Prague: Harikrishna and Niemann score crucial wins

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/17/2022 – Pentala Harikrishna beat Saleh Salem in the penultimate round of the Masters tournament in Prague, thus climbing to the shared lead going into the final day of action. Similarly, in the Challengers, Hans Niemann collected a second win in a row to catch Vincent Keymer and Nodirbek Abdusattorov in the lead. Friday’s final round kicks off four hours earlier than usual, at 11.00 CEST. | Photo: Petr Vrabec

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Hari and Le in the shared lead

The two players who have been clearly stronger than the rest of the field in the Masters section of the Prague Chess Festival will enter Friday’s final round tied for first place, a full point ahead of a 3-player chasing pack. Given their solid, strong performances so far, it is very unlikely for both Le Quang Liem and Pentala Harikrishna to lose their last-round games, which would be the only scenario in which the players tied for 3rd-5th places would manage to catch up with them.

While Le will play black against Paco Vallejo (currently on 4/8 with a win and a loss to his name), Hari will have the white pieces against David Anton (on 2/8 with no wins and four losses to his name). On the very day that the Candidates Masters is set to kick off in Madrid, two Spaniards will play a big role in the fight for the title in Prague.

Le had grabbed the sole lead in round 6, with a win over Saleh Salem. Two days later, Harikrishna caught up with him by also beating the Emirati grandmaster. Salem miscalculated in a sharp middlegame position.

 

With both kings uncastled, Black untangled his position with 16...b5, the only move that did not leave him with a clearly inferior setup. Salem, who did not shy away from entering a sharp position, knew this was a critical point in the game and spent almost 15 minutes considering his response.

Both 17.cxb6 and 17.Raa1 are playable, albeit not as strong as the subtle 17.Ra3. However, Salem was in a fighting mood and instead went for 17.Re1, pinning the dark-squared bishop. This would turn out to be the decisive mistake in the game — Hari refuted his opponent’s idea with the precise 17...Nxc5 18.dxc5 19.bxa4 Ra7, consolidating his material advantage.

 

Looking to justify his aggressive approach, Salem gave up another exchange two moves later, but Harikrishna kept his cool and swiftly rebutted his colleague’s attempts to get the full point shortly after. The Indian later explained:

It was nice that he went for a challenging line — he didn’t go for some solid stuff. [...] I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s game.

 

Round 8 results - Masters

 

Standings after round 8

 

All games

 

Niemann wins error-ridden game

In his latest tweet, Hans Niemann wrote, “If only my chess was as good as my Twitter trolling”, referring to a friendly back and forth he had with social-media star Anish Giri. The US grandmaster posted this message soon after scoring a second consecutive win, which allowed him to catch Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Vincent Keymer in the lead of the Challengers tournament in Prague.

For a second day in a row, Niemann entered a double-edged, tactical position. By move 51, he had Peter Michalik against the ropes, but failed to find the good-looking killer blow. This was just the first big mistake in this stage of the game — ergo, the tweet.

 

White has the upper hand with his more active pieces in this position with opposite-coloured bishops. However, he needs to be precise in order to get a clean win.

52.Rxh6 was the winning shot Niemann needed to find — after 52...dxe3+, there is 53.Ke2, and Black has nothing better than 53...Qc4+ 54.Qxc4 dxc4, when White decisively gains the initiative via 55.Rh8+.

Instead, Niemann faltered with 52.Be6, which put Michalik in the driver’s seat after 52...dxe3+ 53.Rxe3 (53.Ke2 is not good here due to 53...Qc2+) 53...Qxf4+ 54.Ke2 d4

 

Both the rook on f7 and the one on e3 are under attack, but Black is the one with the initiative at this point. Niemann found the engine’s first suggestion in 55.Rgg3, and saw his opponent blundering his advantage away after 55...dxe3 56.Rxe3

 

Black is a whole rook up, and should try to consolidate his clear advantage even at the cost of some material — 56...Rfd7 is the strongest and most sensible move in the position. Much like Niemann a few moves earlier, though, Michalik prompted the evaluation to abruptly change sides with 56...Be5.

This was just the beginning of the rollercoaster ride. Both players erred gravely more than once in the wild position that ensued, but it was Michalik who made the last mistake, as he had to resign with mate-in-six on the board on move 67.

In the final round, Niemann and Keymer will play with the black pieces, while Abdusattorov will get white against Jergus Pechac, who lost back-to-back games in rounds 7 and 8.

 

Round 8 results - Challengers

 

Standings after round 8

 

All games

 

Links


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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