Not Perfecto, But Nepo Conquers Hainan Island

Not Perfecto, But Nepo Conquers Hainan Island

| 28 | Chess Event Coverage

Like GM Sergey Karjakin last year, the Chinese delegation will be happy to see GM Ian Nepomniachtchi leave the country. The Russian grandmaster broke out to a lead in the first half of the Hainan Danzhou Classic by beating a trio of host players. He then slipped briefly coming down the stretch before righting himself against yet another Chinese player.

His round-seven loss to GM Pentala Harikrishna was summarily erased in the next round when he beat GM Bu Xiangzhi to pad a lead that he would not relinquish.

Is it possible to be exciting and successful in chess? "Nepo" managed it in the nine rounds at Hainan. His seven decisive games amounted to nearly half of all those accounted for during the event (15 total decisive games out of 45).

Four of Nepo's five wins came against the Chinese delegation. | All photos

Nepo's final score of 6.0/9 won by a full point. It was not quite as resounding as Vachier-Lagrav's victory in Dortmund, but it was close! It's not often a winner suffers two losses, but also consider this rarity: Half the field suffered fewer losses than the winner. Of course, Nepo's five wins paid off in spades.

Did Nepo pack his party pants in his luggage on the way to the isle of Hainan in the South China Sea? Perhaps. As Harrison Ford once said, "It's an island... if you didn't bring it here, you won't find it here."

Unlike Ford's movie, the tournament wasn't on Makatea, population 68. Hainan's population is just slightly larger (8.9 million).

Of course, it took Nepomniachtchi more than Six Days, Seven (K)Nights to capture the title. Let's pick up where we left off after round five.

Nepo "suffered" his first draw in round six, to the would-be bottom-ender GM Wang Hao. The result belied the complexity. Despite the removal of the queens, White's king was nearly mated, then so was Black's. On move 33, it was time to repeat for Wang.

Games via TWIC.

Not to be outdone in terms of strange play, GM Hou Yifan on the same day had a: white pawn on a5, trapped bishop on f7, queen's rook on f3, and all this was by move 15! Oh, and she also had a better position, but she could not convert.

For those looking for more of GM Ding Liren's creativity, we remind you that he is the wildcard in the upcoming Sinquefield Cup. A special daily video previewing his career record against the field is forthcoming on the site.

The next day Harikrishna got within a half-point with his win as White in the Najdorf over the leader. Even more exciting was Hou's play. She proved the old adage that "three pieces is mate." Well, if you're going to count the rooks, she had five pieces, and Wang Hao felt the whole force of her punch. It looks like GM Georg Meier just got some new fodder for his video series on the Catalan.

In round eight, the winner effectively shut the door on his chasers. Nepo played a dominant and one-sided game. Closing down the queenside isn't the way to bother White in the Closed Spanish, and if Black was thinking the kingside was on lock-down, a rude 29th move challenged his misinformed perspective.

Things could have still been interesting going into the final day, but Wang Hao stifled any potential drama. Why the third mention of the last-place finisher in this report? Well, he defended for 146 moves against Harikrishna and held rook and bishop vs rook without any drama. That's not always a given even at the highest level. Just ask Messrs. Caruana and Svidler.

What is this, a heavyweight prize fight? Harikrishna had a lot of zeros in his paycheck.

There was still a little tension Sunday even though Nepomniachtchi would have preferred a day of rest. Only needing a draw to ice the tournament win, he found himself in a wild game against the uncompromising GM Vassily Ivanchuk. Just when the passed pawn needed a nudge, Ivanchuk threw away the win with an insipid trade.

Nepomniachtchi won 120,000 yuan (about $18,000 USD) and 15 rating points. The top 50 list is quite packed in the lower half of the 2700 range, so that was good enough to vault him a dozen spots into the world top 20.

Rk. Title Name Rtg FED 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Pts. TB3
1 GM Nepomniachtchi, Ian 2725 0 1 1 0 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 6.0 25,75
2 GM Harikrishna, Pentala 2755 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 5.0 23,00
3 GM Wang Yue 2730 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 5.0 20,75
4 GM Ding Liren 2778 0 0 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.5 19,25
5 GM Yu Yangyi 2734 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.5 21,00
6 GM Bu Xiangzhi 2723 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 4.5 19,50
7 GM Ivanchuk, Vassily 2728 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 4.0 18,25
8 GM Leko, Peter 2712 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.0 17,50
9 GM Hou Yifan 2653 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4.0 16,75
10 GM Wang Hao 2734 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 3.5 16,25

*Note that Ding Liren finished above the others on equal fourth due to beating them both in individual games and consequently having a better head-to-head record.

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