Image by Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Limited
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. c4e62. Nc3d53. d4Nf64. cxd5Nxd55. e4Nxc36. bxc3c57. Rb1Be78. Bb5+Bd79. Bxd7+Nxd710. 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. Nf3And chances appear to be about equal. )
10... cxd4!Forcing White to recapture by playing cxd4 before she proceeds.
( 10... Nb611. Nf3cxd412. Qxd4!This would not be the position that Black would want. )
11. cxd4Nb6!The rook is trapped on b7. 12. Qd2Qc813. Rxe7+Kxe714. Nf3Black 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-OKf7!16. e5f5!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... Rd818. Qg5Kg8!The Black king is now completely safe and Black is also no longer behind in development. 19. Qh5Rf8!A very human move.
( 19... g6This move was stronger according to the computer, but I actually prefer Hou's choice. )
20. Ba3Qc6!Black gives back the exchange for the initiative, but it is a very strong one. 21. Ng5?
( 21. Bxf8Good or bad, White had to play this. Still, after: 21... Rxf822. Nh4f4!White is in big trouble because his pieces are disorganized. Black's queen will shortly take control. )
21... h622. Rc1Qd723. Bxf8Rxf824. Nh3
( 24. Nf3Nd5And White cannot prevent Black from playing Nf4. )
24... Qxd4The dust has settled and material is equal for the moment. But White will soon lose material. 25. gxf5Qxe526. Qg6Rf6!Of course Black avoids trades.
( 26... Qxf527. Qxf5Offers White some drawing chances, though I think that he probably would still lose. )
( 26... Rxf5Was also good. )
27. Qg4Rxf528. Qg3Qd429. Re1Rf630. Qg2Nd5Black has a dominating position and is up a pawn. Hou converted her advantage into a win. 31. Kh1Qd332. Rg1Qf333. Rb1Qf534. Rg1Rf735. Re1Rf636. Rg1Qf337. Rb1Qh538. Rg1Rf739. Re1Qf540. Qg3Rc741. Ng1Nf442. Rd1Kh743. Qf3Rc244. a3e545. Re1Qg646. h3Nd347. Rf1Rc348. Qg4Qxg449. hxg4Rxa350. Nf3Ra451. g5h552. Kg2Rg4+53. Kh2a554. Ra1a455. Ra2e456. Nd4Rxg557. Rxa4Nxf258. Ra7Ng4+59. Kh3Re560. Nc6Rd5
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
( 20. Bh7+Kh821. Bd3And 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. Ne2Qe523. Qc1!Qe324. Qc3+d4Black has to give up one of his extra pawns, though he may be slightly better following: 25. Nxd4Nd5 )
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. Bd3Ne322. gxh6+Kh823. Qd2Rae8And Black is much better. )
The ceremonial first move in the game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, left, and Michael Adams.
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. e4e52. Nf3Nc63. Bb5a64. Ba4Nf65. O-OBe76. Re1b57. Bb3O-O8. c3d59. exd5Nxd510. Nxe5Nxe511. Rxe5c612. d3Bd613. Re1Bf514. Qf3Bg615. Be3Nxe316. Rxe3Qg517. Na3a518. 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... Bf419. h4!Maybe this is what he overlooked? 19... Qxh420. Rh3!Qg421. Qxb5And White is much better. Black's counterplay is not fast enough. )
( 21. c3!Black would be in some trouble because Nc6 fails to 21... Nc622. Nc7!When the knight can reroute to d5 to attack the pawn on e7. After 22... Rad823. Nd5+Kg724. Kc2White has a clear edge. )
21... a5!22. g4
( 22. c3Once 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. Rd5White is a bit better. Still, 21. c3 was a much better option. )
22... Rg823. h3
( 23. gxf5The computer evaluates this position as better for White, but I think Black would have good counterplay after. 23... Rg2 )
23... h5!24. gxf5Rad825. Rf4Rd526. Nc3Rxf5!And Black is fine 27. Ne4+Kg6!Not fearing Rg1. 28. Rxf5
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.