Anish Giri leads Shenzhen Masters after three rounds

by Antonio Pereira
4/19/2019 – Ding Liren, Anish Giri and Yu Yangyi are back in Shenzhen, as the trio has participated in all three editions of the six-player double round robin. Pentala Harikrishna is returning to the Chinese city after having played in 2017 but not in 2018, while the newcomers are Dmitry Jakovenko and Richard Rapport. After three rounds, Giri is the only player on a plus score. Harikrishna fell victim to Anish in round two but bounced right back the very next day. | Photo: cca.imsa.cn

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The dangers of deep preparation

When elite chess stars are given a chance to prepare against a five-player field, there is no doubt they will study their opponents' play in depth. Not doing so would simply be naïve. Maybe that is why most supertournaments prefer to gather a larger field and some — perhaps following the example given by Wijk aan Zee — prefer to call up players of different strengths, looking for more unbalanced struggles. 

The Shenzhen Masters, on the other hand, has kept its original approach despite the first two editions ending up with 46 out of 60 games drawn. Ding Liren won the first edition after scoring a convincing 'plus 3', while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won in 2018 after getting better tie-break scores than Giri and Ding, who also finished on 'plus 1'.

Richard Rapport, Dmitry Jakovenko

The newcomers, Jakovenko and Rapport | Photo: cca.imsa.cn 

Anish Giri scored 5½/10 on both occasions, with a single win and no defeats in 2017 and 2018. Curiously, his victim in the first edition was Pentala Harikrishna, who back then had the white pieces and was overpowered by Giri's pair of bishops after the queens left the board rather early in a Sicilian. This year, Giri had the white pieces and played the Italian...but the result was the same.

The players reached the same position Anish had played against Ernesto Inarkiev during last year's World Rapid Championship, except that Ernesto did not capture on d3 when given the chance:

 

White had just moved the bishop away from the defence of d3 and Harikrishna quickly snapped off the undefended pawn, going for a forced variation that swiped the queens off the board: 11...xd3 12.xe5 xd1 13.xd3 xb3 14.axb3 and White is ready to expand on the queenside.

Black's position is uncomfortable, and Anish started taking his time to find the most precise continuations. This led to White gaining a pawn with a small tactic soon afterwards:

 

You can move the pieces on the diagram above!

25.xd7! and after 25...xd7 26.xf6+ gxf6 27.xe8 White has both a material edge and the initiative. Five moves later, Giri gobbled up another pawn, and the Indian player decided it was time to resign when he was about to reach the time control.

Shenzhen Masters 2019

The playing hall | Photo: cca.imsa.cn 

Hari quickly bounced back, however, showing good technique to take down Richard Rapport in the very next round. Rapport played the French and a position with symmetrical pawn structures was reached after 17 moves:

 

White has a bishop against Black's knight and has pushed his h-pawn, but there are not many more imbalances to work with, especially when facing a strong player well-versed in defence. The position was close to equal throughout, until Richard incorrectly chose to exchange the minor pieces:

 

Offering a queen exchange with 39...♛xd6 was called for, trying to liquidate, sign a draw and go back to the hotel. Rapport's choice, 39...xb6, on the other hand, led to a dangerous queen endgame for Black after 40.axb6 c5 41.c4!

 

After 41...dxc4 42.bxc4 cxd4 43.xd4 White's queenside pawns are further advanced and represent a big threat. Harikrishna proved he knew how to deal with this position and was clearly winning when he managed to get a passer on the b-file:

 

India's number two calculated for around seven minutes before moving forward with 51.c6, and the game was over after 51...bxc6 52.b7 g1+ 53.h3 f1+ 54.g4 g1+ 55.g3

Pentala Harikrishna

Harikrishna has played two games with Black so far | Photo: cca.imsa.cn 

Round three also saw the big clash between Ding Liren and Anish Giri ending up with a draw, while Dmitry Jakovenko and Yu Yangyi also shared the point. After facing Jakovenko with Black, the leader will have two straight Whites with a rest day in between — will Giri manage to score a second win for the first time in Shenzhen?

Standings after Round 3

 

All games

 

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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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