US stars Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura both won their first tiebreak games with White and then drew with Black to reach the quarterfinals of the FIDE Grand Prix in Moscow. Wesley took advantage of a huge blunder by Jan-Krzysztof Duda in an equal position, while Teimour Radjabov stumbled into a position where he suddenly couldn’t move and was smoothly dispatched by Nakamura. Duda in particular had chances in the second game, but there were to be no comebacks. Nakamura now plays Dubov, while So faces Grischuk, with Jan Gustafsson... and World Champion Magnus Carlsen! ...commentating in English on Monday.
The unfinished business was wrapped up quickly on Sunday, and you can play through all the games using the selector below:
And here’s the official video of the tiebreaks, including Nakamura joining Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Daniil Yuffa after he qualifies:
There could potentially have been 7 rounds going all the way to an Armageddon showdown on Sunday, but the chances of that fell dramatically when the US favourites both won in the first 25-minute games of the day.
After two very quick draws in the classical games Hikaru Nakamura made no peace offers in rapid, but when he backed down from a potential sacrifice (19.Rxe6!?) it seemed as though the game might go nowhere. It suddenly livened up, however, when a white knight made it to d6:
Teimour Radjabov was short on time and unsure whether to tolerate the intruder, but he decided it had to go, playing 31…Nxd6?! 32.exd6 f6 only to run into 33.Nh4! and Nakamura racing his f-pawn up the board. Teimour said he’d “completely forgotten about that”, while Hikaru agreed: “once I get this f6, Nh4 maybe a computer can still hold it, but it’s very, very unpleasant”. 35.e5? was the final straw, with 36.Qd5! in fact a beautiful winning move:
Black is totally paralysed if he goes for passive defence, with Rc2-c6-a6-a8 just one potential winning manoeuvre. Radjabov opted to try and give perpetual check, but that was also refuted… majestically! 36…Qe3 37.Ng6 Nxg6 38.hxg6 Qf4+ 39.Kh3 Qf1+ 40.Kh4 Qe1+ 41.Kh5:
The return game wasn’t a thriller, on the outside, though the players afterwards pointed out a chance on move 22:
22.Bf4! immediately, and after 22…Rcc8 (22...Rce7? 23.a3! and the bishop is trapped) 23.Qd7! White will pick up either the b or the f-pawn, though Black’s drawing chances are still high. After 22.Rad1?! Bf8! 23.Bf4 in the game, Black could safely put the rook on e7.
After that there was one more moment of tension, which dissipated when Radjabov realised that his planned 27.a4!? Qxa4 28.Ng5!? had a flaw:
28…Qxd1! would have ended the game on the spot. After 27.Bxf8 it ended a few moves later anyway, with no hopes remaining of rocking the boat.
You can watch Hikaru and Teimour discussing their match below:
Nakamura had predicted 80% of the matches going to tiebreaks after quick draws, so he was left with some explaining to do on the live show!
I think it was very strange, because I think what happened was that people who drew with White in the first game, generally speaking, were the people who like to suffer and defend these positions where they’re worse. Sergey [Karjakin] is a good example. He likes to get this worse position and just defend forever, and I think when you have that sort of dynamic that means people are going to play forever as well with the white pieces. It’s not just going to be a very flat, equal position. I wasn’t shocked by that one.
Peter [Svidler] also got a position that objectively should have been a draw, but again he had some initiative, he got pressing, pressing and was able to win, so it’s not that shocking, I don’t think, considering the match-ups. And even Anish against Daniil. Anish, for whatever reason, seems to think he’s the worst rapid player in the world, which I don’t understand at all! I think it was just the match-ups and who had Black in the second game as to why there were so many decisive games – more than the format being brilliant. It was just the match-ups, and so far it seems like it’s good for chess, but it’s very early.
The other tiebreak had featured two decisive classical games, and was to be followed by another in rapid chess. The logical outcome of the game would perhaps have been for Wesley So to spot a knockout blow in the middlegame:
Wesley took three and a half minutes to instead go for an ending
with 22.dxe5 dxe5 23.Qxd8 (23.Bxh6! was still possible), and soon it was close
to complete equality.
Then, however, Duda confessed to suffering from an “illusion” and playing “a tragical move”:
35…Bxf2?? is an understandable blunder for a fast game, but it’s also instantly fatal. Wesley quickly demonstrated the refutation 36.Bxc6! Rxe2 37.Bxb5! and the black rook can’t keep defending the f2-bishop (37…Rc2 38.Bxa4! Re2 39.Bd1! and the fun is over). Duda just gave up the piece with 37…Re3 38.Kxf2, but that was in no way superior to resigning on the spot.
The rematch, however, was a real fight, with Duda getting exactly the kind of long-term pressure that you want in such a situation. Then there were flashes of real brilliance from the 21-year-old Pole:
39.Bxh6!! gxh6 40.Bxc6 Bxc6 41.Re6! reignited the fire, and if after 41…h5 Duda had played 42.Rg6! his chances of forcing 10-minute games would have been high. Wesley is an experienced campaigner, though:
Hikaru and I have a lot of practice coming from the Grand Chess Tour in Africa, so we played a lot of rapid games there and I think that helped me.
When Duda played 42.Rg3 Wesley seized the chance to reply with a brilliancy of his own: 42…Nc1!!
Black gives back a piece on c6 in exchange for forking the white king and rook from e2, with the computer evaluations immediately sinking to 0.00. Wesley didn’t put a foot wrong as he went on to hold an endgame where he had a rook against Duda’s knight and two pawns.
Afterwards Wesley was full of praise for his opponent:
It was a very tough match, but I knew it when I picked Jan-Krzysztof on the very first day. It proved to be real tough. Jan-Krzysztof is very young and he’s improving very quickly and no doubt that he’ll be a top player very shortly.
That meant we knew all the quarterfinalists for the matches that start at 14:00 CEST on Monday:
The big surprise with the pairings is that the players have barely played each other, and that in no case has the higher-rated player asserted any dominance. Let’s take them one at a time:
Daniil and Hikaru have never played a classical game, and only three rapid and blitz games. The only decisive result? A typically extravagant Dubov victory in the Tal Memorial Rapid in 2018.
The biggest shock is to learn that these two supertournament regulars have only played four classical games, with a win apiece. Wesley mentioned his win in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup in his post-game interview, and it’s easy to see why it was memorable. That was the only win of Wesley’s Sinquefield Cup debut, while a year later he would win the whole event. Grischuk hit back in Round 2 of the Berlin Candidates last year, in the game where he memorably noted that, “actually if you checkmate then you don’t have to make it to move 40!”
When Nepo was asked about his score against his potential opponents he mysteriously noted it was “nothing to be proud of”. You can imagine there are some painful memories, since in three classical games Wei Yi has won twice, including knocking Nepomniachtchi out in Round 1 of the 2013 World Cup (a very young Wei Yi went on to beat Shirov in Round 2 and lose only in rapid against Mamedyarov). Ian’s first win in any format was picked up just a week or so ago in a wild blitz game in Abidjan.
As we noted in the previous report, although Svidler couldn’t recall the encounters, he’s played and drawn three classical games against Radek. As in all the matches, it’s tough to pick a clear favourite!
Tune into the live show from 14:00 CEST, when this time you’ll also have a chance to watch live commentary in English from GM Jan Gustafsson and World Champion Magnus Carlsen!
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