2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin SF2: Aronian, Nakamura Sail To Finals
Dominguez and Aronian at the conclusion of their second game of the semifinal. Photo: WorldChess.

2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin SF2: Aronian, Nakamura Sail To Finals

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Levon Aronian and GM Hikaru Nakamura comfortably neutralized the challenges of GM Leinier Dominguez and GM Richard Rapport respectively in the second game of the semifinal matches to set up an all-American clash in the final of the first leg of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix in Berlin.

Playing with the black pieces, Aronian surprisingly employed the relatively quiet Hungarian Defense, while Nakamura repeated one of his pet plans against Rapport's Kings Indian Attack. Neither game significantly threatened the one-point lead Aronian and Nakamura scored in first game of their respective matches.

The two-game final match will take place February 15-16, with tiebreakers on February 17 if needed.

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Having lost the first game with black pieces, both Dominguez and Rapport desperately needed to win the second game of the semifinal at all costs, to force their matches into tiebreaks. Though Aronian and Nakamura were favorites today due to the manner in which they won their first games, and also the perceived tiredness of their opponents, chess fans expected more intense fights in the second game of the semifinal. That did not happen, however, as Aronian and Nakamura were never in any danger in their respective games, which ended in draws after reaching the mandatory minimum number of moves needed to sign the peace treaty.


This is how Aronian spelled out the thought process behind adopting his opening for Sunday: "I have analyzed the position a little bit... it is slightly worse for Black - White keeps a slight advantage and presses. But it's a very solid type of a position. If White doesn't play the most precise moves, then [the game] gets into drawish positions very quickly. I thought it may be a good idea for a game where I needed a draw, to play solid."

If one analyzes Aronian's logic behind choosing the Hungarian Defence—termed by himself as "slightly worse"—it might even be puzzling to understand why he chose the opening for such a crucial game. But when analyzing Aronian's games with black pieces against 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 from a database, another reason for picking the opening system becomes apparent: Making it harder for his opponent to prepare. In about 100 games available in a database, Aronian has almost always adopted the Guico Piano (3...Bc5).

Meanwhile he has adopted the Hungarian Defense (3...Be7) from different move orders only a handful of times, most notably against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi at the Tal Memorial, Moscow 2016.

A smart opening choice from Aronian. Photo: WorldChess.

And one shouldn't forget that apart from 1...e5, Aronian can also play the Pirc/Modern and Sicilian for surprise!

Dominguez was indeed caught unawares by Aronian's opening designs: "I was slightly surprised by the opening choice—I think Levon usually plays 3...Bc5. After the position we got, I was hoping that maybe I could get some slight pressure as usual in these positions. After I played 13.b4 which looks very natural, it gets very very concrete, after 14...d5 and 15...b5. I am not even better in the complications [afterwards]."

One more factor which went against Dominguez was his time management. Towards the end of the game, he was an hour behind Aronian in the clock, only heightening the pressure on himself. Looking at the game, one might get the idea that it was not the position on the board which warranted so much thinking time from Dominguez, but searching for necessary complexities to defeat Aronian. Such complexities were not present in the position, however.

Asked after the game about his focus on the Grand Prix and a probable entry into the next Candidates Tournament, Aronian had a surprising take on his ambitions: "No, I generally want to improve as a player, work on my chess, and continue doing what I love. It is not directed towards any special goal, but I think, of course, some of [the] work I did, pays off. But this is [an] ongoing process—I need to continue working."

...I generally want to improve as a player, work on my chess, and continue doing what I love.

—GM Levon Aronian

For his part, Dominguez curiously emphasized the need to "work on my physical shape—towards the end of the tournament drop a bit at the level, I get a bit tired. Especially when you have tense games, which is almost always the case in these events."


The game between Rapport and Nakamura took a different course compared to the other game. Unlike Dominguez, Rapport had concrete knowledge of his position, as he had played the very opening in a game from the Bundesliga, though against a weaker opponent. Rapport said, "I was kinda happy about the opening, its outcome... I tried to do something smarter, but that resulted in something stupid!"

Rapport-Nakamura was a well-contested fight. Photo: WorldChess.

In the middlegame, the position looked quite tense, and Nakamura even looked to be holding a better position. However, even when they had played just 17 moves, both the players already had only under less than half an hour. But unlike the other game of the semifinal, it was Nakamura—the player in lead—who seemed to have the upper hand in the game: game of the day

Asked about his progress to the final of the tournament, Nakamura was candid: "It's nice I guess. Probably not expected, but I felt that I have played well. I don't think I have done anything super-special, but when you are solid, and you take advantage of the few opportunities you have, then good things seem to happen." 

Good things seem to be happening for Hikaru Nakamura. Photo: WorldChess.


2022 FIDE Grand Prix Semifinals Bracket

All Games Semifinal Game 2

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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