FIDE GP in Palma: The quiet after the storm

by Alex Yermolinsky
11/21/2017 – After the tempestuous round the day before, round five was an understandable anticlimax with draws on all boards. For the top two boards in particular, this was quite expected, as it pitted the leaders against each other. Lions don't attack other lions for the 'challenge', they wait for easier prey. Still, it was not all dull games or lack of theoretical ideas as shown by GM Alex Yermolinsky in his round five report. | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

The Hedgehog - a universal system against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 The Hedgehog - a universal system against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3

At first glance, the Hedgehog setup might appear somewhat passive but in fact Black is always waiting to launch a counterattack. Let Yannick Pelletier provide you with a complete repertoire against the English and the Reti!


Round five

I don't know if many of you were disappointed with the extra quiet day in Palma, when all the games ended peacefully, but I sort of saw it coming. Too much energy had been expended by the players the day before, and many of them were already looking forward to the rest day after round five.

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

Once again, Aronian's game was in the center of my attention. Levon had black against Ding Liren. We remember these two facing each other just a month and a half ago in the World Cup final match in a match to decide the title. Aronian prevailed in Tbilisi, mainly thanks to his ability to completely neutralize Ding's white pieces.

Anish Giri going through the now-standard security checks. Just a decade ago this would have been scoffed as ludicrous. | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

With that factor firmly established it was only a matter of time before Aronian broke through with white in the rapid games. Today's encounter was intriguing because I expected Ding to give a little more effort. Perhaps, he planned exactly that, but Aronian's novelty beat him to the punch.

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.20"] [Round "5"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D38"] [WhiteElo "2774"] [BlackElo "2801"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "39"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 {This opening, commonly referred to as the Ragozin, has gained massively in polularity in recent years. Black combines various ideas of the Nimzo-Indian with the solid structure of the Queen's Gambit Declined. I learned the Ragozin first from my own experiences on the white side of it after being unable to make any headway against Gregory Serper in our battles in the late 1990's. Then I figured, if you can't beat them, join them, and started playing the Ragozin myself! I don't have many wins to show for it, but I did make a lot of draws against quality opposition, such as Onischuk, Epishin and Gulko. Of course, it all happened a long time ago, and now there are new ideas for Black.} 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bg5 O-O (6... h6 { is what Serper and I always played.}) 7. e3 {[#]} (7. Qc2 {transposes to a Nimzo-Indian 4.Qc2. One example is So-Carlsen, Grand Chess Tour Blitz, Paris, 2017:} h6 8. Bh4 c5 9. dxc5 Nbd7 10. e3 Qa5 11. Bd3 Ne4 12. O-O Bxc3 13. bxc3 Ndxc5 14. Nd4 Nxd3 15. Qxd3 {Magnus wisely continued with} Re8 ({rejecting the pawn offer,} 15... Qxc3 16. Qxc3 Nxc3 17. Rfc1 Ne4 18. f3 Nd2 19. Rc7 {where White would have had a lot of compensation, and possibly more.}) 16. Rfc1 Bd7 17. c4 dxc4 18. Rxc4 Qd5 {and equalized comfortably.}) 7... Bf5 $5 {This is one of those new moves that keep the Ragozin going.} ({There were a lot of games by Carlsen games some ten years ago when the young Magnus played} 7... c5 {As we know now, White's best reply is} 8. dxc5 $1 (8. Bd3 c4 9. Bc2 Nbd7 { is another transposition to a theoretical line, where Black's delay of Nbd7 allowed him to avoid the more dangerous lines with the white bishop on f5.}) 8... Nbd7 9. Rc1 Qa5 10. a3 $1 Bxc3+ 11. Rxc3 Ne4 12. b4 Nxc3 13. Qa1 {A great invention by Topalov, used for the first time against Carlsen in their 2007 game in Wijk aan Zee. Since then many games followed that trend, including a fairly recent Aronian(!)-Nakamura, GCT Rapid, Leuven 2016. Obviously, all top players are very familiar with that line.}) ({In the meantime, not so good is} 7... c6 $6 {What we have here is a standard Exchange Variation pawn structure from the QGD with the black bishop clearly misplaced on b4.}) {It's a different ballgame here, as Black has just developed his light-squared bishop on a great diagonal, an opportunity usually denied to him by White.} 8. Qb3 { appears to be the only attempt to bother Black.} (8. Be2 Nbd7 9. O-O c6 10. Qb3 Qb6 11. Na4 Qa5 $11) 8... Bxc3+ 9. Qxc3 h6 {This is Levon's preferred move order, while some people try to throw in ...h6 some moves earlier.} 10. Bh4 { [#] Ding's novelty, but it just transposes to a known position.} ({ Nakamura-Aronian, Norway Chess 2017 went} 10. Bxf6 Qxf6 {and here Hikaru thought better of capturing the pawn} 11. Qxc7 ({instead, he chose the rather meek} 11. Bd3 {and was forced to defend a slightly worse position until finally reaching a draw on move 60.}) {What's the deal here? Black will likely continue with} 11... Nc6 12. Be2 Rfc8 13. Qf4 Nb4 14. O-O Rc2 {This is the moment when White should take a close look at} 15. Nh4 $5 {Further practical tests are in order.}) 10... g5 $5 {This is a true innovation by Levon Aronian.} (10... Nbd7 11. Nd2 Rc8 12. Be2 c5 13. O-O Qb6 {Karjakin-Harikrishna, 2017}) 11. Bg3 Ne4 {Once again, the c7-pawn is on the sacrificial altar.} 12. Qxc7 Nc6 $1 13. Qxd8 Rfxd8 14. Be2 Rac8 15. O-O h5 $1 {Nothing works for Black without this key move. Another excellent piece of opening preparation by Levon. What's amazing is that he isn't holding the novelties back until the Candidates. Generosity worthy of a king.} ({The immediate} 15... Nb4 {leads Black nowhere after} 16. a3) 16. h4 g4 17. Ne5 (17. Ng5 $2 Nxg3 18. fxg3 Bg6 {would leave the white knight in great danger.}) 17... Nb4 18. Bf4 ({The secret would be revealed after} 18. a3 Nc2 19. Rac1 Nxe3 $1) 18... f6 19. Nd3 {Nowhere else to go with that knight.} Nc3 20. bxc3 {Draw was agreed here,} ({in view of} 20. bxc3 Nxd3 21. Bg3 Rxc3) 1/2-1/2

Strategy University Vol. 5: Winning Methods of great Players

Using ideas and games of great masters from the past, the famous Ukrainian trainer GM Adrian Mikhalchishin deals with various themes.

Very impressive indeed. Levon is playing with a lot of confidence, and one can expect his scoreline to fatten up as the tournament eases into the second half. Aronian has already faced MVL, Ding, Giri and Jakovenko; he has Svidler with white in round six and, likely, will be facing Nakamura and Harikrishna in the upcoming games. After that we might see the leader playing down against some 50% scorers. It's hard to bet against Levon winning this whole thing.

Jon Hammer and Boris Gelfand analyze their game over some cookies | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

Vachier-Lagrave cannot count on others stopping Aronian, but it's not really critical for Maxime, as he would be perfectly fine with a second place finish. The question is, how to get there. Today's game with Nakamura was a bit mystifying. I didn't expect Maxime's 3.Bb5+ against Hikaru's Sicilian, but the game being wrapped up after only 13 moves of play was truly shocking.

Whatever the reasons might have been, MVL is far from being out of the running. He's already played most top players here, but may still face Ding and Jakovenko before he gets easier pairings. Besides, Maxime and Teimour may meet each other in the end with the qualification at stake. That would be a treat.

Radjabov had white against Harikrishna today, and he came out with a reversed Benoni, an opening that in the opinion of many, myself included, doesn't really benefit from the extra tempo. In the Benoni, patterns of Black's counterplay aren't easily defined, and a lot depends on how hard White is going for a win. Hari did not burn his bridges, even when a good opportunity presented itself on move 20.

[Event "FIDE Grand Prix Palma 2017"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca"] [Date "2017.11.19"] [Round "5"] [White "Radjabov, Teimour"] [Black "Harikrishna, P."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A09"] [WhiteElo "2741"] [BlackElo "2738"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 d4 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 ({The reverse Benko} 4. b4 {might be a more challenging attempt, but, of course, there would be more risk involved.}) 4... Nc6 5. O-O e5 6. d3 Nf6 7. e3 Be7 8. exd4 {[#]} cxd4 {Hari prefers a more combative continuation.} ({Usually Black just replies with} 8... exd4 {In this symmetrical Benoni structure White has hardly anything better than} 9. Bf4 O-O 10. Ne5 Nxe5 11. Bxe5 {but} Ng4 {equalizes:} 12. Bf4 (12. Re1 Nxe5 13. Rxe5 Bd6 14. Re1 Bf5 $11 {Caruana-Anand, Champions Showdown 2016}) 12... Bd6 { Kramnik-Anand, Blitz 2013.}) 9. Re1 Nd7 10. Na3 ({Another option is the old Fischer plan,} 10. Nbd2 O-O 11. g4 a5 12. Ne4 {Of course, all this is lifted from regular Modern Benoni games. Here White is a tempo ahead, but it remains to be seen how important it will turn out to be,}) 10... O-O 11. Nc2 a5 12. b3 f6 13. Nd2 Nc5 {It's generally believed that in Benoni structures Black (in this case White) benefits form a trade of one pair of knights.} ({Therefore, more challenging is} 13... Kh8 $5 {Later in the game we will seee how important it is for the king to step away from checks on that diagonal.}) 14. Ne4 Bf5 15. Nxc5 Bxc5 16. a3 Rb8 17. Rb1 Qd6 18. Qf3 Bg6 19. h4 h5 20. Rd1 {[#] } Rfe8 ({The most principled line was} 20... e4 $5 21. dxe4 Ne5 22. Qf4 b5 $1 { A great shot, which Harikrishna must have missed.} (22... d3 23. Ne1 Rbd8 { is answered by} 24. b4 $1 axb4 25. axb4 {where} Bxb4 $2 26. Nxd3 Nxd3 27. Qxd6 Rxd6 28. Rxb4 {leaves White well on top}) 23. b4 {and only now Black plays} d3 $1 24. Ne1 (24. bxc5 $4 dxc2 {and Black will get a new queen while going up a whole rook}) 24... axb4 25. axb4 Bxb4 {and there's no} 26. Nxd3 {on account of} bxc4 $19 {It's impossible to foresee all possible lines, but the breakthrough in the center is thematic in all Benoni variations.}) 21. b4 $1 {Now Radjabov is in time to diffuse the situation} axb4 22. Qd5+ {That check we talked about in the note to Black's 13th move sure comes in handy.} Qxd5 23. Bxd5+ Kh7 24. axb4 Bf8 25. Kf1 Rec8 26. b5 Na5 27. Rb2 e4 $1 {Otherwise Black can get worse.} 28. Bxe4 Bxe4 29. dxe4 Nxc4 30. Ra2 Nd6 31. Nxd4 1/2-1/2

Winning Structures by GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

Great players always had and still have more than just broad theoretical knowledge. Every of them has some favourite methods, which simply help to score more points. The greatest even have favourite pawn structures! And they immediately exploited the knowledge of others - Alekhine invented some interesting structures, which were copied by his opponent in that game (Rubinstein), and later exploited by Botvinnik and then by Kramnik!

Radjabov now has black with Tomashevsky. The King's Indian Defense is the obvious choice, but Evgeny, being the classically trained player he is, has a great track record against this opening. Expect a huge battle in that game.

Li Chao enjoying his surroundings in beautiful Palma de Mallorca | Photo: Valerij Belobeev

Anish Giri is trying to shed the reputation of a drawmeister he earned after his infamous 14 draws at the 2016 Candidates. If anything, Anish plays considerably sharper these days. Perhaps he went a bit too far sacrificing two pawns against Riazantsev's solid Caro-Kann, but draw was agreed before we got to find out whether White had enough compensation.

Next Anish is facing another tough Russian, Dmitry Jakovenko, and possibly another Caro-Kann. Riazantsev gets white against Rapport, who is a sure bet to rock the boat first.

The Tactical Chigorin

Opening with the Chigorin shows your intention to play for a win right from the outset. After 2...Nc6 Black's pieces fly into the game putting pressure on White's position from a very early stage. This opening is ideal for the type of player who strives for an unconvential yet attacking game right from the start.

Standings after Round 5

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

I don't want to ignore the less fortunate participants in Palma, who languish in the “minus” territory. The all are great players, who are fully capable to turn their luck around in the remaining four rounds.

And now my bold predictions for Round 6:

Aronian 1-0 Svidler

Harikrishna 0-1 Vachier-Lagrave

Nakamura ½-½ Ding

Giri 1-0 Jakovenko

Tomashevsky ½-½ Radjabov

Riazantsev 1-0 Rapport

Li Chao 1-0 Eljanov

Hammer ½-½ Vallejo

Gelfand ½-½ Inarkiev

Go ahead, prove me wrong.

World Chess video review

All Round 5 games



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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