FIDE GP in Palma: The lions are awakened

by Alex Yermolinsky
11/18/2017 – After a cautious game in round one, Teimour Radjabov roared like a lion as he unleashed a powerful King's Indian as only he, one of the world's foremost proponents, could do. It was a masterful game as he beat Vallejo Pons. Levon Aronian is another who scored a brilliant win, showing magnificent opening preparation that caught Inarkiev in his net. Here is the round two report with analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky. | Photo: Agon

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I love to be proven wrong! In my report yesterday I made a remark about Radjabov's cautious play. Perhaps intentionally, I goaded Teimour into playing the King's Indian Defense today, and, boy, what a game it turned out to be.

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.17"] [Round "2"] [White "Vallejo Pons, Francisco"] [Black "Radjabov, Teimour"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E73"] [WhiteElo "2705"] [BlackElo "2741"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "74"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. Be3 {A version of the King's Indian Averbakh} ({that is similar to the} 6. Bg5 h6 7. Be3 {line.}) 6... e5 7. d5 a5 8. g4 {This powerful pawn thrust has been giving King's Indian devotees headaches since the 1950's. White combines a restrictive strategy of preventing f7-f5 with direct attacking ideas on the h-file.} ({ White can also try the immediate} 8. h4 Na6 9. h5 Nc5 10. Qc2 {Rapport-Al Sayed, 2016.}) 8... Na6 9. h4 ({Another participant of this tournament, the Russian Alexander Riazantsev, may be acknowledged as the best expert on this line. He actually prefers} 9. g5 Nd7 10. h4 {leaving White with a chance to open the h-file at an appropriate moment.}) 9... Nc5 10. f3 h5 $1 {This is the only way to stop White's offensive. Radjabov knows his King's Indian, that's for sure.} 11. g5 Nh7 {[#]} 12. Kd2 $6 {This extravagant move is not so bad. Vallejo had his ideas, but he underestimated the importance of maintaining pressure on the d-file to fight against c7-c6.} ({The routine} 12. Qd2 { accomplishes just that. As Black goes for} f6 (12... c6 13. O-O-O Bd7 14. dxc6 Bxc6 15. Qxd6 Qxd6 16. Rxd6 Ne6 {offers insufficient compensation.}) {he finds himself a bit short of counterplay after} 13. O-O-O fxg5 14. hxg5 Bd7 15. Nh3 Qe7 16. Kb1 Rf7 17. Nf2 Raf8 18. Rdg1 {He can try the thematic} Rf4 {seen in the abbreviated game Riazantsev-Amonatov, 2015 where a draw was agreed at that moment, but White may not take him up on the offer and simply continue with} 19. Rg2 {inviting} Nxg5 $6 20. Bxc5 $1 dxc5 21. d6 $1 cxd6 22. Nd5 Qd8 23. Nxf4 Rxf4 24. Qxd6 {with a winning advantage.}) 12... Bd7 (12... f6 13. gxf6 Bxf6 14. Qe1 {was the idea of the king move. Then White would indeed have had a great game with his queen emerging on the kingside.}) 13. Nh3 c6 $1 {I became acquainted with then very young Teimour's Kings Indian skills during our one and only encounter at the chess board at the World Cup, Hyderabad, 2002. I don't recall many other occasions when I got outplayed on the white side of the KID in such a resolute manner. Radjabov simply has a great feel for these structures. Too bad the strength of the opposition he faces and tournament standings concerns prevent him from employing the KID in every game.} 14. Nf2 cxd5 15. exd5 (15. Nxd5 {looks good structure-wise, but what will happen to White's position once his proud Nd5 is traded? For example,} f6 16. gxf6 Nxf6 17. Kc2 Nxd5 18. Qxd5+ Be6 19. Qd2 b5 $1 {White is already on the back foot and might be content with defending in the endgame:} 20. Bxc5 dxc5 21. Qxd8 Rfxd8 22. cxb5 Rd4 {etc.}) ({It takes quite a nerve to calmly recapture the usual way,} 15. cxd5 $5 {and continue with} a4 16. Nd3 Nxd3 17. Bxd3 b5 18. a3 {Perhaps, the remote position of the other black knight will help White.}) 15... f5 16. gxf6 Nxf6 17. Bxc5 {Forced, as White needs to establish control over the e4-square.} dxc5 18. Kc2 a4 $1 19. Qd2 (19. a3 {only seems safe. Black will proceed with} e4 20. fxe4 Qb6 {where the weakness of the b3-square is telling.}) ({The right move was} 19. Nfe4 {and soon we will see why.}) 19... a3 20. b3 e4 $1 {[#] For a true KID player this move comes naturally. It's all about activating Bg7!} 21. fxe4 Ng4 22. Nxg4 hxg4 23. h5 {The passive position of the white pieces makes this counterattacking attempt irrelevant.} ({All the same,} 23. Rag1 {was useless. After} Qe7 24. Bxg4 $2 {loses to} Bxc3 25. Kxc3 Bxg4 26. Rxg4 Qg7+ 27. Kc2 Rf2 $1 {Nice tactical motif.}) 23... Rf2 24. h6 (24. hxg6 Qe7) 24... Be5 25. Raf1 g3 26. Rxf2 ({On} 26. Nd1 {Black had} Rh2 27. Rxh2 gxh2 $19) 26... gxf2 27. Nd1 Qf6 28. Rf1 ({At least, White could have resisted longer after} 28. Qe3 Bd4 29. Qf3 Qxf3 30. Bxf3 Rf8 31. Bg2 Kh7) 28... Bd4 $19 29. Nxf2 {What else?} Bxf2 30. e5 {but it's easy to spot a refutation.} Qxe5 31. Rxf2 Bf5+ 32. Kd1 Qa1+ 33. Qc1 Qxa2 {That pawn didn't make it all the way to a3 for nothing!} 34. Rxf5 Qxb3+ 35. Kd2 Qa2+ 36. Ke1 Qb2 $1 37. Qf4 Qb1+ 0-1

King's Indian: A modern approach

Bologan: "If you study this DVD carefully and solve the interactive exercises you will also enrich your chess vocabulary, your King's Indian vocabulary, build up confidence in the King's Indian and your chess and win more games."


With this win Radjabov now is keeping pace with Vachier-Lagrave, who had to be content with a draw in the sharp encounter that follows. Maxime has a lot of confidence in his analyses of the topical lines. Small wonder, since his games create theory. Yet, sometimes, things may go wrong, and then Maxime believes he can find improvements over the board. The combination of the two makes challenging MVL's Najdorf a very dangerous proposition.

When facing Maxime's Najdorf there should be a sign that warns, "Here be dragons" | Photo: Agon

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.17"] [Round "2"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B96"] [WhiteElo "2762"] [BlackElo "2796"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 h6 8. Bh4 Qb6 9. a3 Be7 {This has always been Maxime's choice.} ({Only once he tried} 9... Nbd7 {against Caruana in 2011}) 10. Bf2 {This retreat was the reason Black stayed away from 7...h6 for many years. Recent developments, however, showed that Black's position is quite playable.} ({Another Caruana-MVL battle, Sinquefield Cup, 2017, saw Fabiano's innovation} 10. Qd3) 10... Qc7 11. Qf3 Nbd7 12. O-O-O b5 13. g4 {[#]} Bb7 ({One of the first games that brought this line into the spotlight was the battle between the same players in Norway Chess, 2016. Maxime played the thematic} 13... g5 {Anish countered with} 14. h4 gxf4 15. Be2 {but hesitated at the critical moment after} Rg8 ({Later the same year Caruana-Nakamura, London Classic 2016, saw} 15... b4 16. axb4 Ne5 17. Qxf4 Nexg4 18. Bxg4 e5 {and here Fabiano's brilliant find} 19. Qxf6 $3 {brought him a great victory.}) {Everybody agreed} 16. g5 {was strong} ({instead of} 16. Rdg1 $2 {which allowed Maxime to strike first with} d5 $1) {leading to a crushing attack for White in many lines, for example} 16... hxg5 17. hxg5 Rxg5 18. Rh8+ Rg8 19. Rxg8+ Nxg8 20. Qg2 Ngf6 21. e5 Bb7 22. Nxe6 fxe6 23. Qg6+ Kd8 24. exf6 Nxf6 25. Bd4 $18) 14. h4 ({The poisonous little move} 14. Bg2 { brought White success in another high-profile game, Nakamura-Vachier Lagrave, London Classic, 2016. It's amazing how the top players of today are willing to play the same positions with either color. No emotional attachment to "my moves". They'd play anything as long as it works!} Rc8 15. Kb1 g5 ({the line} 15... g6 16. Rhe1 e5 17. h4 $3 exd4 18. Bxd4 {illustrates well how powerful White's attack can be.}) 16. Qh3 $1 Nc5 17. Rhe1 h5 18. Nf5 $1 {and Hikaru broke through.}) 14... Nc5 ({There's another one for you:} 14... d5 15. e5 Ne4 {Caruana- Vachier Lagrave, Grenke 2017.}) 15. Bd3 h5 16. g5 Ng4 {It is important for Black to put at least a temporary hold on White's offensive. The knight on g4 accomplishes that, but Giri won't hesitate to remove the obstacle. } 17. Rhg1 $5 (17. f5 {seems thematic, but, in reality, it's Black who may take over the initiative after} Nxd3+ 18. cxd3 O-O 19. Kb1 d5 $1 20. exd5 b4 21. axb4 Bxb4 22. Rc1 Qb6) 17... g6 ({Now} 17... Nxd3+ {will be answered by} 18. Rxd3 {because the e5-square is still under White's control.}) 18. Rxg4 hxg4 19. Qxg4 {[#] Black faces no mean task to keep his king safe. Castling short right into White's pawn storm is not recommended, and f4-f5 is in the air.} e5 $5 {Probably, the best move.} ({Oh, I almost forgot to mention} 19... O-O-O $2 20. Nd5 $18) 20. Nf3 Rc8 ({It seems logical to bring the queen closer, but after} 20... Qd7 21. Qg3 Qe6 22. Nd5 Rc8 23. Kb1 Nxd3 24. Rxd3 Bxd5 25. exd5 Qf5 26. fxe5 {White gets the second pawn and may be able to to keep his edge in the endgame:} dxe5 27. Qxe5 Qxe5 28. Nxe5 Bd6 29. Nc6 {etc.}) 21. fxe5 dxe5 22. Kb1 $1 ({The tempting} 22. Nxe5 $6 Qxe5 23. Bd4 {gets turned back by} Bxg5+ $1 (23... Qxd4 24. Bxb5+ axb5 25. Rxd4 Ne6 26. Rd2 (26. Rd3 Rxh4 $1) 26... b4 27. axb4 Bxb4 28. e5 Bxc3 29. bxc3 {is OK for Black, but White isn't worse.}) 24. hxg5 Nxd3+ 25. Rxd3 Rh1+ 26. Kd2 Qh2+ 27. Ne2 Qh4 {where White is forced to trade queens to try to survive the bad ending.}) 22... Rd8 23. Nd5 $1 Bxd5 24. exd5 Nxd3 25. Rxd3 O-O {[#] Up to this point Anish played a nearly perfect game.} 26. h5 $6 {Just a bit too eager.} ({Instead, he had} 26. Bg3 Bd6 (26... Qc4 27. Nxe5 Qxg4 28. Nxg4 $16) 27. Nd2 {where the threat of occupying f6 with that knight compels Black to opoen up his king:} f6 28. gxf6 Rxf6 29. h5 { Defending this one would have been extremely difficult, if not outright impossible.}) 26... Qc4 $1 {Now MVL can breathe a sigh of relief.} 27. Qh3 Qc8 28. Qxc8 Rxc8 29. Nxe5 Bxg5 30. d6 Bf4 31. d7 {Seeing an equal endgame coming up after White gets the exchange back, the players agreed to a draw. What a great battle.} 1/2-1/2

Despite not taking advantage of his chances today, Anish Giri must not be disappointed with his start in Palma. 1½ / 2 isn't bad, and, more importantly, Anish is going for his shots. If he continues this way, more wins will come his way.

How to play the Najdorf Vol. 1

A great moment when the world's leading expert shares all the secrets in his favourite opening. The Najdorf system in the Sicilian Defence has a legendary reputation as a defensive weapon for Black. In part one Garry Kasparov introduces the various sub-systems of the Najdorf, including the central “Poisoned Pawn” variation.


Today's round witnessed the awakening of another giant. Levon Aronian, who had a solid draw with Black in the first round, got the white pieces today.

'Impossible' is Aronian's bread and butter | Photo: Agon

Korchnoi once said, “Aronian can do things on the chessboard no one else can”. Victor was a hard guy to please, so coming from him it meant a lot. I wish he were still around to see this one.

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.17"] [Round "2"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Inarkiev, Ernesto"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2801"] [BlackElo "2683"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. Qc2 Nc6 9. Rd1 Qa5 10. a3 Re8 11. Nd2 e5 12. Bg5 Nd4 {This whole line has been known since Korchnoi-Karpov, World Championship Match (21) Baguio City 1978} 13. Qb1 (13. Qc1 Bf5 14. Bxf6 Nc2+ 15. Ke2 Nd4+ {Carlsen-Nakamura, Isle of Man 2017 is a forced draw. White would pay dearly for his king's irresponsible walk in case of} 16. exd4 exd4+ 17. Kf3 dxc3 18. Qxc3 (18. Bxc3 Qb6) 18... Qa4 19. b3 Qc6 $19) 13... Bf5 14. Bd3 Bxd3 ({In the above mentioned stem game Karpov reacted with} 14... e4 {and here, according to modern computer research White can win after} 15. Bf1 (15. Bc2 {was Victor's choice and he won anyway!}) 15... Ng4 16. cxd5 Ne5 17. exd4 Nf3+ 18. gxf3 exf3+ 19. Be3 Bxb1 20. Nc4 { He just has too much for the queen, and Black's attack is petering out soon.}) 15. Qxd3 Ne4 {[#] All book up to this point, and we were all wondering why Levon Aronian would enter this seemingly exhausted line.} 16. Nxd5 $5 {That's why.} ({Previously known were} 16. Ncxe4 dxe4 17. Qxe4 Qb6) ({and} 16. cxd5 Nxc3 17. bxc3 Nb5 18. Ne4 Nd6 19. Nxd6 Bxd6 20. e4 Rec8 {In both case Black equalizes.}) 16... Nxg5 17. b4 Qa6 {Facing new problems at the board Inarkiev opts to keep his queen on the queenside.} ({Actually,} 17... Qd8 18. bxc5 Nde6 { made sense, just to keep the other knight safe against harassment from the white queen.}) (17... Qxa3) 18. bxc5 Rad8 $1 {Hitting the knight thanks to the pin on the a6-f1 diagonal.} (18... Nde6 {was no longer sufficient, as} 19. Qf5 $1 h6 20. O-O Qc6 21. h4 Nh7 22. f4 $1 {gives White powerful initiative.} ({ Not too bad either is to snatch a pawn:} 22. Qxe5 Nxc5 23. Qb2) 22... exf4 23. Ne4 $1 fxe3 24. Rde1 f6 25. Rxe3 Kh8 26. Nd6 {etc.}) 19. Nb4 Qa4 20. Qb1 { White is strictly operating with 'only moves', which speaks highly about the quality of Aronian's preparation or the high level of confidence Levon has these days. No matter how you look at it, Levon is just playing great chess now.} a5 $6 {Very tempting. Who would resist a chance to send the white king on a journey away from home?} ({Objectively speaking, Black's best was} 20... Nc6 21. Qb3 Qa5 22. O-O Qxc5 23. h4 Ne6 24. Ne4 Qe7 $14) 21. Nd5 Nc2+ 22. Ke2 Ne4 (22... Ne6 23. Nb6) 23. Nxe4 Qxc4+ 24. Kf3 Rxd5 {[#]A quick look at this position may be deceptive. No, Black has no attack, and his knight is stuck on c2. The picture became clear after Levon's next move.} 25. g4 $3 {It's amazing to see a standard positional move like this be more than sufficient to secure White's large advantage. It's all about stopping f7-f5.} f5 $2 {I think Ernesto was unable to come to terms with his failure to trouble Aronian's king. This nervous attempt only speeds up Black's demise.} (25... Rxd1 26. Rxd1 Rf8 27. Qxb7 $16) ({The most challenging try is} 25... h5 $5 26. h3 Rxc5 27. Nxc5 Qxc5 {[#] Now White has to be extra careful.} (27... e4+ {is also there.}) 28. Qb3 $1 (28. Qxb7 $2 {suddenly loses to} e4+ 29. Kg2 Nxe3+ $1 30. fxe3 Qc2+ 31. Kg3 h4+ $1 32. Kxh4 Qf2+ 33. Kh5 g6+ 34. Kg5 Re5+ 35. Kh6 Qh4#) 28... e4+ 29. Kg2 Nxa3 30. Qxb7 {Now everything has calmed down, and White should be able to convert.}) 26. gxf5 Rf8 27. Qxb7 Rxf5+ 28. Kg3 Rxd1 29. Rxd1 $18 Nd4 {Nothing helps.} ({White wins everywhere:} 29... h6 30. Rd7 Rf7 31. Nd6) ({or} 29... Rf7 30. Rd8+ Rf8 31. Qe7 Qf7 32. Qxf7+ Kxf7 33. Nd6+ Ke7 34. Rxf8 Kxf8 35. c6) 30. exd4 Rf7 31. Qb1 Rf4 32. f3 Qe6 33. Ng5 Qh6 34. Qb8+ {How does Levon do this?} 1-0

Three rounds in and not a single upset. The favorites seem better players, which is no surprise, but they also seem more motivated. Of course, you give a few more rounds and you will see Nakamura, Ding Liren, and hopefully, some others making a push to join the race, but the overall system of the Grand Prix could use some improvement.

First, I cannot fathom the reason for restricting the field for every individual tournament to just 18 players. Why not the whole crowd of 24? It seems unfair for Grischuk and Mamedyarov to be relegated to mere spectators when the race for the Candidates is on the final stretch. Is the budget so tight that hosting the extra six players per tournament would stretch it to the breaking point?

Second, what kind of a Grand Prix doesn't offer prize money for overall placings? Leaving most of the field with nothing to compete for is not helping at all. There has to be at least 12 prizes for best combined results.

Third, I'd love to see the list of nominees restricted to only four spots for representatives of host federations. There's no reason to award someone's personal favorites with invitations to a World Championship qualifying event. It would have been much better to give those spots to direct qualification from Continental Championships. Instead, FIDE goes down the rating list in a vain hope that Carlsen, Kramnik, Anand and Topalov would show up. No, they won't. Not with the kind of financial incentive offered, and not with the tight calendar of events they already have.

I know I'm shouting in the wilderness. FIDE does things their own way, and without a major change in the leadership they will never come around.

Standings after Round 2

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

All games (Round 2)



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.
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Angelo Pardi Angelo Pardi 11/18/2017 11:24
They should not be any qualification by rating. Then you would have Caruana, So, Kramnik playing in the GP...