There were three decisive games in Round 3, with Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri both winning to move into a tie for first.

With each round so far, the Tal Memorial in Moscow has gotten more exciting. There were three decisive games in Round 3, with two of the leaders after Round 2, Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, both winning. They are now tied for the lead, each with 2.5 points.

Viswanathan Anand of India is all alone in third, with 2 points.

The elite tournament is a 10-player round robin and is being held in the Museum of Russian Impressionism. It has a prize fund of $200,000, with $45,000 for first place.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan was the other winner in Round 3; he beat Boris Gelfand of Israel. Both players had lost in Round 2 — Mamedyarov to Anand and Gelfand to Giri — so I was pleasantly surprised to see a decisive result in their game. Often, when two players who have lost the previous round face off, they don’t take many risks so that they can get a positive score and the game is drawn without much fight. This was absolutely not the case in Round 3, as Mamedyarov came out swinging, and things quickly went downhill for Gelfand.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs. Boris Gelfand
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 3 | 29 Sep 2016 | 1-0
18. Nd4 Black has a fine position, but he needs to be vigilent. White would like to play e5-e6, blowing up Black's kingside. Gelfand quickly goes astray.
18... Rd8
18... Bc5 The computer recommends grabbing the pawn on b2 but this looks more natural to me.
19. Rfd1 Re8 Black is fine  )
19. Rad1 Qxb2 20. e6! Now the fun begins. It's remarkable how quickly Black's kingside falls apart.
20... Bxe6? A bad move but finding the right path was very difficult.
20... Bf6! 21. Nef5 Bxe6 22. Nxe6 Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Re8! And Black would survive.
24. Nxh6+ gxh6 25. Qg4+ Bg7! The queen on b2 is less useless than she looks.  )
21. Nxe6 fxe6 22. Bh3! Getting another piece involved in the attack. Positions in which each side has a bishop on a different color greatly favor the attacker because he is playing with an extra piece on that color -- white squares or black squares. In this position, Black is already in dire straits.
22... Kh8 23. Bxe6 g5? A bad move, but Black's position was already extremely difficult. White was planning Qg6 followed by Bf5 and Black presumably wanted to put his queen on g7. But it's a futile effort.
23... Rxd1 24. Rxd1 Bc5 25. Ng4 Rf8 Would have offered somewhat better defensive chances, but White should still win.  )
24. Ng4! Black cannot deal with both the threats of Ne5 and Nh6.
24... Rxd1
24... Qg7 25. Ne5  )
25. Rxd1 Qg7 26. Ne5 Qf6 27. Bb3 Kg7 28. Ng4 Black resigned because the position after 28... Qf8 29. Bc2 would be hopeless.

At first, I thought the game between Nepomniatchi and Vladimir Kramnik was headed for an early draw. But Nepomiachtchi, who has been on a hot streak lately — raising his rating to nearly 2760, and his world ranking to No. 14, according to the Live Ratings Web site —  managed to create some winning chances, seemingly from out of nowhere.

Kramnik played excellent defense. But just as it seemed he had found a way back to equality, he faltered and Nepomniachtchi pounced:  

Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Vladimir Kramnik
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 3 | 29 Sep 2016 | 1-0
24. Bd3 This position looks completely equal, but somehow Nepomniachtchi manages to create problems for Black.
24... g5 25. f5 g4?!
25... exf5 26. Bxf5 Rc5 would have been easier for Black. After that, I can't imagine him having any problems.  )
26. Ne1 e5 27. Nc2! Now Black has to be a little precise. The White knight is circling around to d5 and Black's pieces are not that well placed.
27... h5 28. Nb4 Kg7 29. Nd5 Bh4 30. h3! Rc5?
30... Nb2! Was best
31. hxg4 Nxd3 32. exd3 hxg4 33. Ra4 Rd8 34. Rxg4+ Bg5! And Black would be okay. It is not surprising that this was difficult to find during the game.  )
31. hxg4 hxg4 32. Nc7! After Ne8+, the pawn on f7 is going to come under fire.
32... Kh6 33. Ne8 Nb2! In a difficult position, and with little time left to make the first time control, Kramnik finds the best move.
34. Be4
34. Ba6!? The machine's choice looks ridiculous but is probably stronger. The idea is follow up with Nd6.
34... Ra5 35. Nd6 Kg5 36. Nxf7+ Kxf5 37. Bc8+ Kf6 38. Rb7 Black has a lot of weak pawns  )
34... Nd1! 35. Nd6 Kg5! Black is fine again as his king will sit happily on f4. It seemed that Kramnik was about to secure a draw.
36. Rxf7 Bxf2? A blunder.
36... Nxf2! And Black is fine  )
37. Rg7+ Kf4 38. e3+! A nice tactic
38. f6? Bh4! and Black would have mating threats.  )
38... Kxe3
38... Bxe3 39. f6 And White would win easily.  )
39. Rxg4 The f-pawn decides the day
39... Kd2 40. Bf3 Ne3+ 41. Kxf2 Nxg4+ 42. Bxg4 And the rest was not too difficult for White.
42... Rd5 43. Ne4+ Kd3 44. f6 Ra5 45. Be2+ Kd4 46. f7 Ra8 47. Ng5

Giri mananged to eke out a win over Evgeny Tomashevsky of Russia. Much like the Nepomniatchi-Kramnik game, chances were equal early on. But they kept playing, and a couple of dubious positional decisions from Tomashevsky left him with a very difficult endgame:

Anish Giri vs. Evgeny Tomashevsky
Tal Memorial | Moscow | Round 3 | 29 Sep 2016 | 1-0
24. Na3 Chances seem about equal in this position, but Giri manages to create some problems for his opponent.
24... Bc6?! I don't like this move because it allows an unfavorable piece exchange.
24... Ng6 And Black looks fine.  )
25. Bb5! A correct exchange. The Black pawn on b6 is isolated and fixed on a dark square, so White wants to leave dark-squared bishops on the board.
25... Ne8 26. Bxc6 Qxc6 27. Qb5! Another good move
27... Qxb5 28. Nxb5 Black's position already looks uncomfortable to me.
28... Nd7 29. Kf1 f6 30. Ke2 Kf7 31. Ne1 Nb8 32. Na7 Bd8 33. Nc2 Ke7 34. Nb4 Kd7 35. d5! A final strong move condemns Black to a long and difficult defense. His bishop is very poor and he is left with an unpleasant pawn structure.
35... exd5 36. Nxd5 Nc6 The game is, and was, far from over, but White's superior pawn structure and better-placed pieces gave him a small and lasting edge that he eventually converted into a win.

It isn’t likely that the pace of decisive games can continue, but the tournament is living up to its famous namesake so far.


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.