2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin R5: Aronian Qualifies, Tense Last Group Round Awaits
Esipenko scored a crucial win over Bacrot to set up an important clash against Nakamura in the final round of Group A.

2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin R5: Aronian Qualifies, Tense Last Group Round Awaits

| 29 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Levon Aronian won a tense tactical game with the black pieces against GM Vincent Keymer to reach 4/5 and qualify with a round to spare from Group C to the semifinals of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix first leg in Berlin. Though GM Hikaru Nakamura won a well-fought game against GM Alexander Grischuk to maintain his sole lead with 3.5/5, he will play a crucial game for qualification to the knockout stage in the last round of Group A against GM Andrey Esipenko, who prevailed over GM Etienne Bacrot to reach 3/5.

Group B is heading for a tense finish after two drawn games, the winner to be decided among joint leaders GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek and GM Vladimir Fedoseev (both on 3/5) and GM Richard Rapport (2.5/5). Likewise, the qualification spot from Group D will be decided between GM Wesley So (3.5/5) and GM Leinier Dominguez (3/5) both from the U.S., though both will be playing different opponents in the last round of the group.

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After a rest day on Tuesday, the fifth and penultimate round of the group stage began with plenty of fighting chess and creativity, as the battle for group supremacy heated up. Just an hour into the round, the following spectacles greeted the spectators:

At this point, Nakamura had one hour and 33 minutes versus Grischuk's 35 minutes! Thus Nakamura actually had more time on his clock than when he started the game, and his opponent almost had an hour less than him.

It was admirable to see the 17-year-old Keymer continue his brave show, plunging into a prepared opening variation irrespective of the opposition, and even allow his king to be brought out to the center. But it looked even gutsier by Aronian, who did not have to encourage such an opening variation, nursing a cushy full-point lead in his group.

GM Pentala Harikrishna has played in his usual logical style so far in the tournament, and it was expected of him to press on the accelerator in search of wins in the remaining two games to rise in the group standings. His creative decisions in the opening phase of the game against Dominguez resulted in his queen being the only developed piece on c2 after 10 moves from a variation of the Sicilian Defense rarely seen at the top chess. He had also made six pawn moves and three with his light-squared bishop to reach the following position, but still, he seemed to be posing problems for his opponent in the beginning.

Group A

Grischuk employed the King's Indian Defense against Nakamura, thus promising a mouth-watering clash. A huge difference on the clock and constant pressure in the middlegame slowly brought the initiative to the side of the American grandmaster. GM Daniel Naroditsky, commenting live, was full of praise for Nakamura's play: "Nakamura... is conducting the technical stage of the game with exquisite filigree precision."

Nakamura: "exquisite filigree precision."

Toward the end of the first time control, Nakamura also used up a lot of his time to actually have only seven minutes on the clock against Grischuk's three minutes with about six moves to reach the time control. Achieving a near-winning position, Nakamura showed glimpses of his phenomenal strength in all the speedier versions of chess when he played brilliantly toward the end of the game: game of the day

Chatting after the game, Nakamura showed his balanced side, revealing the reason for skipping's Titled Tuesday on the rest day, as he "studied chess" instead. "At the end of the day, there is this thing called pride. An extra video or an extra stream means very little on the bigger scheme of things—who really cares when you have a chance to put together good results? I think I had my priorities correct."

At the end of the day, there is this thing called pride... I think I had my priorities correct.

GM Hikaru Nakamura

In the other encounter of the group, Esipenko prevailed over Bacrot in a surprisingly one-sided affair, as the French Grandmaster seemed to be off-color throughout, terming it as "a lousy game." After this win, Esipenko will be in a must-win situation with the white pieces against Nakamura in round six.

Group B

Wojtaszek seemed to be enjoying a slight positional edge against Fedoseev until he admittedly overlooked a minute detail in the position:

GM Grigoriy Oparin gradually built up an advantage which he misplayed against Rapport curiously just after reaching the time control:

Group C

The Keymer-Aronian encounter was an electrifying clash from the word go, starting with deep opening preparation. Speaking after the game, Aronian admitted once again that he knew the variation quite well, even though he might not have seen exactly what he got in this particular game: "I did not expect this variation. I thought I will just play something interesting. It is a risky line, but we are not here to play some boring chess—we are having some fun as well."

Keymer-Aronian: an electrifying clash. Photo: WorldChess.

Aronian was full of praise for Keymer who once again confidently plunged into a sharp variation with deep preparation, with the words: "His play was daring, full of desire to win the game as well."

GM Daniil Dubov seemed to have a promising endgame against GM Vidit Gujrathi, where he missed one particular moment of promise:

Group D

Wesley So, who looked intent on cashing in on his full-point lead, employed the Berlin System of the Ruy Lopez against GM Alexei Shirov, and the game ended in a peaceful draw in 31 moves.

In tournament situations where one has to create a middlegame with chances to press for a win against world-class opposition, it is common to resort to creativity. Harikrishna was obviously looking to create a position of imbalance on the board as he surprised Dominguez with the Alapin variation of the Sicilian. It seemed to pay dividends as Dominguez seemed to have over-reached in his response, keeping the black king in the center and running up the h-pawn to h4-square:

Harikrishna - Dominguez: a gripping fight. Photo: WorldChess.

In the end, it was Dominguez's tenacity that stood him in good stead. Harikrishna was obviously upset with his play after the game: "I had to spend some time and try to figure [the] proper plan rather than moving pieces as I did in the game... In general, it was quite poor play after a certain point from me."



All Games Round 5

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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