The field for the opening new-styled FIDE Grand Prix was eventually whittled down from 16 to the final two – and with it, for a very brief moment, it almost conjured up images of a bygone era of Soviet hegemony in the game, with the vision of two leading Russians fighting it out in a highly-entertaining, no-holds-barred tussle in a World Championship cycle qualifier staged under the backdrop of Moscow’s fabled Central Chess House on Gogolevskiy Boulevard.
But alas, it wasn’t to be. The first GP final between Muscovites Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Grischuk turned out to be something of a tepid affair, with much at stake and too many over-cautious draws, as the mini-match inevitably went to a speed tiebreak – and the match only decided by an unlikely mutual mis-assessment of a key position by both players in a game that looked set to end in a repetition.
In the end, after two relatively uneventful safety-first classical draws, and an equally uneventful rapid draw, Nepomniachtchi – after allowing the position to be repeated twice – did indeed find the key move that allowed him to press home his big advantage, as he went on to beat Grischuk by a score of 2.5-1.5 to take the $24,000 first prize. He now has the early lead in the new-styled four-event GP series as the circus now moves to Riga, and then on to Hamburg, before concluding in Tel Aviv.
Reflecting on the tense, safety-first format with just two classical games followed by faster time controls in the tiebreak, Nepomniachtchi commented in his winner’s press conference that “It makes some harm to the quality of play. Sometimes you want to take a less risky decision, not take an extra risk and play safely and somehow you are missing the best continuations which are connected with some serious play. Especially the tiebreak, it’s very tough. But overall I am very happy with my result.”
Each player plays in three of the four events, and one remaining Top Ten star, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, has opted to play in the remaining three legs. The top leaders after the first GP event are: 1. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 9-points; 2. Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 7; 3. Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland) 5; 4. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3.
And while Carlsen awaits for just who will emerge to become his next title challenger, the Norwegian isn’t exactly resting on his laurels. Fresh from his – somewhat shaky – success at last week’s Lindores Abbey Stars in Scotland, the world champion is now homeward bound for another major tournament, and looking to extend his winning streak to seven successive tournaments.
Carlsen heads the field in the restyled 7th Altibox Norway Chess elite event in Stavanger that kicks off on Monday. The star-studded field also includes Fabiano Caruana, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Viswanathan Anand, Alexander Grischuk, Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Yangyi Yu.
Photo: Nepo eventually ‘found’ the winning move to capture the FIDE Moscow Grand Prix | © FIDE Moscow Grand Prix
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Alexander Grischuk
Moscow FIDE Grand Prix Final, (4)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 The Giuoco Piano (or the Italian Game) is one of the oldest recorded openings, first recorded in the annals in the 16th century. And like its name – Giuoco Piano means ‘quiet game’ in Italian – it is initially very quiet, with a slow build-up as both sides patiently position their pieces for the middlegame battle. 3…Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 d6 6.a4 a6 7.h3 Also very playable is 7.0-0 which will either lead to what happens in the game, or White can try a different avenue with 7…Ba7 8.Re1 h6 9.Nbd2 g5!? 10.b4 Nh5 11.Nb3 Qf6 12.Be3 Bxe3 13.fxe3 g4 14.Nfd2 which ended in a draw after 27 moves in Raggers,M-Grischuk,A, World Rapid Championship 2018. 7…Ba7 In another online blitz encounter between these two Muscovites, at the 2018 Chess.com INT, Grischuk tried 7…h6 8.0-0 0-0 9.Re1 a5 10.Nbd2 Be6 11.Qb3 Qd7 12.Bxe6 fxe6 13.Nf1 Nh5 14.Be3 Bxe3 15.Rxe3 b6 16.g3 Kh8 17.N1h2 where White retained a niggling little edge, though Grischuk easy held the draw in 43 moves. Rather than repeat that line, Grischuk opts for something different – and he soon regrets it! 8.0-0 h6 9.Re1 0-0 It wasn’t too late for Grischuk to steer the game back into the aforementioned game with 9…g5. 10.Nbd2 Re8 11.b4 Be6 12.Bxe6 Rxe6 13.Qc2 We’re still in known territory – but at the Tata Steel Masters earlier this year, Radjabov-Kramnik continued 13.Bb2 Ne7 14.c4 Ng6 15.Nf1 b5!? 16.axb5 axb5 17.Ng3 bxc4 18.dxc4 Re8 19.Qc2 Qb8 and that game also ended in a draw in 43 moves. 13…Qd7 14.Nc4N A novelty from Nepo – and it almost immediately lulls Grischuk into a mistake. Previously here, we’d seen Nf1-g3 to head for the f5 square – but Nepo has a slightly different plan in mind, eying up the f5 square from a different perspective. 14…d5 15.exd5 Qxd5 16.Ne3 Qd7?! It’s always a tough call at any level of the game to trade bishop for knight, but here, it seems the best move. After 16…Bxe3! 17.Bxe3 Rd8 18.d4 exd4 19.Nxd4 Nxd4 20.Bxd4 Rde8 the position is basically equal. But with 16…Qd7?!, Grischuk begins to lose his grip of the position, and ultimately this is what leads to his rapid collapse. 17.Nc4?! White has much better – as we’ll soon discover – as Grischuk unwisely repeats moves, perhaps thinking the early draw was in the offing. And perhaps Nepo was also thinking the game was heading for a draw…until he suddenly had a brainwave that dramatically changes the assessment of the position. 17…Qd5 18.Ne3 Qd7?! Again, as noted above, Black would have achieved near equality with 18…Bxe3! – and Grischuk soon regrets his decision not to play this! 19.b5! Third time unlucky for Grischuk, as Nepo rejects the threefold repetition, suddenly discovering he has a very strong move! 19…Na5 It’s never wise to put the knight on the rim – but here, this looks to be Grischuk’s best option. After 19…Ne7 20.bxa6 bxa6 21.Nc4! The e5-pawn is lost, and Black also now has weak pawns on a6 and c7. It was imperative therefore for Grischuk to prevent Nc4, hence the ugly …Na5. 20.c4 Bd4 21.Rb1 axb5 22.axb5 Ree8 23.c5!? Suddenly Grischuk finds himself in all sorts of difficulties. 23…Nd5 Trading bishop for knight now just compounds Black’s problems. After 23…Bxe3 24.Bxe3 Qd5 25.Rb4 White basically has full control. 24.Nxd5 Qxd5 25.Nxd4 exd4? The last chance to stay in the game was with 25…Qxd4 26.Re4 Qd5 27.Be3 and at least Black still has a fighting chance to save the game. 26.Rxe8+ Rxe8 27.Bf4! The problem is, just what is Grischuk going to do about his grim knight on the rim? 27…Re7 28.Qa4 b6 29.c6! [see diagram] This all but seals Grischuk’s fate. Not only is the Black knight marooned on a5, but the vulnerable c7-pawn also has to be protected. 29…Kh7 30.Rb4 Ah, and there’s also the little matter of the d-pawn to worry about – it never rains but it pours for Grischuk! 30…Qe6 31.Rxd4 f5 32.Be3 g5 This is desperado stuff, but Grischuk’s only hope now is to try and confuse Nepo by throwing in some random chaos. 33.Qb4 Rg7 34.Rd8 Nb3 35.Bd4 The clinical kill was 35.Qc4! Qf6 36.Rd7 Qa1+ 37.Kh2 Qe5+ 38.g3 Na5 39.Qd4! Qxd4 40.Bxd4 Rxd7 41.cxd7 Nb7 42.Be5 and Black can resign. 35…Re7? Things are dire for Grischuk, but he had to at least try 35…Nxd4 36.Qxd4 Kg6 37.Qe3 Qxe3 38.fxe3 Kf6 and pray for a miracle. 36.Qxe7+! 1-0 Grischuk resigns, not wishing to sit through the pain of 36…Qxe7 37.Rd7 Nxd4 38.Rxe7+ Kg6 39.Rxc7 Nxb5 40.Rb7 where White will soon be a whole rook ahead in an elementary ending.