The drama came early and ruthlessly in the opening round of the FIDE Moscow Grand Prix, as big-name stars Anish Giri, Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov all sensationally tumbled out of the world championship cycle knockout qualifier in the Russian capital. And in a bloodthirsty second day, the biggest surprise of all was the toppling of top seed Giri, as the Dutchman was left stunned after he lost his way in a very sharp battle with bottom seed Muscovite Daniil Dubov, that had the patriotic home crowd cheering on their young hero.
In victory, a smiling Dubov said that he wanted to win at least one match “to prove that I didn’t get this wildcard because of nothing” – and he’s gone from wildcard to now being the talk of the tournament, winning lots of new fans with his daring bravery at the board, and rewarded with another glamour big match-up.
Up until recently, Dubov – who will turn 23 in April – was regarded as Russia’s ‘forgotten star.’ He was an exceptional young talent who got his grandmaster title at the age of 14 and then had a creditable debut in the 2012 Russian Championship Superfinal, the youngest player ever to have played in this demanding tournament. Many pundits predicted Dubov to be on the cusp of a major breakthrough – but it all went wrong when he suffered a psychologically damaging experience that hit his confidence after he was “slaughtered” by Alexei Shirov in the 2013 “Battle of the Generations” in Moscow.
But Dubov’s form and confidence took a turn for the better recently after the Russian was secretly added to Magnus Carlsen’s backroom team for his title match last year with Fabiano Caruana. Boosted by the experience, he went on to sensationally capture the World Rapid Championship title ahead of Carlsen late last year – and now, after beating Giri, he could well be the dark horse to go on to win the Moscow Grand Prix.
Standing in Dubov’s way will be Hikaru Nakamura, as the five-time reigning US champion easily swept Teimour Radjabov aside in the speed tiebreaks. Also joining Nakamura in the quarterfinals will be Wesley So, who survived an early scare after losing his first game to Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The 2017 US champion hit back to win game two to take the match into extra time, where he went on to win the match.
Aronian was easily beaten by Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Mamedyarov lost to Radoslaw Wojtaszek. The youngest player in the field, China’s teenage star Wei Yi, is also into the last eight, after beating Dmitry Jakovenko. In the all-Russian affair, Peter Svidler beat Nikita Vitugov, and Alexander Grischuk beat Sergey Karjakin – the only conciliation for the 2016 title-challenger being that the loser of this match is rumoured to now be en route to Scotland to join Carlsen, Vishy Anand and Ding Liren for next weekend’s Lindores Abbey Distillery Chess Stars Rapid Tournament.
Round 1, final results:
Giri ½-1½ Dubov*
Radjabov 1½-2½ Nakamura*
Duda 1½-2½ So*
Karjakin ½-1½ Grischuk*
Photo: Daniil Dubov, from widlcard to dark horse | © Niki Riga/WorldChess
*Nepomniachtchi 1½-½ Aronian
*Wei Yi 1½-½ Jakovenko
Vitugov ½-1½ Svidler*
*Wojtaszek 1½-½ Mamedyarov
GM Daniil Dubov – GM Anish Giri
Moscow FIDE Grand Prix, (2)
Semi-Slav Defence, Anti-Meran
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg5 dxc4 5.e4 b5 6.a4 c6 7.Nc3 b4 The popular move here is 7…Bb4 – but it hasn’t been scoring well after 8.e5 h6 9.exf6 hxg5 10.fxg7 Rg8 11.h4! and suddenly White has genuine threats with the h-pawn rapidly pushing up the board. Another try is 7…Qb6 preferred by the engines and has been scoring well. 8.Nb1 Ba6 9.e5!? And this is where Giri may well have realised he had walked into the minefield of some deep home prep from the young Russian, as almost always played here is 9.Qc1. 9…h6 10.Bxf6 gxf6 11.exf6 c5 This looks to be the decisive moment for Giri – he had to have the power of his convictions to go for 11…Qxf6!? 12.Nbd2 Rg8 13.Rc1 Nd7 and take the fight from here. Certainly, Black looks better equipped here to face the challenges of a double-edged position – better this than what now comes. 12.Nbd2 c3 The position is fraught with dangers for Black. If 12…cxd4 13.Nxc4 Nd7 14.Qxd4 Qxf6 15.Qe4 Rc8 16.Nd6+! Bxd6 17.Bxa6 and, long-term, White will safely castle leaving Black in a quandary about what to do with his king, as castling will come to grief with the queen and bishop battery baring down on h7. 13.bxc3 bxc3 14.Ne4 cxd4 15.Bb5+! Bxb5 16.axb5 Qd5 The position is razor-sharp, and admittedly Black’s pawns look strong – but they are very vulnerable to being picked off, and White’s lead in development, and the insecure Black king, is also a crucial factor here. I can’t fault Giri for the move he played – but given how rapidly he goes downhill here, I’m beginning to wonder whether, on reflection, Giri may well have been better going for 16…d3!? The idea is that Black sacrifices the pawns on his own terms – and with it, he does seem to get some necessary trades that eases the complications he faces. And now, after 17.Nxc3 Nd7! 18.Qxd3 Nxf6 It’s hard to see how White avoids the trade of queens, as 19.Qc4 Rc8 20.Qa4 Qd3! Both kings face danger, and certainly, Black can’t be losing this. 17.Qxd4 Qxb5 18.Nxc3 Bb4 19.0-0-0 Well, nobody can accuse Dubov of not being brave! This is a very courageous and bold move that must have come as a big shock for Giri. But by taking this risk, Dubov is rewarded for his bravery. 19…Qa5?! Perhaps still in a state of shock after Dubov’s stunning last move, Giri goes wrong almost immediately. He had to play 19…Qb6 where he stands no worse; perhaps slightly better. 20.Nb5 A nice resource to have at your disposal – not only does the knight come into the attack, but it stops …Qa3 and also (indirectly) …Qa1+. 20…Na6 21.Qd7+ Both kings are in danger, and whoever blinks first could well be doomed. 21…Kf8 22.Kb1 Ba3? And it is Giri that blinks first, gifting Dubov a vital tempo to double his rooks on the d-file. The correct move was 22…Bc5 23.Rd2 Kg8! 24.Rc1 Rb8 25.Rb2 Qa4 and, of course, the cold, unbeating heart of the playing engine assesses this as roughly equal – but we all know that the human heart will be beating wildly, faced with a scenario over the board where anything can happen and all three results still in play. 23.Rd3 Qb4+ 24.Kc2 Qa4+ 25.Kd2 Bb4+ 26.Ke2 Not only has Dubov gained a vital tempo to double his rooks on the d-file, but the walk to the kingside gives the white king better protection. 26…Kg8 27.Ne5 Qc2+ 28.Kf3 Rf8 29.Rhd1 Black’s position is a mess, and he can’t untangle his king and rooks. 29…h5 30.Qd4 Very smooth from Dubov, as the threat of Qh4 prevents …Kh7. 30…Rh7 31.Qf4 Bc5 Now if 31…Kh8 32.Rd8! wins quickly after 32…Qb3+ 33.R1d3 etc. 32.Nd4 Qa2 33.R1d2 The comparison in the development of the pieces on both sides is striking. 33…Qd5+ 34.Ke2 Bb4 35.Ndc6! [see diagram] The simplest win – if 35…Nxd2 36.Qxd2! Qe4+ 37.Kf1, and there’s no way to stop White coming in for the kill with a mating attack. 35…Qc5 36.Ne7+ Kh8 1-0 Giri resigned before Dubov could administer the forced mate with 37.Nxf7+ Rhxf7 38.Qh6+ Rh7 39.Qxf8#