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2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Final: Match Moves To Tiebreak After Short Skirmish
Aronian and Nakamura drew their second game too, taking the match into tiebreak. Photo: WorldChess.

2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Final: Match Moves To Tiebreak After Short Skirmish

VSaravanan
| 28 | Chess Event Coverage

The second game of the final between GM Levon Aronian and GM Hikaru Nakamura ended in a draw in only 29 moves after a threefold repetition, leaving the scores tied at the end of the classical games of the final of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix first leg in Berlin. The match will now be decided by a tiebreak in faster time controls to be held on Thursday, February 17

What promised to be a gripping middlegame battle from a complex Giuoco Piano Opening ultimately fizzled out into equality, as Aronian gave up a pawn voluntarily on the queenside only to find no more compensation than chasing Nakamura's queen around and force a threefold repetition. Nakamura once again showed resourcefulness with the black pieces to invent a creative defense with his central pawn structure in the middlegame, from what could have turned out to be an unpleasant position.

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Even before the second game of the final started, the pivotal question in the background was: who would be the favorite in the tiebreak among the two players, in case the game would end in a draw? The question was quite important, as the answer could be the deciding factor for Aronian's strategy in this second game.

Even though Aronian's Elo is a healthy 36 points higher than Nakamura's in classical rating, his rapid and blitz ratings—2719 and 2773 respectively—are much lesser than Nakamura's—2823 and 2850. But if you discount the online pandemic chess where Nakamura has been a roaming monster of a performer, and consider only over-the-board tournaments of recent times, Aronian performed quite fine among the two in the 2021 World Blitz and Rapid Championships in Warsaw, where both the protagonists participated. But the question was whether this single tournament could determine their relative strengths concretely.

"Who stands taller?" is the question. Photo: WorldChess.

Such hypothetical future questions apart, there was no doubt that Aronian would try to win the second game with all his might, having the white pieces. Nakamura's 1.e4 e5 wasn't a surprise as well, as it is his mainstay with the black pieces. Aronian's choice of the Giuoco Piano sidestepped the Ruy Lopez Berlin, a favorite choice of Nakamura's. Thereafter, the game went into known waters, but there was a mild surprise—unlike in the majority of his games in this event, Aronian wasn't his fluent, fast self in the opening phase, as both the players blitzed out their moves in almost equal pace—and it was the 12th move when Aronian took about eight minutes to come up with an important decision:

12.a5 is one of those crucial positional moves that set the tone of the game. For example, after such a "fix" on the queenside, White would always be better in positions after advancing d3-d4, followed by a mutual pawn-swap on e5.


A long tournament for the finalists. Photo: WorldChess.

The game entered a phase of trench warfare at this point, and a turning point came on move 15 when Nakamura consumed more than 30 (!) minutes to come up with 15...Qc7:

GM Daniil Dubov, speaking on the official World Chess website, termed the move as: "15...Qc7 is sort of a pause. In general, it is logical... [But] if you start playing like this, you will keep suffering... Waiting is suffering, in general!"

But this was the pivotal moment of the game, where Nakamura showed his amazing resourcefulness:

Chess.com game of the day

Dubov was full of praise for Nakamura's play: "...Very, very impressive defense by Naka.  He was clearly outplayed from the opening, but he handled it very, very well... You can only beat Hikaru by playing very well. He is not the guy who will just give it up—you have to do everything (to beat him."

You can only beat Hikaru by playing very well. He is not the guy who will just give it up.

—GM Daniil Dubov

Analyzing 17...c5 and 18...Bg4, GM Daniel Naroditsky singled out Nakamura's fightback on Chess.com's official commentary: "I really liked how Hikaru handled this creatively but in a positionally sound manner. ...c5 looks bad, looks [to] weaken the d5-square and the d6-pawn. We were expecting him to follow up with ...Bd7 and ...Bc6, but instead, he chooses the move 18...Bg4, forcing a trade and essentially going for a bad bishop versus good knight situation..."

Nakamura - amazing defense. Photo: WorldChess.

Nakamura himself explained after the game how he handles such difficult situations over the board: "... Levon, he thought he was better—he was much better. I just thought, well, either I am completely fine or I am losing a game. When you have such an attitude, basically it's very easy. You try to play moves—you don't worry about threats... it's very simple." 

... Either I am completely fine or I am losing a game. When you have such an attitude, basically it's very easy.

—GM Hikaru Nakamura

Dubov had a clear idea about what awaits Aronian in the tiebreak: "[Nakamura] is the best [in] defending in rapid and blitz. You cannot really kill the guy—he knows how to defend; he knows how to suffer. Even if you are winning, it will take a lot of good moves."

When questioned about what he thought about the Thursday tiebreak, Aronian was his usual nonchalant self: "We are here to excite ourselves and the public. Let's see how it goes."

We are here to excite ourselves and the public. Let's see how it goes.

—GM Levon Aronian.

Results

Tiebreak Format

As decided after their second classical game, Nakamura will have the white pieces in the first rapid game of the tiebreak.

The FIDE Grand Prix Berlin is the first of three legs of the event. The Berlin tournament takes place February 4-17. Tune in at 6 a.m. Pacific/ 15:00 CET each day for our broadcast.


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