Belgrade GP: Fire on board

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/7/2022 – Richard Rapport and Anish Giri will enter the last round of the preliminaries at the Belgrade Grand Prix with 1-point leads in their respective pools. Rapport scored a crucial win on Sunday, as he got the better of Vidit Gujrathi with the black pieces. In the same group, Alexei Shirov obtained his first win of the series by beating Vladimir Fedoseev in a sharp encounter. | Photos: Mark Livshitz

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Rapport scores crucial win

FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade 2022Two players are big favourites to reach the semifinals with one round to go at the preliminaries of the FIDE Grand Prix in Belgrade. Anish Giri and Richard Rapport have 1-point leads in their pools and only need a draw on Monday to secure a spot in the knockout stage. 

While Giri has been pretty much in full control after his 2/2 start in pool B, Rapport took the sole lead in pool C after collecting a crucial win in his game against co-leader Vidit Gujrathi on Sunday. The Hungarian star had the black pieces and found himself in a somewhat inferior position out of a French Defence. Vidit did not find a way to increase his advantage, though. The Indian saw the tables turning in Black’s favour as the game got increasingly sharper, and eventually had to resign.

The other game of pool C also finished decisively. Alexei Shirov, who drew three and lost three at the Berlin stage, grabbed his first win of the series. The man from Riga defeated Vladimir Fedoseev from the white side of a double-edged Sicilian.

Going into the final round of the prelims, Dmitry Andreikin and Sam Shankland are sharing first place in pool A, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a half-point lead over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Yu Yangyi in pool D.

FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade 2022

Three out of four players will be knocked out of the event after Monday’s sixth round

Pool A: Safe draws

Alexander Grischuk has confessed to feel extremely distressed by the tragic events in Ukraine. His lack of motivation at the event in Belgrade is evident and understandable. Nigel Short shared on Twitter a few days ago:

I briefly spoke to Sasha Grischuk yesterday, and wished him good luck before his game. He replied, with a very heavy heart, “It does not matter”. 

In round 5, the Russian signed a 23-draw in his game with black against Etienne Bacrot. 

The clash of co-leaders did not last much longer.

 

Sam Shankland and Dmitry Andreikin repeated the position three times here, with White playing Bd3-Bf5-Bd3 and Black going back and forth with his bishop Ba4-Bd7-Ba4. The contenders signed a 24-move draw which left them still tied for first place going into the final round of the prelims.

 
 

Pool B: Giri in control

Back-to-back wins at the start of the tournament placed Anish Giri in the sole lead of this group. Since then, the Dutchman has cruised through the next three rounds, keeping a 1-point lead going into round 6. On Monday, he will face Nikita Vitiugov, who would catch him in the standings with a win — i.e. Giri is at the very least guaranteed a tiebreak for the right to play in the knockout stage.

In round 5, Vitiugov got to put pressure on Amin Tabatabaei with the black pieces.

 

Clearly it is Black who can fight for more in this position, but Tabatabaei played precisely from this point on, making it extremely difficult for his Russian opponent to find a way to break through. The draw was signed on move 58.

 
 

Pool C: Rapport in the lead

Two exciting games were seen in this group. Richard Rapport played the French Defence in his key matchup against Vidit Gujrathi, and decided to keep his king in the centre.

 

Black has been treading on thin ice, leaving his queen ‘inside’ White’s position and keeping his king on e8. Precise calculation by Rapport, though, kept the dynamic balance, although Vidit did miss some chances to put more pressure on his opponent.

Once time trouble began to be a factor, the Indian lost control of the position.

 

Two pawns to the good, Black already has the upper hand here. Vidit does have a rook and a bishop deep into the opposite camp, though. At this point, 34.Rc8+ was the way to go, forcing 35...Nd8 when Black will need to untangle before being able to look for winning chances.

Vidit, however, was tempted by 34.Rxb7, getting one pawn back. Rapport responded by 34...Rc3 and after 35.Ne3 Nh4 36.Kf1 Rb3 managed to consolidate his position.

 

The conversion was by no means trivial, and Vidit continued fighting until move 61, but Rapport showed good technique to score a second win over his Indian colleague in the event.

Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport

Meanwhile, Alexei Shirov and Vladimir Fedoseev were fighting on both sides of the board out of a double-edged Sicilian.

 

This was a crucial position. White has two pawns, doubled, in the centre, while Black is ready to steamroll with his pawns on the kingside. Although the engines do not fully disagree with Fedoseev’s immediate 18...f4 here, in hindsight it is noticeable why 18...b5 was a better try — the idea is to prevent 19.Bb6, as played in the game, while after 19.Bc5 Qd7 (see diagram below) Black stops White’s ideas and is ready to prepare an attack on the kingside.

 

This was not losing for Fedoseev by any means, but after 19.Bb6 his 19...Qg5 was much too adventurous (19...Qxd6 was the way to go). Shirov correctly calculated that he could allow his opponent to advance his pawn to f3 and still get the upper hand.

Fearlessly, the players continued with 20.d7 f3 21.d6+

 

Shirov had foreseen that he has enough time to deal with the mating threats on g2 by transferring his knight to e3. Black will be able to grab both of his opponent’s d-pawns, but this will give White a couple of key tempi to activate his rooks.

A sharp tactical battle ensued, with Shirov increasing his advantage in the following moves. The Spaniard did make a mistake later on, though, but Fedoseev failed to find the refutation.

 

Amid the sharp struggle, with Black constantly attempting to create mating threats, Fedoseev here missed that forcing a queen trade with 30...Qc6 would have changed the nature of the position and given him chances to fight for a win with his bishop pair — although it would have still been a three-result game.

Instead, the Russian’s 30...Rd8 was a major blunder. Strangely, Shirov also faltered by not capturing the rook with 31.Bxd8 Qxd8 32.Qxe4, as he went for 31.Qb3.

Fedoseev was the one making the last mistake: his 31...Rc8 was responded by 32.Bc3 and he decided to resign.

 

Again, going for a defensive idea with 31...Rd7 was Fedoseev’s best chance. In the final position, 32...Bxc3 fails to 33.Qf7, while 32...Rg8 does not work due to the good-looking 33.Rxg7 Rxg7 34.Qf7.

Talk about an exciting game!

 
 

Pool D: MVL to face Mamedyarov

After Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored the first win in this group prior to the rest day, the usual two draws were seen in round 5. MVL thus goes into the final round a half point ahead of Yu Yangyi and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Remarkably, the Frenchman will face the ever-fighting Shakh on Monday, which should certainly be entertaining, as not reaching the semis would be considered a failure by either of the two elite players.

MVL got an extra pawn against Yu in a queen endgame...

 

...but with all the pawns on the same flank, the Chinese showed the proper technique to hold the balance until a draw was agreed on move 56.

 
 

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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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