Alexander Grischuk can seal qualification for the 2020 Candidates Tournament by beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the Hamburg FIDE Grand Prix final after he overcame Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the 2nd classical game of their semi-final. Jan-Krzysztof Duda needed tiebreaks and looked dead and buried after losing the first 25-minute tiebreak game against Daniil Dubov, but a final desperate try in the second was crowned with success before he went on to win the 2nd 10-minute game. After a rest day the final starts on Friday.
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This was the semi-final which really mattered. Neither Jan-Krzysztof Duda nor Daniil Dubov had any chance of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament whatever happened in their match, while for Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave the stakes were high. If the French no. 1 wasn’t feeling the pressure enough he got bad news during the match: although both his rating and World Cup 3rd place meant he was already eligible to be picked as a wild card by the organisers, it turned out that only Russian players will get a chance to compete in a match, or match tournament, among those who are eligible. We should have expected that, perhaps, since the event, from March 15-April 5 2020, will not only take place in Yekaterinburg, Russia, but is being organised by the President of the Sverdlovsk Chess Federation Andrey Simanovsky.It’s unusual for a regional chess federation to be funding a match, but Andrey Simanovsky is anything but ordinary. As well as having a love of gold that might make even Donald Trump raise an eyebrow, he also insists that the employees at his Sima-Land company sing the Russian national anthem each morning. Of course the point of a wild card is that you can pick (almost) anyone, and it works as an incentive for an organiser to bid for the tournament. In this case, as FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky has explained, there were no other bidders.
What that meant was that although this was Grischuk’s last Grand Prix he would still have two chances if he lost – either for things to go his way in the final Grand Prix in Jerusalem, or to win the upcoming wild card playoff next year. For Maxime, meanwhile, all his eggs were now in the Grand Prix series basket. In the circumstances, perhaps it was no surprise that the first classical game was a tense struggle that fizzled out into a 27-move draw.
The second game proved to be the one that ended the match. Maxime tempted fate by going for the same line as he had in the game where Teimour Radjabov beat him in the World Cup semifinal, but with 5…e6 he varied from the 5…Nxc3 he played there. Grischuk later commented when it was mentioned that this was his first classical win over Maxime:
First of all, it’s my second win against Maxime. We started I think with 10 draws against each other, but since then we are winning non-stop! First I won, then Maxime won in Riga and now I won here. Actually it’s interesting that Maxime again fixes a big hole in his repertoire just before the game against me. First it was the Najdorf h6 he fixed, and now this Nxc3 he fixed, and actually that’s the only two times I managed to beat him. It’s strange.
Maxime didn’t get into the immediate tactical trouble he had against Radjabov, but the way things went didn’t fill him with joy:
I just underestimated the position after the opening. I thought I would have good counterchances and I suddenly didn’t like my position at all once I was over the board.
15…b5!? was described as “a very principled move” by Grischuk and as “very dubious” by Maxime himself:
After 16.Bxb5 Bxe4 17.dxc5 Grischuk said it all came down to whether MVL could have replied 17…Bxc5!?, since after 17…Bxf3?! in the game White was already clearly better, even if Grischuk admitted he didn’t play what followed with computer-like precision.
Alexander was soon in his habitual time trouble and things were looking up for Maxime, but:
I started to defend quite well but then, at the moment where it seemed most likely that I would end up making a draw, I started making a couple of dubious decisions.
One of those was perhaps to exchange queens, but by that stage there may have been nothing better, just as earlier Maxime had found nothing better than to block White’s outside passed pawn with his knight on a5:
In this position, after the exchange of queens, Black hopes to be able to support his d-pawn with his king, but Grischuk brought his own king to h5 – forcing the black king to defend h6 – then put his bishop on g2, attacking d5. The d-pawn had no choice but to advance (the knight is too busy with the a-pawn to protect it) and became an easy target for the white king. All that needed to be done was avoid the last trap of taking on d2 and losing the a-pawn to Nb3+, but 63.Be2! made it job done:
A beautiful demonstration of endgame technique!
That meant that Grischuk will end the Hamburg Grand Prix on
at least 17 points, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is on 13. For now, he would
gain one of the two Candidates places, but it’s all going to come down to the Jerusalem
Grand Prix. MVL is better placed than Mamedyarov (10 points), Nepomniachtchi
(9) and other players, but if he does badly he can easily be overtaken.
For Grischuk, meanwhile, it looks like a win in classical chess in the final would clinch qualification, while a win in tiebreaks would still leave him as an almost certain qualifier. If he loses the final his 17 points give him excellent chances of finishing in the top two, but he’s vulnerable since he doesn’t play in Jerusalem.
Now let’s look at his opponent:
The 2nd semi-final lasted six games:
The first two classical games were drawn in 29 and 33 moves, making it six draws in six classical games for Dubov, but that didn’t tell the whole story.
In the first, for instance, he thought for 34 minutes over his 11th move because he’d seen a “brilliant line” that Duda could have gone for with 13.Nxd5! cxd5 14.Qxd5 Bxf2+ 15.Rxf2 Qxb2:
Black would be more than fine after 16.Raf1 Be6!, but White has 16.Rxf7!. Black can’t take on a1 without losing to Rf1+, but after 16…Rxf7 there's the move Duda later said he’d missed, 17.Rf1!, and, despite temporarily being down a rook, White is pressing.
Daniil commented, “I thought myself like an idiot, basically” after he’d spent all that time and Duda took 10 seconds to play 13.Rc1 instead! Jan-Krzysztof merely pointed out, “You have to give up the rook to win a pawn – possibly – and if there’s a hole you’re basically losing”.
In the second classical game Dubov went for a slow grind, with Duda’s pieces on the ropes i.e. the back rank. Suddenly, though, that all changed:
28…Ne6! and, as Daniil later lamented, “One active move and I have to force a draw immediately!” The knight made it to f2 before the players shook hands five moves later.
Dubov had won two tiebreaks in Hamburg already, and he looked odds on to win a third after choosing the Sicilian and then outplaying Duda in a seemingly harmless ending.
Needing to win with Black, Jan-Krzysztof then picked the Modern Defence, and although it worked out about as well as you can hope it again seemed that Daniil was taking over in the middlegame. He hesitated to capture a pawn, however, and then decided to sacrifice one of his own!
It was an unconventional approach in a game he only needed to draw and backfired almost immediately, but just when Duda was taking over he allowed liquidation into what was surely a drawn rook endgame. It was still strategically rich, however, and the Polish player found a brilliant way to try and change the flow of the game:
66…Kf5!? 67.Rxd5+ Ke4. White sacrifices a pawn to infiltrate with his king, and in fact it should have been two pawns, as 68.Rxh5! looks to be the only move that draws here for White. After 68.Re5+? Kd3! Black was suddenly winning, as Duda went on to prove.
The first 10-minute game was puzzling, since after some trademark wild opening play Daniil decided to offer a draw on move 16 with more time on the clock and in what appeared to be a good position.
Perhaps the goal was to get to 5-minute blitz, since in the second game Daniil offered a draw by repetition only for it to be rejected by Duda on move 30. Soon afterwards Jan picked up a pawn and then took the game into a rook ending:
As we’d already established, he’s very good at those, and he duly went on to convert the advantage until Daniil resigned on move 60.
So the one general FIDE Grand Prix wild card Daniil Dubov had again impressed, but it’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda who will get the chance to take on Alexander Grischuk in the final. That starts on Friday, since Thursday is the one rest day.
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