Berlin GP: Dominguez and Rapport win tiebreakers, reach semis

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/11/2022 – The two players who won their round-6 games to force tiebreaks in their respective groups managed to also win their 2-game rapid matches on Friday to reach the semifinals of the FIDE Grand Prix in Berlin. Leinier Dominguez knocked out Wesley So and will face an in-form Levon Aronian, while Rapport eliminated Radoslaw Wojtaszek and thus gained the right to face Hikaru Nakamura in semis. | Photos: World Chess

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Coming from behind

FIDE Grand Prix 2022It was somewhat heartbreaking to see Wesley So and Radoslaw Wojtaszek in their post-mortem interviews after being knocked out from the first leg of the Grand Prix in Berlin. Besides Levon Aronian, who was on a league of his own in the group stage, they had the strongest and most stable performances during the first week of the event.

Conversely, Leinier Dominguez and Richard Rapport could barely believe the fact that they had just reached the semifinals. While the Cuban won two games in a row to catch So in pool D, Rapport got a draw from an inferior position in round 5 and then saw Wojtaszek failing to convert a winning position in his round-6 game against Grigoriy Oparin — i.e. two back-to-back unlikely results that set up the tiebreaker.

In hindsight, Wojtaszek’s play was more deserving of a spot in the semifinals than Rapport’s, as the Hungarian himself stated, but chess is a sport at the end of the day, and making the most of one’s chances is key. 

As for So and Dominguez, the assessment is not that clear, although, as Dominguez noted, it is rather remarkable for him to have knocked out So after having lost their direct encounter in round 4. The achievement gains further significance if we consider So’s technical prowess in close-to-equal positions — the kind of positions he tends to choose when he is leading a tournament, like he was after four rounds in pool D.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek

Late replacement Radoslaw Wojtaszek almost made it into the semifinals

Dominguez 1½ - ½ So

So kicked off the tiebreaks with the white pieces, and chose a cautious approach, entering a variation which he had already employed before against Dominguez. The Filipino-born star got a very small edge, so small that his opponent did not have much trouble keeping the balance until the draw was signed on move 42.

In the rematch, the contenders repeated the Italian that they had explored in round 4 until move 14, when So decided to deviate by opting for a setup with 14...c6, 15...Qd7 and 16...f6

 

So later regretted not having repeated the line he had played in the classical game, as Dominguez got the upper hand rather quickly this time around. White had better piece coordination, which perhaps prompted Black to quickly look for activity on the kingside.

For those following the games online (especially without engine assistance), it was clear that a single mistake could prove very costly for White. But Dominguez kept his cool.

 

After 29...Nxg2 White cannot grab the knight due to 30.Qxg2 Rxf2, pinning the queen — but he does have 30.Qd3, threatening mate on h7.

An extremely tricky position was reached after 30...e4 31.Rxe4 Qxf2

 

Black is threatening all sorts of discovered checks, but the engines show that White is clearly winning. As Dominguez later told Michael Rahal — and was corroborated by So — he found the one correct continuation in this position with his clock ticking down below the 10-second mark. The Cuban was planning to play 32.Re2, which fails to 32...Ne1+ 33.Rxf2 Rxf2+, but discovered just in time that 32.Kh1 was the way to go.

Black’s attack has been neutralized with a quiet move, while White’s threats along the light-squared diagonal are very much alive. There followed 32...Nh4 33.Rxh4 g6 34.Rxh5, and So resigned.

 

After winning two classical games and a rapid tiebreak against So on three consecutive days, Dominguez confessed that he will need to rest a bit before facing an in-form Levon Aronian in the semifinals.

 

Leinier Dominguez

Leinier Dominguez

Rapport 1½ - ½ Wojtaszek

In the pool-B tiebreaker, Rapport kicked off with the black pieces, and got a slightly better rook endgame thanks to his passed pawn on the c-file and more active pieces.

 

Wojtaszek had been defending stubbornly for quite a while, but dealing with these tense positions in a rapid game after six rounds of hard-fought ‘slow’ encounters is never easy. Here the Polish grandmaster faltered with 40.Ra2.

Rapport immediately grabbed his chance, doubling his rooks on the second rank with a forced sequence of checks — 40...Rd5+ 41.Ke3 Re8+ 42.Kf2 Rd2+ 43.Kg3 Ree2

 

Mate is threatened on g2, so White correctly went for 44.f4+. However, after 44...Kf5 he faltered again with 45.Rb2, except that this time Black can give checkmate in four moves.

 

45...Rd3+ 46.Kh4 g5+ and Wojtaszek resigned, since 47.fxg5 would allow 47...Re4+ 48.Kh5 Rxh3#. The second game ended in a draw, which gave Rapport a ticket to the knockout stage. The Hungarian later confessed:

I am really tired from this tiebreak, and yesterday I also had a must-win game, so it takes a toll. But I guess there is no rest for the wicked, so I have to keep on going.

Rapport will face Hikaru Nakamura in the semifinals.

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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