sacrificing the exchange by playing Rxc3 which is often an effective plan. In short, Black pieces are very productively arrayed.
10... Rb8! This would be my choice. I still prefer White's position, but after Black plays b4, he has some counterplay.  )
11. g4! Kramnik is not shy about advancing his pawns.
11... Rc8
11... h6 This looks more natural to me but after
12. Bxf6 Nxf6 13. Bg2 The advance e4-e5 will create problems for Black.  )
12. Bxf6 gxf6 A sad necessity
12... Nxf6 13. g5 Nd7 14. f5 e5 15. Nb3 This is an absolute disaster for Black.  )
13. h4 Qb6 14. Rh3! A typical Sicilian move. White defends laterally along the third rank to prevent the exchange sacrifice of Rxc3 and also advances his own plans.
14. f5 This is also possible and White seems to be better, but after
14... Rxc3! I think Black has a fair amount of counterplay  )
14... h5 15. f5! Kramnik wastes no time opening the center and attacking the light squares
15. g5 fxg5 16. hxg5 Bg7 Would have given Black a fair amount of counterplay. The bishop is pretty good on g7  )
15... e5 16. Nb3 hxg4 17. Qxg4 b4 18. axb4 Qxb4 Black has managed to avoid any immediate disasters and he has opened the queenside, but his position is still inferior. His dark-squared bishop is passive, the pawn on d6 is backward, the d5 square is weak, and White has a passed h-pawn.
19. Kb1! Nb6 20. Qe2! White is putting his pieces on their best squares. I can't help but wonder if some more primitive and brute-force loving players who prefer to open with 1. e4 players would have tried to be a bit more violent, but Kramnik's play is crisp and clean. Even in sharp positions he often finds a very strong strategic path.
20... Bh6
20... Nc4 21. Qf2  )
21. Qf2 Rc6 22. Na2! White turns his attention to the queenside.
22... Qa4
22... Qxe4? 23. Na5 wins material  )
23. Rc3! Ke7 24. Rxc6 Qxc6 25. Na5! Qc7 26. Nxb7 Qxb7 27. Nb4 Black's light squares are chronically weak, his king is a little exposed, and some of his pawns are about to be picked off.
27... Rb8 28. Qxb6! simple and strong. Kramnik transitions into an ending that looks winning to me.
28. Bxa6 The engine prefers this move, but I like the move played by Kramnik.
28... Qxe4 29. Nd5+! The point
29... Kf8 30. Nxf6! Qc6 31. Rg1  )
28... Qxb6 29. Nd5+ Kf8 30. Nxb6 Rxb6 31. c3! Stopping any ideas connected with Rb4. Material is equal but it feels like White is up a pawn because he has a passed pawn on h4 while Black's pawns on f7 and f6 are stuck. Black is also unable to prevent White from playing Kc2 and Ra1, winning the Black a-pawn. After that, it is more or less a mop-up operation.
31... Be3 32. Kc2 Kg7 33. b4 Kh6 34. Bc4 Bf2 35. Rh1 Rc6 36. Kb3 Rb6 37. Kc2 Rc6 38. Kd3 Rc7 39. Bxa6 Kh5 40. Bc4 Ra7 41. Bd5 Kh6 42. h5 Bb6 43. Kc4 Be3 44. Kb3 Bb6 45. Rh2 Be3 46. Re2 Bb6 47. Ra2 Rxa2 48. Kxa2 Kxh5 49. Kb3 Bf2 50. Ka4 Kh6 51. Kb5 Kg7 52. Kc6 Kf8 53. b5 Ke7 54. Kc7

Monday is a rest day in Moscow. I hope that the action picks up right where it left off with lots of decisive games in Round 7 on Tuesday.


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.