Reports Feb 21, 2017 | 8:40 AMby Colin McGourty

Sharjah GP 2-3: MVL leads as Rapport suffers

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the sole leader of the Sharjah Grand Prix on 2.5/3 after beating Richard Rapport in Round 2 and surviving by the skin of his teeth against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Round 3. Rapport has provided almost half of the decisive results so far, but things have turned sour after his first round win. Just when he’d escaped to what seemed an easy draw against Hikaru Nakamura he self-destructed and gave his opponent the only win of Round 3.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave pointed out that in his last Grand Prix series he started with two wins, as this time, but then failed to win in the next 31 games! | photo: FIDE

Replay all the Sharjah Grand Prix games so far and check out the pairings for the next round:

Round 2: Three wins and missed chances

Richard Rapport opened with his trademark 1.b3 against top seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and had soon created an original and chaotic position. Chaos is also the French no. 1’s element, though, and Black took over before scoring a highly convincing win.

Pepe Cuenca takes us through the encounter:

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is arguably the most feared man in chess when he has the white pieces, and he showed why again against Evgeny Tomashevsky. He cranked up the pressure against Black’s hanging pawns until the black position collapsed in time trouble. The final position is one of total domination:

There’s no good way to meet the simple threat of Rd7 next move. Evgeny blamed himself for his slow play, but also felt he’d been unlucky with an incident more commonly seen in football stadiums:

The clocks were stopped for the blackout at the critical moment of the games, with Tomashevsky feeling his practical chances were reduced as Mamedyarov had more time to cope with Black’s temporary activity.

The remaining decisive game saw local player Saleh Salem outclassed for a second day in a row, with a strategic misjudgement allowing Ding Liren a winning kingside attack. There was some subtle manoeuvring from the Chinese no. 1:

If you’re going to retreat your bishop here d7 is the “natural” square, leaving the black rooks connected. Instead Ding Liren played 19…Bc8! with the point that after 20.Bg4 the bishop is defended, so it was possible to play 20…Qg6! In a few more moves it was game over.

The remaining games were drawn, much to everyone’s surprise! Ian Nepomniachtchi had made the mistake of playing too fast in Russian Champion Alexander Riazantsev’s time trouble, and ended up busted by move 40. He dug in, though, and managed to draw in 73 moves after sacrificing a piece. Li Chao came even closer to beating compatriot Hou Yifan, but after six and a half hours he missed a tricky winning line in a rook ending and eventually had to concede a draw after 95 moves and seven hours of play. 

Round 3: Eight draws as Nakamura beats Rapport

Hikaru Nakamura was the only winner on Day 3 of the Sharjah Grand Prix | photo: FIDE

Nine players have drawn all their games so far in Sharjah, with the lack of the usual restrictions on draw offers proving tempting to the players. Sometimes that’s more than understandable, with Riazantsev and Li Chao paired against each other and both admitting to being happy to end hostilities early after their epic battles the day before. Saleh Salem was also glad to get off the mark with a 23-move draw against Evgeny Tomashevsky.

In another case the early draw didn’t tell the full story. Alexander Grischuk was surprised by a move-order trick from Levon Aronian and spent almost an hour to conclude that, unfortunately, he had no win on the spot… and had just wasted almost an hour on a move he wasn’t going to play! Check out that post-game press conference:

Ding Liren-Hammer developed into a pure tactical slugfest in the middlegame before ending as the longest game of the day, while two of the draws were critical missed chances. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave deeply regretted not taking an early draw by repetition in his game with White against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov since he went on to get tortured by the Azeri no. 1. He resisted like the 2800+ player he is, though, and was able to force a repetition of moves a piece down.

Mickey Adams could have joined Maxime in the lead if he’d beaten Pavel Eljanov, but just when it seemed the spider had woven his webs and would slowly consume his prey, Mickey let things slip. The point of no return came after 37…Qf7:

White should have swapped off queens and taken the pawn on h6, when he could at the very least play for a win for another 40 moves. Instead after 38.Qh4 Qf3! the threat of mate enabled Eljanov to force a queen exchange and win rather than lose a pawn on the kingside. A draw was agreed on move 43.

The one decisive game of the day was a lot of fun, but not for Richard Rapport, who later lamented:

It’s very usual for me nowadays that I play some kind of weird stuff, I get some interesting positions, and then someone will blunder... and usually it’s me!

The outcome of the game was logical, since Rapport’s offbeat opening backfired fast and only Nakamura’s time trouble complicated what looked set to be a routine win. The game was full of enjoyable moments, including here:

The killer move is 38.a4+! when after 38…Rxa4 39.Rd5+ it’s possible to get mated on the spot with 39…Ka6 40.Bc8# The alternative is to lose material, but it turned out afterwards that Nakamura had seen 39…c5 40.Bd7+ Ka5 41.Bxa4 but rejected it because he was frightened Black would put his king on b3 and simply queen the a-pawn. That may have been seeing ghosts, and after 38.Bd7+ c6 39.Be8 Nf4 40.h4 Nd2! (a move Nakamura admitted to missing) 41.Kh2 all games of the day should have ended in a draw. 

Rapport struggled to explain his thought processes:

This is a very impressive moment. It’s move 41. I have like one and a half hours, it’s not that difficult to equalise, and I manage to make a blunder in two moves.

Both players agreed 41…Nf1 was an immediate draw, while instead after 41…gxh4?! 42.Be3! Black was already struggling. A despairing piece sacrifice three moves later only hastened the end, since Nakamura demonstrated a simple refutation.

Pepe has also taken a full look at this wild game:

And you can check out the post-game press conference:

So with one third of the Sharjah Grand Prix complete the standings look as follows:

1Maxime Vachier-Lagrave279617w115b13w½4b2,5
2Michael Adams275118w110b½13w½3b2,0
3Shakhriyar Mamedyarov27668b½16w11b½2w2,0
4Hikaru Nakamura27857w½6b½15w11w2,0
5Ding Liren276015w018b16w½7b1,5
6Jon Ludvig Hammer262811b½4w½5b½8w1,5
7Dmitry Jakovenko27094b½11w½12b½5w1,5
8Francisco Vallejo Pons27093w½13b½14w½6b1,5
9Alexander Riazantsev267113w½14b½17w½10b1,5
10Levon Aronian278516b½2w½11b½9w1,5
11Alexander Grischuk27426w½7b½10w½14b1,5
12Hou Yifan265114w½17b½7w½13b1,5
13Pavel Eljanov27599b½8w½2b½12w1,5
14Ian Nepomniachtchi274912b½9w½8b½11w1,5
15Richard Rapport26925b11w04b018w1,0
16Evgeny Tomashevsky271110w½3b018w½17b1,0
17Li Chao27201b012w½9b½16w1,0
18Saleh Salem A.R.26562b05w016b½15b0,5

In Tuesday’s Round 4 all eyes will be on Hikaru Nakamura, who has the white pieces against leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Games start at 15:00 local time, or 12:00 CET, and you can watch them here on chess24. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps:


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