He only needed a draw in the final round as his nearest pursuer, Anish Giri, also drew.

Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi won the Tal Memorial with 6 points out of a possible 9. A draw against Boris Gelfand of Israel turned out to be enough because his closest rival, Anish Giri of the Netherlands, also drew his final game against Li Chao b of China.

Nepomniachtchi’s victory, along with other recent strong results, moved him into a virtual tie with Giri for No. 10 in the world rankings, according to the Live Ratings Web site. The ranking represents a career best for Nepomniachtchi, who is 26.

Though four out of the five games in the last round ended in draws, there was actually quite a bit of drama. Giri almost overtook Nepomniachtchi as he had close to a winning position with Black against Li Chao, while Nepomniachtchi was a bit worse against Gelfand. 

Gelfand, the oldest player in the field at 48, had perhaps his worst tournament in recent memory as he lost five games. In Round 9, however, he gained the upper hand against Nepomniachtchi, who had Black, by adroitly dealing with his opponent’s aggressive tendencies. But instead of making Nepomniachtchi defend for a long time, Gelfand allowed him to escape with an easy draw:

Gelfand, Boris vs. Nepomniachtchi, Ian
10th Tal Mem 2016 | Moscow RUS | Round 9.1 | 06 Oct 2016 | ECO: A32 | 1/2-1/2
Qe8 Black's position is quite passive but the symmetric nature of the position gives him chances to hold. For White, it was crucial to try and keep a slight edge and then slowly expand it. I think that White could have done this on the queenside by playing a move like b4. If Black replies Na7, then White could continue Nd4 or Ne5 and Black's knight is is passive and pinned to the side of the board. Or White could then have tried a4, which also would have been unpleasant for Black.
36. f5?! The aggression on the king side doesn't achieve much and also exposes White's king a bit.
36... Na7 37. Ne5? This appears to be a tactical oversight.
37. Rxc8 Qxc8 38. Nd4 is similar to what happened in the game and would have let White keep up the pressure. The knight on a7 is poorly placed and the pawn on f5 is defended. But Black does have a nice way to fight for a draw by playing
38... b4! giving up a pawn in order to exchange the knights with Nb5. After that Black would have drawing chances in the queen-ad-pawn endgame. But these endgames are never easy to defend and White could torture him for a while!  )
37... Rxc5 38. Qxc5 gxf5 And White can't play Qxa7 because of Qxe5. The open Black king can't be exploited either, and the players soon drew.

Meanwhile, Giri beautifully outplayed Li Chao for most of the game. But he failed to capitalize in the most crucial moments:

Li, Chao b vs. Giri, Anish
10th Tal Mem 2016 | Moscow RUS | Round 9.4 | 06 Oct 2016 | ECO: E21 | 1/2-1/2
39. Nh6 White seems almost desperate. Giri has beautifully outplayed Li Chao in a drawish endgame, but now he falters.
39... Nxg2+ Objectively the strongest move, but it requires quite a bit of accuracy from Black later. Perhaps a more restrained move like
39... Rc7!? might have better from a practical standpoint. White's position would have been extremely difficult and Black would have needed to calculate less precisely to maintain an edge.  )
40. Kf2 Rc2+ 41. Kg1 Ne3?
41... Ne1! Was the path to victory. Then the game would likely have contnued
42. Nxf7+ Kf4 43. Rf6+ Kg3 44. Nxe5 All the moves have seem forced for both sides, so after
44... Rc1! the only way for White to avoid big material losses is
45. Rg6+ Kf4 and White must still lose the knight. If he tries to save it with
46. Nd7 Nxf3+ 47. Kf2 Rc2+ 48. Kf1 Ke3 that leads to a beautiful checkmate!  )
42. Nxf7+ Kf4 43. Rxa6 White has escaped from the mating net and Black no longer has an edge. The game soon ended in a draw.

In the only decisive game of the day, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbiajan managed to provoke Vladimir Kramnik of Russia into playing aggressively, which backfired. Mamedyarov’s advance of his g-pawn - in an otherwise unremarkable position - must have come as a shock to Kramnik. Kramnik couldn’t resist the temptation to try and punish Mamedyarov for such bravado:

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar vs. Kramnik, Vladimir
10th Tal Mem 2016 | Moscow RUS | Round 9.2 | 06 Oct 2016 | ECO: D37 | 1-0
22. Rd1 The position seems balanced, but the pawn on g4 is very provocative it almost is taunting Black. I am not sure why Mamedyarov moved it there. I think he expected that there would be some exchanges and the position would head toward an endgame, when the pawn would be useful on g4.
22... Qg5?! Kramnik tries to exploit the pawn on g4 by placing his queen on a very natural square. Surprisingly, it is not easy to create much play on the kingside. But moving the queen away from Black's vulnerable queenside turns out to have consequences.
23. Qb4! Going after the queenside.
23... Re4?! Consistent with the Qg5 idea, but Kramnik overestimates his chances for an initiative on the kingside.
23... f5! A crucial move that would have been better as it defends the rook on e7. Other moves, like Rc7, might also have been okay, but the queen on g5 would still look somewhat misplaced.  )
24. Rd4 Rde8
24... Rxd4 25. Qxd4  )
25. Rcd3! Qxb7 wasn't possible because of Rxd4 and Rxe2.
25... Kh8 26. Rd2! Black no longer has a good way to defend his queenside!
26. Qxb7 wasn't possible yet because of
26... R4e7! 27. Qb4 Bxd3  )
26... h5 27. Qxb7 hxg4 The White pawns on h2 and f2 safeguard the kingside for now.
28. Rxd5 f5 29. Bf1 Rxe3 30. c6! White's c-pawn is almost ready to roll and Black doesn't really have any counterplay. But White still needed to play precisely:
30... Rc3 31. c7 Qf4 32. Rd7 Rg8 33. R2d4 Qc1 34. Qb8 Kh7 35. Rd8 Bf7 36. Rxg8 Bxg8 37. Rd8 Be6 38. Rh8+ Kg6 39. Qe8+ Kf6 40. Qf8+ Kg6 41. Qd6 Rc6 42. c8=Q

Viswanathan Anand of India might have also missed a chance in his  game with Levon Aronian of Armenia. Anand played the classical Italian opening, which has become very popular lately. This game once again illustrated its potential. Though chances looked about equal, White easily continued to improve his position, while Black struggled to find something productive to do:

Anand, Viswanathan vs. Aronian, Levon
10th Tal Mem 2016 | Moscow RUS | Round 9.3 | 06 Oct 2016 | ECO: C53 | 1/2-1/2
Be6 9. Ba4!? A rare idea. Playing Bxc6 is not uncommon in the Spanish openings, but Anand is spending an extra move to go after the knight.
9... Qb8 10. Bxc6 bxc6 11. d4 Ba7 12. b3!? Continuing to develop. One of the most potent things about the Italian system is that White often has many ways to improve his position, while Black finds it a bit harder to do.
12... Nd7 13. Bb2 a4 14. c4 Bg4 Might not be the best, but it is understandable that Black found it hard to find a clear plan.
15. dxe5 dxe5 16. h3 Bxf3 17. Nxf3 Rd8 18. Qc2 f6 19. Bc3 Nf8 White has a more pleasant position. If he had continued b4 followed by c5, Black would have had problems because his dark-squared bishop would have been blocked on a7. Or he'd have had to play Bd4, when the d4 pawn would have become a serious weakness. Instead, Anand allowed some tactical complications after
20. c5? Bxc5! 21. Bxe5 Ne6! 22. Bg3 Qb5 And Black had enough activity. The game soon simplified to a drawn endgame.

The other game in the final round, between Peter Svidler and Evgeny Tomashevsky, both of Russia, didn’t cause much excitement.

Nepomniachtchi has shown great potential in the past, but he has often been in the shadows of his more famous Russian compatriots and has rarely played in such elite events as the Tal Memorial. That will probably change now. 


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. 80 in the world, he is about to start his junior year at Stanford University. He can be found on Twitter at @parimarjan.