IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO SIGN UP FOR FALL 2019!

John Henderson
By John Henderson

We’re now getting down to the ‘business end’ of the FIDE Moscow Grand Prix at the fabled Central Chessplayers’ House in the Russian capital, as the final four of Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Radoslaw Wojtaszek do battle to see who will go home, and who will go forward to contest the first final of new-styled Grand Prix Series, the inaugural event of the 2019-2020 World Chess Championship cycle.

Up for grabs is candidate spots for the two players who amass the most GP points from their three nominated events in the four-tournament series. The two games between Nepomniachtchi and Wojtaszek have proved to be safety-first, somewhat uneventful draws, as that match now goes to extra time and a speed tiebreaker decider— but after turning on the style to beat reigning US champion Nakamura in game two of their semi-final match today, Grischuk not only becomes the first player to reach the final, he also now takes the overall GP lead.

Local hero Grischuk has become something of a perennial candidates qualifier, and with the win to reach the finals, the popular Muscovite could be set for yet another appearance, as he’s now stolen a march in the GP race with 7-points, ahead of Wojtaszek on 5, and Nepomniachtchi with 4.

After Moscow, the GP will also have similar 16-player knockouts in Riga, Hamburg and Tel Aviv. Competitors nominate three events to play in, and at the end of the series the two who have accumulated the most points – with bonus points for matches being won without the need of going to a tiebreak – will win qualifying spots into the 2020 candidates which will decide Magnus Carlsen’s next title challenger.

And while Carlsen patiently awaits his next challenger, tomorrow the world champion will take on India’s five-time former champion Vishy Anand, China’s world #3 Ding Liren, and his Russian 2016 title challenger Sergey Karjakin in the double-round rapid Lindores Abbey Stars tournament in Scotland.

Scotland is the ‘spiritual’ home of whisky, and the event will be staged at the historic Lindores Abbey distillery in Newburgh, Fife. The games start at 1:30 pm (8:30 am ET; 5:30 am PT) on Saturday and Sunday, with free live commentary coverage with GMs Gennadi Sosonko & Danny King available at chess24.com.

Semi-final scores

Nakamura ½- 1½ Grischuk*
Nepomniachtchi 1-1 Wojtaszek (going to a tiebreak decider)

Photo: Grischuk KO’s Nakamura in style to reach the final | Niki Riga/WorldChess

GM Alexander Grischuk – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Moscow FIDE Grand Prix semi-final, (2)
Catalan Opening
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 b5 Apparently something of a Nakamura speciality in the Open Catalan – but this is a risky move that can see Black being all tied up trying to hold on to the pawn. Good if it works, but a nightmare if it doesn’t. Today was one of those nightmare days. 8.a4 b4 9.Nfd2 c6 10.Nxc4 Qxd4 11.Rd1 Qc5 12.Be3 Qh5 13.Nbd2 It is a typical Catalan fight: Black has a pawn, but he lags in development and faces enormous difficulties trying to unravel his pieces. 13…Ng4 14.Nf3 Nxe3 15.Nxe3 a5 16.Nd4 Ba6 Maybe Nakamura should have tried 16…Ra7!? with the idea being 17.Rac1 Rd7! indirectly defending the c6-pawn, as e2 will be captured. 18.Bf3 Qe5! again indirectly defending the c6-pawn, as b2 is hanging. 19.Nc4 Qc7 and at least Black has a solid position with his pieces less awkwardly placed. 17.Rac1 Rc8 18.Bf3 Qg6 Nakamura’s pieces are all looking awkward – and Grischuk now takes full advantage as the US champion tries in vain to unravel. 19.Be4 Qh5 20.Bf3 Qg6 21.Be4 Qh5 22.Kg2 All the engines tell you that Black still has an edge with his extra pawn – but the human eye tells you a different story, as Grischuk’s pieces have all the play while Nakamura’s are all still looking awkward. 22…Ra7 23.h4 If ever you need a warning sign that something is not quite right with your position, it is when you see ‘Harry the h-pawn’ springing up the board! 23…g6?! A move that comes back to haunt Nakamura. He’s still resident in ‘Awkwardsville’, but perhaps he should have tried 23…Rac7 24.b3 Rd8 and ask White just what he has, as 25.Bf3 Qg6 26.Nxc6 Nxc6 27.Rxd8+ Bxd8 28.Qd1 Be7 29.Rxc6 Rxc6 30.Bxc6 Qf6 just looks equal to me. And faced with that, White may have to try ‘gambling’ with something other than 25.Bf3. Definitely, it looks as if Nakamura has really miss-assessed the position. 24.f4! Grischuk seizes more real estate and clamps down on his control over the dark squares. 24…Qh6 25.Nb3 Kh8?! A ‘nothing’ move that is basically an admission from Nakamura that he has run out of ideas. 26.Bd3 Bb7 The self-inflicted weakness with …g6 and …Kh8 are now proving to be bad decisions from Nakamura. Now, if 26…Bxd3 27.Qxd3 Black can’t develop his knight with 27…Nd7 as 28.Qd4+ picks off the rook hanging on a7. 27.Nc4 c5+ 28.Be4 Ba6 29.Nbxa5 Qf8 Nakamura has returned the pawn to try to fight his way back into the position with some trades – but Grischuk’s active pieces prove too powerful. 30.Bf3 Rd8 31.h5 Bf6 32.Rxd8 Qxd8 33.Rd1 Rd7 34.Rxd7 Nxd7 35.h6! A powerful, ‘game-changer’ move that some commentators and pundits likened to Alpha Zero – but less flattering was Grischuk, who commented after the game: “Here I started to play coffeehouse chess ? just pushing the pawn to h6, like humans do!” 35…Nb6 It is a rather ugly concession, but Nakamura probably had to try 35…Kg8 36.Qe4 Bxc4 37.Nxc4 Nb6 38.b3 and try to make a stand here – the only trouble is that, apart from long-term back-rank mating threats, White should – more or less unhindered – be able to gradually push the a-pawn up the board. 36.Ne5 Bxe5 Forced – but Nakamura still faces a daunting task trying to hold the position. He makes a good try of it, but basically, his position is compromised. 37.Nc6! [see diagram] A nice intermezzo that forces the game down to a winning endgame for Grischuk. 37…Nc4 The alternative is 37…Qc7 38.Nxe5 f6 39.Nd3 forcing 39…Bxd3 (otherwise the c- and b-pawns will fall) 40.exd3 Kg8 41.a5 Nc8 42.a6 and the a-pawn will easily win the game. But rather than this, Nakamura finds his only slim chance to try and stay in the game, as gets the queens traded – that at least stops any back-rank issues – but even here, it doesn’t take much for Grischuk to realise his advantage. 38.Nxd8 Ne3+ 39.Kf2 Nxc2 40.Nxf7+ Kg8 41.Nxe5 Nakamura isn’t just down a pawn, he will also have to contend with the passed a-pawn – and the possibilities of an Nxg6 (or Bxg6) sacrifice to pass the h-pawn. 41…c4 The game is virtually dead, but Nakamura at least fights on to the end by trying to create a scare of his own – but Grischuk easily deals with this. 42.Bg4 Nd4 43.Ke1! Grischuk’s king readies itself to rush over to cut off Nakamura’s queenside pawn. 43…Kf8 Unfortunately for Nakamura, he had to make this move that wastes a tempo, as there’s no salvation with 43…c3 44.bxc3 b3 45.cxd4 b2 46.Bxe6+! Kf8 47.Ba2 and the bishop tracks back in time to stop the pawn. But by taking the time out to play …Kf8, Grischuk gets a free move to bring his king closer to those pawns. 44.Kd1 Ke7 45.e3 Bizarrely from Grischuk, after pushing Harry all the way to h6, he misses the clear-cut clinical win with 45.Nxg6+! forcing 45…Kf6 46.Nf8 c3 47.bxc3 bxc3 48.e3 Nb3 49.Kc2 Nc5 50.Kxc3 Nxa4+ 51.Kd4 Bb5 52.Nxh7+ Kg6 53.Nf8+ Kxh6 54.Nxe6 and Black can resign. 45…Nb3 46.Nc6+ Kf6 47.Nxb4 The game is all over bar the shouting at this point – it’s not just the b-pawn that falls, as now the c-pawn will easily be picked off. 47…Bb7 48.Be2 Na5 49.Kd2 Nb3+ 50.Kc3 Nc5 51.a5 Ne4+ 52.Kxc4 Nxg3 53.Bd3 g5 If 53…Nf5 54.Bxf5 exf5 55.a6 easily wins. 54.fxg5+ 1-0 Nakamura finally throws in the towel, as now 54…Kxg5 55.a6 Ba8 56.Bxh7 Kxh6 57.Bg8 either picks off the e6-pawn or allows Bd5 trading the bishops and the a-pawn queening.

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