The first round of the first Grand Prix produced three decisive games.
The road to the World Championship began in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on Saturday and three players took a good first step by winning their first game of the first Grand Prix tournament.
The Grand Prix is a series of four tournaments that will eventually determine two players in next year’s Candidates tournament to select a challenger for the World Championship. The first Grand Prix is being held in Sharjah.
The tournaments are being broadcast live exclusively on this site, WorldChess.com, which is the official site of the World Championship cycle.
The Grand Prix is not a new idea — there have been three previous Grands Prix. But this year the format has been changed. The number of players has been expanded to 24 and each tournament, which has 18 of the 24 players, instead of being a round robin, in which each player faces all of the others, is now a nine-round swiss. It’s definitely unusual and time will tell if it works better than the old format or not. One thing is certain - it opens up the field and creates opportunities for more players.
Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Ltd.
Michael Adams during Round 1. He won.
The first round was relatively quiet, despite several substantial rating mismatches. There were three decisive games out of the nine total and two of those games were won by the higher rated player. One of those was a victory by Michael Adams of England, ranked No. 16 in the world, over Saleh Salem of the host country, who is ranked No. 99, and the other was by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, No. 5, over Li Chao, b of China, No. 30.
Adams, Michael vs. Salem, Saleh
Grand Prix |Sharjah, UAE |Round 1 |18 Feb 2017 |1-0
29. Be4Black has a difficult (and probably losing) position, but his next move did not do him any favors. 29... Qh5?
( 29... Qe6!30. Bc3Qxd531. Bxd5Bf6Black would only be down one pawn and he would have some chances to fight for a draw if he could reach a rook-and-pawn ending. Still, it would be a pretty miserable position. )
( 30. Rc8!This move was even stronger. The point is: 30... Bxc8Fails to 31. Bxg7+ )
30... Rh631. h4b632. Rb5Material is equal and the structure is symmetrical, but White's piece activity gives him a huge advantage. Black cannot survive. 32... Re633. Qd4!Now the Black queen is in trouble; Bxg7 is hard to stop. 33... f634. Bxf6!Well calculated 34... Bxf6
( 34... Qe835. Be5This is not worth playing for Black )
35. Rxh5and Black does not have time to take White's queen: 35... Bxh5
Grand Prix |Sharjah, UAE |Round 1 |18 Feb 2017 |1-0
27. Qg5Qe7?!This allows White to obtain a pleasant ending with a small edge
( 27... Kh8After this move, the position would definitely have been dangerous for Black (he's probably worse) but at least he has a pawn on b2 that Whit has to worry about. )
28. Qxe7Rxe729. Re2!Now the pawn on b2 will be lost and White will have the bishop pair, giving a clear edge. 29... Ree830. Rexb2Rxb231. Rxb2Nxe532. Be2gxh533. f3!White does not bother with taking the pawn on h5.
( 33. Bxh5?Bg4!And not only is Black able to exchange off a pair of bishops, he is able to chase the other bishop away from its perch on h6. )
33... Nd734. Rb7!Black's pieces are dreadfully passive and White can start targeting the weak pawns on a5 and c6. 34... Nc535. Ra7!Nb3
( 35... Nxa4Exchanges do not help: 36. Rxa5Nxc337. Rg5+!And Black is cooked. 37... Kh838. Bg7+Kg839. Bxc3+Kf840. Bb4+ )
36. g3Black is basically in zugzwang. The knight on b3 cannot leave the defense of a5, the rook cannot leave the back rank, the bishop barely has a good square, and the king cannot get out of the corner. 36... Bd537. Kf2Rb838. Bf1Be639. Bd3Bd540. Bf5Re841. Bc2!After the first time control, Vachier-Lagrave finds the best way to increase the pressure on Black's defenses. Now the knight on b3 has to be continually defended. 41... c542. Rc7!c4Otherwise the c-pawn would have been lost.
( 42... Be643. Bxb3Bxb344. Rxc5This position is probably winning for White. )
43. Bf5!Rb844. Bd7!Coming around to b5 to attack the c-pawn again. 44... f645. Bb5Bf746. Rc6!Now f6 is a target. Black's position is hopeless. 46... Na147. Ra6
( 47. Rxf6This would have been my choice though the move played by White obviously wins, too. )
( 47... Nb348. Rxf6 )
48. Rxa5Na349. Bc6Nb150. Rb5A fine technical effort by Vachier-Lagrave.
The other decisive game was an upset, as the ever-unpredictable Richard Rapport of Hungary, No. 50, defeated Ding Liren of China, No. 12, with the Black pieces.
Ding Liren vs. Rapport, Richard
Grand Prix |Sharjah, UAE |Round 1 |18 Feb 2017 |0-1
Nf6I have never really understood these positions, but it looks like White should be happy enough. His center is very solid and Black can't engineer counterplay against c4 by playing c5, a typical plan in the Nimzo-Indian Defense, because then the Black pawn on b6 pawn would be weak. But Ding now started to go astray. 19. d5!?If Ding weren't so much better than me, I would say that this move is dubious, but maybe he is right and I am wrong. Still, it seems to me that ceding control of the c5 square to Black reduces the flexibility of White's position.
( 19. a3I think it is worth stopping a3. I don't like allowing Black to occupy the a4 square with his rook. )
19... Bf820. Ne3a3!I like this move. Black wants to play Ra4. 21. f4Ra422. e5Nd7As impressive as the White center looks, it is falling apart at the seams. 23. h5Nc5!Simple and strong.
( 23... dxe5?This does not quite work. 24. dxe6!And the knight on d7 is attacked. )
24. Qf1h6!Stopping White from playing h6. White's center is still under pressure and he has no good way to make further progress. 25. Rd4Qa5
( 25... exd5!This move was even stronger, taking advantage of the fact that 26. cxd5 would lose a pawn after 26... Rd4 27. cd4 Bd5. 26. cxd5?dxe527. fxe5Rxe5 )
26. Bd2exd5!?I'm not sure about this move. Now the bishop on b7 will be blocked, but the path of the game suggests that Rapport was right. 27. Nxd5
( 27. exd6!?Bxd628. Nxd5This was not a bad alternative. )
27... c6Not a happy move to make, the pawn on c7 was hard to defend.
( 27... Ne6?28. exd6!Bxd6?29. f5 )
( 27... Rc828. Bh3 )
28. Nb4Qa829. exd6White has won a pawn, but his position has serious positional defects. If Black can restore material equality, he will be doing great. 29... Rd8!Targeting the weak pawn on d6. 30. f5!White gets his kingside play going 30... Nd7Of course, Black should not allow f6.
( 30... Rxd631. Rxd6Bxd632. f6And White has a vicious attack. )
31. Rd3?Now Black takes over for good.
( 31. f6!Anyway! This would have given White a decisive edge. 31... Nxf632. Bxh6Nxh533. Bf3!Nf634. Bg5Rxd635. Rh4And Black cannot survive. This is very hard to find with little time left to make all the moves before the first time control. )
31... Nf632. Bf4Ra5!33. Qf3Rxf5Material balance has been restored and White still has all of the same old positional problems. 34. Nxc6
( 34. g4This move offered more resistance, though after: 34... c5!35. Nd5Bxd536. cxd5Rxf4!37. Qxf4Bxd6And White would not have had an easy position to defend. )
34... Rxd6!White is losing now. 35. Rxd6Bxd636. Ne7+Bxe737. Qxb7Bc5+!Black gives the check before White can move his king to g2.
( 37... Qxb738. Bxb7Bc5+39. Kg2And White would have had more chances to draw. )
38. Kf1Qxb739. Bxb7Nxh540. Re8+Bf8Ding threw in the towel instead of fight against three connected passed pawns on the kingside.
Sunday, Rapport and Vachier-Lagrave will face off, while Adams will have Black against Levon Aronian of Armenia, No. 7. It should be an interesting day.
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.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
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After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players