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Sixty years ago it was Bobby Fischer complaining with allegations of the Russians colluding to qualify en masse for the Candidates, as the Soviets ruthlessly retained their-then hegemony of the World Championship crown. Now in a reversal of fortunes, it is the turn of the USA to dominate en masse, as they capitalise to move into pole position in the opening Berlin leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in the German capital, by leaving their Russian rivals trailing.

The four-strong US contingent have been on top-form by dominating their main five Russian rivals – Alexander Grischuk, Andrey Esipenko, Vladimir Fedoseev, Daniil Dubov and Grigoriy Oparin – in the first of the three-leg Grand Prix series that will see the top two qualifying through to June’s eight-player Candidates in Madrid, Spain. First to go forward to the weekend’s KO semi-final as pool winners were GP wildcard Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian, the newly-minted recruit to the Stars and Stripes, now resident in the chess mecca of St. Louis following his federation switch, who readily admitted when interviewed: “I’m a new American, I have to prove I can be as good as them, or even better.”

While Nakamura had to resort to a dramatic escape in the final round, by somehow coming back from the dead to salvage a remarkable draw against young Russian Andrey Esipenko, Aronian has been the player who has impressed the most so far, as the former Armenia all but breezed through to the “business end” of the competition with his penultimate round victory over German teenager Vincent Keymer, in a wild and fluctuating game that kept the online fans both amused and bemused.

And with two players already through, Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez, after tying for first in Pool D, had to return for a speed tie-break decider on Friday to see who would be the third US player into the semifinal. And with it, So – who beat Dominguez in their individual game – will regret not making more of his early lead, as he was knocked out by Dominguez in the tiebreak-decider.

The US trio will now be joined in Saturday’s Berlin FIDE Grand Prix semi-finals by Hungary’s Richard Rapport, who beat Poland’s Radoslow Wojaszek in their tiebreak-decider. The semifinal pairing will be: Nakamura-Rapport and Aronian-Dominguez. There’s full commentary coverage of the weekend semi-final action on Chess24.com.

Final Standings:
Pool A: 1. H. Nakamura (USA) 4/6; 2. A. Esipenko (Russia) 3½; 3. A. Grischuk (Russia) 3; 4. E. Bacrot (France) 1½.
Pool B: 1-2. R. Wojaszek (Poland), R. Rapport* (Hungary) 3½/6; 3. V. Fedoseev (Russia) 3; 4. G. Oparin (Russia) 2. (*tiebreak winner).
Pool C: 1. L. Aronian (USA) 4½/6; 2-3. S. Vidit (India) D. Dubov (Russia 3; 4. V. Keymer (Germany) 1½.
Pool D: 1-2. W. So (USA), L. Dominguez* (USA) 4/6; 3. P. Harikrishna (India) 2½; 4. A. Shirov (Spain) 1½. (*tiebreak winner).

GM Vincent Keymer – GM Levon Aronian
Berlin FIDE Grand Prix, (5)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Ragozin Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 The game quickly transposes into the Ragozin variation – named after the leading Soviet player and opening theorists of his day, Vlacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) – a very flexible, solid and a reliable system against the QGD that received a new lease of life with the release in 2016 of the New in Chess publication, The Ragozin Complex, by IM Vladimir Barsky. 5.Qa4+ Nc6 6.e3 0-0 7.Qc2 Qe7 8.Bd2 dxc4 9.Bxc4 e5 10.d5 Qc5 11.Ne4 Nxe4 12.Qxe4 Ne7 13.Nxe5!? The tournament situation dictates that Keymer has to take risks, as he needs to win to try to stay in the competition, so he goes for a walk on the wild side by eschewing the more solid, safe line here with 13.0-0 and a small edge. 13…Bf5 14.Qf4 Bxd2+ 15.Kxd2 Qb4+ 16.Kc1 Qc5 17.g4 Rightly side-stepping the offer of the repetition with 17.Kd2. 17…g5! A stunner that now sees the game taking a big turn for the strangeness that entertained the online-viewing fans. 18.b4! The point is that Keymer really needs to win to keep alive his chances of getting into the semis, reinforced by the fact that after 18.Qxg5+ Bg6 suddenly the momentarily deflection of the queen supporting the Bc4 proves vital, where now 19.Qf4 b5! 20.Nd7 Qxc4+ 21.Qxc4 bxc4 22.Nxf8 Kxf8 23.Rd1 Bd3 24.Kd2! Nxd5 25.b3 and the game is going to peter out to a draw. At least Keymer’s 18.b4! keeps alive the hope of avoiding a draw. 18…Qxb4 19.Qd4 Ng6! 20.Bb3 Keymer pushes the envelope just a tad too far, as he continues to avoid the forcing drawing line of 20.Nxf7 Qa3+ (It’s too dangerous to try 20…Kxf7 21.gxf5 Ne5 22.Be2! Qd6 (After 22…Qxd4 23.exd4 Nd7 24.h4! White has good chances to win with his extra pawn, despite the perilous state of his own pawns.) 23.Rg1 and White is on top.) 21.Kd2 Qb4+ 22.Qc3 (White can’t runaway from the perpetual. After 22.Ke2? Bxg4+! 23.Qxg4 Qb2+ 24.Kd3 Rxf7 and with the …Ne5+ fork and …Rxf2 hanging in the air, White’s position is terminal.) 22…Qxc3+ 23.Kxc3 Rxf7 24.gxf5 Rxf5 25.Rhg1 Kg7 which again amounts to total equality. 20…Qa3+ 21.Kd2 c5!? Safer may well have been the forced ending with 21…Qa5+ 22.Qc3 Qxc3+ 23.Kxc3 Be4 24.Nd7 Bxh1 25.Nxf8 Bf3 26.Nxg6 hxg6 27.Kd4 c6! 28.h3 (Not 28.d6?! Rd8 29.Ke5 Bxg4 and with the extra pawn and the d-pawn successfully blockaded, Black has the better of it.) 28…Kg7 29.e4 f5! and the position is set to be liquidated down to a draw. But with 21….c5!?, Aronian just keeps alive the possibility that Keymer could easily get confused in the complications – well, either the young German or even the new American himself! 22.Qc3 Nxe5 23.gxf5 Rfe8 24.Rhg1! b5?! Just a step into the strangeness too far for Aronian – better was 24…Nf3+! 25.Ke2 Qb4! (It all gets awkward after 25…Nxg1+?! 26.Rxg1 Qa6+ 27.Ke1 Qh6 28.d6 Rad8 29.h4! and with the Black king being prised open, he has to take the bail-out with 29…Rxd6 30.Ba4 Red8 31.Rxg5+ Kf8 32.Qh8+ Ke7 33.Qe5+ Kf8 34.Qh8+ Ke7 35.Qe5+ and a draw.) 26.Qxb4 Nxg1+ 27.Rxg1 cxb4 28.h4 a5 29.hxg5 Rad8 30.Kf3 b5 31.Rd1 and with e4 coming, it is still hard to fathom out just who is winning here. Also possible is 24…h6 but after 25.Rg3 the …Nf3+ fork is covered and White has excellent chances to blow the kingside wide-open with f3 and h4. 25.Rxg5+ Kh8 26.Bd1! Suddenly Keymer has a glimmer of hope. 26…Qa6 The best try, considering that 26…Qxc3+ 27.Kxc3 b4+ 28.Kb3 Rad8 29.e4 Black is going to face endgame difficulties with Be2 and f4 on the horizon. 27.Be2 Just stopping any awkwardness with …b4. 27…Rad8 28.e4 Now Aronian is the one who has to tread carefully. 28…Qa4 There was an element of risk involved with 28…Qh6 where 29.f4! f6 30.Rf1 (The problem is that 30.Rag1 looks convincing for White with the all-out attack, but it runs into the reality of 30…Nf7! 31.Rg6 Qxf4+ 32.Kd1 Ne5! and the knight on e5 is like an octopus holding everything together.) 30…b4! 31.Qxc5 (It looks tempting to keep the queen on the a1-h8 diagonal with 31.Qa1? but it runs into 31…Nc4+! 32.Bxc4 Rxe4 and suddenly White is busted with his king caught in the cross-fire in the middle of the board.) 31…fxg5 32.fxe5 Rxe5 33.Qd4 g4+ 34.Kc2 Qxh2 and your guess is as good as mine as to what’s happening here – another of those “any three results is possible” scenarios! 29.Rh5?? [see diagram] What a tragedy for Keymer in what’s turned out to be veritable rollercoaster ride of a game! After the correct continuation of 29.Ke3! f6 30.Rgg1 and to stay alive, Black is now forced into the desperado 30…Rxd5! 31.exd5 Ng4+ the whole point of the desperado rook sac – the double-check saves Black. 32.Kd2 Qf4+ 33.Kd1 Qxf2 34.Re1 Ne3+ 35.Kc1 Nxd5 just in time to defend f6! 36.Qd2 c4! 37.Qxd5 the only way to avoid the awkward …c3. 37…Qxe1+ 38.Bd1 Qc3+ 39.Kb1 Qb4+ 40.Kc2 Qa4+ 41.Kc1 Qa3+ and once again, a saving perpetual. 29…Qxe4 After the horrific howler, Keymer’s king is sadly caught in the barbed wire of no-man’s land. 30.Rg1 Rxd5+ 31.Kc1 Qf4+ 32.Kb1 Rd4 33.Bxb5 Dejected, Keymer opts now to hang for the sheep as the lamb as no better was 33.Ka1 Qxf2 34.Qg3 Qxg3 35.hxg3 c4 36.Rgh1 Kg7! 37.Rxh7+ Kf6 38.Rf1 Rd2 and Black is easily winning. 33…Rb4+ 34.Ka1 Rxb5 35.Re1 f6 0-1

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