Grischuk wins Sharjah FIDE Grand Prix

by Albert Silver
2/28/2017 – Without taking anything away from his last-minute wresting of the gold from the two previous leaders, Alexander Grischuk's win of the FIDE Grand Prix in Sharjah was a bit of a disappointment, not for the result, much less the player, but because of the extremely modest 5.5/9 score required to do so. In many ways, it reflected the very sedate event and its astonishingly high draw rate. Here is the final report with analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky.

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The time control in the GP tournaments is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move one.

The first leg, in Sharjah, was held February 18 - 27 (with a rest day on the 23rd) at the Sharjah Cultural & Chess Club. The first prize was €20,000; the total prize fund was €130,000. 

2017 Sharjah GP Participants

All photos by Max Avdeev

"This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper."

--- T.S. Eliot (The Hollow Men)

This very famous line that ends the poem by T.S. Eliot also symbolizes the tournament in Sharjah, and while some will argue that this is the nature of elite chess, it is not so simple. The question is not simply the 74% draw rate. In spite of what naysayers might claim, it is not really common. For example the recently held Tata Steel tournament, with no less an elite field, saw just over 62% draws.

Still, the question is not so much whether a game saw a split point or not, but how it reached its final result. Of the 60 draws in Sharjah, 18 ended in 23 moves or less, and a number in 20 or less, often with almost all pieces still on the board and no obvious reason why the hands were shaken.

Hopefully, the organizers can find a way to motivate players to put up more of a fight, as this sort of display of bloodless bouts is detrimental to the extreme for professional chess on all levels. Football games sometimes end in 0-0 scores, but can you imagine if the captains decided to shake hands 20 minutes after the whistle, and everyone walked off the pitch?

Even the players felt this, as Pavel Eljanov expressed on his Facebok page

"It was one of the most boring tournaments I ever played with so many quick draws every round." -- Pavel Eljanov

For the final round, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is shown a crystal ball

After a tough start, Richard Rapport staged a good recovery and reached 50%, but no more. Though perfectly respectable, there is no question the Hungarian talent will be seeking to shine in his next participation.

Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, also the top seed of the event, started with a blistering 2.0/2. Unfortunately those were his last win, and seven draws later, found himself second on tiebreak. An excellent result, but one he had to feel he could have improved.

The number one female player in activity, Hou Yifan, had a reasonable 4.0/9 considering the field. Having now foregone for good (at least for now) women's chess, this is exactly the sort of battleground she needs to gain the experience against the elite.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will leave with a slightly bittersweet taste in his mouth. His tie for first, though third on tiebreak came down to his defeat in the eleventh hour to Grischuk, a loss he need not have suffered. He recovered well by beating Hou Yifan in a good game in the last round, but will no doubt feel he is the one who should be at the top of the podium.

Annotating the games in this last crucial round is Alex Yermolinsky with his unique style

S. Mamedyarov vs Hou Yifan (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

Hikaru Nakamura was another player who came close to threatening the top spots, but never quite succeeded in making it past that threshold

Ding Liren came with a desire to show his stuff, and had mixed results. An unfortunate opening loss no doubt marred his final result, though he came back with a win. One knows he will be fighting for top spots in future events.

Levon Aronian had an indifferent tournament at best. The effort seemed ot be lacking as well. It isn't so much the eight draws he finished with and one last-round loss, but that four of those draws were among the shortest, and still ended with a board full of pieces. A player such as Carlsen would have considered those positions as the start of the fight, not the end.

Ding Liren vs Levon Aronian (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

If you enjoyed Yermolinsky's analysis, be sure to check out the next issue of ChessBase Magazine where a more in-depth version of his analysis will appear.

The Russian champion Alexander Riazantsev will leave the most disappointed. He knew he was one of the event underdogs by virtue of his rating, but by wining the Russian championship, he had shown his ability to successfully navigate an event with very strong players. With three straight losses in rounds six to eight, it was not meant to be.

Ian Nepomniachtchi's final plus one score was about par for his rating, and he showed he was well-equipped to stand toe-to-toe with the rest

Pavel Eljanov showed excellent fighting spirit through and through, and although things seemed to be heading south as he lost two games near the end, he got back to 50% with two wins in the last two rounds.

Alexander Grischuk played a classic event in terms of grandmaster strategy: draw with black and win with white. This reflected not just in where the points came from, but the length of his games, in whcih three of his four blacks were 20-odd moves at best, while the games with white were mostly protracted affairs pushed to the end. His first-place win on tiebreak was a sign of the successfulness of this approach, so there is little one can say, other than: what would have happened had he pursued his black games with the same energy?

Round 9 on 2017/02/27 at 15:00

Name Rtg Pts. Result Pts. Name Rtg
Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 5 ½ - ½ 5 Grischuk Alexander 2742
Nakamura Hikaru 2785 ½ - ½ Adams Michael 2751
Jakovenko Dmitry 2709 ½ - ½ Nepomniachtchi Ian 2749
Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 2766 1 - 0 4 Hou Yifan 2651
Ding Liren 2760 4 1 - 0 4 Aronian Levon 2785
Rapport Richard 2692 4 ½ - ½ 4 Li Chao B 2720
Vallejo Pons Francisco 2709 4 ½ - ½ 3 Tomashevsky Evgeny 2711
Eljanov Pavel 2759 1 - 0 Salem A.R. Saleh 2656
Riazantsev Alexander 2671 ½ - ½ 3 Hammer Jon Ludvig 2628

Round nine games (with times per move)

Finals standings after nine rounds

Rk Name FED Rtg Pts
1 Grischuk Alexander RUS 2742 5,5
2 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime FRA 2796 5,5
3 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar AZE 2766 5,5
4 Ding Liren CHN 2760 5,0
5 Adams Michael ENG 2751 5,0
6 Jakovenko Dmitry RUS 2709 5,0
7 Nakamura Hikaru USA 2785 5,0
8 Nepomniachtchi Ian RUS 2749 5,0
9 Rapport Richard HUN 2692 4,5
10 Eljanov Pavel UKR 2759 4,5
11 Li Chao B CHN 2720 4,5
12 Vallejo Pons Francisco ESP 2709 4,5
13 Aronian Levon ARM 2785 4,0
14 Hou Yifan CHN 2651 4,0
15 Salem A.R. Saleh UAE 2656 3,5
16 Hammer Jon Ludvig NOR 2628 3,5
17 Tomashevsky Evgeny RUS 2711 3,5
18 Riazantsev Alexander RUS 2671 3,0

Live Commentary

AGON is offering exclusive pay-per-view video of the games and live commentary. It comes in three packages: a one-time $10 fee just for Sharjah GP, a full package of all the events in the World Championship cycle for $30, and a $250 package, which is the same as the $30 Base but comes with signed posters from each event.

For more information, see the widget on the main page.


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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