Sharjah GP Rd7: Battle of preparation

2/25/2017 – One interesting aspect of the FIDE Grand Prix in Sharjah has been some of the extreme opening preparation battles in which neither player shirked the opportunity to test the other. In round seven, two such examples that led to fascinating battles were Ding Liren vs Nakamura, as well as Salem vs Riazantsev. The latter saw Salem win that battle as he emerged with the lead and converted. The top standings are unchanged with two rounds to go. Full report with analysis by Alex Yermolinsky.

The time control in the GP tournaments is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move one.

The first leg, in Sharjah, will be held February 18 - 27 (with a rest day on the 23rd) at the Sharjah Cultural & Chess Club. The first prize is €20,000; the total prize fund is is €130,000. 

2017 Sharjah GP Participants

All photos by Max Avdeev

Like it or not, there have been an inordinate number of 'grandmaster draws', and four games ended in 23 moves or less, with most of the pieces still on the board.

Levon Aronian's split of the point lasted just 23 moves

One could hardly blame the great Hou Yifan for seeking out to hold the point, since she was already dead lost more than once. Still..... 7 draw out of 7 games.

Both leaders, Sharkhriyar Mamedyarov, and...

... Maxime Vachier Lagrave maintain their half-point lead.

Alex Yermolinsky chose to annotate two games for the readers' pleasure:

Ding Liren vs Hikaru Nakamura (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix I"] [Site "Sharjah"] [Date "2017.02.25"] [Round "7"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Nakamura, HIkaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2760"] [BlackElo "2785"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2017.02.18"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 c5 {Old Karpov line.} ({Nakamura used to uphold Black's colors in the closed formation of the} 6... Nbd7 7. c5 {line.}) 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. a3 Nc6 9. Qc2 Qa5 10. Rd1 {The most popular these days.} ({Last word hasn't been spoken yet in Kasparov's favorite } 10. O-O-O) 10... Re8 ({Hikaru had a hard time defending a worse endgame after } 10... Be7 11. Be2 Ne4 12. cxd5 Nxc3 13. Qxc3 Qxc3+ 14. bxc3 exd5 15. Rxd5 Bxa3 16. Nd4 Nxd4 17. exd4 {against Carlsen in Sinquefield Cup, 2015.}) 11. Nd2 e5 12. Bg5 Nd4 $1 {This was first played in Game 21 of the Korchnoi-Karpov World Championship Match in 1978.} 13. Qb1 $1 ({The knight cannot be taken:} 13. exd4 exd4+ 14. Ne2 Ng4 {and Black wins.}) ({The panicky} 13. Qa4 {lead to a quick draw in Karjakin-Nakamura, Bilbao 2016:} Qxa4 14. Nxa4 Nc2+ 15. Ke2 Nd4+ 16. Ke1 (16. exd4 exd4+ 17. Kd3 Bf5+) 16... Nc2+ {etc.}) 13... Bf5 14. Bd3 Bxd3 {This improvement came up a couple of years ago to rehabilitate the entire line.} ({The stem Korchnoi-Karpov game went} 14... e4 15. Bc2 ({ Possibly, even} 15. Bf1 $5 {can be tried. Facing a total collapse of his position due to the threats to Nd4, Bc5 and the d5-pawn, Black has no choice but push forward. Howeverm after} Ng4 16. cxd5 Ne5 {White has a defense} 17. exd4 $1 Nf3+ 18. gxf3 exf3+ 19. Nde4 Bxe4 (19... Rxe4+ 20. Qxe4 Bxe4 21. dxc5 Re8 22. Bb5) 20. Qc1 Bxd5+ 21. Be3 {and the extra piece should prevail.}) 15... Nxc2+ 16. Qxc2 Qa6 17. Bxf6 Qxf6 18. Nb3 Bd6 19. Rxd5 {White emerged with a solid extra pawn, which Korchnoi successfully converted into a win.}) 15. Qxd3 Ne4 16. Ncxe4 ({American star of the 1980's GM James Tarjan picked up this line after suffering a quick defeat as White (game mentioned later), but his opponent, GM Lalith (Isle of Man, 2016) surprised him with a new move,} 16. cxd5 Nxc3 ({Point is, Black loses a piece after} 16... Nxg5 17. b4 Bxb4 18. axb4 Qxb4 19. h4 $1) 17. bxc3 Nb5 18. Ne4 Nd6 19. Nxd6 Bxd6 20. e4 {and White retained some edge.}) ({Insufficient is} 16. Ndxe4 dxe4 17. Qxe4 Bxa3 $1 18. O-O Bxb2 19. Nd5 Ne2+ 20. Kh1 Nc3 21. Nxc3 Qxc3 22. Rd7 {although Babula-Sebenik, 2016 went 1-0.}) 16... dxe4 17. Qxe4 Qb6 (17... Nb3 {leads nowhere after} 18. Qc2) 18. Rb1 (18. Qb1 {was seen in Tarjan-Zumsande, 2015:} Ne6 19. Bh4 Bxe3 20. fxe3 Qxe3+ 21. Kf1 Qf4+ 22. Bf2 Rad8 {Black has massive compensation, and it took only one error from Tarjan to lose the game:} 23. g3 Qh6 24. Ne4 Qh3+ 25. Kg1 $4 Nf4 $1) 18... h6 ({The same player, unfortunately unknown to me, had another game worthy of mentioning:} 18... f6 $1 19. O-O (19. b4 Bf8 20. Bh4 Rad8 {may improve on Nakamura's idea of trapping the white bishop, e.g.} 21. Rb2 g5 22. Qg4 h5 23. Qxh5 gxh4 24. exd4 exd4+ 25. Kd1 Qe6 $13) 19... Ne2+ 20. Kh1 fxg5 21. Qd3 Nf4 22. exf4 Rad8 23. Qc2 exf4 { evaluation in Ruecker-Zumsande, Rilton Cup 2016-17}) 19. Bh4 g5 20. b4 Bf8 21. Bg3 Rad8 $1 {Now the threat of f5-f4 forces White's hand.} 22. exd4 exd4 23. Be5 Bg7 24. O-O ({Same result would seem inevitable after} 24. Nf3 Bxe5 25. Nxe5 Qc7 {e.g.} 26. f4 gxf4 27. O-O Qxe5 28. Qxf4 Qxf4 29. Rxf4 d3 30. Rd1 Re2 31. Rf3 d2 32. Rf2 Re1+ 33. Rf1 Re2 34. Rf2 $11) 24... Rxe5 25. Qd3 Qg6 $1 26. Rb3 g4 27. c5 b6 28. cxb6 (28. Nc4 Re6 29. Qxg6 fxg6 30. Nb2 {is hardly worth bothering with.}) 1/2-1/2

Alexander Grischuk played on a draw endgame with Michael Adams all the way until the end

Saleh Salem seemed ebullient after his win over Russian champion Riazantsev

Pavel Eljanov is one player who has fought to the end in his games. However, round seven saw him play rather oddly

Li Chao vs Pavel Eljanov (Annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix I"] [Site "Sharjah"] [Date "2017.02.25"] [Round "7"] [White "Li, Chao"] [Black "Eljanov, Pavel"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E12"] [WhiteElo "2720"] [BlackElo "2759"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2017.02.18"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "UAE"] {Full Version} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3 {It is nice to see a new generation player upholding the tradition of Pertosian and Kasparov.} Bb7 5. Nc3 d5 6. cxd5 Nxd5 7. e3 {This is what Garry started with} ({but later he switched to} 7. Qc2) 7... Be7 ({Earlier in the tournament Li Chao faced} 7... g6 {against Tomashevsky and won the game in impressive fashion.} 8. h4 $5 Bg7 9. h5 {was how he started it up.}) 8. Bb5+ c6 9. Bd3 c5 $5 ({in reply to the more common} 9... O-O {White intends to provoke a small kingside weakening with } 10. Qc2 h6 {before settling on a standard plan with} 11. e4 {etc.}) 10. O-O ( {Meanwhile, nothing stops White from following the tried and true} 10. e4 Nxc3 11. bxc3 {although in this move order the black K-side pawns will remains intact.}) 10... cxd4 11. exd4 {Seemingly Black should be alright here because he already managed to fianchetto his LSB without walking into d4-d5 along the way.} Nd7 (11... Nc6 12. Re1 O-O 13. Bc2 Nf6 14. Qd3 g6 15. Bh6 Re8 16. Rad1 { is a classic Isolated Queen Pawn tabiya.}) 12. Qe2 O-O ({There's absolutely nothing wrong with} 12... Nxc3 13. bxc3 Qc7) 13. Ne4 N5f6 14. Nc3 {Perhaps Eljanov read his opponent's intentions incorrectly. I don't think Li Chao meant to finish the game with a repetition. Not after suffering a crushing loss to Nepo the day before.} Qc7 {This shows Pavel's fighting spirit. He knew this game was his last chance to get back in the hunt for top places.} ({ Theoretically speaking, Black can ask White the same question,} 14... Nd5 { how are you going to proceed now?} {I'd expect} 15. Rd1 Nxc3 16. bxc3 Qc7 {etc. }) ({Also interesting is} 14... a6 {trying to expand on the Q-side in the spirit of Queens Gambit Accepted}) 15. Bg5 $1 {White is fortunate to have this reply, which only looks like a blunder.} h6 16. Bh4 {That bishop manages to circle around to cover h2.} Qf4 $6 {The beginning of an unfortunate plan.} ({ Pavel could have handled White pressure on the Q-side better by keeping his queen closer to home, as in} 16... Rfc8 17. Bg3 Qd8 18. Ba6 Bxa6 19. Qxa6 Nb8) ({Another option was the provocative} 16... Bd6 $5 17. Nb5 ({of course,White can be reasonably happy just to play} 17. Bg3) 17... Bxf3 18. Qxf3 Bxh2+ 19. Kh1 Qf4 20. Bxf6 Nxf6 21. Qh3 {looks like the black pieces are stuck, but there comes} Ng4 $1 22. f3 Nf2+ 23. Rxf2 Qe3 24. Kxh2 Qxf2 {and Black will have his chances. In order to play this way one has to have a supreme confidence in his ability to calculate variations, which is currently not the case with Pavel after his bad finish at the Tata Steel.}) 17. Bg3 Qg4 18. Ba6 $1 {Not by the book, but, nevertheless, very strong. True, in most IQP structures White aims for a K-side attack and therefore never looks to trade his LSB. Here, however, the black queen is out there somewhere taking an early vacation, while White's Bg3 dominates its diagonal. Very good insight from Li Chao.} Bxa6 19. Qxa6 Qf5 20. Rac1 {One last preparatory move is needed.} (20. Qb7 Qc2 {gives Black some much-needed counterplay.}) 20... Qa5 $2 {Pavel's game is really off now.} ({On a better day we can expect him to come up with a pawn sac:} 20... Nd5 21. Nxd5 Qxd5 22. Rc7 Bd8 $1 23. Rxa7 Rxa7 24. Qxa7 b5 { with good chances to hold. At least his pieces would be fully employed.}) 21. Qb7 $1 {It is impossible for Black to chase that queen away or trade it.} Rfe8 22. Nd2 Bf8 (22... Nf8 23. Be5 $1 {suddenly traps the Black queen.}) 23. h3 Qf5 24. Nc4 a6 {This only exposes the black Q-side pawns as targets, but Pavel's decision is understandable. One has to play something, follow some kind of plan. It just happens that there's no good plan here.} 25. Rfd1 b5 26. Ne3 Qh5 27. Bc7 {White completely dominates the black rooks.} Qg6 {The eternal wanderer... What wouldn't Black give to be able to return her to c8?} 28. b4 Nh5 29. Ne2 Ndf6 30. Rc6 Qg5 31. Be5 {In Eljanov's time trouble Li's play becomes tentative. Clearly he couldn't decide between many good options in his disposal.} ({The best was the cold-blooded} 31. Nc3 $1 {tempting Black into the last bid for activity} Nf4 {which gets turned back by} 32. h4 Qxh4 33. g3 Nh3+ 34. Kg2 Qh5 35. Rh1) ({Pavel was inviting} 31. Rxa6 Rxa6 32. Qxa6 Nd5 33. Nxd5 Qxd5 {as he was desperate for counterplay.} {In reality he wouldn't be getting much in case of} 34. Nc3 Ra8 35. Qxb5 Qb3 36. Qxh5 Qxc3 37. Bb6 Qxa3 38. Bc5 {but still, Black fights on.}) 31... a5 $1 {Finally.} 32. Qxb5 (32. Ra6 Rxa6 33. Qxa6 axb4 34. axb4 Nd7 35. Qxb5 Nhf6 {would have also been somewhat troublesome as far as converting White's extra pawn goes.}) 32... axb4 33. axb4 Ra2 $1 ({Black might think he's almost off the hook:} 33... Reb8 34. Qd3 Rxb4 { but then} 35. g4 $1 {was Li's hidden idea, and Nh5 will be gone in a couple of moves.}) 34. Rc2 Rea8 35. Rxa2 $2 {He should have niver let the black rook on the 2nd rank.} (35. Qc6) 35... Rxa2 36. Qc4 Rb2 37. b5 Nd5 $2 {A big error just when Black's suddenly was back in the game.} ({The salvation was possible: } 37... Nd7 {attacking the bishop that cannot leave because of the b-pawn.}) 38. Nxd5 exd5 39. Qd3 {White is back in the driver's seat.} Qg6 40. Qxg6 fxg6 41. Nc3 Rb3 42. Rc1 (42. Rb1 {was more decisive.}) 42... Ba3 {Now Li gets another chance to find the right idea.} 43. Rb1 $1 {Here it is!} Rxc3 44. b6 Nf6 45. b7 Nd7 46. Rb5 $1 {White will get the knight and keep his b-pawn while he's at it.} 1-0

If you enjoyed Yermolinsky's analysis, be sure to check out the next issue of ChessBase Magazine where a more in-depth version of his analysis will appear.

Round 7 on 2017/02/25 at 15:00

Bo No Ti. Name Rtg Pts. Result Pts. Ti Name Rtg No
1 1 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 4 ½ - ½ GM Jakovenko Dmitry 2709 12
2 4 GM Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 2766 4 ½ - ½ GM Nepomniachtchi Ian 2749 8
3 9 GM Grischuk Alexander 2742 ½ - ½ GM Adams Michael 2751 7
4 5 GM Ding Liren 2760 3 ½ - ½ GM Nakamura Hikaru 2785 3
5 14 GM Rapport Richard 2692 3 ½ - ½ 3 GM Aronian Levon 2785 2
6 13 GM Vallejo Pons Francisco 2709 3 ½ - ½ 3 GM Hou Yifan 2651 17
7 10 GM Li Chao B 2720 1 - 0 GM Eljanov Pavel 2759 6
8 11 GM Tomashevsky Evgeny 2711 2 ½ - ½ GM Hammer Jon Ludvig 2628 18
9 16 GM Salem A.R. Saleh 2656 2 1 - 0 2 GM Riazantsev Alexander 2671 15

Round seven games (with times per move)

Standings after seven rounds

Rk SNo Ti. Name FED Rtg Pts
1 1 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime FRA 2796 4,5
2 4 GM Mamedyarov Shakhriyar AZE 2766 4,5
3 7 GM Adams Michael ENG 2751 4,0
4 12 GM Jakovenko Dmitry RUS 2709 4,0
5 9 GM Grischuk Alexander RUS 2742 4,0
6 3 GM Nakamura Hikaru USA 2785 4,0
7 8 GM Nepomniachtchi Ian RUS 2749 4,0
8 14 GM Rapport Richard HUN 2692 3,5
9 10 GM Li Chao B CHN 2720 3,5
10 5 GM Ding Liren CHN 2760 3,5
11 13 GM Vallejo Pons Francisco ESP 2709 3,5
12 2 GM Aronian Levon ARM 2785 3,5
  17 GM Hou Yifan CHN 2651 3,5
14 16 GM Salem A.R. Saleh UAE 2656 3,0
15 18 GM Hammer Jon Ludvig NOR 2628 3,0
16 11 GM Tomashevsky Evgeny RUS 2711 2,5
17 6 GM Eljanov Pavel UKR 2759 2,5
18 15 GM Riazantsev Alexander RUS 2671 2,0

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koko48 koko48 2/26/2017 01:57
Li Chao's win vs Eljanov was a beautiful positional game...Like some of Karpov's best squeezes
Aighearach Aighearach 2/26/2017 08:59
Hou Yifan is seeded 17th by rating, but is tied for 12th place, seems odd to call her out for having too many draws. She's playing well and gaining rating points. Especially odd when Giri draws against lower rated players and gets only friendly, playful comments from chessbase authors. Chessbase should apologize for their double-standard.