FIDE GP in Palma: Sac, sac, mate!

by Alex Yermolinsky
11/20/2017 – What an exciting round it was! Round four not only saw a plethora of decisive games, but spectacular ones at that. Levon Aronian was once more his brilliant best as he defeated Anish Giri in a beautiful game with sacs coming from all directions. Ding Liren's imaginative attack against Ernesto Inarkiev was also a joy to watch, and even Hikaru Nakamura's endgame squeeze over Radjabov started with a sparkling queen sac. Report and analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky. | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

The magic of chess tactics The magic of chess tactics

Chess Tactics are the art of combat command. When tactics dominate concrete action is required immediately in order to put a plan into practice or to grab an opportunity. However in complicated positions and with determined resistance basic tactics are often insufficient and intuition, imagination and precision are necessary.


I don't know whether my comments serve as a small pat on the back or a swift kick in the seat of the pants, but it seems to be working anyway, as if the players respond to my goading. What a round it was! 

First served is Levon Aronian's brilliancy-du-jour. Technically speaking, it rather comes every other day, because so far Levon needs the white pieces to win games. His latest victim was Anish Giri who had been having a great tournaments as well up to this point.

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.19"] [Round "4"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Giri, Anish"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A16"] [WhiteElo "2801"] [BlackElo "2762"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "53"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 {These days White is having a nice streak of success in the Anti-Grunfeld setups.} 5. d3 ({Also, the immediate} 5. h4 {has been seen a lot lately.}) 5... Bg7 6. Bd2 O-O 7. g3 c5 {I'm not a big fan of this move here. For one thing, this is not a developing move. If you look at the similar position with reversed colors, Black is doing quite well with this Bd7 and Qc8 thing, and here with an extra tempo White can really cause problems for the black king.} ({Both} 7... Nc6 8. Bg2 Nb6) ({and} 7... e5 8. Bg2 Ne7 {seem more suitable to meet White's h2-h4 offensive.}) 8. h4 $1 { [#] Officially, a novelty. I mentioned in my previous reports how Aronian's opening preparation blends with his style of play. Levon seems to be getting his kind of positions nearly every time he has White.} Nc6 ({Surrendering the g5-square is unpleasant:} 8... h5 9. Bg2 Nc6 10. Ng5 Nc7 {and now White can even try} 11. Bxc6 $5) (8... h6 {on the other hand, gives White a tempo} 9. Qc1 Kh7 10. h5 g5 11. Bg2 {and how does Black protect his c5-pawn now?}) (8... Bg4 $5 9. Bg2 Nc6 10. Qa4 Nf6 {may be Black's best option. At least, he's well mobilized, as seen from a sample line} 11. Be3 Rc8 $1 12. Bxc5 Bxf3 13. Bxf3 Ne5) 9. h5 Nxc3 ({I wonder if Black can get away with} 9... b6 10. hxg6 hxg6 11. Bg2 (11. Qa4 Nd4) 11... Bb7 12. Ne4 Nd4 13. Nxd4 cxd4 {or some such play.}) 10. bxc3 c4 $1 {An interesting concept from Anish. Too bad he didn't follow through on his ideas a couple of moves later.} 11. hxg6 hxg6 12. Qa4 {Aronian is very good in setting his opponents up with positional riddles.} ({The immediate} 12. d4 {allows Black to strike in the center with} e5 {and there's d4-d5 in reply to it.}) 12... Na5 $2 {That's exactly what Levon hoped to see.} ({The principled reply} 12... cxd3 {was most likely turned down because of} 13. Qh4 {Indeed, this had to be the idea behind White's previous move. It takes a lot of nerve to dismiss the other guy's ideas when he happens to be the World's #2. Still,} f6 $1 {[#] was fully playable. Nevermind the danger to the king: we're destroying White's center! The most direct attacking line,} 14. Bh6 (14. exd3 {meets with} Kf7 $1 {and Black is ready to intrercept the h-file, while his light-squared bishop covers the king from e6. You know what? White may be worse here.}) 14... Qa5 15. Qc4+ Rf7 16. Bxg7 {is countered by a nice shot} Be6 $1 ({Anyway, from the theoretical point of view even} 16... Kxg7 17. Rh7+ Kxh7 18. Qxf7+ Kh6 {is good enough, because White is forced to give a perpetual.}) 17. Bxf6 $5 exf6 18. Qxd3 Bf5 19. Qd2 Rd8 20. Qb2 Re7 {It looks like Black has a lot of compensation for a pawn.}) 13. d4 $1 {Now, as the black knight moved away from the center, Aronian stakes his claim in the middle of the board.} b6 14. Bg2 Bb7 15. Qc2 {If Black could only have his c-pawn back on c5, he would have had a normal Grunfeld. As it is, he has no counterplay to speak of.} Qd5 16. Nh4 Qd7 17. e4 e5 18. d5 Bc8 {Giri just cleared the b7-square for his knight, but he won't be given the time to complete his maneuvering.} 19. f4 $1 Qe7 (19... exf4 20. gxf4 Nb7 21. Be3 $1 Nc5 22. Bxc5 bxc5 23. Bf3 {followed by e4-e5 and, of course, Qh2 is decisive.}) ({or} 19... Nb7 20. Be3 Qd6 21. Nf3 exf4 22. gxf4 Nc5 23. e5 Bf5 24. Qxf5 gxf5 25. exd6 Bxc3+ 26. Ke2 Bxa1 27. Rxa1 Rfe8 28. Ne5 $18) 20. f5 $1 {[#] The most energetic.} g5 21. Qd1 $3 {Levon is in the zone!} gxh4 22. Rxh4 Rd8 (22... f6 23. Qh5 Rf7 24. Qg6 {and White only needs to bring the other rook to the h-file to force resignation.}) 23. Qh5 Kf8 (23... Qd6 24. Qh7+ Kf8 25. Bh6 Bxh6 26. Rxh6 $18) 24. Rg4 $6 {This is the one and only slip-up from Aronian in this brilliant game.} ({The somewhat counter-intuitive} 24. Qg4 $1 {would wrap it up soon:} Bf6 25. Rh7 Ke8 26. Bh6 Nb7 (26... Kd7 27. Qh5) 27. Qg8+ Kd7 28. Qxf7 Qxf7 29. Rxf7+ Be7 30. f6 {etc.}) 24... Bf6 $2 {Very unfortunate.} ({ Anish had a chance to put up stiff resistance:} 24... Qd6 $1 {I can only assume Levon planned to sacrifice more:} 25. Rxg7 Kxg7 26. Qg5+ Kf8 27. Kf2 Ke8 28. Qg7 {White's attack is formidable, but it's by no means over for Black.}) 25. Bh6+ Ke8 26. Rg8+ Kd7 27. d6 1-0

The way Aronian is going he might just run away with the tournament, along with the whole 170 Grand Prix points, which he doesn't really care for. Actually, Levon's lackluster results in the previous Grand Prix tournaments were the only blemish on his otherwise stellar 2017 campaign, and in Palma he just wants to slam the door on his way out.

Levon Aronian's 2017 has been nothing short of spectacular, and his return to form has been a blessing to fans and chess lovers alike | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

Magic of Chess Tactics 2

FM Claus Dieter Meyer has put under the microscope a comprehensive fund of topical and timeless games/fragments. On video Hamburg GM Dr. Karsten Müller has outlined corner points of Meyer’s work and created 14 tests plus 10 interactive test sets.


That is bad news for the two guys in contention for top Grand Prix points. Both Maxime and Teimour might need more than the scores I projected for them as sufficient, +3 and +2 respectively.

Radjabov suffered a setback today at the hands of another dangerous contender. Hikaru Nakamura started his tournament slowly, but as they say, you cannot keep a good man down indefinitely.

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.19"] [Round "4"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Radjabov, Teimour"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B30"] [WhiteElo "2780"] [BlackElo "2741"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 e6 4. O-O Nge7 5. d4 $1 {An intriguing line. Usually, White doesn't combine the Rossolimo with an Open Sicilian, but here the black knight is on e7.} cxd4 6. Nxd4 Ng6 (6... a6 7. Be2 Nxd4 8. Qxd4 Nc6 9. Qc3 $1 {is the key line. The active queen is interfering with Black's development.}) 7. Be3 Be7 8. Be2 O-O 9. Nc3 Qc7 10. f4 {In this normal Sicilian pattern White moved his light-squared bishop twice, but it also took two moves for the black knight to arrive to g6, which arguably is an inferior position to the usual f6.} Nxd4 11. Qxd4 b6 $1 12. Qd2 {Hikaru easily sidesteps a trap.} (12. Rad1 $2 Bc5 13. Qd2 Nxf4) ({but he could have done the same with} 12. g3) 12... Bb7 13. Rad1 Bc6 {Black has emerged with a playable position. Of course, when playing Nakamura one has to expect a long, tough game regardless of how successful your opening turned out to be.} 14. a3 Bf6 $5 {Teimour's idea was to provoke e4-e5.} ({There seemed to be nothing wrong with } 14... Rad8 15. g3 d5) 15. g3 Rac8 16. e5 Be7 17. h4 $1 Rfd8 18. h5 Nf8 19. Ba6 Rb8 {[#]} 20. Qd6 $5 {Often, queen sacrifices produce more excitement from spectators than deserved. Here it is a cute way to take the game into an ending with opposite color bishops.} ({Apparently, HIkaru was not fully satisfied with} 20. Qe2 d6 21. Qc4 d5 22. Qe2 Bc5) 20... Bxd6 21. exd6 Qc8 22. Bxc8 Rbxc8 {Black's game isn't that cramped by the presence of the white pawn on the 6th rank, yet there's the typical lack of communication lines between the flanks. Nakamura has to be very quick with his play on the queenside.} 23. a4 $1 {Doing just that!} h6 24. Ra1 Ba8 ({Sharper was} 24... Nh7 25. Nb5 Be4 26. c3 Nf6 27. Nxa7 Rb8 $13) 25. a5 Rc6 26. Rfd1 {[#]} b5 $2 {Leaving White's a-pawn alive was a big mistake that ultimately cost Radjabov the game.} ({ Instead,} 26... bxa5 27. Bxa7 (27. Rxa5 a6) 27... Ra6 28. Be3 Rb8 29. b3 Bf3 30. Rd2 Nh7 31. Na4 Nf6 32. Nc5 Raa8 {looks about even.}) 27. a6 $1 b4 28. Nb5 Rxc2 29. Rd2 Rdc8 (29... b3 30. Rxc2 bxc2 31. Bxa7 e5 32. Rc1 Be4 33. Nc3 Bd3 34. Bb6 Ra8 35. a7 {brings no relief.}) 30. Nc7 Rxd2 31. Bxd2 Bc6 32. Be3 Nh7 ( {There was a defensive idea} 32... e5 {to force a knight swap, but the resulting opposite-colored bishop endgame with rooks present would be very tough for Black, whose king is late coming to help.}) 33. Bxa7 Nf6 34. Bc5 Ne4 {Whatever gains Black may achieve on the kingside are absolutely irrelevant in the face of White's advantage on the other side of the board. As expected, Nakamura wrapped the game up in the most efficient manner.} 35. Bxb4 Nxg3 36. a7 Ne2+ 37. Kh2 Nxf4 38. Ra6 Be4 39. Rb6 Nxh5 40. Rb8 Rf8 41. Bd2 Nf6 42. b4 1-0

Anastasia Karlovich interviews Hikaru Nakamura after the game | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

When asked about his choice of opponent for the recent Champions Showdown in St. Louis, Magnus Carlsen explained his selection of Ding Liren by quoting Ding's great win over Bai Jinshi in the Chinese League [although he was clearly joking since Ding's spectacular win took place well after the match players were picked -Ed.]. Today Ding produced something similar, and a queen sac was there again.

Anywhere is good for an autograph! | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.19"] [Round "4"] [White "Inarkiev, Ernesto"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C88"] [WhiteElo "2683"] [BlackElo "2774"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4 b4 9. d4 d6 10. dxe5 Nxe5 {A playable alternative} ({to Aronian's favorite} 10... dxe5) 11. Nxe5 dxe5 12. Qf3 (12. Qe2 a5 13. Rd1 Ba6 14. Qf3 Qc8 { Giri-Ding Liren, 2017}) 12... Bc5 13. h3 (13. Nd2 Ng4 14. Rf1 Qh4 15. h3 Nf6 { Mamedov-Kravtsiv, 2017 saw Black's pressure against e4 sufficient to offset his Q-side weaknesses.}) 13... Bb7 14. Nd2 Kh8 $1 {[#] A nice one from Ding. The obvious idea is to unpin the f-pawn for a shot on e4, but there's more to Black's plans than meets the eye.} 15. Qg3 $6 ({One line to calculate was} 15. c3 Nxe4 16. Nxe4 f5 17. Nxc5 Bxf3 18. Ne6 Qh4 19. Nxf8 Rxf8 20. gxf3 Qxh3 { Most likely, Black is not going to get more than a draw by perpetual out of it, but I can understand why Ernesto found it unnerving.}) ({One radical way to deal with all that was} 15. g4 $5 {Seemingly, Inarkiev didn't learn this lesson from his previous round game with Aronian.}) 15... Qe7 16. Qh4 $6 g5 $3 {This must have come as a shock to the system.} 17. Qxg5 Rg8 18. Qf5 Rg7 $1 { Precision is required.} (18... Rg6 19. Nf3 Rag8 20. g4 Nxg4 21. hxg4 Bc8 $4 { and now} 22. Qxe5+ {is check.}) 19. Nf3 ({The only way for White to survive was } 19. Nf1 Rag8 20. g3 {though it even then it is not a given that he'd have succeeded.}) 19... Rag8 20. Bg5 {[#]} Nxe4 $1 {This is already over.} 21. h4 ( 21. Rxe4 Rxg5 22. Nxg5 Rxg5 23. Qf3 f5) (21. Bxe7 Rxg2+ 22. Kf1 Rxf2#) 21... Nxg5 22. hxg5 Rxg5 23. Nxg5 Rxg5 24. Qh3 Qf6 {Ding forces a win of material.} 25. Re3 Rxg2+ 26. Qxg2 Bxg2 27. Kxg2 Bxe3 28. fxe3 c5 29. Bc4 Qg6+ 30. Kf3 Qf5+ 31. Kg3 Qe4 32. b3 Qxe3+ 33. Kg2 Qd2+ 34. Kh1 f5 35. Rg1 Qh6+ 36. Kg2 Kg7 37. Rd1 Qg5+ 38. Kf2 Qf4+ 39. Ke2 Qh2+ 40. Ke3 f4+ 41. Ke4 Qxc2+ 42. Rd3 Kf6 43. Bxa6 Qg2+ 44. Rf3 Ke6 0-1

First Steps in Gambits and Sacrifices by IM Andrew Martin

Gambit play and the joy of sacrificing is an important part of the improving process. In order to become a strong player you must learn to attack and make combinations. Many continue to play in an aggressive style throughout an entire chess lifetime!


Svidler-MVL ended in a quick draw. I doubt this was Peter's game plan all along, but he just happened to walk into a forced line where White had to go for a perpetual. Riazantsev and Tomashevsky reached the same result, but in their position Black had every reason to continue. A mystifying decision.

Li Chao-Gelfand was a throwback to about 15 years ago, when the sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit of the Slav Defense was all the rage. In a heavily theoretical line Li Chao had nothing new to show, and Gelfand was very comfortable throughout this short peaceful game.

That was it for the draws today. Three more decisive results saw Harikrishna's bishops dominate Vallejo's knights, a nice technical effort by Jakovenko (with Black!) against Eljanov, and the following quick demolition job by Rapport.

Richard Rapport was relkieved to notch his first win when he beat Jon Hammer | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.19"] [Round "4"] [White "Rapport, Richard"] [Black "Hammer, Jon Ludvig"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D36"] [WhiteElo "2692"] [BlackElo "2629"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 c6 7. Qc2 Nbd7 8. Nf3 h6 {Black is more open to try this move these days.} ({The classical approach} 8... O-O 9. Bd3 Re8 {is still there, but decades of tournament practice have made it rather unattractive.}) 9. Bf4 $5 (9. Bh4 Nh5 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 11. O-O-O Nb6 {Rodstein-Trent, 2016.} 12. Bd3 Bg4 13. Kb1 Nf6 { transposing to Aronian-Carlsen, Grenke 2015.}) 9... Nh5 10. O-O-O Nxf4 11. exf4 {[#] Rapport is not averse to unusual pawn structures. Here White has agreed to double his pawns and leave the d4-pawn lonely and unprotected. In return, Richard plans a dangerous build-up on the kingside.} g5 $6 {Oh, I don't know about this. Black is not going to be able to castle long, so his king is in for far too much excitement.} (11... O-O 12. Bd3 Nf6 13. Ne5) 12. Bd3 $1 { Development first, nevermind the pawn.} gxf4 13. Rhe1 Kf8 14. Bf5 (14. Ne2 { seemed more to the point. White can sac the exchange:} Bb4 (14... Bd6 15. g3) 15. Nxf4 Bxe1 16. Rxe1 Nf6 17. Ne5 {reaching near complete domination over Black's bishop on c8. He can even afford to play some quiet moves, such as Kb1 and f3, while various shots against f7 are always in the air.}) 14... Bb4 15. a3 Bxc3 16. Qxc3 Nb6 {Just as it seemed Hammer was able to relieve the pressure by trading pieces, Rapport finds a way to sustain his intiative.} 17. g4 $1 Bxf5 $2 {Opening the g-file is suicidal.} ({Black had no choice, but} 17... fxg3 18. Bxc8 Nxc8 19. fxg3 Nd6 20. Ne5 Kg7 {Who knows, maybe Hammer would have survived this.}) 18. Qc5+ Kg7 19. gxf5 Qf6 20. Re7 Rhe8 21. Rg1+ Kh7 22. Rge1 Rxe7 23. Qxe7 {[#]} Qxf5 {Understandable.} (23... Qxe7 24. Rxe7 Kg8 25. Ne5 Rf8 26. Rxb7 {is a nightmare scenario Jon Ludwig didn't care to see.}) 24. Nh4 $1 Qd7 25. Qf6 Rg8 26. Re7 Qg4 27. Nf5 Qg1+ 28. Kc2 Qxf2+ 29. Kb3 {Black runs out of checks, so it's over.} 1-0

Things are certainly heating up in Palma, and I could not be happier.

Video Review by World Chess

Standings after Round 4

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

All games (Round 4)



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

Mawin Mawin 11/21/2017 12:04
That 11...g5?! by Hammer is probably the most anti-positional move I've seen in GM play. It must be inspired from 19th century coffeehouse chess.
Zmeu Zmeu 11/20/2017 05:33
Great game analysis!
Harri Rudanko Harri Rudanko 11/20/2017 02:32
I mean that for the favourites that is different from a round robin, where everyone plays each. One would not want to play only the top squad, if one could manage, one would have as many games as one could with the bottom.
Harri Rudanko Harri Rudanko 11/20/2017 02:27
I fear there is the problem with the Swiss system here. If one were to win in the early rounds, as a backbencher, or second tier, as a reward one gets to fight againts the top of the squad next round. Amateur would like to do that, but professionals not so much. It means there's a disencouragement to win early on, since then they'll have to have the best players in subsequent rounds. For the second tier, best bet must be to stay neutral and hope to manage it in the last rounds.

Against a round Robin, the favourites find they should draw after winning and then later win against more easy opponents.
macauley macauley 11/20/2017 12:42
Arminio12 - There's a general problem with Harikrishna due to discrepancies in the way his name is spelled. For now I've replaced the "live standings" table with a static one after round 4.
BonaFides BonaFides 11/20/2017 11:48
Look at the facial expression of Naka in the background.
Arminio12 Arminio12 11/20/2017 11:01
I don't understand why the standings table still has Harikrishna's results and games split up over two separate rankings, as number 16 and, would you believe it, 19 (out of 18). It's not the first time something like this happens: how come it appears to be so difficult to get these things right? I understand a table may not be complete as long as the games take, and even a while longer, but usually the incorrections are there to stay. It's a detail, I know, and I generally like things here, but then it should also be a small detail to correct it, no?