Bloody Sunday Produces Six Winners, Aronian As Sole Leader
Who is GM Simon Williams seconding? In today's round four of the final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, six of the nine players of the white pieces played h4, many with aggressive intentions.
Despite that being the Ginger GM's favorite move, it was on the square d6 that the round hinged. We will know in one week for sure, but one square from one round could easily decide one quarter of the Candidates' qualification!
Today GM Levon Aronian finished off a gem of an attack with pawn to d6 as the finishing move, while a little while later GM Hikaru Nakamura sacrificed a queen on this square, eventually leading to a win over one of the men trying to qualify, GM Teimour Radjabov.
Those were just two of the six wins this round, which nearly doubled the total number of wins from the first three rounds combined (seven).
Palma Grand Prix | Round 4 Results
|1||1||GM||Aronian||2801||2||1 - 0||2||GM||Giri||2762||6|
|2||5||GM||Svidler||2763||2||½ - ½||2||GM||Vachier-Lagrave||2796||2|
|3||3||GM||Nakamura||2780||1½||1 - 0||2||GM||Radjabov||2741||8|
|4||16||GM||Inarkiev||2683||1½||0 - 1||1½||GM||Ding Liren||2774||4|
|5||9||GM||Harikrishna||2738||1½||1 - 0||1½||GM||Vallejo||2705||13|
|6||12||GM||Eljanov||2707||1½||0 - 1||1½||GM||Jakovenko||2721||10|
|7||17||GM||Riazantsev||2651||1½||½ - ½||1½||GM||Tomashevsky||2702||14|
|8||15||GM||Rapport||2692||1||1 - 0||1||GM||Hammer||2629||18|
|9||7||GM||Li Chao||2741||1||½ - ½||½||GM||Gelfand||2719||11|
On this Bloody Sunday Aronian's win could have even bigger implications, since that pushed him into the lead with 3.0/4. Since GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave drew, the Frenchman (2.5/4) is now splitting second place points with the other five players on a +1 score. Taking out the calculus of the big reward 170 points for 1st place, and adding even more players to split with, will not help Vachier-Lagrave.
That failure to convert the full point against Aronian yesterday now looms even larger for France's strongest-ever player.
Candidates Update: What If This Were The Final Round?
Radjabov and Vachier-Lagrave are trying to qualify for the 2018 Candidates' Tournament. For this, they need to finish among the top two in the overall Grand Prix standings.
Each round we will update the situation with the question: What if the tournament ended here?
Today, Radjabov (who needs 96 points) would fall short, finishing in a four-way tie for eighth place which would be 50+40+30+20+10 = 150 / 5 = 30.
Vachier-Lagrave (who needs 126 points, or 130 if Radjabov overtakes Mamedyarov) would also fall short, finishing in a six-way tie for second place which would be: 140+110+90+80+70+60 = 550 / 6 = 91 2/3.
That means for the four relevant players, the final scores would be:
Mamedyarov: 340, qualifies.
Grischuk: 336 3/7, qualifies.
Vachier-Lagrave: 303 2/27, fails to qualify.
Radjabov: 271 3/7, fails to qualify.
For the first three reports, the process of figuring out which game to highlight was relatively easy. Vachier-Lagrave and Radjabov both have had a single win, whereas yesterday neither did but there was a mate on the board.
Today though, a dilemma: Both Aronian's and Nakamura's wins mattered greatly to the live Candidates' standings, and both had moments of greatness. It turned out to be a day for the yeoman's work of GM Dejan Bojkov, who couldn't choose either and thus decided to do both! (Bojkov has also set up a Patreon page for those interested in more of his deep analysis, including a video analysis of one other inspired attacking game today.)
Since both games are covered, it's simply a matter of which to list first. From a pure chess viewpoint, Aronian easily gets top honors. Marriage has clearly not dampened his creativity.
Javier Ochoa, Honorary FIDE Vice President and President of the Spanish Chess Federation, making the first move to start the fourth round. | Photo: Valeriy Belobeev/World Chess.
Aronian claimed afterward that his opening resembled a setup that is usually chosen as Black (which he has played once, so why not as White!?). He said it was made popular by the late GM Vugar Gashimov. While that's true, he could have gone even further back in time than that.
While his opening also resembled the style of GM Duncan Suttles (who also played in Mallorca once, at the 1970 Interzonal), Aronian's middlegame resembled, well, himself! Recall that it was only just a few months ago that Aronian blessed with chess world with another h4, h5, and eventual Rh4 brilliancy. Sure, GM Anish Giri did miss one saving chance today (that our analyzer still thinks doesn't hold), but overall the Armenian was just as irrepressible as at the Sinquefield Cup.
"When I sacrificed the piece, I did it intuitively," Aronian said. "I had a feeling it should work somehow."
Levon Aronian enjoying his attack vs Anish Giri. | Photo: Valeriy Belobeev/World Chess.
"He should have responded to 12. Qa4 with 12...Qd5," Aronian said. "It's a double-edged endgame. It's very important for Black to remove the queens."
Aronian said he calculated much, and had the winning final move prepared well in advance.
Although Aronian is the highest-rated player in the event, it's not a forgone conclusion that he will do well in any tournament of the Grand Prix series. With two disastrous finishes in first two legs of the events, he can now play carefree chess thanks to recently qualifying for the Candidates' via the World Cup.
"I like my chances," he said about this one.
As Aronian's game concluded, Radjabov looked to be holding as Black against Nakamura, but then a wayward loosening move spoiled everything. The American had already begun marshaling his forces on the queenside, and punished 26...b5 summarily. Nakamura said Black was already in some danger anyway.
Just prior to the ending, Nakamura offered a pseudo-queen-sac, that both he and Bojkov guessed Black didn't see.
A few moves before Nakamura put his queen on the d6 square. | Photo: Valeriy Belobeev/World Chess.
"Psychologically it was very hard," Nakamura said after that, adding that he thought Black took back on c8 with the wrong rook.
Shortly after, Nakamura said he played "close to perfectly" while dominating the left half of the board. The queenside rout was so complete that Nakamura was willing to allow one black knight to capture all three of his kingside pawns. His rook then staircased up to b8 and in the final position Black's pieces are uniquely impotent to stopping White's pawns.
An excellent game by the American grandmaster. | Photo: Valeriy Belobeev/World Chess.
"I think I played quite well," Nakamura said. "I spotted all the critical ideas."
He referenced the Candidates' qualification when he said it was "sad" for Radjabov to lose today, but pointed out that Radjabov still has his direct encounter with Vachier-Leagrave looming -- possibly. This is after all a Swiss.
Speaking to Chess.com a week ago, Nakamura said, "The only person I can really ruin it for would be Maxime." But today, he sure didn't help the other hopeful. He said then he doesn't feel that good about spoiling others' chances.
While Vachier-Lagrave lost touch with a share of the lead for the first time all tournament, he did get nearly a day off. In the first game to finish, he needed only 18 moves to agree to a non-repetition draw against GM Peter Svidler. (The regulations omit any mention of "Sofia Rules" or in fact any provisions at all about early draws.)
The players chatting about the game afterward. | Photo: Valeriy Belobeev/World Chess.
Other winners on the day included GM Pentala Harikrishna, who beat local Balearic hero GM Francisco Vallejo. GM Jon Ludvig Hammer has turned into the nail more recently, losing for the second day in a row, this time to GM Richard Rapport.
Willfully putting his king on f8 against a creative attacker wasn't the losing idea, but resembles driving a car without insurance. Things might go OK, but it's not advisable in the long run.
Tough times for Hammer, who lost two games in a row. | Photo: Valeriy Belobeev/World Chess.
In a pair of victories for Black, GM Ding Liren won over GM Ernesto Inarkiev with an inspired pawn sac. In the final game to finish, GM Dmitry Jakovenko ground down GM Pavel Eljanov in a rook+4-vs.-rook+3 ending.
Palma Grand Prix | Round 4 Standings
|13||7||GM||Li Chao B||2741||1,5|
|13||GM||Vallejo Pons Francisco||2705||1,5|
|18||GM||Hammer Jon Ludvig||2629||1,0|
Pairings round four: Ding-Aronian; Vachier-Lagrave-Nakamura; Jakovenko-Svidler; Radjabov-Harikrishna; Giri-Riazantsev; Tomashevsky-Rapport; Vallejo-Li; Eljanov-Inarkiev; Gelfand-Hammer.
The Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix takes place November 16-25 (with a rest day on Nov. 21) in the Iberostar Cristina hotel in Palma de Mallorca. It is a nine-round Swiss with 18 players. The prize fund is €130,000 / $152,892. The time control is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move one.