The curse of the sole leader struck again in Jerusalem, with David Navara bringing an abrupt end to Ian Nepomniachtchi’s reign. We analyse that spectacular game in depth, while Anton Korobov and Evgeniy Najer were the other big winners in Round 9 of the European Championship. They join Navara in the lead on 7/9, with only two rounds to go.
We’d already mentioned the great form Czech no. 1 David Navara has been showing in this tournament, and his live rating of 2754.9 currently makes him the world no. 14 and the favourite to win the whole event. His victory over Nepomniachtchi was truly impressive:
7. ♗b2 After 13 minutes of thought Navara deviates from the game mentioned and decides to play without d4. In fact, it's worth noting the curiosity that he doesn't advance the d-pawn until move 31, and the e-pawn doesn't move again until move 44... but despite that we'll see that he controls the centre for almost the whole game!
7... ♘d7 Since Black ends up in trouble in only a few moves this is perhaps the moment to seek an improvement. Nepomniachtchi no doubt avoided Nc6 to prevent pins with Bb5, but the knight would have been better placed on c6, for instance in order to stop a future a5, as happened in the game.
8. ♕b3! This is a very attractive way of stopping e5. Can you see how before reading the following comment?
9. c4 Stopping the f8-bishop from being developed by putting pressure on g7.
13... g6 is refuted tactically by 14. axb6 axb6 15. ♗xg6+! hxg6 16. ♕xg6+ ♔f8 (16... ♔e7 17. ♕g7+ wins the h8-rook) 17. ♖xa8+ ♗xa8 18. ♘g5! Threatening both mate on f7 and an invasion on e6. 18... fxg5 19. ♗xh8 White has a near decisive advantage.
14. ♘g5! Giving Black no respite! It's now the e6-point that's weak.
17. h4 Preventing the black knight from feeling at home. There was also the very direct
17. ♖g1 with g4 to follow.
17... O-O-O It was difficult for Nepo to choose a flank for his king, since neither seems to offer any prospects of safety!
20. ♗e4! David had calculated all the lines accurately.
23... ♖he8 24. ♖xb2 After the dust has settled White has achieved a big advantage, since the black king position is highly vulnerable and the white heavy pieces are ready to make life very tough for the black monarch... On the other hand, White doesn't yet have a material advantage, so he needs to play with precision in order not to waste such a good position.
25... ♗c7 Now b6 is defended they switch to the a-file.
27. ♖a8! The pin leaves the bishop a bystander.
28... ♕xa7 29. ♖xa7 ♗xa7 30. ♘e5 ♖ed8 31. d3 In this case the rooks are unable to compete well with the queen due to the weaknesses in the black position. When evaluating the battle between a queen and rooks the king safety of the side with the rooks is a key element. In this case we can say that the black king will never be left in peace!
38. ♕g4 was better. If 38... ♖f7 39. ♘g6 ♖f5 (39... e5 40. ♘xe5 would be the same as in the game, but the queen is much better placed on g4 rather than h7.) 40. ♘e5! and the threat of capturing on g7 makes the knight untouchable.
42. ♕g8 ♖xd3 43. ♘f8 was the precise sequence, although it's still not easy to finish Black off. White will capture on g7 and the h-pawn should decide matters if the queen and knight don't manage to terrorise the black king first.
42... ♔b7⁇ As Anand explained when he failed to punish a serious mistake by Carlsen in the World Championship match, at times when you're defending and don't expect any tactics you can miss crucial resources. In this case Nepomniachtchi could have played
42... g5! attacking the queen and knight. The ending is still complex since White retains two dangerous passed pawns. 43. ♘d5+ ♖xd5 44. ♕e4 ♖xd3 45. hxg5 However, it's obvious that Black has much better drawing potential here than in the game. For example: 45... ♖d2+ 46. ♔f3 ♖f7+ 47. ♔g4 ♖d1 and although White still has winning chances he'd have to be very precise!
43. ♕f5 But now there are no longer any chances for Black.
48... ♔xc7 49. ♕f7+ ♔d8 50. ♕xe8+ ♔xe8 51. exd6 ♔d7 52. ♔f3 ♔xd6 53. ♔e4 And Black resigned since the white king is about to enter the black position. A fantastic game by Navara only slightly marred by his slip on move 42.
Elsewhere two players joined Navara in the lead. Korobov pushed and pushed his a-pawn to beat Smirin, while Najer came out on top in a complex Petroff against Nisipeanu.
In Round 10 Najer has White against Korobov while Navara has Black against Sjugirov. What will be the approach of the players with half a point less? Will they aim for a draw to secure one of the 23 qualifying places for the World Cup? Or will they target a place on the podium? We’ll soon see – live here on chess24 from 10:00 CET.
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.