Reports May 23, 2015 | 1:39 PMby Colin McGourty

Khanty GP: Nakamura joins the leading pack

Hikaru Nakamura has stormed into the joint lead in the Khanty–Mansiysk FIDE Grand Prix, with two consecutive wins making him the hot favourite to qualify for the Candidates Tournament alongside Fabiano Caruana. We take a look at all the contenders on the final rest day before three rounds that will shape the race to become Magnus Carlsen’s next World Championship Challenger.

Nakamura utterly determined during what he's described as his most important tournament of the year | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Round 8 of the FIDE Grand Prix was the most bruising of the tournament so far, with four decisive games and one very near miss:

The surprise loss for the previous sole leader Caruana has brought no less than eight players within a point of first place with three rounds to go: 

Note you can change round and click on any game above - or on any result in the cross table below - to replay the game with computer analysis!

The race to finish in the top two places of the FIDE Grand Prix, though, has suddenly become much clearer. Let’s take a look at the players in turn.

The big favourites

1. Fabiano Caruana (370 Grand Prix points/1st place if the tournament ended today, odds of qualification as calculated by Chess by the Numbers: 91.8%)

Caruana had everything firmly under control until move 36 against Jakovenko | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Fabiano’s spurt of three wins in four from rounds 3-6 almost guaranteed he would finish in the top two places of the FIDE Grand Prix series and qualify for the 2016 Candidates Tournament. He could afford to cruise home, but instead, pressing hard for a win against Dmitry Jakovenko, he blundered with 36.Qb3?

That ran into 36…c4! and the problem now is that 37.dxc4 would be met by 37…Qa5!, hitting the e1-rook as well as the e4-knight. Caruana explained how he made the blunder in a story that will be familiar to every chess player:

I was mainly trying to make other moves work and then 36.Qb3 I played at the last moment without checking it properly.

Fabiano has a tough two games coming up – Black against Karjakin and White against Nakamura – but he knows draws would see him qualify with room to spare. Even if Caruana were to fail to qualify through the Grand Prix he’s currently leading the way in the race to become one of the ratings qualifiers for the Candidates Tournament.

2. Hikaru Nakamura (347 points/2nd place, 75.7% chance of qualification)

Nakamura’s six draws at the start of the final Grand Prix may have had his fans biting their finger nails, but with wins over the hapless Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and now Baadur Jobava the American is back on course to get his first shot at the World Championship title.

Two firebrands meet | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

The game against Baadur was a true rollercoaster, though. Jobava lived up to his reputation with a kingside pawn storm culminating in the pawn sacrifice 11.g6!?

The players disagreed on the evaluation:

Nakamura: “I think it’s a bad move…”

Jobava: “I have positional compensation…”

What they did agree on was that Jobava misplayed the middlegame until he was simply lost, though that was far from the end of the story. Nakamura admitted he missed White’s mating threats until they’d become a real danger. For instance, after 48.Ne5:

Nakamura is a knight and two pawns up, but the threat of Nf7 and Rh8 mate saw him jettison one knight with 48...Nf3+. The American no. 1 retained an advantage, but was facing a tough task until move 68:

Jobava’s 68.Nxg6 was the losing move, though it would be unfair simply to call it a blunder:

Jobava: If I don’t take I’m suffering with no chances.

Nakamura: It’s a practical decision, but it loses by one tempo.

It seems if Jobava had played his king to d5 rather than e7 on the previous move the whole plan might still have worked, though Nakamura could also have played something else.

Watch the full press conference:

Nakamura now has two Whites, against Grischuk and Jakovenko, and Black against Caruana. It may work in his favour that Caruana has no compelling reason to push with the white pieces.

The contenders

Dmitry Jakovenko (250 points/=4th place, 11.1% chance)

Jakovenko is a local, but was so focussed on his game he failed to notice that the Governor of Ugra, Natalia Komorova, had a front-row seat in front of his board | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Jakovenko has the most decisive games of any player in Khanty-Mansiysk. He started with a first round win, then lost two and almost three games in a row, but after wins against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and now Fabiano Caruana he’s right back in contention half a point off the lead. The Russian has White against Gelfand and Karjakin before Black against Nakamura in the final round.

Boris Gelfand (250 points/=4th place, 8.7% chance)

Over his career Boris Gelfand has shown a knack for upping his game when it really matters, most memorably by fighting his way to a 2012 World Championship match against Vishy Anand. He finished fourth in the previous Grand Prix series and now, with seven draws followed by a win over Peter Svidler, has an outside chance of snatching one of the qualifying places from the 2014/15 series.

At 46, Gelfand is still in the hunt after his win over Svidler | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

The win over Svidler was something of a horror show all round. Svidler got to play his beloved Grünfeld Defence, but then it all went wrong, since after 18.Ne4 he had nothing better than the abject 18…Nf8:

Svidler had a tale of woe to tell:

This position is in my notes with the evaluation,“White is winning,” so the question why I went for this is an interesting one… I kind of considered resigning. Not only is it a really bad position but I just felt that, you know, I’ve known this for years. I could explain step by step how I got there, but it’s not particularly interesting. It’s a psychiatric question, I think.

The one straw for Peter to clutch at was that Gelfand now sank into a 57-minute think, explaining, “first of all I have to calm down to get such a position from the opening”. That time proved crucial, as Boris went on to lose control of the position. Svidler had various straightforward ways to draw, but instead he continued to go wrong. He summed up the tournament situation:

People are getting tired and also for those running for the qualification it’s getting very tense.

Gelfand didn’t say much, but he got in the final phrase, “errare humanum est!” To err is human.

Watch an enjoyable press conference:

Sergey Karjakin (237 points/6th place, 6.5%)

Karjakin had upped his chances to almost 20% before Round 8 after consecutive wins in Rounds 5 and 6, but a move 40 blunder against compatriot Alexander Grischuk dealt a huge blow to his qualification hopes. At least that disproved a theory Anish Giri had mentioned in an earlier press conference:

Whenever Grischuk and Karjakin are playing I’m always doubting how authentic the game is.

Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson takes a look at a fascinating game:

Evgeny Tomashevsky (277 points/3rd place, 6.2%)

Tomashevsky is perhaps the player with the most to regret in Khanty-Mansiysk so far. The Russian came into the tournament leading the Grand Prix series and needing only an average result to qualify for the Candidates. He started off better than that, with a win in the first round, but then everything started to go wrong when he missed a simple win against Grischuk in the second. Losses to Caruana, Karjakin and Giri followed, and were compounded by a failure to beat Jakovenko and now Dominguez. After the 101-move draw Evgeny commented, “one more miss for my tournament”.

So near yet so far for Tomashevsky against Dominguez | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

The one glimmer of hope for the Russian is that his final three opponents, Gelfand, Svidler and Vachier-Lagrave, might be beatable given their current form and/or age!

The also-rans

The remaining players all have essentially no chance of qualifying for the Grand Prix, though that doesn’t mean they’re all doing universally badly in Khanty-Mansiysk! Cuba’s Leinier Dominguez is among the leaders, with two wins and no losses. His victory over Peter Svidler was especially smooth, as described by Jan Gustafsson:

That win put an end to Svidler’s chances, with his previous two wins cancelled out when he also went on to lose the next game against Gelfand, as described above.

Alexander Grischuk joins Svidler on 50%, and like Anish Giri (-1), will be hoping that Caruana and Nakamura do indeed qualify as predicted from the Grand Prix, since, as we explained in our Grand Prix preview, that will free up another two spots for them to qualify by rating.

Alexander Grischuk and Baadur Jobava have played interesting chess but failed to make an impact on the scoreboard in Khanty-Mansiysk | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Baadur Jobava has entertained the (internet) crowds in Khanty-Mansiysk, but his loss to Nakamura makes it a disappointing 0 wins and 2 losses for the Georgian so far.

No-one, of course, can compete with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who finally ended a sequence of four consecutive losses with a safe draw against Anish Giri. At least the Frenchman has only lost rating points and not his sense of humour!

Giri: He doesn’t want to lose. He probably wants to win, but he probably thinks he can’t win anymore, so it’s a very difficult situation. I felt a little bit similar before yesterday (when Giri beat Tomashevsky) and he must feel much worse. I also lost five games in a row once upon a time, so I know a bit. I didn’t know what he wants to do. Maybe he wants to try to come back like a hero, or maybe he just wants to stop bleeding…

Vachier-Lagrave: I tried to come back like a hero against Sergey, so that was enough!

Asked about how he’d approach the final rest-day Maxime commented:

Before the first rest day I said I needed a new state of mind. It was indeed! It just got worse and worse with every game going, so I really don’t know what to expect from the last rest day. I hope things cannot get worse than they were in the last games.

How better to turn over a new leaf than by planting a tree? :) | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Have Grischuk and Jobava finally dealt with the threat of Caruana and Nakamura? | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Round 9 takes place on Sunday, with Karjakin-Caruana and Nakamura-Grischuk among the games to watch. Don't miss the action live here on chess24

Alternatively you can also watch on our free mobile apps:


See also:

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