Reports Mar 2, 2018 | 9:30 PMby Colin McGourty

Tal Memorial, Day 1: Mamedyarov snatches lead

Rapid World Champion Vishy Anand started the Tal Memorial rapid tournament with two wins, but it was Candidates top seed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov who ended the day on top after beating Vishy with the black pieces in an ending. Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura joined Vishy in second place, while Ian Nepomniachtchi saw his fortunes turn fast – after winning the post-Aeroflot blitz the day before he started the Tal Memorial in joint last place.

It seems Mamedyarov is no. 1 seed wherever he plays now! | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

The 2018 Tal Memorial is being held as a rapid and blitz event in Moscow from 2-5 March. For the first three days the 10 players compete in the Museum of Russian Impressionism over 9 rounds of 25+10 rapid chess, while on the final day Artemiev, Andreikin, Fedoseev and Morozevich will join for 13 rounds of 5+3 blitz in the Botvinnik Central Chess Club.

You can replay all the action so far using the selector below:

Or rewatch the day’s commentary from Alexander Morozevich and Evgeniy Miroshnichenko:

As you can see, half of the Berlin Candidates field has decided to warm-up for the 2nd biggest event of the year by playing some rapid and blitz chess. The first day’s play perhaps taught us nothing new, but it did confirm some recent impressions. Let’s look at how they did.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov | 1st place, 2.5/3

Mamedyarov was one of the six players in the tournament who also played the day before in the traditional post-Aeroflot Open blitz, this year sponsored by the “Region” group of companies. Although Mamedyarov won his mini-match against Hikaru Nakamura things didn’t always go to plan. He lost 2:0 to the eventual winner Ian Nepomniachtchi and gave away a game to Aravindh in amusing fashion:

He ended up in 12th place, with Nepomniachtchi finishing 1st a point ahead of Hikaru Nakamura and Zaven Adriasian.

Nepo had no need for others to praise him! | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

When it came to the Tal Memorial, though, Mamedyarov once again demonstrated why he has to be taken very seriously as a Candidates challenger. He followed the pattern of his successful start to the Tata Steel Masters with some unusual opening choices. Against Vladimir Kramnik (the Candidates 2nd seed) he played the Trompowsky, while against Vishy Anand in Round 3 he was ready to play an extremely sharp line of the French. When Mamedyarov played the French against Hou Yifan in Wijk aan Zee it was the first time he’d done so in 7 years, while the repetition now may have his Candidates rivals wondering whether he’s done fundamental work on the opening… or it’s just a bluff to hide his true intentions in Berlin!

Was the dream of Peter commentating while playing about to come true? | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

With the white pieces we saw Mamedyarov go for his trademark kingside attacks, pushing h4-h5 in both games. Kramnik managed to neutralise the white initiative, while Peter Svidler’s decision to try and solve his problems radically with 17…f5? backfired immediately. Peter had seen enough just five straightforward moves later:

He resigned rather than waiting for Mamedyarov to play 23.Qh4, which threatens mate-in-2 and can’t sensibly be parried (the other rook is ready to join the slaughter on the h-file if required).

If those game were standard Mamedyarov, though, the victory over Vishy demonstrated that Shak’s all-round game has improved beyond recognition. When the fire of the opening had died down he managed to outplay his in-form opponent in the ending, with Vishy living to regret giving up the d3-pawn in return for “activity”. The black d-pawns would decide the game. Again, the final position:

Alexander Grischuk: joint 2nd place, 2/3

Anand, Svidler, Grischuk and Karjakin in good spirits at the opening ceremony | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

Grischuk is something of a dark horse for the Candidates Tournament, and part of the mystery is simply because he’s played so little and his form is so hard to gauge. His last classical games appear to have been in the European Team Championship in early November. The first three games in Moscow didn’t give much more away, with Grischuk scoring a difficult draw with Black against Karjakin and conceding a 15-move draw with White against Boris Gelfand.

Sandwiched between those two was an eventful encounter with fellow candidate Kramnik. Grischuk’s time management weakness was on display as he fell short on time and missed some opportunities, but he showed the flip side of that by maintaining his usual cool under pressure. When Vladimir blundered he took full advantage:

Here Kramnik could maintain winning chances with a move like 45.e4, but instead 45.c6? lost on the spot. It’s not clear what the former World Champion missed, but 45…Bxd3 just picked up a piece, since Black can parry 46.c7 simply with 46…Bf5. 46.e4 Bxe4! 47.c7 changed nothing. Again simply 47…Bf5 would defend, but Grischuk went for the more stylish 47…Bxd5 48.c8=Q Rc4+. The outcome of the game was no longer in doubt.

Vladimir Kramnik: 1.5/3, joint 5th place

Vladimir Kramnik may be the veteran of the upcoming Candidates Tournament, but he's also the world no. 3 | photo: Vladimir Barsky, Russian Chess Federation

That game in some ways typified the Kramnik of recent years, both full of ambition and inventiveness – he did well to rustle up winning chances – and liable to blunder some simple tactics from time to time. He made up for that game, though, by beating Peter Svidler in an enthralling struggle. Just when the storm clouds were gathering over the black king Kramnik found a clever defence with 24…Qg8 and 25…Bf8, which saw Peter respond with the "half-brilliancy" 26.c5?!

After either capture on c5 White would finally crash through on h6, with 26…Rxc5? 27.Bxh6 in particular working beautifully due to the weakness of f7 and the unprotected rook on d8. Alas for Peter, though, Kramnik could simply respond 26…Nd7!, and that was the sign for the white attacking forces to turn around and retreat.

30…Ne4! just four moves later llustrated how quickly the balance of power had swung, and although Svidler put up stiff resistance he couldn’t stop Kramnik reeling in a full point. Vladimir had commented the day before at the opening ceremony:

Playing in the Tal Memorial before the Candidates Tournament is an excellent opportunity to get into form. If a Candidates Tournament participant doesn’t play very well here that means nothing, but if he plays well it means that he definitely has got into form. Personally I’ll try to give my all in every game.

Sergey Karjakin: 1.5/3, joint 5th place

Karjakin isn’t the first name that springs to mind when you think of giving your all over the year since his World Championship challenge, with lacklustre results having meant that he’ll enter the 2018 Candidates Tournament as the lowest rated player. His results on Friday were also lacklustre – three draws, two where he failed to convert an advantage with White and one comfortable game with Black. On the other hand, it would be foolish to rule out the one player who’s proven he has what it takes to win a Candidates Tournament!

The other players in the Tal Memorial can take a somewhat more relaxed approach to the proceedings and their schedule, with Hikaru Nakamura tweeting the day before:

The US star won an impressive endgame with minimal material against Boris Gelfand and demolished some loose play with the black pieces from Ian Nepomniachtchi, but he also lost the most Tal-like game of the day. As we mentioned before, 21-year-old Daniil Dubov had to come through a qualification event to play, and when he lost to Anand in Round 1 it looked like he faced an uphill struggle. In Round 2, though, he sacrificed three (!) pawns to harass Nakamura’s king and queen:

19…fxe5 was strictly the only defence, with Dubov able to delay recapturing the queen with 20.Nxe5! (20…Nd5 is playable, but runs into 21.Rxd5! Qxd5 22.Ng6+! Kf7 23.Bc4!). After 20…Bf5 21.Rxd6 the position seems objectively holdable for Black, but it’s a very tough defence for a rapid game. Instead Dubov was soon winning, with his answering 35…c2 with 36.Bxc2! the final touch:

36…Rd2+ is simply met by 37.Kf1 and Black would have little choice but to resign. Nakamura thought for over a minute then rushed to make the move 36…Rf8, only for his flag to fall. 37.Qe5+ would in any case have wrapped up the game.

Daniil Dubov is out to prove he belongs in this company | photo: Boris Dolmatovsky, Russian Chess Federation

Dubov is on 50%, a point behind the leader Mamedyarov:

Rk.SNoNameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
11GMMamedyarov Shakhriyar27552,50,03,251,5
26GMGrischuk Alexander27922,00,02,751,5
33GMAnand Viswanathan28052,00,02,001,0
44GMNakamura Hikaru28202,00,01,500,0
58GMDubov Daniil26631,50,02,751,5
65GMKarjakin Sergey27241,50,02,251,0
710GMKramnik Vladimir27951,50,01,750,5
87GMGelfand Boris26441,00,01,751,0
92GMSvidler Peter27700,50,50,250,0
9GMNepomniachtchi Ian28030,50,50,250,0

Tune in for the remaining six rounds at 13:00 CET on Saturday and Sunday, with live commentary in English and Russian.

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