Jerusalem GP: Candidates suspense continues

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/19/2019 – Ian Nepomniachtchi drew Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in their semi-final rematch encounter to reach the final of the Jerusalem Grand Prix. The Russian is now one match win away from securing a spot in the Candidates, as Vachier-Lagrave is still leading the overall standings of the Grand Prix by a single point. David Navara and Wei Yi signed another draw, which means the winner will be decided in tiebreaks. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Down to the wire

The fourth leg of the FIDE Grand Prix is being played in Jerusalem, Israel. The 16-player knockout has a €130,000 prize fund, with the series as a whole having an additional prize fund of €280,000 plus two qualifying spots for the 2020 Candidates Tournament. The tournament takes place in the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre from December 11th to 23rd.

The winner of the second ticket to the 2020 Candidates awarded by the Grand Prix will be decided either by Sunday or Monday, depending on whether the final match goes to tiebreaks or not. Ian Nepomniachtchi, who drew game two of the semis with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to knock him out of the competition, would need to win the event in Jerusalem to get the coveted prize. Otherwise, it would be 'MVL' the one who gets to qualify, as he is currently in second place behind Alexander Grischuk in the overall GP standings table, with 17 points. Nepomniachtchi is one point behind.

The other finalist will be decided in the match between David Navara and Wei Yi, who drew their second semi-final game and will settle the dispute in tiebreaks.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi still needs to win the final to secure a spot in the Candidates; otherwise, he will need to fight for the wildcard | Photo: Niki Riga

Vachier-Lagrave ½:½ Nepomniachtchi

When Sergey Karjakin joined Evgeny Miroshnichenko in the commentary booth, he mentioned how it is curious that both Vachier-Lagrave and Nepomniachtchi have the same primary repertoire with White and Black, choosing 1.e4 when moving first and going for either the Grünfeld or the Najdorf with Black. Apparently, according to the commentators, both players decided there was no way to get much against the Najdorf, which resulted in two games with 1.d4 — and, of course, the Grünfeld.

Pressured to win at all costs, Vachier-Lagrave responded to 1.d4 d5 2.c4 g6 with 3.h4, a move Grischuk had used against him this year in Riga — 'MVL' won that game. The Frenchman's aggressive approach was further confirmed some four moves later:


7.g4 is a novelty that was followed by 7...f6 8.dxe6 xe6 9.e4 xg4 10.f3, when White has a strong centre in what Karjakin described as a "crazy position".

Nepomniachtchi had also explored this Grünfeld with 3.h4 from the black side against Grischuk and, although he had looked into it this year, he could not remember his analysis. Given the sharpness of the position, this naturally led to Vachier-Lagrave getting the upper hand out of the opening. This was the setup on the board on move 18:


There followed 18...g5 19.b4 and Black is clearly the one needing to find precise moves to keep the dynamic balance.

Throughout the game, engines show moves and plans to improve the play of both sides, but this is the kind of position that demonstrates how complex a middlegame struggle can be — and how sometimes 90 minutes for 40 moves seem not to suffice to explore all the intricacies. The tension kept on rising, until Vachier-Lagrave erred on move 25:


White's 25.g3 allowed 25...f5, when Black manages to break open the position — notice that Nepomniachtchi could castle still, unlike his opponent. Vachier-Lagrave explained that he thought he could continue 26.e5, counting on 26…f4 27.♗xf4 gxf4 28.♘h5:


What he realized all too late is that Black has 28...♝xe5 29.dxe5 0-0-0, when he cannot even capture the d6-knight due to the queen infiltration on e3. 

None of this happened though, as 'MVL' had to settle for 26.exf5, a move that relinquished his advantage. The game only lasted six more moves, as the Frenchman realized he could do nothing to continue fighting for a win in a position that slightly favoured Black.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Vachier-Lagrave will be rooting against Nepomniachtchi this weekend | Photo: Niki Riga

Navara ½:½ Wei Yi

The other semi-final saw another Grünfeld, except that the one setting the tone in this case was the player with the black pieces — Chinese prodigy Wei Yi:


While 10...♝b7 or 10...♝e6 are viable alternatives here, the less frequent 10...bd7 was chosen by Wei Yi. Navara seemed surprised, as he spent close to fifteen minutes before responding with 11.e3. The players then followed a Volkov v Riazantsev game until move 16, when Navara decided to go for simplifications. 

From that point on, Black had a slightly superior position, but Navara managed to keep things under control. More material left the board on move 22:


By this point, Miroshnichenko — now joined by Ernesto Inarkiev — already thought there was no way for Black to push for a win much longer, and after Wei Yi's 22...xc3 White only needed to show good technique to keep the balance. That did not prevent the players from exchanging all but one piece before signing the draw:


Instead of pushing the game to last one more move, Wei Yi put an end to the encounter at once with 60...h1♞.


Wei Yi, David Navara

Wei Yi and David Navara will play rapid and, if necessary, blitz tiebreakers | Photo: Niki Riga

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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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