Reports Nov 18, 2019 | 9:45 AMby Colin McGourty

Grischuk wins Hamburg GP, on verge of Candidates

Alexander Grischuk has beaten Jan-Krzysztof Duda in tiebreaks to win the Hamburg FIDE Grand Prix and all but clinch a place in the 2020 Candidates Tournament that will decide Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger for the World Championship title. What Grischuk described as “an incredible match” saw Jan-Krzysztof draw first blood with the white pieces in the first tiebreak game before Alexander stormed back to win the next two and seal victory with a draw in the last.

The joy of victory and closing ceremonies! | photo: Valeria Gordienko, official website

You can replay all the games from the Hamburg FIDE Grand Prix using the selector below:

And here’s the commentary on the tiebreaks from Christof Sielecki and Kamil Plichta…

…and Evgeny Miroshnichenko:

Fritz starts the day with a win

Jan-Krzysztof Duda has enhanced his reputation still further, though perhaps not for openings! | photo: Valeria Gordienko, official website

21-year-old Polish Grandmaster Jan-Krzysztof Duda found himself in deep trouble in the opening of both classical games in the Hamburg Grand Prix final, but then went on to play almost flawlessly. A deeply impressed Alexander Grischuk said after the match was over:

First I want to thank Jan-Krzysztof for this incredible match. I enjoyed every moment of each game all three days. All the games were very tense, and it was a huge fight with no short draws or anything. I was getting a feeling that Jan plays a little bit like an old computer, not exactly Stockfish, but like some Fritz without an opening database, without an opening book, because every game – White/Black – he plays some “shit“ basically, but then he's playing incredibly. I remember when I was young, the computers were not as strong, and you could try to compete with them, but still, they were beating you. And I was getting the same feeling today, but then twice I got just too much of an advantage to save even for Fritz or for Jan.  

The first 25-minute game of the final day was the first time that things went Jan-Krzysztof’s way in the opening. He played a curious old line of the English that had been championed by top players in the 1970s until 12.f3!? seemed to be a provocation too far for Grischuk:


Rather than playing the natural 12…exf3 as Iossif Dorfman had against Efim Geller in the 1975 USSR Championship, Grischuk went for the pawn sac 12…Ne5?! Although Black soon won back the pawn it was at the cost of leaving his pieces in contorted positions, and soon Duda correctly decided not to go for a draw by repetition. By the time 22.d4! appeared on the board it was clear that White had won the opening battle:


Grabbing the pawn on b7, as Duda did after 22…Ba4, may have been a little too materialistic, but he smoothly went on to convert his advantage into the first win of the match.

Grischuk storms back to all but seal a Candidates place

Alexander Grischuk hit back | photo: Valeria Gordienko, official website

That meant Grischuk now had to win on demand to prolong the match, but fortunately for him it was a return to the script of the previous days. Duda later commented:

My openings didn't work out, especially with Black, I think. The second game was terrible because I just blundered a pawn in the opening.

Duda was being a little harsh on himself, because he ran into a near novelty on move 11 and found himself in the following treacherous position:


After his 14…Rb8!? 15.axb3 the opening of the a-file did cost him a pawn, but the position after alternatives such as 14…Rc8 15.Bb7 Rxc3!? and a later b2, or the immediate 14…b2, are far from clear. There was a lot of pressure on Grischuk to convert his advantage, but he made no mistake and finished in style:


32.Qxe8 is good but allows Black to play on after 32…Qe7, but 32.Nd7! was clinical. The e8-knight is going nowhere.

The players then switched to 10-minute games, where Grischuk again had White. This time Duda went astray on move 8, and it was a mistake that Alexander might even have expected, since Jan-Krzysztof had played 8…dxc4?! and won six years ago in the European Under 18 Team Championship. The level of opposition was different this time round, and Grischuk swiftly took advantage of the opening of the centre. Duda evacuated his king by castling queenside, but that was only inviting an onslaught, which duly came:


23.Bc6! was a nice twist of the knife! 23…Bxc6 loses to 24.Qa7+ Kc8 25.Qxc7#, while 23.Qxc6 runs into the even nicer 24.Qa7+ Kc8 25.Ne7# since the black king has nowhere to go. 23…Bxh2+! was a resourceful if desperate means of giving the king an escape square, and despite ending up a rook down it has to be said that Duda put up fantastic resistance to drag the game out to move 60 before finally conceding defeat.

A bridge too far for Duda | photo: Valeria Gordienko, official website

In the final must-win game Duda played the Four Knights and actually emerged with a nice advantage from the opening:


15.e5! forced 15…Bxe5 16.fxe5 Nd7 and White was on the front foot, but not for long. Grischuk rerouted the knight with Nc5-e6! and managed to stabilise the position. Duda did all he could to try and whip up an attack on the kingside, but in the end it was Black who took complete control on the other side of the board until all that was left for Duda was to salvage a draw from a lost position by offering one. Grischuk was more than happy to accept since it meant victory in the match, and the way he reacted showed both how tough it had been and how much it meant!

His Russian colleagues led the congratulations:

Despite the disappointing end it had been an excellent event for Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who beat Ian Nepomniachtchi, Yu Yangyi and Daniil Dubov on the way to the final. He commented:

My play here was great. I didn't expect to get into the final. I didn't even expect to get into the third round, because I found Nepomniachtchi and Yu Yangyi to be probably the most unpleasant opponents for me. I haven't won a single game in classical chess against either of them, but I was lucky that they both blundered a game actually in one move.

A silver medal for Duda | photo: Valeria Gordienko, official website

For Grischuk, meanwhile, the victory and the 10 Grand Prix points that came with it put him on the verge of qualifying for the 2020 Candidates Tournament. He doesn’t play in the final Grand Prix in Jerusalem from 11-23 December, but his 20 points mean he would have to be very unlucky not to finish in the top two:

PlayerFEDRatingMoscowRigaHamburgJerusalemTotal
1Alexander Grischuk2766731020
2Maxime Vachier-Lagrave27758513
3Shakhriyar Mamedyarov277201010
4Ian Nepomniachtchi2773909
5Jan-Krzysztof Duda27480178
6Daniil Dubov26762035
Radoslaw Wojtaszek2728505
8Peter Svidler27372024
Wesley So2760134
10Hikaru Nakamura27413003
Veselin Topalov2736123
12Yu Yangyi2753112
Wei Yi2724202
14Sergey Karjakin2754011
David Navara2703011
16Levon Aronian2772000
Nikita Vitiugov27510000
Teimour Radjabov2767000
Pentala Harikrishna2731000
Anish Giri2776000
Dmitry Jakovenko2711000
Boris Gelfand2676

The maximum number of points you can win in a Grand Prix is 12 (8 for 1st place and 4 bonus points for winning 4 matches without needing tiebreaks), so only MVL, Mamedyarov or Nepomniachtchi can catch him. For him not to qualify for the Candidates, however, two players must catch him, and that can only happen if MVL finishes 2nd in Jerusalem and wins all three of the matches that take him to the final in classical chess (5 points for second place + 3 bonus points). Winning two of the matches in classical chess wouldn’t be enough, since Grischuk would get the Candidates place on the tiebreak of the number of 1st places (one to MVL’s zero).

That means it’s more than likely that Grischuk will join Fabiano Caruana, Teimour Radjabov, Ding Liren, Wang Hao and Anish Giri in the Candidates, but in any case he can sit back and watch the final Grand Prix knowing he’s done all he can. He commented:

Now it will be very pleasant for me to watch the final event. Of course, I wish luck to everyone who can still qualify, to Shakh Mamedyarov, to Nepomniachtchi and Maxime. But not too much luck to Maxime, because I don't want him to overtake me! I cannot be rooting against myself.

The start of a stand-up comedy career? | photo: Valeria Gordienko, official website

The more interesting battle is likely to be to join Grischuk in the Candidates - even Sergey Karjakin and David Navara aren't mathematically out of the running as they could reach 13 points and potentially qualify ahead of MVL if they win all four matches in classical chess in Jerusalem!

So that’s all for the Hamburg Grand Prix. The next big elite chess event is the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz Grand Chess Tour event in Kolkata that starts on Friday with Magnus Carlsen, Ding Liren, Vishy Anand, Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Vidit Gujrathi and Pentala Harikrishna. You’ll be able to watch all the Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz action here on chess24.

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