Moscow GP: Grischuk, Nepo and Nakamura advance

by Antonio Pereira
5/23/2019 – Only two rapid games in each of the three quarter-finals matches were enough to complete the draw for the semi-finals at the first leg of the Grand Prix in Moscow. Daniil Dubov, Wesley So and Wei Yi were knocked out by Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi, respectively. The first games of the semis will be played on Thursday, with Nakamura set to face Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi paired up against Wojtaszek. | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

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Rapid is enough

All tie-break match-ups so far in Moscow have been decided after the first two 25+10 rapid games. For comparison purposes, in the last World Cup — Tbilisi 2017 — out of 127 games, 61 went to tie-breaks, with 37 of these finishing after only two rapid games (61%) and 24 needing more rounds to decide a winner (39%). Back then, only the dramatic semi-final between Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave was decided on Armaggedon.

It is also noteworthy that only Alexander Grischuk accepted a 'strategic draw' from a superior position during the quarter-finals tie-breaks, although the Russian later confessed that he "didn't really think he had an advantage". He added: "I thought that, since he didn't make any obvious mistakes, it would be logical that there is a repetition, but apparently I just completely misunderstood the position". Of course, in hindsight, it worked out well for Alexander, as he won the second game and advanced to the next phase.

Wesley So, Alexander Grischuk

Wesley was actually worse when the draw was agreed | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Grischuk 1½:½ So: 50% of Magnus' technique is enough

We mentioned how Grischuk accepted a draw from an advantageous position in the first game of his mini-match against Wesley So. He certainly had the initiative, but it is hard to figure out how this setup is clearly winning for Black:


The winning idea suggested by the computer consisted in advancing Black's central pawn to e3 and creating threats against the king. Since there is no direct line that leads to checkmate or a big material gain, it is understandable that Grischuk decided to take the draw with the black pieces — in fact, continuing to play might have resulted in Black over-pressing and later having to defend an uncomfortable position.

Alexander Grischuk

Grischuk freely speaks his mind during interviews | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

In the second game, Alexander obtained a much more stable advantage with White. The players reached an endgame with even material, but White had a better pawn structure:


After 30.b4 d5 (in case of 30...♜xa4 31.hxg5 White's passer on the kingside is really dangerous) Grischuk plans to keep pushing his a-pawn, leaving Black's bishop restrained on his own camp. Slowly but surely, Alexander made progress until reaching a rook endgame with an extra pawn:


The game ended after 61 moves, when White was about to queen the only pawn that was left on the board. The always entertaining Grischuk described his technique as "fifty percent of Magnus', which proved to be enough in this position".

Alexander also questioned the organizers' decision to schedule the rest day only after round three (before the final match) instead of doing it after round two, at the exact halfway point of the event. 

Post-game interview with Grischuk and So

Nakamura 1½:½ Dubov: "The guy who played better won"

Unlike Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi, Hikaru Nakamura's win came in the first game, and with Black! The US Champion stated afterwards: "In rapid more so than in classical [...] you sort of just play moves [...] and sometimes you drift". That is apparently what happened to Dubov in a position in which Nakamura's bishop pair slightly favoured Black:


Daniil captured the 'free' pawn with 34.xd5, but his rook was left stuck in the middle of the board, unable to escape. The game continued 34...c8 35.f1 b5 36.e2 e6:


There is no way to save the exchange — 37.xe6 xd5 38.c5 followed. Nakamura had a sizeable advantage, but it was not easy at all to convert it, as Dubov only resigned after 79 moves. Hikaru explained:

I think Daniil defended incredibly well once he blundered. The position was very equal, it should have been probably a draw, but I was able to trick him with this pawn sacrifice on d5. And then, practically speaking I thought that I would win quite easily, but Daniil found very good resources.

Hikaru Nakamura

The US champion is on to the semi-finals | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

In the second game, Dubov looked for complications from the opening, but found himself an exchange down after 16 moves. Nakamura did not falter and kept the material advantage until the end of the game. The American signed the draw after 48 moves, despite having a superior position.

Daniil talked about the psychological factor in knock-out events:

I probably failed to recover after my first match, because a general rule for these knock-out tournaments is basically to never celebrate. [...] Once you start celebrating or just being happy, it becomes incredibly tough.

He also thought the result was fair: 

I had my chance yesterday, but today, I mean, basically the guy who played better won.

Daniil Dubov

Daniil shows no fear against the big guns | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Post-game interview with Nakamura and Dubov

Nepomniachtchi  1½:½ Wei Yi: A sharp battle

19-year-old Chinese prodigy Wei Yi had the white pieces in the first tie-break game and faced a theoretical line of the Poisoned Pawn Sicilian against an ambitious Nepomniachtchi — in fact, the players repeated fifteen moves of theory from a previous game from 2015, in which Wei Yi was White! A sharp struggle ensued and, with his king strolling around the opposite camp, Black decided to exchange a piece for three pawns:


Nepo played 28...xg3, aware of the fact that his knight would be lost after 29.h3+ xh4 30.f4+ g5 31.xg3. Black had got rid of White's kingside pawns — and soon enough captured the a-pawn as well — but his king was still in danger.

Wei Yi could not make the most of his advantage, as he had to face the stubborn defence of a quick-play specialist. The draw was eventually signed after 70 moves.

Wei Yi

The Chinese missed his chances in game one | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

In game two, Wei Yi played a line of the Caro-Kann that surprised his opponent. Nonetheless, Ian found a solid setup that allowed him to feel comfortable with his position. In the complex middlegame, White had the initiative but not much of an advantage, especially for a rapid game. But when Wei Yi was looking for ways to untangle his position in order to get some counterplay, he failed to realize that his queen was about to get trapped:


Those who have  been following the broadcasts of this tournament surely realized that Wei Yi is a man of few words. After his loss against Nepo, he thus summarized what had just happened: "I simply made a blunder, 20...f6, and lost the match". The problem with Black's move is that White had 21.h4, and in case of 21...♛xh4 22.♘xg6 ♛g4 23.♘xf8 Black is in deep trouble. Instead, the Chinese gave up his queen with 21...f5 22.c2 xc2 23.xc2 fxe5.

The players eventually simplified into a queen v rook + knight endgame, in which White only needs to be careful before gobbling up Black's weak pawns. Wei Yi resigned in the following position:


With this win, Nepomniachtchi qualified to face Wojtaszek, the only player that survived in Moscow without playing any tie-break games. The other finalist will be determined in the match-up Nakamura v Grischuk.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Nepo will play Wojtaszek in the semis | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Post-game interview with Nepomniachtchi and Wei Yi

All match results


Commentary webcast

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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