Wesley So, Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov must all win on demand on Saturday or they’re out of the Moscow Grand Prix. They were beaten by Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Radek Wojtaszek on an opening day that had threatened to be dominated by draws. Games ended in 12, 14, 18 and 23 moves, though the remaining Giri-Dubov draw was a thriller which had top seed Anish Giri on the ropes.
You can replay all the games from the Moscow FIDE Grand Prix using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary in English by GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Daniil Yuffa, including post-game interviews with most of the players:
When Sergey Karjakin was mildly surprised by Alexander Grischuk in the opening and had no advantage with White by move 14 he offered a draw. Grischuk was taken aback:
There are now so few tournaments in which you can offer a draw so early. I was shocked. For like 10 minutes after Sergey offered I just didn’t know what to do - it was like a punch under the belt!
But still, a draw with the black pieces is a good start, right? Well, it was time for some classic Grischuk:
That wasn’t, however, the quickest game of the day, which had been the 12-move 40-minute Radjabov-Nakamura. Again, the player with the black pieces surprised his opponent, and Teimour had no real issues with that:
As I said to Hikaru, it’s anyway decisive here, so you can’t escape with all draws, unless you want to make it until the Armageddon where you are playing with Black! I’m just ok with it, I just don’t mind.
Nakamura pointed out that unlike in the 128-player World Cup there were no easy pairings in the first round, so he also had no problem with a draw:
In a knockout if you make one mistake normally you just lose and you’re finished, so obviously a draw is very good.
When he later joined Evgeny and Daniil he added:
You’re going to see who the better player is in rapid. I’m betting 80% or more matches will go to tiebreaks!
That prediction was looking pretty good as Wei Yi-Jakovenko also followed the same script. Dmitry Jakovenko surprised his opponent on move 4, and Nakamura recognised his draw against Vladimir Fedoseev in the 2017 World Cup in Tbilisi, a game the players followed for the first 16 moves. 8 moves later they shook hands.
One of the reasons quick draw offers have largely been outlawed was highlighted by Vitiugov-Svidler, a tricky match-up for players who have often worked together. Nakamura felt Vitiugov had an Alpha-Zero style long-term advantage and Nikita had done absolutely nothing wrong until he accompanied 18.f4! with a draw offer:
Nikita explained there were strategic considerations:
Of course the final position is very complicated, and in a tournament I would have continued the game, but here we play a match, so it has some specific strategy, and I wasn’t sure about the evaluation of the position so I decided just to try and ask Peter his thoughts…
Peter’s thoughts boiled down to:
My assessment as I was expecting the move to appear on the board was that I was in trouble, and when the move was accompanied by a draw offer, I thought, “yeah, that’s a good deal”… As for match strategy, I envy people who have strategies of any kind. I don’t have any. I just thought I was worse and I was offered a draw in a worse position, so I took it.
There would be one more draw, but this one was an absolutely full-blooded fight. Daniil Dubov showed he was in the mood to test Anish Giri when he went for a pawn sac on move 4. It would later lead to a funny moment in the post-game interview:
Giri: Daniil played it before, but I was not very well prepared anyway.
Dubov: Daniil hasn’t played it before.
Giri: You played it against Cheparinov.
Dubov: Really? Where?
Giri: World Rapid?
Dubov: Bad news… ok! I expected it to be a surprise actually, but ok.
Giri: It was a surprise despite that he played it before. I thought it was an interesting idea but I didn’t think it was serious and ok, this is a serious tournament, but it was not very easy behind the board to refute it.
Giri was right except that it was a blitz game (and one you could easily dismiss as Dubov lost on time in a bad position on move 22):
This time, though, it was White who ended up short on time – in an ugly position where despite an extra pawn White had a crippled pawn structure and his king in the centre of the board. It’s too complicated to cover all the twists and turns, but let’s just look at the move 34…Rfe8!, that caught Giri off-guard:
I missed this Rfe8 trick and then I cannot take on h7 [35.Rxh7+? Qxh7 36.Bxh7 Re2+ 37.Kg1 Re1+ 38.Kg2 R8e2+ 39.Kh3 Rxh1 and White is lost], and then I sort of thought, ok, I’m losing it after all, not because my position is bad, but just because I have 30 seconds and the position’s very complicated.
Giri was shocked that after 35.h4 the game ended 35…R3e7 36.Rxe7 Rxe7 with a draw offer.
Giri assumed his opponent must have been worried about something to offer that draw given the time situation, but:
By the moment my brain processed that he offered a draw already 25 seconds went, so I just take it.
Objectively there was nothing wrong with how the game ended, since Black’s advantage really had gone, but the players pointed out that chess isn’t all about objective evaluations. Giri:
Vladimir Kramnik taught me that it’s not about the objective estimation of the position. Sometimes he was winning when the position was bad, and today Daniil was winning no matter the evaluation of the position. I was planning to lose the game today, let me put it that way! I don’t know what the computer says, but I was planning to lose.
“You’re not the most optimistic guy in the world today”, noted Daniil, and you could see that in Giri’s overall assessment of the match-up:
The paradox about my match with Daniil is that I’m the first seed and he’s the last seed, but somehow I feel like I’m an underdog with the black pieces, with the white pieces, I’m the underdog also in the rapid tiebreak, I’m the underdog in the blitz tiebreak, so for some reason it’s a very peculiar paradoxical match we’re going to have.
But now let’s switch to the decisive games:
In Wesley So’s last World Championship cycle event, the Berlin Candidates, he started with a thumping loss to Fabiano Caruana in Round 1, lost the next game as well and by the end of the second half of the tournament had given up on winning the event. It’s not a Candidates Tournament in Moscow, of course, but the opening day couldn’t have gone much worse. 10…Kh8 already seemed to be a serious mistake and Duda pointed out that by move 13 Black was in trouble:
He had a bad choice between giving up the light-squared bishop or giving up this pawn on e5.
Wesley opted to play 13...Bg6 and give up the pawn, but his troubles didn’t end there. Any compensation came in the form of the bishop pair, but half of that pair was rendered helpless by 21.Bd6! and 23.c5!
I guess my opponent also forgot about this Bc6-c5 idea. His bishop on a7 just sucks!
The US player resigned just two moves later.
It was to prove a fantastic day for Poland, whose two top representatives had skipped the Polish Championship running just now in Warsaw. The live broadcast there kept viewers informed of events in Moscow:
Initially, though, it seemed it would be a mixed day. When Shakhriyar Mamedyarov spent 31 minutes on his 12th move Radek Wojtaszek invested 44 minutes on the reply, but it seems he failed to find the computer’s refutation. Black gradually took over until Radek admitted it was “simply hopeless”, and his wife Alina Kashlinskaya commented, “of course I believe in my husband, but at some point I understood that I should think what to tell him to fight tomorrow”. Radek would have needed to win on demand with the black pieces, but he kept battling on and would be richly rewarded on move 55:
55…Kd5?! 56.Rc3 left White with no more advantage, and here Radek was impatient:
He was having his hand on the bishop and I was thinking, “well, just play it, no?!” because after this one it’s probably winning for me.
56…Bc6? (56...Nb5 or 56...Nc6 should still draw) followed, and after 57.Ke3! Shak suddenly found himself unable to stop White picking up material with his rooks and king. 57…Nb3 was a good try (58.Rxb3? Kc4! 59.Ra3 Rh7! and Black is ok), but after 58.Re6! there was nothing stopping Wojtaszek going on to win, as he did in 67 moves.
We mentioned how Wesley So suffered in the Berlin Candidates, and the other big name player to badly underperform there was Levon Aronian. He also did badly in the Moscow Candidates two years before that, and he’s going to need to win on Saturday to avoid another disappointment in Moscow.
His game against Ian Nepomniachtchi went wrong in the opening, where his Russian opponent didn’t stop to think until move 18:
I managed to surprise a little bit Levon in the opening with some rare and drawish line, but somehow Black should be precise there, and since Levon played a move I didn’t see in the first computer lines it was maybe a little bit inaccurate, and I think Black was in some trouble.
Nepo didn’t press his advantage as forcefully as he could have done, however, and by move 29 there was a chance for Black to escape any suffering:
The back-rank trick 29…Qf4! would force off the queens and leave Black with very good drawing chances in the ending. Instead after 29…Qe6?! (“I think my Qe6 move was imprecise, because I wanted to clarify things, but I underestimated that my position is a bit passive” - Aronian) Nepo was able to preserve the extra pawn and threats with his queen and knight. Levon, who put his bad day at the office down to bad preparation and imprecise play in time trouble, went for a drastic attempt to solve his problems by capturing the a3-pawn at the cost of a piece:
It almost worked when Ian made mistakes of his own, but in the end the game ended logically in a win for White on move 72.
That means Wesley So, Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov must all win on Saturday to take their matches to tiebreaks on Sunday. They all have the white pieces, so it should be far from a mission impossible!
Tune into all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CEST.
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