Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will qualify for the World Championship Candidates Tournament for the first time in his career if he beats Ian Nepomniachtchi in the Jerusalem Grand Prix semi-final after the players overcame Dmitry Andreikin and Wesley So in quarterfinal tiebreaks. If Ian wins he would still need to win the final to clinch the Candidates spot, in a match that would be against either David Navara or Wei Yi. The Chinese star knocked out Sergey Karjakin in the longest quarterfinal encounter.
You can replay all the Jerusalem FIDE Grand Prix games with computer analysis using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Evgeny Miroshnichenko, with Peter Svidler joining for the first game:
Dmitry Andreikin was a last-minute wild card for the Jerusalem Grand Prix and admitted it’s tough to find the motivation when you’re not competing for any wider goals, but he did come armed with an unpleasant surprise for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: 4.h3!?
As he explained:
In the first game I prepared an interesting line in the opening, the h3 move. It is unpleasant for Black because Maxime plays only the Najdorf, and after h3 Black can’t play the classical Najdorf. We had a fresh position and I think I had great chances.
Maxime agreed the h3-move had been an unpleasant surprise:
Yeah, it was, and I probably didn’t react in the best way, but I created a mess and at some point I did navigate better, but it was really back and forth.
After 4...e5 we definitely weren't in Najdorf territory any longer and Peter Svidler felt that capturing on f4 was forced after Dmitry later played 15.f4. What happened in the game after 15…Nf7?! did nothing to alter that verdict before a critical position arose after 17…Nd4:
18.Rxh5! looks winning. After 18…Rxh5 19.Qxh5 Black can’t play 19…Nxc2+ 20.Kd1 Nxa1 since despite the extra rook Black is getting crushed after a move like 21.Qg6. The problem was that Dmitry had missed that after 18.Be3?! Bxf5 19.Bxd4 Bg4 20.Bf3 Black had 20…cxd4! and suddenly Qa5+ is a big issue.
Dmitry called that a “stupid mistake” of his, while afterwards he couldn’t resist going for 24.Nf6?! Kf7 25.0-0:
Maybe my move 0-0 is very beautiful, but maybe not strong. I don’t know - it’s very interesting, a very beautiful position!
It turned out that after 25…Nh3+! 26.Kh1 Maxime could boldly play 26…Kxf6! with no need to fear any discovered checks. What followed was a massacre, with the game ending on move 36 after some heavy blows.
That left Andreikin needing to win on demand with the black pieces to prolong the match, and he followed standard protocol in such situations by playing a variant of the Modern Defence with 1.e4 g6!? Unsurprisingly Maxime gained an advantage, but there was enough chaos for Black to keep hoping until the French no. 1 simply found one good move too many:
42.Nxe6+! fxe6 43.Bh6! ended any black hopes, even if after 43…Ke8 44.Qg8+ Kd7 45.Qxg7+ Kc6 the Frenchman’s team might have preferred that he simply exchanged queens and guaranteed a draw. As it was after 46.Qxg6, and some slightly shaky play, he eventually went on to agree a draw, it seems, in what by then was a totally won position.
Maxime summed up:
Today was a very tense day. The games were very hard-fought and there were a lot of tactical motifs. In general it ended well for me, but Dima found some very nice resources at some points so it was a very, very difficult match.
Maxime’s win would have seen him reach the Candidates if Wesley So had beaten Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Wesley was refreshingly honest afterwards when he said he was “feeling well”, “ready to play” and “quite confident” before the tiebreak. Wesley had won the opening battle in both classical games and surprised Ian in the first rapid game, though the Russian remembered enough theory to hold a draw from a somewhat uncomfortable position.
In the return game, however, it was all about a deep trap that Wesley fell into when he played the tempting 22…Rxe5?! in the Anti-Marshall:
Black seems ready to meet 23.Rxf7!, but after 23…d5 24.Qxc5 Qxf7 Nepo had the sting in the tail 25.f4!
Wesley thought for 7 minutes, but there was nothing better than what he played: 25…Qxf4 26.Bxd5+ Kh8 27.Rf1! Rxd5 28.Qxd5 and White retains a powerful initiative. Wesley called the position “almost impossible to defend”, though he did a good job of it until what he admitted was a blunder, 37…Rd4?
38.Qxd4 Qxe7 would be a drawn queen ending, but 38.Re8! Rxe4 39.Rxf8+ Kh7 40.Rf5! was at least very close to a winning rook ending for White. Nepomniachtchi went on to win in 65 moves.
If Ian can win the tournament he qualifies for the Candidates, but there was some disagreement about the kind of form he's in. When Wesley said that his opponent was “in very good shape, also in the first match against Boris”, Nepo responded:
Probably you didn’t see my games against Boris, if you’re claiming that I played well! I would say absolutely the opposite thing, but anyway, thank you.
Alik Gershon might also be familiar to chess24 users as a recent opponent of Magnus Carlsen's in Banter Blitz. He told Anastasia Karlovich about that clash:
Here's their game, which included the memorable line, "He used to be a pretty good player... but now he is a pawn down!"
But back to the Grand Prix... When Sergey Karjakin pulled off the impressive feat of winning his Round 1 match against Harikrishna with 9 draws, then drew the first quarterfinal game against Wei Yi in just 8 moves, he became the focus of criticism of quick draws – and the lack of anti-draw rules – at the event. You couldn’t criticise his spectacular second classical game against Wei Yi, however, and then the players traded three wins at the start of their tiebreak. Anish Giri popped up to celebrate the action and provide some perhaps not entirely serious suggestions:
The tone was set in the first rapid game when Wei Yi played the Center Game with 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 and then with 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qc4!? got the kind of position you would expect with an amateur wielding the white pieces.
Wei Yi played it fast and was clearly prepared, but it didn’t prevent him slipping into a borderline lost position with the white king in deep trouble:
It’s hard to imagine here, but in what followed the knight never escaped from a2 (though Nxc3 immediately was good), the white king found a safe haven on f2 and the d5 and b5 pawn pushes that Sergey used to try and break open the white position only cost material and ultimately the game.
At various points in the next game Wei Yi looked on the verge of winning or at least earning the draw he needed to reach the semi-final immediately, but Sergey Karjakin’s never-say-die spirit came to the fore as he managed to level the scores and take the match to 10-minute games.
In the first of those Sergey reached an endgame a pawn up, but it seemed he tried to organise a mating net and, when that failed, it was Wei Yi who hit back to gain a victory with the black pieces. It was a mature performance from the 20-year-old Chinese player, who followed up that demonstration of endgame skill by playing pragmatically in the next game to ensure a draw and match victory when he could easily have pressed for more.
That means that it’s Wei Yi who now plays David Navara in the second semi-final, but all eyes will be on the first between MVL and Nepomniachtchi. As Maxime put it:
It feels like the final to qualify for the Candidates!
Tune in to the semi-final action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CET!
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