He’s successfully fended off World Championship challenges now from Vishy Anand, Sergey Karjakin, and the latest being Fabiano Caruana last year in London – but the race to become Magnus Carlsen next title-challenger officially started today, with the first leg of a new-style, revamped 2019 FIDE Grand Prix series of tournaments – with 16 players facing off in the first knockout event – getting underway in the Botvinnik Central Chess Club in Moscow, Russia.
Twenty-two players in total will participate in three of the four Grand Prix tournaments – with 16 taking part in Moscow – and the two players with the most Grand Prix points at the end of the series will go forward to qualify for the Candidates Tournament in 2020. According to new FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich: “By changing the format to knock-out and making the Series more dramatic, we believe that we have made the Grand Prix Series a treat for both players and spectators alike.”
Three other cities will take part in the series: 2nd leg: July 11th – 25th Jurmala/Riga, Latvia; 3rd leg: November 4th – 18th – Hamburg, Germany; 4th leg: December 10th – 24th – Tel-Aviv, Israel. There will be four rounds in each Grand Prix tournament. Each round consists of two games with classical time control, and series of tie-breaks (rapid, blitz, and sudden death) in case of a tie.
The sixteen playing in Moscow (in rating order, when selected) is: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Wesley So (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Peter Svidler (Russia), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland), Wei Yi (China), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Hungary), Nikita Vitiugov (Russia), Daniil Dubov (Russia).
The opening round in Moscow contained a few shock-results. Perennial Candidate favourite, Levon Aronian, lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi; Shakhriyar Mamedyarov lost to Radoslaw Wojtaszek; and the biggest surprise of all was US hope Wesley So having a nightmare loss to the young Hungarian Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The three losers in game 1 now need to win game 2, otherwise, they will be eliminated.
Giri ½-½ Dubov
Radjabov ½-½ Nakamura
Duda 1-0 So
Karjakin ½-½ Grischuk
Photo: The Duda abides – Jan-Krzysztof Duda! | © FIDE Grand Prix
Nepomniachtchi 1-0 Aronian
Wei Yi ½-½ Jakovenko
Vitugov ½-½ Svidler
Wojtaszek 1-0 Mamedyarov
GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Wesley So
Moscow FIDE Grand Prix, (1)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 The name Giuoco Piano means ‘quiet game’ in Italian – and chess-wise, it is also one of the oldest recorded openings, first recorded in the annals in the 16th century. And like its name, it is initially very quiet, with a slow build-up as both sides patiently position their pieces for the middlegame battle 3…Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.0-0 d5 The Marshall Attack-like plan offers Black active play. 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.a4 At the Shenzhen Masters earlier this month, we witnessed 8.Re1 Bg4 9.Nbd2 Nb6 10.h3 Bh5 11.Bb3 Qxd3 12.Nxe5 in an entertaining struggle between runaway leaders Anish Giri and Pentala Harikrishna, that ended in a crucial win for the Dutchman, who went on to win and finally claim his first super-tournament victory. And bearing that recent game in mind, I wonder if, by throwing in 8.a4 first, So might have got his opening lines mixed up? Just a thought, as he falls into a demoralising position very quickly now. 8…a6 9.Re1 Bg4 10.Nbd2 Kh8?! Even at this level of chess, occasional a top grandmaster can make a hash of their opening preparation. I’m presuming here that So got his lines mixed up, and strayed into a wrong position. The right move was 10…Nb6 (similar to what Harikrishna played in the above-mentioned game) or even 10…Ba7 – but now, with this mishap, So finds himself in dire straits – and not in a good way either, with Mark Knopfler playing lead guitar! 11.h3 Bh5 12.Ne4 Ba7 13.Ng3 Bg6 14.Nxe5 Nxe5 15.Rxe5 Nb6 16.Qf3 c6 Black is in a bind, dropping a pawn, and no better was 16…Nxc4 17.dxc4 Qd3 18.Qxd3 Bxd3 19.c5 Rae8 20.Bf4 Rxe5 21.Bxe5 Bxc5 22.a5! as the ending is tough for Black, as 22…c6 is answered with 23.Rd1! Bg6 24.b4 Be7 25.Rd7 with a big advantage, as b7 soon falls. 17.Bf4 Bb8 It doesn’t matter whether Black captures on c4 now or the next move – the lasting damage will be that White’s active pieces will dominate the middle of the board. 18.Ree1 Nxc4 19.dxc4 Qh4!? This just looks and feels wrong. I would hazard a guess that the best practical chance for So to try to save this game was with 19…Qf6!? 20.Bxb8 Qxf3 21.gxf3 Raxb8 22.a5 c5 23.Ne4 Bxe4 24.fxe4 b5!? 25.axb6 Rxb6 26.Re2 Rfb8 27.Ra2 g5 don’t get me wrong, this is still going to be a tough defence for Black, but at least with it reduced down to a double rook ending, there’s the hope of it going further down to a rook ending, and there’s always hope of saving the game in a rook and pawn ending! As it is, allowing the pieces to stay on the board only helps the Duda to abide! 20.Ne2 Ba7 21.Bd6 Duda’s grip of the position is tightening, as he threatens now to lock So’s dark-squared bishop out of the game with c5. 21…Rfe8 22.Nf4 Bc2 23.c5 a5 24.Re2! [see diagram] A very accurate move that shows Black’s obvious despair here, as trading rooks on the e-file is bad. 24…Bb3 As noted previously, 24…Rxe2 25.Qxe2 Bf5 26.Re1! Bd7 (Worse was 26…h6? as 27.Qc4! and Black is on the verge of resignation, as either f7 falls or the queen is lost to an Ng6+ discovered attack.) 27.Qe7! Qxe7 28.Rxe7 was an ending that doesn’t even bear thinking about for Black. 25.Ra3 1-0 Some may think that So’s resignation was premature (and it probably was a tad early), but Black’s position after 25…Be6 26.Nxe6 fxe6 27.Rb3 Bxc5 28.Bxc5 Qc4 29.Rxb7 Qxc5 is doomed to an agonisingly painful endgame to endure, with no hope of saving the game – so So opts to end the hurt and be fresher now for the crucial must-win game 2 scenario.