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2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Final: Memorable 1st Clash Ends In Thrilling Draw
Nakamura and Aronian produced a thrilling fight in the first game of the finals. Photo: WorldChess.

2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Final: Memorable 1st Clash Ends In Thrilling Draw

VSaravanan
| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Levon Aronian were involved in a memorable clash in the first game of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix first leg finals in Berlin. Both the players had the upper hand at different points of the game which ended in a draw by perpetual check, resourcefully found by Aronian just as Nakamura's initiative was threatening to take over.

Aronian dominated the beginning phase of the game when he seemed to have out-prepared his opponent even though it was Nakamura who introduced a new move in the opening. Aronian kept up the pressure and won a pawn with a pretty sequence on the 22nd move. His back to the wall and down on the clock too, Nakamura rose to the occasion, creating counterplay and forcing his opponent to resourcefully find a draw by perpetual check in on the 54th move.

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Aronian and Nakamura enjoyed a much-needed free day before the start of the finals and showed their relaxed frames of mind with tweets of their own. With the Superbowl taking place on Sunday in the U.S., Nakamura obviously had events closer to home and entertaining in nature in mind:

Whereas even just a day before such a crucial encounter, Aronian found time to comment on a current, controversial issue in the chess world—GM Anish Giri's Twitter account getting hacked:

The two protagonists were fighting for three extra points—13 points for the winner and 10 for the runners-up—in the Grand Prix standings in the race for a place in the Candidates tournament, and also for the extra €6000 in prize money—€24,000 for the winner and €18,000 for the runners-up.

There are aspects about the finalists which stand out uniquely. At 39 years, Aronian has been acknowledged by most of the commentators as the best-prepared player in Berlin. Most of the time, he has been found well-armed in the opening phases, blitzing out moves from the beginning in almost all his games.

One of the best players ever in the quicker formats of the game, Nakamura is acknowledged for his resourcefulness, especially the ability to fight back when the going gets tough for him.

And it was these two elements that came to the fore during the very first game of the finals.

When resourcefulness met preparation. Photo: WorldChess.

Aronian's opening repertoire with Black against 1.e4 is constructed around 1...e5, with the Marshall Attack and Moeller/Archangelsk complex of the Ruy Lopez and the Petroff as the mainstays of his openings. Against 1.d4, he seems to employ a much broader repertoire. When Nakamura, who has a wide repertoire with White, chose to play 1.e4 in the game, it was assumed that he had a particular game-plan in mind.

Nakamura - well-armed for the game? Photo: WorldChess.

There are instances in top-level chess when a new move is employed by one of the players but the opponent comes up with the replies quite quickly. More than home preparation, there are two kinds of game collections that are central to a top chess professional's opening preparation: correspondence chess databases and computer chess databases. But Nakamura's choice seemed to be a complete novelty, not featured anywhere else.

In a position where 12.d4 or 12.Ne2 have been preferred choices, Nakamura came up with 12.Nh2, seemingly initiating play on the kingside. But, undeterred, Aronian seemed to be having his answers ready for the plan, quickly coming up with appropriate replies, and was even ahead on the clock soon. By about move 17, it was obvious that Nakamura was under more pressure than Aronian, prompting GM Daniel Naroditsky to remark: "Hikaru has demonstrated a tremendous ability to wheel his way out of high-pressure situations, but this is starting to get a tiny bit concerning. 17 moves [and] Hikaru dropping now below an hour on the clock, Levon preserving an hour and 20 minutes—he has only spent 10 minutes of thinking time [so far]. Now, if that doesn't demonstrate supreme confidence then I don't know what does."

Levon Aronian - supreme confidence? Photo: WorldChess.

A fantastic fight broke out by move 30 when Aronian's extra pawn seemed to be thoroughly neutralized by Nakamura's classic queen-and-knight combo against Black's queen-and-bishop. And that was when Aronian decided to go for glory rather than recalibrate himself and settle for a draw:

Chess.com game of the day

Of course, the game had everyone on tenterhooks throughout:

A remarkable aspect of the game was that, even though short of time, Nakamura found precise counterplay. When he reached fewer than two minutes on the clock, Nakamura had to make a crucial decision on the 39th move. He seemed to be suitably focused but tense, shook his head a bit, hesitated a little with his raised hand, and finally came down to play 39.f4, and later it was Aronian who had to find imaginative moves to save the draw.

Nakamura - handling pressure and the clock. Photo: WorldChess.

Both the players were very objective in the post-game interview. Asked if he was happy to play against the closed Ruy Lopez, Aronian sounded balanced: "I am always happy just to play chess! I don't really care what opening it is. It's a great privilege... I got a nice position after Hikaru made this erroneous plan with Nh2 - Ng4."

I am always happy just to play chess! I don't really care what opening it is. It's a great privilege.

—GM Levon Aronian

For Aronian, playing chess is a privilege. Photo: WorldChess.

Asked generally about his opening choice, and if his not entering the Marshall Gambit proved that the variation was sound for Black, Nakamura came up with the quip: "Everything is sound with computers these days! Doesn't even matter what you play. I wanted something slow... I tried to be creative with 12.Nh2... I think Levon was better [at some point]. Somewhere in this late middlegame, it got very complicated when I was down a pawn, but I have this outside pawn on a5 and this pawn on b4. Potentially it gets very very tricky... it was an interesting game."

Everything is sound with computers these days! Doesn't even matter what you play.

GM Hikaru Nakamura

Asked about his live-stream chats, Nakamura was quite happy about his fans and followers: "...Having all those people watching provides a lot of motivation. ...Today, especially also, I just tried to, kinda, play chess. When you play chess, good things happen."

Good things happen to Nakamura when he tries to play chess. Photo: WorldChess.

Results

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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