Moscow GP: Three winners on opening day

by Antonio Pereira
5/18/2019 – Ian Nepomniachtchi, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Radek Wojtaszek won with the white pieces at the start of the FIDE Grand Prix in Moscow, which means Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will need to push for a win on Saturday if they want to survive the first round. Three match-ups ended with quick draws, while Peter Svidler and Anish Giri accepted the draws offered by Nikita Vitiugov and Daniil Dubov in games that could have easily kept going. | Photo: World Chess

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"Better than losing and worse than winning"

A lot of criticism followed the 2011 Candidates Tournament in Kazan, in which the knock-out format led to some players openly using a safe-first strategy by signing quick draws in the classical games and putting all on the line in the tie-breaks. In order to discourage the players from using this strategy, the organizers are awarding an extra point in the Grand Prix overall standings for those who eliminate their opponents needing only two games. In the first game of the opening round in Moscow, four out of eight encounters ended peacefully after no more than 23 moves.

It must be added that Nikita Vitiugov had what seemed like a considerable advantage against Peter Svidler when he surprisingly offered a draw.


Both contenders are part of the Mednyi Vsadnik team from Saint Petersburg, which won the last two editions of the Russian Team Championship and are the current European champions. Vitiugov has also worked for Svidler as a second more than once. The long-time friends talked about how unfortunate it was for them to be paired up immediately in round one, although Svidler confessed that, "[he] somehow had a feeling that [they] would play at least one [match], and particularly in Moscow".

Nikita Vitiugov, Peter Svidler

Good old friends from Saint Petersburg | Photo: World Chess

Regarding the position shown in the diagram, Peter recounted how he was thinking about 18.f4 being a move that would leave him worse on the board. So, when the move was accompanied by a draw offer, he thought, "yeah, that's a good deal!" And the point was split then and there.

To accept the draw was a good match strategy? Peter wittily added:

As for match strategy, I envy people who have strategies of any kind. I don't have any. I thought I was worse and then I was offered a draw, so I took it.

Moscow Grand Prix 2019

Day one underway | Photo: World Chess

Unlike this encounter, Teimour Radjabov v Hikaru Nakamura, Wei Yi v Dmitry Jakovenko and Sergey Karjakin v Alexander Grischuk were nothing to write home about, except perhaps the comment by Grischuk in the post-game interview:

A draw is better than losing and worse than winning.

Will these match-ups go to tie-breaks after a second quick draw in a row? We will find out on day two.

Did I play that before?

Only the first four seeds are placed into different quarters of the draw during this year's Grand Prix, so it is rather curious that first seed Anish Giri was paired up against the lowest rated player in the field, Daniil Dubov. In the first game, Giri had the white pieces and had to face what his opponent had prepared as a surprise weapon for this encounter:


Black gave up a pawn in exchange for a quick development with 4...e5. When the players were talking about the game afterwards, Giri pointed out the fact that Dubov had played this move before, which surprised Daniil, who thought he was playing this for the first time in an official game, which meant this would come as a big surprise for Anish. The Dutchman confessed that he was surprised nonetheless, as this does not seem the kind of move you would play "in a serious tournament".

Daniil Dubov

World rapid champion Daniil Dubov | Photo: World Chess

Giri got the upper hand out of the opening, but then mishandled his advantage. Later on, Black was the one with the advantage; Anish had little time on the clock as well, which pushed him to start thinking about how to play for a win with Black in game two, as he confessed afterwards. Daniil did not think the evaluation was so clear, so he decided to offer the draw. 

In fact, the computers think that Dubov had quite a big edge, for example, in the following position:


Black has the safer king and the initiative. Dubov continued 29...g5, but 29...h5 was worth considering as well. Nonetheless, Giri played accurately from this point on and, although Dubov could have kept pushing in the final position (after 36 moves), it seems like the draw was a fair result after a hard-fought game.

Full interview with Giri and Dubov

All interviews available at World Chess' youtube channel

Wins with White

The first player to get a win in Moscow was Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The current Polish champion could not go to Warsaw to try to defend his title, and he is surely not regretting his decision after his victory over Wesley So. The players went into an Italian Opening and apparently — as Nakamura mentioned when he joined the commentary team after his draw — Wesley So simply mixed something up in his preparation and quickly found himself a pawn down.


This position had been seen before: Matlakov had played 10...a7 against Bacrot. Instead, So opted for 10...h8 and after 11.h3 h5 12.e4 a7 13.g3 he had "a bad choice between giving up the light-squared bishop or giving up this pawn on e5", as explained by Duda. The game continued 13...g6 14.xe5, and Duda went on to convert his advantage into a victory in barely 25 moves.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Duda had a pleasant surprise in the opening | Photo: World Chess

It was a good day for Poland in Moscow, as Radoslaw Wojtaszek — who also missed to play at his country's national championship — defeated Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in 67 moves. The storyline in this game was completely different, though, as Wojtaszek had a lost position throughout the whole middlegame. Radoslaw played a sharp theoretical line in the opening:


After 14.xf7+ xf7 15.d5 ec5 16.xa8 White can take the bishop on c8 with check and keep the balance — 17.xc8 f8 18.d8 with a sharp game (17.b4 is also playable). But these are all computer lines. The Polish grandmaster chose 17.d4 and a complex struggle ensued. 

When the smoke had cleared, Mamedyarov was clearly better and eventually converted his edge into an endgame with rook and two pieces versus two rooks with three pawns per side. Wojtaszek thought he was lost but kept on fighting, until Shak eventually faltered:


Black played 55...d5 and the computer shows a 0.00 evaluation after Radoslaw's 56.c3. Shak could have continued looking for chances, as the players were will into the fifth hour of play, but instead erred with 56...c6:


There is no way to save the knight after 57.e3, with the white rooks controlling both the c and e-files. Mamedyarov played 57...b3 but the position is already lost. Wojtaszek got the win ten moves later.

Alina Kashlinskaya, Radoslaw Wojtaszek

The family of Alina Kashlinskaya — Wojtaszek's wife — lives in Moscow | Photo: World Chess

The last encounter to finish was Ian Nepomniachtchi v Levon Aronian. The Armenian was a pawn down but seemed to be on his way to get a draw in an endgame with the queens still on the board. Levon considered his 29...e6 to be the crucial mistake of the game:


The game followed 29...e6 30.d8 h6 31.xe8 xe8 32.a3 a3 33.c1 and White has all his weak pawns on dark squares and can start looking for ways to convert his extra pawn on the kingside. At some point, Aronian considered it necessary to give up his bishop in exchange for a passer on the a-file, a drastic decision if there has ever been one:


Aronian opted for 41...xa3 instead of 41...c2, for example, saving the piece. 'Nepo' took the bishop, but the task he had left ahead was not easy at all. Only after 72 moves, did Aronian resign, with his passed pawn on the a-file not sufficient to compensate White's three passers on the other side of the board:


Ian Nepomniachtchi, Levon Aronian

Aronian will need a win on Sunday to stay alive | Photo: World Chess

Full interview with Nepomniachtchi and Aronian

All games



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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