Jerusalem Grand Prix: Nepo Jeopardizes MVL's Candidates Qualification
Vachier-Lagrave resigns his black game with Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

Jerusalem Grand Prix: Nepo Jeopardizes MVL's Candidates Qualification

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

Ian Nepomniachtchi kept his Candidates' hopes alive as he defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the first game of the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix's semifinals in Jerusalem. Wei Yi and David Navara started with a draw.

MVL now has to win on demand with the white pieces on Wednesday to stay in the tournament and keep fate in his own hands to reach the Candidates'. If he fails to do so, he needs Nepomniachtchi not to win the final in Jerusalem. Otherwise, the Russian player will go to Yekaterinburg in March instead.

Today is an example of the importance of surprising an opponent, which can have a lasting effect on the game.

Against the eternal question, "What to do against the Gruenfeld?" that Nepo plays himself as well, the Russian came up with the move 8.Be3!? in the 7...Nc6 variation of the Russian System, where 8.Be2 is the main line.

The idea is to prevent the line 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Nd4!, a pawn sacrifice successfully used recently by Vachier-Lagrave and others. 

Nepomniachtchi admitted that objectively speaking 8.Be3 is "surely not the best move," but it definitely has surprise value: "It could be an interesting idea, especially when the opponent faces it for the first time. It's nothing serious, but it worked out pretty well."

Vachier-Lagrave 8.Be3 Gruenfeld Nepomniachtchi Jerusalem Grand Prix 2019
Vachier-Lagrave pondering after Nepo's 8.Be3. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

MVL was surprised indeed: "The thing is that I lost a lot of time figuring out 8...Ng4 9.Bg5, and this way I was already unprepared against facing 9.e5, and I didn't react in the best way after that."

Nepo both praised his opponent's play and hinted that it was dangerous at the same time: "[He] chose an interesting way, but it's strategically very dangerous because I had this superior pawn center. I believe Maxime played in a very creative way with this ...b5-b4. He finally got some counterplay, but I believe that it was more or less under control so White was never worse at least."

"It was interesting but maybe a bit too risky," said Vachier-Lagrave about his pawn sac on the queenside.

When his defense—with the intention to give a piece for three pawns—bumped into a tactical problem, suddenly Black's position was beyond repair.

Nepomniachtchi MVL Jerusalem Grand Prix 2019
Nepomniachtchi might be the one who qualifies instead. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

The game between Wei and Navara was a long and interesting struggle but somewhat uncomfortable for the Chinese player at the start, as he had accidentally prepared to play with the black pieces instead.

Action heated early in a line where White was basically playing against the Semi-Slav but making every normal move except for d2-d4. This allowed Navara to grab the center, and the Czech GM didn't mind giving up the bishop pair for it.

Wei then took some risk by playing his knight to e5 on move 10 because it was in danger of being trapped. Navara could have tried for a position with a piece for three pawns but instead chose an equal-like endgame that was fought until bare kings:

Wei Yi Navara Jerusalem Grand Prix 2019
Wei Yi vs. Navara. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

The return games of the semifinals in Jerusalem will start on Wednesday at 3 p.m. local time, which is 14:00 CET, 8 a.m. Eastern and 5 a.m. Pacific. In case a match ends in 1-1, tiebreaks on Thursday will decide who will advance to the final that starts on Saturday.

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