Nakamura, Rapport In For FIDE Candidates: 2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Leg 3, Round 6

Nakamura, Rapport In For FIDE Candidates: 2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Leg 3, Round 6

| 103 | Chess Event Coverage

With today’s victory in the sixth round of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix's third leg, GM Hikaru Nakamura scored a hat trick and won Group A, securing a spot in the semifinals. More importantly, the American GM joined GM Richard Rapport in qualifying from the Grand Prix to the FIDE Candidates Tournament

In Group B, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov drew and GM Vincent Keymer won, setting the stage for a tiebreaker on Tuesday for a spot in the semifinals. Ahead of today’s round, American GMs Wesley So and Sam Shankland shared the lead in Group C, and with two draws in today’s round, they also head to a tiebreaker for a spot in the semifinal. The sensation of the round was Iranian GM Amin Tabatabaei, the lowest-rated player in the event, who slew GM Anish Giri as Black to secure his spot in the final four.

The tiebreakers to decide the semifinalists from Groups B and C begin Tuesday, March 29, at 6 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central Europe.

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Group A

The comeback kid did it again. By winning today’s round against the well-prepared, 20-year-old Russian GM Andrey Esipenko, Nakamura punched his ticket to the semifinals. With the elimination of his key competitors, he now has scored enough Grand Prix point to secure the spot in the Candidates Tournament in Madrid this summer.

GM Levon Aronian played a fantastic first leg of the Grand Prix in Berlin, only losing in the tiebreaker of the final against Nakamura. In this event, he started out flying by winning against Nakamura in the first round and sharing the lead with his fellow American ahead of today’s round. GM Grigoriy Oparin was eliminated yesterday when he lost a fantastic struggle against Nakamura. Clearly, he was not quite ready to pack his bags just yet and came to fight as White in a Catalan Opening. Aronian, for his part, must have felt that a win was necessary in today’s round, perhaps wanting to avoid a rapid play tiebreaker against Nakamura in case that game ended in a draw.

Aronian adjusts the pieces before this critical game. Photo: World Chess.

After the conclusion of his own game, Nakamura speculated that this could possibly have been the reason why Aronian chose the highly provocative approach with 11…h6 and 12…g5, which at best seemed risky and at worst a fool-hardy gamble, but maybe it was an idea from Aronian’s bag of prepared tricks, much like his firework show against Esipenko yesterday.

After the game, Oparin claimed that he knew that it was a decent idea. But he countered aggressively, secured a clear advantage and things only got worse from there for Aronian, who resigned when facing a forced mate. It was a heartbreak for Aronian, but a nice finale for Oparin, who demonstrated that he definitely belongs in this company.

In the round’s other game, Nakamura faced Esipenko, who brought two days’ worth of preparation in the briefcase in the shape of a Bishop's Game. As Nakamura said after the game: "It is a pretty mild choice; there are many sharper openings."

However, it seemed to work because he got an edge from the opening, but it soon slipped out of his hands and rough equality settled on the board. Equality or not, both players seemed to push for more which meant that it was never calm for long. At times, it looked quite scary for Nakamura, but his 27…f5!? solved the majority of the immediate issues he was facing.

Two critical games, side by side. Photo: World Chess.

When Esipenko then played the committal exchange sacrifice, 33.Rxf4, it looked promising but wasn’t as good as it looked.

White had the opportunity to play 35.Rxe8, essentially securing a draw after 35...Qxe8 36.Qxd6, but Esipenko was ready for that, and as Nakamura pointed out after the game: "It is very hard when you have been pressing the whole game [to] then exchange on e8 and try to make a draw; that's not in the spirit of how you play."

Nakamura took over when he played the powerful 37...h5!, and shortly after Esipenko threw the towel in the ring. game of the day dejan bojkov

Group B

A lightning-fast draw by Mamedyarov and ultimately a loss by Dominguez meant that the Azeri GM basically settled for playing a tiebreaker against either Dominguez or Keymer; or if Dominguez won, Dominguez would take the semifinal spot.

When a tournament is conducted according to the Sofia rules, which prohibit draw offers before move 30, you expect at least some pretense of a fight, but that was not the case in today’s game between Mamedyarov and the luckless Russian GM Daniil Dubov. Starting already at move 10, the players started repeating moves. A bizarre decision by Mamedyarov.

In the other game, Keymer played a rather insipid line against Dominguez’s Queen’s Gambit Accepted but still seemed to get a slight pull. It became more than that when the German GM started throwing his pieces in the direction of Black's king—Nd2-e4-g3-h5 and Qb1-e4-g4—and suddenly White's attack looked very threatening and quite concrete. 

Keymer showed his best. Photo: World Chess.

I suspect that Black's attempt at diffusing the white attack with 20...Nxe5 was based on a miscalculation or maybe an oversight of White's 22.Bd4! which costs Black an exchange. Despite Black's best effort, White never let go of the advantage and eventually converted it to a full point, securing a tiebreaker against Mamedyarov for a spot in the semifinals.  


Group C

Two draws in today's round mean that the American duo, So and Shankland, will be facing each other in a tiebreaker for a semifinal spot. The way they got to the draw was with diametrically opposite approaches.

So played the white pieces against Russian GM Alexandr Predke and chose the Ruy Lopez, to which Predke answered with his beloved Zaitsev variation, the same line he had used against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave earlier in the event. So secured a small advantage and seemed to be making steady progress until 32.h4?! which allowed Black the brilliant maneuver 32...Qa2-a8-c8-g4 with satisfactory counterplay.

The players after the game. Photo: World Chess.

In the other game, Shankland played White against Vachier-Lagrave in a Grunfeld (Russian System), similar to what GM Yu Yangyi had played against Giri a few days ago.

After the game, Shankland admitted: "Clearly I had been caught and I feared that I would lose without Maxime having to make a move on his own." Nevertheless, Shankland managed to walk the tightrope across the canyon to a perpetual check.

Group D

With two draws in today's games, the lead was shared by all four players ahead of the last round; however, Tabatabaei rose to the occasion and scored to win the group.

Yu could not have been happy with himself ahead of this game. Obvious winning positions in the previous two games had only resulted in two draws, leaving him all tied with the rest of the group ahead of the last round. Here, he faced the group's former leader, GM Nikita Vitiugov, with the white pieces.

Yu had chances earlier in the event. Photo: World Chess.

Like in Belgrade in leg two of the FIDE Grand Prix, in a somewhat similar situation, he chose to play the Ruy Lopez as White, but unlike his game against Predke in Belgrade, he did not achieve anything out of the opening. Black equalized cleanly and White had to force a repetition of moves.

Yesterday, Tabatabaei escaped with a draw from a clearly lost position against Yu, and today he had to face Giri with the black pieces. Not exactly a wonderful task for anybody in chess, but definitely not for someone who is rated 150 points lower and who also needed to win to make it through to the semifinals. 

Tabatabaei faced a difficult task. Photo: World Chess.

Nevertheless, Black equalized from the opening, and when Giri played 19.h4?, things went downhill for White in hurry, and Black played a beautiful game.

After the game, a visibly excited and super-happy Tabatabaei told the reporter that the win today was against the highest-rated opponent he had ever beaten. Tabatabaei continued: "I'm extremely proud now. The fact that I qualified in such a strong group. I mean I don't really care what happens next—I should be grateful for what has happened."

I should be grateful for what has happened.
—GM Amin Tabatabaei


All Games - Round 6

FIDE Grand Prix Berlin is the final leg of the 2022 Grand Prix. The Berlin tournament takes place March 22-April 4. Tune in at 7 a.m. Pacific/15:00 CET each day for our broadcast.

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