Nepomniachtchi wins Moscow Grand Prix

by Antonio Pereira
5/29/2019 – Ian Nepomniachtchi won the second tie-break game of the final match against Alexander Grischuk to claim first place at the Moscow leg of the 2019 Grand Prix Series. The tie-breaker began with a 37-move draw out of a Petroff Defence, while in the second 25'+10" encounter Nepomniachtchi got the upper hand from the white side of an Italian Opening and ended up winning the game — and the tournament — after 36 moves. | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

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The best man wins

As Alexander Grischuk stated after the tie-break was over, Ian Nepomniachtchi was the one calling the shots all throughout the final match. During the classical phase, Grischuk was put on the back foot right off the bat, as Nepo showed great preparation in the first game, and the trend continued in game two, when Alexander did not get much from a Berlin Defence. The most Grischuk got was a very slight pressure in the first 25'+10" encounter. Finally, game four saw Nepomniachtchi claiming a deserved victory.

For those taking part in the series, the focus will be put on the Grand Prix overall standings. The eight players knocked out in round one do not get any points, while the rest are awarded extra points every time they get a mini-match victory without needing tie-breaks. Let us not forget that the main goal is to get one of the two available tickets to next year's Candidates Tournament. This is how the standings table looks after the Moscow event:

Player Points Bonus Total
Ian Nepomniachtchi 8 1 9
Alexander Grischuk 5 2 7
Radoslaw Wojtaszek 3 2 5
Hikaru Nakamura 3 0 3
Peter Svidler 1 1 2
Wei Yi 1 1 2
Daniil Dubov 1 1 2
Wesley So 1 0 1

This year's series will see each of the 21 qualified players taking part in three out of the four events scheduled, with Nepomniachtchi set to skip the second leg (Latvia) and Grischuk committed to play in legs two and three (Germany), but not in the last one (Israel). Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Yu Yangyi, Veselin Topalov, David Navara and Pentala Harikrishna will make their debut in Latvia, while the organizers of the fourth leg have yet to nominate a wildcard to play in Tel-Aviv.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Grischuk with their prizes | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

First tie-break game: A Russian affair

The eventual champion surprised Grischuk by choosing the Petroff (or Russian) Defence. Nepomniachtchi would later comment:

I thought maybe it's the correct place, you know, as the Grand Prix is held in Russia and two Russian players are playing, so the Petroff Defence is the optimal choice.

Grischuk already spent four minutes on move three, before choosing the tranquil 3.d3. Shortly after, Nepomniachtchi surprised his opponent once again by freely giving up the pair of bishops:

 

After Nepo captured the knight with 7...xf3, Grischuk left theory by choosing 8.xf3, and a queen trade followed. White had a tiny edge, but the lack of big imbalances kept the position equalized (players of this calibre rarely misplay in these situations). On move 27, White exchanged his bishop for Black's knight and a rook endgame ensued: 

 

After 28.bxa5 Black transferred his rook to the a-file and infiltrated White's position on the queenside. None of the players faltered and a triple repetition was reached on move 37.

Alexander Ovechkin

Russian professional hockey player Alexander Ovechkin made the ceremonial first move | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Second tie-break game: The decider

The players went into a Giuoco Piano structure which, according to Nepomniachtchi, is easier to handle for White. Ian expanded on the queenside until leaving Black's knight rather out of play, a factor that would later turn out to be decisive:

 

After 19.b5 a5, Black was left with the long-term task of getting his knight back to an active square. Under these circumstances, White happily exchanged pieces until reaching a position in which the difference in quality between his dark-squared bishop and Black's knight-on-the-rim was clearly evident:

 

With 27.f4, Nepo developed his last piece and was ready to put pressure on his opponent while practically playing a piece up. Black's position did not take long to collapse, and the decisive blow came on move 36:

 

Grischuk resigned after 36.xe7, since after 36...xe7 37.d7 Black's best chance is to go into a completely lost rook v knight endgame with 37...xd4 38.xe7+. And thus another tie-breaker at the Moscow Grand Prix needed only two rapid games to be decided — the semi-final between Nepomniachtchi and Wojtaszek was the one match that reached the 10'+10" stage.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk

The tournament is over | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

The aftermath

During the post-game interview, the players expressed different opinions regarding the knock-out format used in this event. Nepomniachtchi concluded:

The whole system makes some harm over the quality of play because sometimes you want to take a less risky decision — do not take any extra risks — and play safely. And somehow you are missing the best continuations, which are connected with some serious play.

While Grischuk opined:

Actually I think — for me is the opposite — knock-out is the best for me. [...] Anyway, at least it was my best tournament in terms of quality in a very long period. And if I [would have] won today of course I would be happy, but you cannot be happy when you lose.

Alexander went on to mention that his win over Nakamura in game two of the semi-finals was his best showing since his victory over Maxim Rodshtein from the 2014 European Club Cup. He even called this one of the three games "he can be proud of" from his career — besides the Rodshtein game, he mentioned his victory with Black over the late Vugar Gashimov.

FIDE Grand Prix Moscow 2019

The post-final interview was followed closely by the press | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

The next stage of the Grand Prix series is scheduled to kick off on July 11th in Latvia, where Riga and Jurmala will host another sixteen-player knock-out event.


Full post-game interview


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Commentary by GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Daniil Yuffa


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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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conillet conillet 5/30/2019 01:41
Well done, Nepo. And I'm glad Sasha got 2 bonus points!
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