Moscow Grand Prix: The Race for First Place Tightens
BySamuel ShanklandMay 18 — 10:00 PM
Image by Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Limited
Ding Liren and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov still lead, but there are now six players who are half a point back.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan and Ding Liren of China continue to lead the Moscow Grand Prix after both drew in Round 6 on Thursday, but there are now six players within a half point of the leaders.
Ding drew a hard-fought, roller-coaster game with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, while Mamedyarov agreed to an early peace with Teimour Radjabov, a compatriot. Ding and Mamedyarov now have 4 points apiece.
There were three decisive games in Round 6: Boris Gelfand of Israel beat Pentala Harikrishna of India, Hikaru Nakamura of the United State defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, and Michael Adams of England beat Ernesto Inarkiev of Russia.
The victories by Gelfand and Nakamura moved them into the group of players who trail the leaders by half a point. The group also includes Radjabov, Vachier-Lagrave, and Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk, who are both from Russia.
The Moscow Grand Prix is the second in a series of four tournaments. The top two finishers will qualify for the Candidates tournament next year to select a challenger for the World Championship.
Twenty-four of the top players in the world are competing in the Grand Prix, with 18 playing in each tournament. (Each player competes in three of the four competitions.)
Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Limited
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had his hands full in Round 6 with Ding Liren, the tournament co-leader.
Ding nearly grabbed the sole lead, but he was unable to put Vachier-Lagrave away after playing brilliantly early in the game.
Ding Liren vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
FIDE Grand Prix Moscow |Moscow RUS |Round 6.1 |18 May 2017 |ECO: A20 |1/2-1/2
1. c4e52. g3Nf63. Bg2d54. cxd5Nxd55. Nf3Nc66. O-ONb67. Nc3Be78. a3O-O9. b4Re810. e3a611. Qc2Bg412. Ne4f513. Nc5e414. Ne1Be215. d3Bxf116. Kxf1Bxc517. bxc5Nd718. dxe4fxe419. Bxe4Qe720. Bxh7+Kh821. Bg6Rf822. Rb1Nxc523. Ng2Rad824. Nf4Ne625. Rxb7Ne5Ding's ingenious exchange sacrifice has paid dividends and he has a clear edge. But, precise play is needed to win. 26. Bb2?!
( 26. Be4!Nc527. Bb2!White has a huge advantage. 27... Nxb728. Bxe5The threat of Ng6 compels Black to play: 28... Rxf429. exf4Black's king will soon be mated. )
( 26... Nxf4!27. gxf4Nxg628. Qxg6Rb8!Would allow Black to survive. )
27. Bh5Nxf428. gxf4Rd229. Qc3
( 29. Qg6!This move would have been decisive. )
29... Nxh2+30. Kg1?White needed to make one more precise move to convert his edge to a decisive advantage.
( 30. Ke1White should win. )
30... Rxf4!Excellent defense and very resourceful. Every Black piece is attacked but none can be taken! 31. Qxg7+
Boris Gelfand, left, exploited a poor decision by Pentala Harikrishna to win his first game of the tournament.
Nakamura and Gelfand both played very well in their wins:
Boris Gelfand vs. Pentala Harikrishna
FIDE Grand Prix Moscow |Moscow RUS |Round 6.6 |18 May 2017 |ECO: E06 |1-0
1. d4Nf62. c4e63. Nf3d54. g3Be75. Bg2O-O6. O-Odxc47. Qc2a68. a4Bd79. Bg5Bc610. Rd1Nbd711. Nbd2h612. Bxf6Nxf613. Nxc4Be414. Qc1a515. Nfe5Bxg216. Kxg2c617. Qc2Qc718. Rac1Rfd819. Qb3Bf820. Qf3Rac821. e4b522. Ne3Qb723. b3c5?Harikrishna must have overlooked something or miscalculated. Black was not ready to make this push.
( 23... Bb4White's position is a little more pleasant but Black would still be very solid. )
24. d5!Thematic and strong. 24... exd525. Nxd5!Rd6
( 25... Nxd526. exd5And the White knight will eventually land on c6. )
26. axb5!Qxb5Black's position is suspect on strategic grounds because he has an inferior pawn structure and a bad bishop, but Gelfand attacks an even more serious weakness. 27. Nxf7!Kxf728. e5Re629. exf6White is up a pawn, has a safer king, a better minor piece, and a dominant position. His advantage is overwhelming. 29... g6
( 29... gxf630. Qh5+Kg831. Qg4+Kf732. Nf4 )
30. Re1Qc631. Rxe6Qxe632. Ra1Qf533. Rxa5Qxf3+34. Kxf3Rb835. Ke4Rxb336. Ra7+Ke637. Nf4+This move was a little imprecise.
( 37. f4Would have been more effective. 37... c438. g4 )
( 43... h5!This move would have allowed Black to fight on as he can try to target g3 as a weakness and White would not be able to play g4. I doubt that Black could avoid losing, but it was worth a try. )
44. Kf3Rg145. h5The rest was not difficult for Gelfand. 45... c446. Ra7+Kg847. Ne7+Kf848. Ng6+Kg849. Rc7Rc150. Ne7+Kf851. Nf5Bb252. Rc8+
FIDE Grand Prix Moscow |Moscow RUS |Round 6.4 |18 May 2017 |ECO: B97 |1-0
1. e4c52. Nf3d63. d4cxd44. Nxd4Nf65. Nc3a66. Bg5e67. f4Qb68. a3Nc69. Nb3Be710. Qd2O-O11. O-O-ORd812. Bd3h613. h4Bd7Black has a pretty good position arising the Rauzer Variation, but I've never trusted these positions. Nakamura begins to play very energetically and Black is soon in difficulty. 14. Qe2!Preparing e5, which is not easy to prevent. 14... Kf8A typical idea. Black wants to play hxg5 now that he has cleared the g8 square. But it is still very risky.
( 14... Qc715. g4!And Black is in trouble. For example: 15... b516. Bxf6Bxf617. e5dxe518. g5And Black cannot survive. )
15. e5!An energetic and strong move. 15... dxe516. fxe5hxg5The best practical move.
( 16... Nd517. Nxd5exd518. Bxe7+Would be a very depressing position for Black. )
17. exf6Bxf618. hxg5Bxg5+19. Kb1Strategically, White is dead lost: Black has an extra pawn, a perfect pawn structure, a bishop pair, and active pieces. But none of that matters if the Black king is mated! 19... Qe320. Qh5!Bh621. Rhf1!White organizes his attack. 21... Be822. Rde1Qg523. Qh3!White threatens to play Ne4 and Nbc5. Black has no good way to relieve the pressure on his position. 23... Ne524. Nc5!Kg8
( 24... Ke725. Bf5Would be terrible for Black. )
25. Nxe6!Well calculated. 25... fxe626. Qxe6+Nf7
( 26... Bf7This was a better try, but after: 27. Qxe5Qxe528. Rxe5White retains excellent winning chances because of his extra pawn. )
27. Bg6!Black must lose the knight on f7. 27... Kh8
( 27... Rd728. Qxe8+!A nice resource )
28. Bxf7Bxf729. Qxf7Qxg230. Rg1Qd231. Rd1Qf432. Qxb7White is up a pawn and Black's king is not safe. It was not difficult for Nakamura to convert his edge to a win. 32... Rdb833. Qe4Qf834. Rg6Ra735. Qd4
It’s the sign of a true champion when a player who is not playing his best can recover from disappointments and still fight. Adams was coming off three consecutive losses and in last place. But he pulled himself together and won a fine game against Inarkiev:
Michael Adams vs. Ernesto Inarkiev
FIDE Grand Prix Moscow |Moscow RUS |Round 6.9 |18 May 2017 |ECO: C84 |1-0
1. e4e52. Nf3Nc63. Bb5a64. Ba4Nf65. O-OBe76. d3b57. Bb3d68. a3O-O9. Nc3Nb810. a4b411. Nd5Nxd512. Bxd5c613. Bb3Nd714. Be3Bb715. a5d516. d4dxe417. Nxe5Nf618. Qe2Qc719. Bf4Bd620. Bg3c521. c3Rac822. Rfd1g623. Qe3White's knight on e5 and active pieces give him a slight edge, but it's not a huge deal. But Inarkiev needed to play precisely to avoid trouble. 23... cxd4?
( 23... bxc3!This move was best as it would have opened more lines on the queenside for Black. After: 24. bxc3cxd425. cxd4Bd5!White's advantage is kept to a minimum. )
24. cxd4Black lacks counterplay. 24... Nd5
( 24... Bd5The analogous move to the previous variation now fails because after: 25. Bxd5Nxd526. Qxe4Black cannot play Nc3 )
25. Qh6!The invasion begins! 25... Qe7
( 25... f626. Nxg6Bxg327. Nxf8And White has a decisive edge. )
26. Re1!f527. f3!White blasts the position wide open. 27... Bxe5A sad move for Black to have to make, but what else could he have done? The threat was fxe4.
( 27... f428. Bh4Qg729. Qxg7+Kxg730. fxe4Black has no hope of surviving. )
( 27... exf328. Nxg6! )
28. Bxe5exf329. gxf3The dust has settled and one look at the bishop on e5 is enough to know what the outcome should be. 29... Rfe830. Rac1Qf831. Qg5Qf732. Kf2h533. Bd6Rxe134. Rxe1Re835. Rc1Re636. Bxd5!Not the only move for White to convert his advantage, but I like it for its simplicity. White creates a position with opposite-colored bishops and Black is unable to protect the dark squares, allowing White to infiltrate. 36... Bxd537. Rc8+!
( 37. Rc7Rxd6This also would have given White a decisive edge, but it was less clear cut. )
( 37... Kh738. Rc7 )
38. Rc7Qe639. Be5Rc840. Rg7+Kf841. Qh6And that will be that 41... Rc2+42. Kg1
With eight players within a half point of each other for the lead and three rounds still to go, the tournament is still wide open.
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.