Adams, MVL, Rapport Start With Wins At Sharjah GP

Adams, MVL, Rapport Start With Wins At Sharjah GP

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

Richard Rapport was the first winner in today's first round of the Sharjah Grand Prix. The Hungarian beat Ding Liren, and then saw Michael Adams and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave join him in the lead.

For whatever reason, the FIDE Grand Prix tournaments have never been as popular as the traditional super tournaments. This one in Sharjah won't be an exception.

There was only a handful of spectators during the first day, but that doesn't say much. It was the online audience that disappointed.

The live show on the official site, which was pay-per-view ($10 for the whole tournament), only had a few hundred concurrent viewers throughout the day. The chat was dominated by two people, one of whom working for Agon/FIDE. And the tournament seemed to be non-existent on Twitter—even the official account hardly sent out anything.

In this vacuum of attention, 18 players started their world championship cycle today in Sharjah, and one of them was in fact a reigning world champion. Hou Yifan, the women's world champion, now actually has a chance to qualify for a match with Magnus Carlsen. Wouldn't that be something!

The Chinese player had appeared on the initial list of players, then disappeared (in favor of Wei Yi) but then traveled to the United Arab Emirates anyway. In an interview today for the official broadcast she said that this was the result of a "some misunderstanding" related to which of the three legs she wanted to play.

Hou Yifan, still the reiging women's world champion, now joining the main cycle.

In any case, Hou started with a draw today against Ian Nepomniachtchi, another player who is making his debut in the FIDE Grand Prix. 

"I really wanted to participate in the cycle, but the only opportunities I had was a few World Cups but they are more like a lottery," said Nepomniachtchi on Friday. "I am really excited to show what I can and do my best job."

There were more draws today, and two of them before move 30 actually: Evgeny Tomashevsky vs Levon Aronian, and Paco Vallejo vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. This is another difference with previous Grand Prixs: FIDE does not apply the anti-draw rule for these Swiss tournaments.

Alexander Riazantsev vs Pavel Eljanov was drawn right after move 30, but around that time the first win was scored as well.

Richard Rapport profited from a big blunder by Ding Liren, and said afterward: "Today is my wife's birthday so I wanted to dedicate this game to her."

Richard Rapport made his wife happy today by scoring the first win.

Hikaru Nakamura started with a draw against Dmitry Jakovenko, who happens to be the winner of the previous Grand Prix; the final leg in the 2014-2015 series in Khanty-Mansiysk. The Russian player was under big pressure in this game.

However, instead of showing that game, here's the last draw of the round not mentioned yet. Jon Ludvig Hammer was quite happy with his draw against Alexander Grischuk, who was, besides Nakamura, the only player in the field he has a negative score against. 

Grischuk played 1.c4 e5 2.d3 and basically from that point the players started to treat the game as a reversed Sicilian with Bb5+. They both spent a lot of time trying to figure out the differences, besides that White is simply a tempo up.

Hammer scores a fine draw in round one.

"It's an extremely difficult position; ten different pawn structures can arrive and there are lots of tactics," said Grischuk about the middlegame. 

The Russian called 30...Qc8 "an amazing resource" and 31...d5 "fantastic."

In the final position Hammer spent about 15 minutes before accepting his opponent's draw offer. "The pawn is so close but I couldn't figure out to get it one step further." 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished last in that Khanty-Mansiysk Grand Prix in 2015 and he was also last in the overall standings. But much has changed. Two years later, the French grandmaster is the top seed in the series, and he started with a win. 

Li Chao played the Petroff, an opening he plays regularly. In his eight classical games in 2016 against strong players, he only lost one. But MVL came well prepared, played the classical 5.d4 instead of the modern mainline 5.Nc3 and then came with a more or less new idea on move 12.

MVL came well prepared for Li Chao's Petroff.

The Frenchman was happy with his opening and even went to the confession booth to say so. Yes, Agon/FIDE have taken over this idea! (The only other player who used it today was Rapport.)

The Chinese player gave up his bishop pair but soon got a passed pawn on b2. However, in the long run the white bishops decided matters. Here's the game and the entertaining press conference:

The last winner of the day was Michael Adams. The Englishman got an overwhelming advantage after his opponent Salem Saleh accepted his pawn sacrifice in the opening. Whereas the latter called it "principled," Adams thought accepting was too dangerous.

He then played it too slow probably, and Salem got rather close to the draw. Around the time control Adams felt the game was going his way again.

At the end of the day Michael Adams joined the early leaders.

Pairings for round 2:

Bo. No. Fed Name Rtg Pts. vs Pts. Fed Name Rtg No.
1 14 Rapport Richard 2692 1 1 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 1
2 2 Aronian Levon 2785 ½ 1 Adams Michael 2751 7
3 18 Hammer Jon Ludvig 2628 ½ ½ Nakamura Hikaru 2785 3
4 4 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 2766 ½ ½ Tomashevsky Evgeny 2711 11
5 6 Eljanov Pavel 2759 ½ ½ Vallejo Pons Francisco 2709 13
6 8 Nepomniachtchi Ian 2749 ½ ½ Riazantsev Alexander 2671 15
7 12 Jakovenko Dmitry 2709 ½ ½ Grischuk Alexander 2742 9
8 10 Li Chao 2720 0 ½ Hou Yifan 2651 17
9 16 Salem A.R. Saleh 2656 0 0 Ding Liren 2760 5

This new Grand Prix series consists of four legs. The other three tournaments will be in Moscow (in May this year), Geneva (in July) and in Palma de Mallorca (in November).

A total of 24 players are competing, with each tournament having 18 participants. The two best performing players will qualify for next year's Candidates' Tournament.

Games from TWIC.

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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