Berlin GP: A great day for team USA

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/28/2022 – Four players representing the United States scored full points in round 5 of the Berlin Grand Prix. Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura both won and are now sharing the lead in pool A, much like Wesley So and Sam Shankland, who are now co-leaders in pool C. Given round-5’s results, we are likely to see tiebreaks after Monday’s final round, as none of the four groups has a sole leader at the moment. | Photos: World Chess

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All US grandmasters on 3/5

FIDE Grand Prix 2022Three out of four semifinalists at the first leg of the Grand Prix, also played in Berlin, represented the United States. This time around, with five players hailing from the North American country, we are likely to see at least a couple of them in the semis of the third leg. Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Sam Shankland all won in round 5 of the preliminaries and all stand on 3 out of 5 points going into the final day of the double round-robin.

Coincidentally, Nakamura and Aronian are tied for first in pool A, while So and Shankland are leading the standings table in pool C. The fifth member of team USA in Berlin, Leinier Dominguez, also has a 3/5 score and is also sharing the lead — with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, in pool B.

In the one pool that includes no US players, the four contenders are tied on a fifty-percent score. Anish Giri, Nikita Vitiugov, Yu Yangyi and Amin Tabatabaei have all equal chances of reaching the semis in Monday’s final round — if we go by ratings, however, Giri might be considered the favourite, as he will face rating underdog Tabatabaei with white on Monday. The Dutchman is well-aware that his opponent is not one to go down easily, though, as the Iranian demonstrated in his round-5 encounter against Yu.

It will be interesting to see who decides to keep it safe and who employs a more risky approach on Monday, as the players will surely keep an eye on the other game of each pool in order to weigh their chances.

FIDE Grand Prix 2022

The playing hall at Berlin’s Unter der Linden

Pool A: Esipenko gets confused

Grandmasters are perfectly capable of memorizing thousands of opening variations and their consequences — but they can also mix up simple information sometimes. After losing in 23 moves with the black pieces against Levon Aronian, Andrey Esipenko confessed that he thought he was supposed to play with white against Hikaru Nakamura.

The youngster was completely shocked and messed up his position early on. Aronian had prepared the line that appeared on the board, and knew that his opponent’s approach was mistaken.

 

Esipenko was already way down on the clock when he spent no less than 18 minutes on 13...h6. To rub salt into the wound, Aronian blitzed out 14.gxh6 in response. What followed was a brilliant display of attacking chess, with the US grandmaster barely using time on his clock before securing his second victory of the event.

Nakamura had a much tougher task, as he needed to show his excellent endgame technique to take down former sole leader Grigoriy Oparin in 57 moves.

 
 

Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian

Pool B: Dominguez plays (too) quickly

While Daniil Dubov tried to convert a better position into a win against Vincent Keymer in a complex struggle, co-leaders Leinier Dominguez and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov explored a theoretical line out of a Ruy Lopez.

It was only on move 18 that Dominguez deviated from theory.

 

Later on, the Cuban-born grandmaster regretted having played so quickly in the opening, since he thought he could have got more out of this position. Discussing a few lines with Anastasiya Karlovich, it seems like none of the contenders knew that 18.b3 had been tried in a 2016 correspondence game which ended in a win for White.

Dominguez’s 18.Qh3 was not as trying, and Mamedyarov safely equalized the position. A draw was agreed on move 36.

 
 

Pool C: Shankland and So win with black

After signing a 30-move draw in round 4 in their direct encounter and getting a rest day on Saturday, Wesley So and Sam Shankland scored crucial wins with the black pieces to go into the final round sharing first place on 3/5.

While So got the better of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave after the latter, in typical style, took risks from the get go, Shankland took full advantage of a surprising oversight by Alexandr Predke.

 

Predke had given up a pawn in the opening, and by this point was slowly but surely losing the thread, as his opponent had almost fully stabilized his position. There was plenty of fight left in the position, though, except that, by playing 21.Qh3, the Russian simply missed that 21...Qe2 gave up yet another pawn.

Needing to return with 22.Qb3 was a bad omen for Predke. Shankland grabbed the material with 22...Qxe4 and swiftly converted his advantage into a 37-move victory.

 
 

Sam Shankland

In the shared lead — Sam Shankland

Pool D: Tabatabaei misses chance, escapes

Nikita Vitiugov and Anish Giri drew in the most uneventful game of the day, while Yu Yangyi and Amin Tabatabaei played an exciting, rollercoaster encounter which lasted 69 moves. Out of a sharp Ragozin, the Iranian missed a chance to get a considerable advantage on move 15.

 

With his king stuck in the centre, it is understandable that Tatabataei rejected playing 15.f3 here. However, he would have got a clear edge after 15...Nxd4+ 16.exd4 Bxb5+ 17.axb5 Ke3 — scary, indeed, although Black will also have trouble protecting his king with the dark-squared bishop covering the a3-f8 diagonal (see diagram below).

 

Instead of attacking the knight, the Iranian went for simplifications with 15...Bxc6, but the line seen in the game nonetheless led to a sharp struggle.

Yu outplayed his opponent in the complex middlegame, but Tabatabaei managed to escape in a position in which he later confessed to have had “zero hope”. A perpetual check allowed him to salvage the half point.

 

64.Ne6+ fxe6 65.Qe7+ and the black king cannot escape the checks! Draw.

 
 

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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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lajosarpad lajosarpad 3/30/2022 10:55
@arzi if I was him, I would play simultaneously in any FIDE tournament, no matter the level.
arzi arzi 3/29/2022 02:23
Now a little miracle is needed for Ding Liren to get into the tournament, instead of Karjakin. 20 games in 32 days.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 3/29/2022 11:33
@arzi you are correct. Since then, Nakamura won his last game and Aronian has lost, while Dominguez was eliminated. So, we now factually know that Rapport and Nakamura qualified.
arzi arzi 3/28/2022 12:57
To Lajosarpad, two spots. It is enough to Rapport if Nakamura is out. If Nakamura (semifinal is enough to Naka) goes semifinal then Dominguez has to win final, 2-0, I guess. If Nakamura in final with Dominguez, Dominguez has to win 2-0, to get the spot. Then Nakamura and Dominguez have those spots. Aronian has to win final, to get the second spot. If Aronian and Dominguez in final then one of them will have the other spot and the other one will drop out.

Aronian has to win final (more points than Rapport).
Dominguez has to win final 2-0 (better score in final than Rapport).
Nakamura has to get in semifinal, at least (same points as Rapport now but Nakamura won their mutual game in first GP semifinal. Or are there any other definitions in this last possibility?
lajosarpad lajosarpad 3/28/2022 11:24
@arzi I did not check all the details, but you may be right. However, there is still a game and Nakamura can win the tournament, so his chances improved a lot with his recent results, facing a lower-rated opponent in the last round when he is shared first.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/28/2022 10:29
The flagss of Iran resembles that of Wales. Easy to make the mistake if they are in the same drawer...
arzi arzi 3/28/2022 07:26
If Nakamura out then Rapport is in for sure.
arzi arzi 3/28/2022 07:25
Maybe he has made a same as Alireza Firouzja?
adbennet adbennet 3/28/2022 06:24
Why is Tabatabaei playing under the flag of Wales?
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