FIDE GP in Palma: Chasing the dream

by Albert Silver
11/25/2017 – With only two rounds left, round eight was decisive in showing how alive the chances to qualify for the Candidates are for both Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov. After another draw, MVL is still on a modest +1 and needs to win at all costs in round nine. Radjabov has come back from his loss roaring with two wins, this time against Gelfand in a do or die game analyzed in detail by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson. | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

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Round eight

Before the tournament began, a few players and noteworthy pundits were consulted on their opinion of the respective chances of both MVL and Radjabov to qualify for the Candidates. In spite of MVL requiring a larger number of Grand Prix points, 126 to Radjabov’s 94 (rounded up for simplicity), most favored MVL’s chances for a variety of reasons. Whether at that time this spoke highly of MVL’s prestige, or poorly of Radjabov’s, is open to speculation, but that was the popular feeling.

The tournament did little to dispel this opinion, and while MVL started strong with a win straight out of the opening in the first round followed by some draws, the Azeri player’s equally positive start with a win in round two, was then marred almost catastrophically by two losses, one in round four against Nakamura, and the next against Tomashevsky in round six. With a minus one score and only three rounds left, it seemed all but over for Radjabov.

Radjabov may not have shown the same unequivocal desire to fight for each and every game with the same verve, but when push came to shove he was ready | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

Perhaps the sign that things were not so clear came from Radjabov himself in a Tweet he posted. It showed a defiant player who was unapologetic for trying to fight on even if this eventually cost him the point. This was not a weepy apologetic participant, lamenting the way things had gone wrong, or with some ‘philosophical’ outlook claiming things would be better next time. Radjabov is experienced enough to be above such banalities (remember this is a player who was taking down Garry Kasparov when he was just 15!). He was there to fight, and the Tweet was his banner.

In round seven he steadily outplayed Li Chao in a complex endgame to return to parity, which could still have been a last hurrah, but round eight changed everything. With Black, he faced Gelfand, a veteran opponent who has also seen it all, and then some, and there was no King’s Indian either, to the surprise of many, and yes it was an option. Enjoy the in-depth look at this critical game by GM Tiger Hillarp Persson.

Boris Gelfand tries to gauge his opponent. Is he going to fight tooth and nail, or will he take an easy draw? He found out soon enough... | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

Boris Gelfand - Teimour Radjabov (Annotated by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson)


With plus one, this changes everything, and Radjabov’s chances are now very much alive. Plus one might not be much, but in view of only one other player having more: Levon Aronian, and eight others at plus one, he is right there in the mix. While it is conceivable he could qualify with that plus one, it would need a very good draw in the lottery of results in the last round. A win would pretty much guarantee his spot.

Maxime Vachier Lagrave may not have suffered the two losses that threatened to capsize USS Radjabov, but the near endless slew of seven straight draws has done him no favors, especially with a few barely warranting the label ‘game’. He too is on plus one, but the chance that it might suffice to win a berth to Berlin is next to nil. He is in a win-at-all-costs situation, and will have to defeat Dmitry Jakovenko in the final round. His saving grace is that he is white.

Li Chao showed great creativity as he shocked Anish Giri with a pawn sacrifice in a queenless middlegame that left the Dutch player gasping | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

While these two tales might represent the drama in the larger picture of the tournament, they do not summarize the individual battles that took place. Li Chao also showed his resilience and desire to play them all, as he came back from his loss to Radjabov to defeat Anish Giri.


Both players have followed 16 moves of theory, and three moves later it is barely a wilt different from Gajewski-Fressinet (May 2017). Whether this was merely his objective choice of best move, or a desire to exploit Giri's tendency to avoid danger, the Chinese player came up with the strong and creative continuation 20. e4! and after 20... dxe4 21. d5!, Black chose not to face the rook invasion that would arise after 21...cxd5 22. Rc7+ and instead played 21...c5? and after 22. Bb5+ Kd8 23. Bd6 Rc8 24. Bc6 (NB: Remember you can move the pieces on the diagrams)


White's compensation and advantage were quite clear. Li Chao conducted the rest of the game with precision and technique and converted his point.

Jon Hammer, on the other hand, will be kicking himself for his missed opportunity against Alexander Riazantsev. He built up a winning advantage only to squander it. He then pressed on for dozens of moves in the endgame to finally be rewarded with a chance to win it once more.


Round 8 results

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Aronian Levon ½ - ½ 4 Tomashevsky Evgeny
Nakamura Hikaru 4 ½ - ½ 4 Harikrishna P.
Svidler Peter 4 ½ - ½ 4 Ding Liren
Rapport Richard 4 ½ - ½ 4 Jakovenko Dmitry
Inarkiev Ernesto ½ - ½ 4 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
Vallejo Pons Francisco 3 ½ - ½ Eljanov Pavel
Li Chao B 1 - 0 Giri Anish
Gelfand Boris 0 - 1 Radjabov Teimour
Hammer Jon Ludvig 2 ½ - ½ Riazantsev Alexander

Standings after eight rounds

Rk. Name Pts.
1 Aronian Levon 5,0
2 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 4,5
  Nakamura Hikaru 4,5
  Ding Liren 4,5
  Svidler Peter 4,5
  Radjabov Teimour 4,5
  Harikrishna P. 4,5
  Jakovenko Dmitry 4,5
  Tomashevsky Evgeny 4,5
  Rapport Richard 4,5
11 Eljanov Pavel 4,0
  Inarkiev Ernesto 4,0
13 Giri Anish 3,5
  Li Chao B 3,5
  Vallejo Pons Francisco 3,5
16 Riazantsev Alexander 3,0
17 Gelfand Boris 2,5
  Hammer Jon Ludvig 2,5


Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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