9 games out of 15 end decisively on day one of Tal Memorial 2018

by Sagar Shah
3/3/2018 – The Tal Memorial 2018 is turning into one of the most exciting super tournaments. The rapid format is forcing the players to err and we had 9 out of 15 games end decisively. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov scored 2.5/3 and is the sole leader. He is followed by Vishy Anand, Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura on 2.0/3. Few things that you will get to witness in this report are Dubov's brilliant opening prep, Kramnik's piece blunder, Mamedyarov's excellent endgame play and Vishy Anand's powerful start. Amruta Mokal and Sagar Shah bring you all the updates from Moscow.

The Sicilian Rossolimo for White The Sicilian Rossolimo for White

The Rossolimo Variation 3.Bb5 is considered to be one of the strongest replies to 2…Nc6 in the Sicilian Defence. The fact that the move has been played by practically all the top players proves its popularity and strength. But the most interesting aspect of playing 3.Bb5 is that we force sharp, attacking players who love to have the initiative to forget about the Open Sicilian and to adjust themselves to a new world, one full of positional ideas, manoeuvres and nuances.


Intro: Tal Memorial 2018 consists of two standalone events - nine rounds of rapid and thirteen rounds of blitz. Nine players participate in both the events. They are Anand, Nakamura, Mamedyarov, Gelfand, Kramnik, Karjakin, Grischuk, Nepomniachtchi and Svidler. For the rapid, the qualifier is Daniil Dubov, while four spots for the blitz section are yet to be decided. Rapid games are played with a time control of 25 minutes + 10 seconds increment, while blitz will be 5 minutes + 3 seconds increment. 2nd-4th March will have 3 rounds of rapid on each day, while on 5th you have 13 rounds of blitz. The total prize fund is US$ 1,50,000. 

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov leads with 2.5/3

Video summary of rounds 1-3 on day one of Tal Memorial 2018

In the search for the most exciting format for top-level chess, it seems as if the organizers of the Tal Memorial 2018 have got things in the right place. 15 games (3 rounds of 5 games) of rapid chess was played on the first day and we had nine decisive games! That's how the scoreboard looks at the end of day one:

There was only one player who didn't have a decisive game on day one and that's Sergey Karjakin!

The magic of Vishy Anand:

After two rounds Anand was the sole leader with 2.0/2. However, he lost his third round to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov | Photo: Amruta Mokal 

When the Tal Memorial began the question on everyone's mind was whether Vishy would be able to keep up his form of the World Rapid Championship 2017 where he won the gold medal. It seemed as if he picked up just from where he had left off. In the first game itself he showed some excellent chess to demolish the young Russian talent Daniil Dubov.


If Dubov would have taken back on e5 with his bishop, he would have had an excellent position. Perhaps he was worried about the exchange sacrifice with Rxe5, but after that Black is doing fine. In the game, he took back ...dxe5 and after the simple Nf3, not only did the e5 pawn fall, but White had complete control on the board. Vishy converted it into a full point without any difficulties.


In the second round against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Vishy played the opening in fine style. He won a couple of pawns and was clearly better. But it was one of those positions which was very difficult for Black (Anand) to play in rapid time control. Nepo's pieces were active and he generated quite some counterplay. The critical moment of the game arrived when the following position was reached:


Nepo took the pawn on b6 and this seems like the right move as the b-pawn seems like a better candidate to push than the c-pawn. However, it turns out that Kxd6 would have been better as after ...g5 White can push c5 without wasting any time. In the game, the king was on b6 and hence c5 would have been met with Rxb4 (check!).

Final moments of Anand winning against Nepomniachtchi


With 2.0/2 Vishy snatched the sole lead in the tournament. Just when it seemed he was unstoppable, he was paired against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the third round.

The Shak effect:

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played an excellent game in the French Defence to beat Vishy Anand. The Azeri is playing the Candidates within a week from now. So Shak can surely not reveal all his preparation. French Defence might not be one of his main weapons in Berlin, but he showed great knowledge and won the opening duel.


The rook endgame was perhaps equal, but Anand played not so well and Mamedyarov won. With this, he moved onto 2.5/3, the sole leader of the tournament.

Final moments of Mamedyarov overcoming Vishy Anand in a rook endgame


The sole leader after day one with 2.5/3 - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Earlier in the day, Shak had beaten Peter Svidler:


Daniil Dubov's brilliant opening preparation:

We had warned you about how good Dubov is with his opening preparation. Nakamura got the first-hand experience in his game | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The game of the day was surely between Daniil Dubov and Hikaru Nakamura. Daniil played the Mikenas Variation in the English and sacrificed two pawns out of the opening.


Nakamura was taking his time in the opening while Dubov was just blitzing out his moves. The real shocker for the American came when Dubov without a care in the world flicked his pawn from c4 to c5.


After this, things started to go downhill for Nakamura as he took a lot of time. Hikaru did find some great defensive moves and was pretty close to a draw on numerous occasions but being under pressure right from the opening got to him and he finally blundered and lost on time.

Daniil Dubov hunts Nakamura's king


Hikaru Nakamura speaks about his games from day one

Normal chess or chess960? "I don't want to be jobless so I will choose normal chess!" - Nakamura's second Kris Littlejohn

Kramnik's mega blunder:

The biggest blunder of the day was made by Kramnik in the second round against Alexander Grischuk | Photo: Amruta Mokal


Vladimir Kramnik made the biggest blunder of the day when he left his knight on d3 hanging. After pushing his pawn to c6 he picked up the queen from the side of the board signalling to his opponent that his pawn was going to reach the last rank. Grischuk took the knight and it was then that Kramnik realized that the bishop could just go back to a6 to stop the pawn.

This video shows Kramnik blundering a full piece!


"I just didn't want to lose all my games. I achieved that aim after the first round. After that, I was just freeballing!" - Alexander Grischuk

Players travel from the Sheraton Hotel to the playing hall in a bus | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Moscow traffic is bad, but the great news is that the distance is only two kilometres! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

That's how far the venue is from the hotel

That's the Russian Museum of Impressionism (left) from the outside | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The beautiful playing hall of the tournament in the Russian Museum of Impressionism | Photo: Amruta Mokal

There's not much time in between the games. These refreshments are for the players. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Instead of his laptop (as in Riyadh), Vishy Anand is seen with his mobile in between the rounds | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Sergey Shipov is giving commentary in Russian online as well as for the people present at the venue | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The paintings in the museum | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The great man in whose honour this tournament is held: Mikhail Tal | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Master Class Vol.2: Mihail Tal

On this DVD Dorian Rogozenco, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh and Karsten Müller present the 8. World Chess Champion in video lessons: his openings, his understanding of chess strategy, his artful endgame play, and finally his immortal combinations.

Replay all the games from round one:



Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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