The only woman in the field was also the only one to win in Round 1 of the Moscow Grand Prix

Hou Yifan of China is the early leader in the Moscow Grand Prix after she was only one to post a win in Round 1.

It is the second consecutive strong tournament start for Hou. In the Grenke Chess Classic last month, Hou won her first two games before fading down the stretch. 

The Grand Prix is a four-tournament series to select two players for the 2018 Candidates tournament. 

Twenty-four of the world’s best players are competing in the Grand Prix, with 18 of them participating in each of the tournaments. 

Each Grand Prix has a prize fund of 130,000 euros. The Grand Prix is organized by Agon Limited, which has the commercial rights to the World Championship, and is sponsored by Kaspersky Lab, the global cybersecurity company, PhosAgro, a giant Russian fertilizer company, and EG Capital Advisors, a global financial management company.

The first Grand Prix tournament was held in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, in February. Three players – Alexander Grischuk of Russia, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France – tied for first, with Grischuk winning on tiebreaks. 

The Moscow Grand Prix is being held in the Telegraph, a landmark building that is steps from the Kremlin. The Telegraph was also the site of the 2016 Candidates tournament.

Hou’s victory in Round 1 was over Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, one of the pre-tournament favorites. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Yifan Hou
FIDE Grand Prix Mowscow | Moscow RUS | Round 1.7 | 12 May 2017 | ECO: D35 | 0-1
1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 c5 7. Rb1 Be7 8. Bb5+ Bd7 9. Bxd7+ Nxd7 10. Rxb7?! I don't really like how White has played the opening thus far, but he was definitely not worse until now. But Rxb7 was trying to much in this position.
10. Nf3 And chances appear to be about equal.  )
10... cxd4! Forcing White to recapture by playing cxd4 before she proceeds.
10... Nb6 11. Nf3 cxd4 12. Qxd4! This would not be the position that Black would want.  )
11. cxd4 Nb6! The rook is trapped on b7.
12. Qd2 Qc8 13. Rxe7+ Kxe7 14. Nf3 Black now is up an exchange for a pawn. Her king position is a little shaky, but a couple accurate moves fixed that problem.
14... f6! Clearing the f7 square and preparing to castle by hand.
14... Rd8? This tries to run the king to g8 via f8, but it does not work after:
15. Ba3+ Black really needs access to the f7 square.  )
15. O-O Kf7! 16. e5 f5! White is completely busted strategically. His extra pawn is meaningless, his bishop is bad, and Black's rooks have open files. White needs to find some counterplay, but he was unable to do so.
17. g4! A good start, but still not enough.
17... Rd8 18. Qg5 Kg8! The Black king is now completely safe and Black is also no longer behind in development.
19. Qh5 Rf8! A very human move.
19... g6 This move was stronger according to the computer, but I actually prefer Hou's choice.  )
20. Ba3 Qc6! Black gives back the exchange for the initiative, but it is a very strong one.
21. Ng5?
21. Bxf8 Good or bad, White had to play this. Still, after:
21... Rxf8 22. Nh4 f4! White is in big trouble because his pieces are disorganized. Black's queen will shortly take control.  )
21... h6 22. Rc1 Qd7 23. Bxf8 Rxf8 24. Nh3
24. Nf3 Nd5 And White cannot prevent Black from playing Nf4.  )
24... Qxd4 The dust has settled and material is equal for the moment. But White will soon lose material.
25. gxf5 Qxe5 26. Qg6 Rf6! Of course Black avoids trades.
26... Qxf5 27. Qxf5 Offers White some drawing chances, though I think that he probably would still lose.  )
26... Rxf5 Was also good.  )
27. Qg4 Rxf5 28. Qg3 Qd4 29. Re1 Rf6 30. Qg2 Nd5 Black has a dominating position and is up a pawn. Hou converted her advantage into a win.
31. Kh1 Qd3 32. Rg1 Qf3 33. Rb1 Qf5 34. Rg1 Rf7 35. Re1 Rf6 36. Rg1 Qf3 37. Rb1 Qh5 38. Rg1 Rf7 39. Re1 Qf5 40. Qg3 Rc7 41. Ng1 Nf4 42. Rd1 Kh7 43. Qf3 Rc2 44. a3 e5 45. Re1 Qg6 46. h3 Nd3 47. Rf1 Rc3 48. Qg4 Qxg4 49. hxg4 Rxa3 50. Nf3 Ra4 51. g5 h5 52. Kg2 Rg4+ 53. Kh2 a5 54. Ra1 a4 55. Ra2 e4 56. Nd4 Rxg5 57. Rxa4 Nxf2 58. Ra7 Ng4+ 59. Kh3 Re5 60. Nc6 Rd5

While the other eight games were draws, several were still exciting. Peter Svidler of Russia bailed out in a risky looking position against his compatriot, Evgeny Tomashevsky, but he actually had very good winning chances if he had found the right path:

Evgeny Tomashevsky vs. Peter Svidler
FIDE Grand Prix Mowscow | Moscow RUS | Round 1.6 | 12 May 2017 | ECO: D90 | 1/2-1/2
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. h4 c6 6. Bg5 h6 7. Bxf6 Bxf6 8. e3 e6 9. Qc2 Nd7 10. O-O-O O-O 11. Kb1 Bg7 12. g4 Qe7 13. cxd5 exd5 14. Bd3 Nb6 15. Rhg1 Bd7 16. Ne5 Bxe5 17. dxe5 Qxe5 18. f4 Qxe3 19. Bxg6 Qxf4 20. g5? An error in a tense position.
20. Bh7+ Kh8 21. Bd3 And the game would still be very complex. Black is up two pawns, but the exposed position of his king gives White a lot of compensation. After:
21... Rae8! 22. Ne2 Qe5 23. Qc1! Qe3 24. Qc3+ d4 Black has to give up one of his extra pawns, though he may be slightly better following:
25. Nxd4 Nd5  )
20... fxg6? Svidler bails out and allow a perpetual. This is understandable considering the kind of pressure his king was under, but Black actually could have achieved a decisive edge:
20... Nc4! Black ignores the kingside as his king will be quite safe on h8 and the threat of Ne3 is significant. I'm not sure what Svidler could have overlooked.
21. Bd3 Ne3 22. gxh6+ Kh8 23. Qd2 Rae8 And Black is much better.  )
21. Qxg6+ Kh8 22. Qxh6+ Kg8 23. Qg6+ Kh8 24. Qh6+ Kg8 25. Qg6+

Vachier-Lagrave also missed an opportunity, possibly because he overestimated the position of his opponent, Michael Adams of England:

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. Michael Adams
FIDE Grand Prix Mowscow | Moscow RUS | Round 1.1 | 12 May 2017 | ECO: C89 | 1/2-1/2
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5 c6 12. d3 Bd6 13. Re1 Bf5 14. Qf3 Bg6 15. Be3 Nxe3 16. Rxe3 Qg5 17. Na3 a5 18. Rae1?! This is a natural move, but not the most incisive. White had to be greedy to gain an edge.
18. Qxc6! This wins a critical pawn, and is very easy to see. I'm sure Vachier-Lagrave was worried that he could not get away with doing it, but it would work out.
18... Bf4 19. h4! Maybe this is what he overlooked?
19... Qxh4 20. Rh3! Qg4 21. Qxb5 And White is much better. Black's counterplay is not fast enough.  )
18... a4 19. Bd1 Bf4 20. h4 Qf6 21. Re7 Bd2 22. Qxf6 gxf6 23. R1e2 Bc1 24. Rc2 Bh6 25. Be2 Rfe8 26. Rxe8+ Rxe8 27. g4

Anish Giri of the Netherlands may have spoiled some chances against Boris Gelfand of Israel, but it wasn’t nearly as clear-cut as in the other games:

Anish Giri vs. Boris Gelfand
FIDE Grand Prix Mowscow | Moscow RUS | Round 1.3 | 12 May 2017 | ECO: B35 | 1/2-1/2
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 g6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 d5 9. exd5 Na5 10. Qd2 Nxb3 11. Nxb3 b5 12. Nxb5 Qxd5 13. Qxd5 Nxd5 14. Bd4 Nb4 15. O-O-O Nxa2+ 16. Kb1 Nb4 17. Bxg7 Kxg7 18. Rhe1 Bf5 19. N3d4 Kf6 20. Nxf5 gxf5 21. Rd4?! This is not accurate.
21. c3! Black would be in some trouble because Nc6 fails to
21... Nc6 22. Nc7! When the knight can reroute to d5 to attack the pawn on e7. After
22... Rad8 23. Nd5+ Kg7 24. Kc2 White has a clear edge.  )
21... a5! 22. g4
22. c3 Once again, this move was stronger, but after:
22... Nc6! White has to lose a tempo with the rook and cannot play Nc7. But after:
23. Rd5 White is a bit better. Still, 21. c3 was a much better option.  )
22... Rg8 23. h3
23. gxf5 The computer evaluates this position as better for White, but I think Black would have good counterplay after.
23... Rg2  )
23... h5! 24. gxf5 Rad8 25. Rf4 Rd5 26. Nc3 Rxf5! And Black is fine
27. Ne4+ Kg6! Not fearing Rg1.
28. Rxf5
28. Rg1+ Kh7 29. Rxg8 Rxf4 And White is lost.  )
28... Kxf5 29. Ng3+ Kg6 30. Rxe7 Rd8 31. Kc1 Na2+ 32. Kb1 Nb4 33. Kc1 Na2+ 34. Kb1

It’s never a good thing to have a ton of draws, but I think the proportion of decisive games did not reflect the fighting spirit the players showed Round 1, and it was something of a freak coincidence that so many games ended peacefully. 


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 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 was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.