Time To Say Berlin - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The road to a crack at a title challenge against the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, directly runs through Berlin with a series of three FIDE Grand Prix tournaments taking place in February-April, two in the German capital and one in Belgrade, that will ultimately decided the final two spots in this coming summer’s attraction of the eight-player Candidates in Madrid, Spain.

Already six players have qualified so far, including Alireza Firouzja (France) and Fabiano Caruana (US) from the FIDE Grand Swiss, Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) and Sergey Karjakin (Russia) from the FIDE World Cup, Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) as loser of the 2021 title match, plus wildcard nominee Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan).

Billed by the World Chess organisers as “Time to say Berlin”, the opening event of the Berlin FIDE Grand Prix got off to a auspicious Covid start last week with the shock news that the China’s world No 3, Ding Liren, had to withdraw due to visa issues coupled with strict pandemic guidelines coming into force with the Beijing Winter Olympics getting underway.

Several of the top Chinese players have missed out in big events recently due to the ongoing lockdown/visa restriction problems, with notable absences in the Tata Steel Masters, the World Rapid & Blitz Championships, plus the World Cup. It’s sad to see a force such as Ding miss out on a potential title shot through no fault of his own, but China’s loss is the US’s gain, as it only strengthened their qualifying chances in the Fide Grand Prix.

Leading the charge in Berlin is Wesley So, Levon Aronian (playing for the first time under the Stars and Stripes) and Hikaru Nakamura, with the US trio dominating their respective pool double round-robin sections, and all now with excellent chances of qualifying through to the “business end” of the four-player knockout stage as group winners – and all equally also turning in big statement wins en route to jumping into the lead.

None more so than Nakamura, whose sparkling tactic-laced victory over Russia’s Andrey Esipenko proved to be the US speed maven/Twitch chess influencers’ first classical win since back in pre-Covid times, with his last being on October 2019 in Round 9 of the Fide Grand Swiss!

Standings:
Pool A: 1. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2½/4; 2-3. Andrey Esipenko (Russia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 2; 4. Etienne Bacrot (France) 1½.
Pool B: 1. Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland) 2½/4; 2. Richard Rapport (Hungary) 2; 3. Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia) 1½; 4. Grigoriy Oparin (Russia) 1.
Pool C: 1. Levon Aronian (USA) 3/4; 2-3. Vidit Gujrathi (India), Daniil Dubov (Russia) 2; 4. Vincent Keymer (Germany) 1.
Pool D: 1. Wesley So (USA) 3/4; 2-3. Leinier Dominguez (USA), Pentala Harikrishna (India) 2; 4. Alexei Shirov (Spain) 1.

GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Andrey Esipenko
Berlin FIDE Grand Prix , Pool A, (2)
English Opening, Bremen
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 Carl Carls‘ (1888-1958) system against the English Opening, the Bremen – named after the German master’s hometown of Bremen – is just a Reversed Sicilian Dragon, but the crucial difference is that, with the colours reversed, White has the extra move, so there’s no need to fear the sharpest lines in the Yugoslav Attack. 6.Bg2 Bc5 7.0-0 0-0 8.Qc2 Nf6 9.a3 Nd4 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.b4 Bb6 12.Na4 Re8 13.Nxb6 axb6 14.e3 d3 15.Qc3 Ne4 16.Qc4 Bf5 17.Bb2! Taking full advantage of the fact that the d2-pawn is taboo due to Qc3 threatening both mate on g7 and the …Nd2. 17…Qd7 18.Bxe4 Bxe4 Marginally better was the other recapture 18…Rxe4 19.Qc3 f6 as at least here Black’s bishop doesn’t get locked out of the game on c6. 19.f3 Bc6 20.Rac1 Re7 21.Qf4 f6 22.Rc4! There isn’t much in the game – and indeed, with careful play, it is just equal – but Nakamura keeps on chipping away at Black’s slightly weakened pawn structure, and sure enough, he manages to bamboozle Esipenko. 22…Rd8 I can’t see how the game ends in anything other than a draw after the more accurate 22…Ba4! 23.Qh4 Bb3 24.Rd4 Qf5 25.Rc1 Bc2 etc. 23.Rfc1! While the x-ray attack on c7 complicates life for Esipenko, the Russian fails to spot the elephant trap Nakamura has set. 23…Qe6? The last try to hold has the “ugly” concession 23…b5 24.Rd4 Qe8 and despite being a little awkward for Black, I can’t see how White can make a breakthrough. 24.b5! Throughout his career, both otb and online, Nakamura has been blessed with a quick eye for the tactics. 24…Bxb5 25.Re4! As we’ll soon see, much stronger than the automatic 25.Rxc7 Bc6 26.Rxe7 Qxe7 that Esipenko was probably expecting. 25…Qf7 26.Rxe7 Qxe7 27.Rxc7 Rd7? Esipenko hasn’t sensed the danger yet, otherwise he would have tried 27…Qd6 28.Qxd6 Rxd6 29.Rxb7 Rc6 with reasonable holding chances. 28.Rc8+ Rd8 29.Bxf6!! [see diagram] Boom! And just like that, with a clever tactic, Nakamura all but smoothly transitions now to a winning endgame a pawn to the better – and one where his opponent’s remaining pawns are also badly crippled. 29…gxf6 30.Qg4+ Kf8 The only move, with the (full) point to Nakamura’s tactic being that 30…Kh8? 31.Qb4! Qd7 32.Rxd8+ Qxd8 33.Qxb5 and more Black pawns will fall. 31.Rxd8+ Qxd8 32.Qb4+ Qe7 33.Qxb5 Qxa3 Even here, although Esipenko has some spurious saving chances should White go astray, with careful play Nakamura should easily clean up, as he now demonstrates. 34.Kf2! The most crucial thing to be careful of, is not allowing Black to play …Qc1+ and …Qd1 – so Nakamura just deftly sidesteps the possible life-saving check, and due to the d3-pawn being constantly under attack, Black is doomed. 34…Qc5 As 34…Qd6 35.Qf5! wins either the h7 or the b7 pawn, Esipenko desperately tries to make “something” – anything – happen with his passed b-pawn. 35.Qxd3 b5 36.Qc3 Qe7 37.Ke2 Kg7 38.Qd4 Qf7 39.Qg4+ Kh8 40.Qb4! Cruelly dooming Esipenko to a horribly passive defence, as …Qd5 (or …Qd7) there’s the little matter of Qf8 mate! 40…Qe8 41.Qd6 Nakamura’s queen is turning into quite the dominatrix! 41…Qf7 42.Qc5 Qe8 43.g4! With Black all tied up – and not in a good way! – Nakamura piles-on the agony by simply advancing his kingside pawns. 43…Kg7 44.h4 Qd7 45.h5 Kg8 Alternatively, if 45…Kh6 46.d4! followed by Kd3 and e4 and Black will be pushed off the board. 46.h6 1-0

 

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