But after three other players won in Round 5, there are now four players within a half point of the leaders.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France held their lead through Round 5 of the Sharjah Grand Prix in the United Arab Emirates. But three players won and there are now four players within a half point of the leaders.

The chasing pack includes Hikaru Nakamura of the United States, Dmitry Jakovenko and Alexander Grischuk of Russia, and Michael Adams of England. 

The Sharjah Grand Prix is the first in a series of four tournaments that will be held throughout the year. The other locations are Moscow, Geneva and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The series includes 24 of the world’s best players, 18 in each tournament, who are competing for one of two slots in the Candidates tournament next year to select a challenger for the World Championship.

Each Grand Prix has a prize fund of 130,000 euros, with 20,000 for first place. The series is being organized by Agon, the company that holds the commercial rights to the World Championship cycle, under the auspices of the World Chess Federation, also known as FIDE, which is the game’s governing body. 

Jakovenko, Grischuk and Adams were the three winners on Wednesday. Grischuk and Adams had to work pretty hard for their points, but Jakovenko was the fortunate beneficiary of a terrible blunder by Alexander Riazantsev of Russia.

Riazantsev, Alexander vs. Jakovenko, Dmitry
Grand Prix | Sharjah, UAE | Round 5 | 22 Feb 2017 | 0-1
Kf8 White's play in this Panov-Botvinnik Attack has been pretty suspect, but he is only slightly worse at this point if he plays f4. Instead, he blundered.
19. Rd1??
19. f4  )
19... Qh3 Completely crushing. The threat is Bxh2+, leading to checkmate. Presumably White overlooked that f4 can be met by Qg4+, picking up the undefended rook on d1. White resigned immediately.

Adams, who lost in Round 4 to Mamedyarov, bounced back to defeat Jon Ludvig Hammer of Norway. It always pains me to see my friends lose, but Adams played a really nice game.

Adams, Michael vs. Hammer, Jon Ludvig
Grand Prix | Sharjah, UAE | Round 5 | 22 Feb 2017 | 1-0
g5 Black has an unpleasant ending because of all his weak pawns. But at the moment it seems like he has everything under control. However, Adams finds a very nice way to stretch Black's defenses.
28. Ba7! A nasty move. White is threatening Bb8, winning the weak pawn on e5.
28. h4 This only works once the knight has been forced back.
28... g4+  )
28... Ng8 A sad necessity for Black.
28... h5 29. Bb8 And White wins a pawn.  )
29. h4! Now that the knight is gone and g4 is no longer available. Adams takes this opportunity to create another weakness in Black's kingside.
29... gxh4 Not a happy move but what else?
29... Kg6 30. Bb8 Kf6 31. Kg4  )
30. Kg4 Ne7 31. Be3! The bishop has served its purpose on a7. Black's coordination has been compromised and he had to play gxh4. The bishop can now retreat.
31. Kxh4? Ng6+ 32. Kh3 c5! 33. Bxc5 Nf4+  )
31... Ng8
31... Ng6 32. Bxh6  )
32. Kxh4 Black has still another weak pawn, this one on h6.
32... Ke8 33. Rb3 Rg7 34. g4 Rf7 35. c4 Rd7 36. Ba7! Again this move proves annoying. The pawn on e5 is never easy to defend.
36... Nf6 37. f3 Rf7 38. Bb8 Nd7 39. Bd6! Black is totally stuck. The bishop on d6 dominates the position and none of Black's pieces can improve its placement, much less challenge that bishop.
39... Kd8 40. Kh5
40. Rxb7 This wins, too, but I like the move played by Adams because of its simplicity. Black has absolutely no counterplay.
40... Rxf3 41. Ra7  )
40... Rf6 41. Rd3 Ke8 42. Bb4 Finally the bishop leaves d6, but it is to target a weakness that cannot be protected. Black is unable to prevent Bd2 and Bxh6.
42... c5 43. Bd2 Rf7 44. Bxh6 Nf6+ 45. Kg6 Ng8 46. Bg5

After drawing his first four games, Grischuk earned a nice victory against Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine.

Grischuk, Alexander vs. Eljanov, Pavel
Grand Prix | Sharjah, UAE | Round 5 | 22 Feb 2017 | 1-0
Rfc8 White has a slightly better endgame because of Black's compromised pawn structure, but he has to play accurately to take advantage.
19. c4! The first step in the right direction. White trades off his weak pawn on c3 and will leave Black with a doubled pawn majority on the queenside against a healthy one on the kingside.
19. Nb5 Nxg3 20. hxg3 Rc5 This was less effective. I see no plan for White  )
19... Nxg3 20. hxg3 Rc5 21. Nb3! Driving the rook away before taking on d5.
21. cxd5 Nxd5 Would have allowed Black to get his knight to c3.  )
21... Rc7?!
21... Rc6 In hindsight, this was a better choice.
22. cxd5 Nxd5  )
22. cxd5! Rxc1+ 23. Rxc1 Nxd5 If White could immediately exchange all the pieces, he would be winning. But it's not easy to do. Moreover, the pawn on a2 seems very vulnerable. But Grischuk plays the next phase beautifully.
24. Nd4! Bringing the knight back to the center. The pawn is immune to capture.
24... Bg6
24... Rxa2? 25. Bc4 Ra5 26. Nb3 Winning at least an exchange.  )
25. Bb5! Another strong move. The pawn on a2 still cannot be taken and White is ready to play a4, solidifying his structure and shutting down the open a-file.
25... Nb4 26. a4 Na6 Getting the knight to c5 looks like a good idea, it block's the c-file and puts more pressure on the a-pawn. But after:
27. f3 Nc5 28. e4! Black still cannot take the a-pawn, and now his bishop on g6 is blocked.
28... Rd8
28... Nxa4 29. Ra1  )
29. Rc4! White's strategic dream is now a reality. He has clamped down on the queenside and will never have to worry about losing the a4 pawn or allowing an exchange by Black playing b4. White is free to slowly advance his kingside. The first point stage is to move the king to e3.
29... h5 30. Kf2 f6 31. Ke3 Bf7 32. Rb4 Ra8 33. Ne2! Another good move. White is eyeing the only open file for his rook.
33... Rc8?
33... Rd8 Contesting the open file is not helpful since trades will favor White.
34. Rd4  )
33... Kf8 This was the best move, hoping to stop Rd6. But Black's position would still be unpleasant after:
34. Nc3 Ke7 35. Bd3  )
34. Rd4! Be8 35. Rd6! Black begins to lose material.
35... Bxb5
35... Nxa4 36. Bxe8 Rxe8 37. Rxf6 White's kingside majority is a monster while Black's b-pawns are easily stopped.  )
36. axb5 Kf7 37. Nc3! Accurate to the end. White wants to play Nd5 and the pawn on b6 is not going anywhere.
37. Rxb6 Rd8 And Black can fight on a little while longer.  )
37... Re8 38. Rxb6 f5 39. Rd6 fxe4 40. Nxe4 Nxe4 41. fxe4 Ra8 42. Rd7+ Kf6 43. Rxb7 Ra3+ 44. Kd4 Rxg3 45. b6 Rxg2 46. Rb8 Rb2 47. b7 Kg7 48. e5 g4 49. Ke4

Thursday is a rest day and then the tournament resumes on Friday. Adams will have White against Vachier-Lagrave, Jakovenko will get White against Mamedyarov, and Nakamura will have White against Grischuk. 


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.