Jerusalem Grand Prix: Nepomniachtchi Knocks Out MVL
Nepomniachtchi held the draw and reached the Jerusalem Grand Prix final. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

Jerusalem Grand Prix: Nepomniachtchi Knocks Out MVL

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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39 | Chess Event Coverage

Ian Nepomniachtchi held the draw Wednesday that he needed to eliminate Maxime Vachier-Lagrave from the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix in Jerusalem. 

David Navara and Wei Yi drew again and will play a tiebreak on Thursday. Nepomniachtchi will play the winner of that match in the final on Saturday, and with a win the Russian GM will qualify for the 2020 Candidates' Tournament.

MVL narrowly missed the 2018 candidates, and it might happen again. Vachier-Lagrave is still in second place in the FIDE Grand Prix overall standings after losing to Nepomniachtchi today, but if the Russian GM wins the final, Nepo will overtake MVL for the candidates spot.

Vachier-Lagrave Jerusalem Grand Prix 2019 Semifinals
Vachier-Lagrave arriving for what would become his last game in the 2019 Grand Prix. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

If that happens, there might still be a tiny lifeline for MVL. Even though the Russian Chess Federation president Andrey Filatov has said that a Russian player will get the wildcard, possibly after a playoff among all eligible players, the federation could change its mind. Because in this scenario, the only other eligible player would be Kirill Alekseenko, currently the world number-37.

The tournament would already have two Russian participants, and it would be against strong public pressure to add a third instead of the French GM. It's worth noting that if the organizers are not limiting themselves to only Russian players for the wildcard, Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov would also be eligible.

Jerusalem Grand Prix 2019 Semifinals
The start of today's round. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

Vachier-Lagrave definitely went for it today with 3.h4!?, a coffeehouse kind of move that he had faced three times as Black earlier this year against Alexander Grischuk, the main practitioner of this early pawn thrust.

"When I saw this move for the first time I thought: 'How can you play like this?'" said Nepomniachtchi. "But then Grischuk beat me in blitz with this line. I was analyzing it in the summer, but I could not remember my analysis."

Ian Nepomniachtchi Jerusalem Grand Prix 2019 Semifinals
Nepomniachtchi trying to remember his summer analysis. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

With dynamic and aggressive play, in the spirit of his third move, MVL got a very nice position for just one pawn, and it was Nepo who needed to be careful. However, Vachier-Lagrave couldn't find the best squares for his pieces, which allowed his opponent to execute an important counter in the center, after which Black was OK.

"My original idea was to play 26.e5 after 26...f5," said MVL, "but after 26…f4 27.Bf4 gxf4 28.Nh5 I suddenly realized that after 28…Be5 29.dxe5 and long castle, I can just resign. I decided to offer a draw in the end because I am really worse there and there is nothing to hope for anymore," said Vachier-Lagrave in the interview after the game.

Vachier-Lagrave Jerusalem Grand Prix 2019 Semifinals
A tough year has almost come to an end for Vachier-Lagrave, who will finish 2019 at the world rapid blitz championships in Moscow. Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

"For the last seven months I played chess for at least three months; I was traveling for another month and one more month I spent it resting but also away from home," said Vachier-Lagrave. "It has been a huge challenge for me. There was nothing I could do about it, since the schedule for both the Grand Prix and Grand Chess Tour had been fixed."

All he can do now is hope that Wei or Navara will manage to beat Nepo in the final.

MVL: "I will be watching the match from home and of course I will be rooting against Ian; there is nothing else I can do. But if Ian wins, it will be well deserved."

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

With all the intrigue around the candidates, Wei and Navara aren't getting as much attention, but their second game was also very interesting. 

Perhaps inspired by Nepo's 8.Be3 move from the other day, Navara also played the Russian System, but Wei chose 7...a6 instead, the other big move for Black these days in that position. A lot of theory was followed, for 16 moves, but Wei only started thinking at move 20.

Black had sacrificed a piece, but White was dealing with a rook stuck in the corner, and to solve that problem the Czech GM decided to return the material. Navara then had to defend a rook ending a pawn down, which he managed to hold:

Navara and Wei will now play a tiebreak on Thursday, which starts at 3 p.m. local time in Jerusalem (14:00 CET, 8 a.m. Eastern and 5 a.m. Pacific). The winner will play Nepomniachtchi in the final that starts on Saturday.


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