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John Henderson
By John Henderson

Until recently, the only claim to fame for the Polish No.1, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, was that he served as the leading second to World Champion, Viswanathan Anand. But after the Indian five-time champion lost his title to Magnus Carlsen in 2013, and then failed in his quest to regain it again in 2014, Wojtaszek has been free to develop his own chess career – and now the Pole could be set for one of the biggest results of his career.

Wojtaszek, 32, became the first player to qualify for the semifinals of the FIDE Moscow Grand Prix – the inaugural event of the 2019-2020 World Chess Championship cycle – after beating the eight-time Russian champion, Peter Svidler; and in the process, becoming the only player whose match didn’t go to the extra-time of a speed tiebreak playoff – a crucial factor that allows the Pole to vault into the nominal early lead in the new-styled Grand Prix Series.

Players take part in three of the four Grand Prix tournaments, and the two players who amass the most GP points from their three nominated tournaments will then go forward to the Candidates. Players can gain an extra GP point if their matches are decided without the need of a tiebreak-decider – and with Wojtaszek’s two matches, against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Svidler being won in ‘regular time’, the Pole is the early leader in the GP race with 5-points.

Wojtaszek will now play Ian Nepomniachtchi in the semi-finals, after the Russian knocked out Wei Yi, the Chinese teenage hope, after a speed tiebreak-decider. Also through to the semifinals is Hikaru Nakamura, as the five-time reigning US champion easily swept aside the spirited challenge of the young Russian Daniil Dubov in the tiebreak decider. Not so lucky though was Wesley So, as the 2017 US champion lost in a close match with local Muscovite Alexander Grischuk.

The semi-final gets underway on Thursday at the fabled Central Chessplayers’ House in Moscow, with the pairings seeing Nakamura vs Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi vs Wojtaszek. Live coverage is available at the official FIDE Moscow Grand Prix site, and also at all the usual chess portals.

Quarterfinal results:
*Nakamura 2½-1½ Dubov
*Grischuk 2½-1½ So
Wei Yi 1½-2½ *Nepomniachtchi
Svidler ½-1½ *Wojtaszek

Photo: Radoslaw Wojtaszek vaults into the early GP lead | © FIDE Moscow Grand Prix

GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek – GM Peter Svidler
Moscow FIDE Grand Prix quarterfinal, (2)
Anti-Grünfeld/Benoni Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 A very topical way to meet the Grunfeld Defence – and as the NIC book-title says, this is ‘The Ultimate Anti-Grünfeld‘ – and 3.f3!? is by no means new, though it is newly popular. It was first played in praxis by Flohr and Nimzowitsch back in 1929 but then championed by World Champion Alexander Alekhine. But in the last decade or so, it has been arguably the best move to play against the Grünfeld, forcing many of those die-hards to play instead into a King’s Indian Sämisch or a Benoni, such as Grünfeld guru Svidler here. 3…e6 4.e4 c5 5.d5 d6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Nge2 0-0 8.Ng3 exd5 9.cxd5 a6 10.a4 h5 11.Bg5 Qe8 12.Bd3 Nh7 In the Benoni, the Black knights can take up strange outposts – but there is a point to this play. 13.Bf4 Qe7 14.Nge2 Nd7 15.0-0 Ne5 16.Bc2 Rb8 17.a5 b5 A typical Benoni plan, with the opening of the b-file giving Black counterplay with his rook. 18.axb6 Rxb6 19.Bc1 h4 20.f4 Ng4 21.h3 Ngf6 22.Ra2 Bd7 23.Qe1 Nh5 The knights may well be on the rim – but here, in the Benoni, they are not so dim! 24.Be3 Rfb8 Svidler has a specific plan in mind to try and ‘mix things’ – but that said, after 24…f5!? we have an equally dynamic position with chances for both sides. And now if 25.Bf2 g5!? just keeps on adding to the dynamics. 25.b3 Rxb3!?! Perhaps the engines believe this is bad for Black – but in practical terms, during the heat of battle, where nerves play a vital part in the game, this has to go down as a very brave move that’s a typical sort of exchange sacrifice seen in the Benoni. That said, as noted above, 24…f5!? was the better part of valour. 26.Bxb3 Rxb3 27.Bd2 Bd4+? By Svidler’s own admission, this is a “horrible” move and ultimately the decisive mistake. It wasn’t what he originally planned at first, but once he’d played it, he almost immediately regretted it, “as the bishop is always hanging there.” Svidler didn’t declare what exactly he was planning, but, amazingly, the simple retreat with 27…Bc8 seems to hold his position together, as it not so easy to find a breakthrough plan for White that doesn’t come with an element of risk. 28.Kh2 N7f6 29.Rf3! It’s more than likely that, in his sudden change of mind to play 27…Bd4+, Svidler simply missed this wonderful resource from Wojtaszek that not only stops …Ng3, but also indirectly defends the e-pawn while readying his pieces to spring an attack. 29…Rb4 Of course, Svidler could have played 29…Rb6 to defend the a6-pawn – but that’s just an admission that he’s lost. Rather than that, Svidler attempts to generate some sort of counterplay. But it is doomed to failure, as Wojtaszek very efficiently clears up now. 30.Rxa6 Rc4 There’s not even a soupçon of counterplay for Svidler here. If 30…Bxc3 31.Nxc3 Nxe4 32.Ra7 Nhg3 33.Nxe4 Rxe4 34.Qa1! Kh7 35.Rb3 White has nothing to fear with his king, while Black has much to fear for the safety of his king with Rbb7 (or Rb8) looming large. 31.Ra7 Qd8 32.Qa1 Nxe4 A time scramble mishap is all that Svidler has now – but Wojtaszek has everything in hand. 33.Ra8 Bc8 34.Qa6! [see diagram] Save for a major time scramble mishap, the game is effectively over now, as Svidler is doomed to losing more material. 34…Nxd2 Similarly 34…Bxa6 35.Rxd8+ Kg7 36.Nxe4 drops a piece – so Svidler decides he’s going to hang for a sheep rather than the lamb. 35.Rxc8 Nxf3+ 36.gxf3 Qxc8 37.Qxc8+ Kg7 38.Nxd4 Rxd4 39.Qd8 Rd2+ 40.Kg1 Nxf4 41.Qxd6 Nxh3+ 42.Kf1 1-0 With the time control safely made, and Wojtaszek emerging with a big material advantage, Svidler dutifully resigns.

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