A quick recap of the rules. This is a Grand Prix event, a KO tournament with 16 players at the start. At each round of the tournament players compete a best-of-2 game KO match under classical time controls (90 minutes for the 1st 40 moves, then an additional 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1).
If the match is tied 1-1 then you go into tie-breaks: 2 games at a time limit of 25 minutes + 10 second increment. If still tied then an additional 2 games at 10 minutes + 10 second increment. If still there is no decision then 2 more games at a time limit of 5 minutes + 3 second per move increment. Finally, if all else fails then a single Armageddon chess game: white receives 5 minutes while Black only receives 4 minutes. There is a 2 second per move increment starting move 61. Black wins the match in case of a draw.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2780 vs Veselin Topalov BUL 2737, 3-1
Dmitry Andreikin RUS 2724 vs Radoslaw Wojtaszek POL 2725, 2.5-1.5
Wesley So USA 2760 vs Yu Yangyi CHN 2738, 1.5-0.5
Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2767 vs Boris Gelfand ISR 2684, 3-1
Wei Yi CHN 2725 vs Anish Giri NED 2769, 2.5-1.5
Sergey Karjakin RUS 2754 vs Penteala Harikrishna IND 2724, 4.5-4.5*
David Navara CZE 2707 vs Wang Hao CHN 2756, 4.5-3.5
Dmitrij Jakovenko RUS 2698 vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2772, 3.5-2.5
*Karjakin was Black in the final Armageddon game, so he was the one who advanced to the next round
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2780 vs Dmitry Andreikin RUS 2724, 2.5-1.5
Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2767 vs Wesley So USA 2760, 2.5-1.5
Wei Yi CHN 2725 vs Sergey Karjakin RUS 2754, 3.5-2.5
David Navara CZE 2707 vs Dmitrij Jakovenko RUS 2698, 1.5-0.5
Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2767 vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2780, 1.5-0.5
Wei Yi CHN 2725 vs David Navara CZE 2707, 2.5-1.5
Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2767 vs Wei Yi CHN 2725, 1.5-0.5
Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Wei Yi 1.5-0.5 in the final match and won the Jerusalem Grand Prix, at the same time assuring himself of a spot in the Yekaterinburg Candidates tournament scheduled for March 2020.
The former European champion looked a bit shaky in the first round. He defeated Boris Gelfand 3-1 but the score doesn’t tell the real tale. Actually it was Gelfand who was playing to win in 3 out of their 4 games. Nepomniachtchi proved to be a resourceful defender though and kept slipping out of his opponent’s clutches and forcefully counter-attacking.
In round 2, taking into consideration current form, I thought Wesley So would take Nepomniachtchi’s measure but the Fil-Am fell for some high-level opening preparation and found himself eliminated after 4 games.
The semifinal match between Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the most awaited match in the event. Both players wanted to qualify for the Candidates tournament and they could only accomplish this by knocking the other out.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has the narrowest opening repertoire among the elite players. With Black he will play the Najdorf Sicilian against 1.e4 and the Gruenfeld against 1.d4. This is both a strength and a weakness. A strength because he has studied these openings very deeply and even if you surprise him with a rare line he has a dynamic feel for the position and can orient himself even in unfamiliar waters. A weakness because there is no element of surprise in what he will do and a cunning opponent gets to choose the battlefield where the game will be fought.
And the latter was what happened. In the very first game of their match Nepomniachtchi played a noncommittal line which enticed MVL to overthink the position, seeing tactics and involved variations which took a lot of time and energy, only to have Nepom adopt a simple method of play which rendered all those calculations useless.
The clash of pieces duly came up around the 20th move but while Nepomniachtchi was fresh the French GM had already exhausted himself with all the previous calculations, which caused him to miss an important tactical point.
Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2767) — Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime (2780) [D97]
Jerusalem FIDE Grand Prix
Jerusalem ISR (3.1), 19.12.2019
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0–0 7.e4
Black’s 5 main lines here are, in order of frequency, 7…a6, 7…Na6, 7…Bg4, 7…Nc6 and 7…c6. Bringing the knight to c6 is some sort of Vachier-Lagrave trademark. He plays it a lot and scores pretty well with it.
The famous Botvinnik versus Fischer game from “My 60 Memorable Games” continued 7…Bg4 8.Be3 Nfd7 (Smyslov’s move) 9.Be2 Nc6 10.Rd1 Nb6 (Fischer comments that 10…Bxf3 followed by …e7–e5 also gives Black active play) 11.Qc5 Qd6! 12.h3 (12.Qxd6 cxd6!=) 12…Bxf3 13.gxf3 (13.Bxf3? Qxc5 14.dxc5 Nc4 Black is doing well) 13…Rfd8 14.d5 Ne5 15.Nb5 (15.f4 Nec4 16.Bxc4 Qxc5 17.Bxc5 Nxc4 18.e5 Nxb2 19.Rd4 f6! and White’s central position breaks up (Botvinnik)) 15…Qf6! 16.f4 Ned7 17.e5 Qxf4! 18.Bxf4 Nxc5 19.Nxc7 Rac8 20.d6 exd6 21.exd6 (21.Rxd6? Ncd7) 21…Bxb2 Black has won a pawn but there is still a lot of chess ahead. Botvinnik,M-Fischer,R Varna Olympiad 1962 1/2 68.
Nepom later explained why he played this move: “8.Be3 is surely not the best move, but it’s not played too often these days, and I think it could be an interesting idea, especially if the opponent faces it for the first time. Basically the idea is to prevent 8…e5 9.d5 Nd4, so now we have a better edition. So normally you play 8.Be2 and then ok, it’s a draw. Maxime played 1000 games already in this line and he never loses, he only beats someone with the initiative, and also this line became very popular because of Maxime, basically, so that’s why I decided it’s likely he’ll play 7…Nc6 and OK, I came up with this Be3 move. Of course it’s nothing serious, but it worked out pretty well.”
By the way, it is not true that MVL has never lost with this line. Magnus Carlsen beat him last August with 8.h3 Nd7 9.Be3 Nb6 10.Qc5 a5 11.Rc1 Nd7 12.Qa3 e5 13.d5 Nd4 14.Nb5 c5 15.dxc6 Nxc6 16.Be2 Nf6 17.Rd1 Bd7 18.Bc5 Black is in trouble as 18…Re8 is met by Nd6. Carlsen, M. (2882)-Vachier Lagrave, M. (2778) Saint Louis 2019. 1–0 34. Well, OK, that was only a rapid game.
After 20 minutes.
After the game MVL revealed that most of the 20 minutes he spent on 8…Ng4 had been devoted to the hyper-sharp position after 9.Bg5!? Nxd4 10.Rd1 c5! 11.Qxc5 Ne6!
9…Nxe3 10.fxe3 Bg4 11.h3 Bxf3 12.gxf3 e6 13.h4
Nepom decides to keep his king in the center rather than castle queenside.
13…Ne7 14.f4 b5
The Russian GM commented: “He chose an interesting way, but it’s strategically very dangerous, because I have this superior pawn center. I believe Maxime played in a very creative way — this b5, b4 — finally he got some counterplay, but I believe that it was more or less under control.”
Whether the White captures the b5 pawn with the queen or knight, Black gets dangerous counterplay. Sample lines:
15.Qxb5 Rb8 16.Qe2 c5 17.dxc5 Qa5 18.h5 Rfd8;
15.Nxb5 Rb8 16.Qxc7 Qd5 17.Rh2 Nf5.
15…Nf5 16.Kf2 f6 17.Rd1 b4 18.Qxb4 Rb8 19.Qa3 fxe5?!
Nepom was expecting a “big clash” after 19…c5!
20.dxe5 Qe8 21.Bg2 Bxe5?!
MVL had some tactics in mind but he overlooked something …
22.fxe5 Nxh4+ 23.Kg1 Nxg2 <D>
POSITION AFTER 23…NXG2
Now MVL expected 24.Kxg2 Qc6+ with at least a draw for Black.]
This had to be calculated very carefully.
MVL: “a good try, but not enough.”
The knight cannot be taken: 25.Kxg2? Qc6! How to defend the knight? 26.Qb4 Qc2+ 27.Nd2 a5! (forcing the white queen out of the 4th tank so that it cannot easily transfer to the kingside) 28.Qc3 Qf5! despite being a piece down the threats to the white king assure Black of at least a draw.
[26.Kxg2?? Qe2+ 27.Kg3 Qf3+ 28.Kh2 Qh5+ 29.Kg2 Rd2+! 30.Nxd2 Qg4+ 31.Kh2 Rf2#]
26…Rd7 27.Nf6+ Rxf6 28.Qxf6 Rf7 29.Qd8+ Rf8
[29…Kg7 30.Rxc7 wins]
30.Qxc7 Rf7 31.Qd8+ Rf8 32.Qe7 h5
[32…Rf7 no longer works because the c-file is already open and White mates via 33.Rc8+ Kg7 34.Qxf7+! Kxf7 35.Rxh7#]
33.Qxe6+ Kg7 34.Rc7+ Kh6 35.Rxh5+! Kxh5 36.Qh3+ 1–0
MVL resigns as he did not want to see 36.Qh3+ Kg5 (36…Nh4 37.Rh7+ Kg5 38.Qxh4+ Kf5 39.Re7! it is either mate or give up the black queen) 37.Qxg2+ Kf5 38.Qf3+ Kxe5 39.Qxf8 White is a full rook up and Black has no available checks.
A very tense and exciting fight.
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.