Mamedyarov and Vachier-Lagrave Still Lead Sharjah Grand Prix
BySamuel ShanklandFeb 23 — 1:00 AM
Image by Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Ltd
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.
Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Ltd
Dmitry Jakovenko, just after his game ended in Round 5.
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
Kf8White'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... Qh3Completely 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.
Michael Adams playing Jon Ludvig Hammer during Round 5. Adams won.
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
g5Black 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. h4This only works once the knight has been forced back. 28... g4+ )
28... Ng8A sad necessity for Black.
( 28... h529. Bb8And 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... gxh4Not a happy move but what else?
( 29... Kg630. Bb8Kf631. Kg4 )
30. Kg4Ne731. 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. Kh3c5!33. Bxc5Nf4+ )
( 31... Ng632. Bxh6 )
32. Kxh4Black has still another weak pawn, this one on h6. 32... Ke833. Rb3Rg734. g4Rf735. c4Rd736. Ba7!Again this move proves annoying. The pawn on e5 is never easy to defend. 36... Nf637. f3Rf738. Bb8Nd739. 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... Kd840. Kh5
( 40. Rxb7This wins, too, but I like the move played by Adams because of its simplicity. Black has absolutely no counterplay. 40... Rxf341. Ra7 )
40... Rf641. Rd3Ke842. Bb4Finally the bishop leaves d6, but it is to target a weakness that cannot be protected. Black is unable to prevent Bd2 and Bxh6. 42... c543. Bd2Rf744. Bxh6Nf6+45. Kg6Ng846. 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
Rfc8White 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. Nb5Nxg320. hxg3Rc5This was less effective. I see no plan for White )
19... Nxg320. hxg3Rc521. Nb3!Driving the rook away before taking on d5.
( 21. cxd5Nxd5Would have allowed Black to get his knight to c3. )
( 21... Rc6In hindsight, this was a better choice. 22. cxd5Nxd5 )
22. cxd5!Rxc1+23. Rxc1Nxd5If 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. Bc4Ra526. Nb3Winning 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... Nb426. a4Na6Getting 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. f3Nc528. e4!Black still cannot take the a-pawn, and now his bishop on g6 is blocked. 28... Rd8
( 28... Nxa429. 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... h530. Kf2f631. Ke3Bf732. Rb4Ra833. Ne2!Another good move. White is eyeing the only open file for his rook. 33... Rc8?
( 33... Rd8Contesting the open file is not helpful since trades will favor White. 34. Rd4 )
( 33... Kf8This was the best move, hoping to stop Rd6. But Black's position would still be unpleasant after: 34. Nc3Ke735. Bd3 )
34. Rd4!Be835. Rd6!Black begins to lose material. 35... Bxb5
( 35... Nxa436. Bxe8Rxe837. Rxf6White's kingside majority is a monster while Black's b-pawns are easily stopped. )
36. axb5Kf737. Nc3!Accurate to the end. White wants to play Nd5 and the pawn on b6 is not going anywhere.
( 37. Rxb6Rd8And Black can fight on a little while longer. )
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.
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