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Radjabov Continues Furious Comeback, Still In Candidates' Hunt With MVL
GM Teimour Radjabov (right) didn't seem stressed before the round. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Radjabov Continues Furious Comeback, Still In Candidates' Hunt With MVL

The door to the Candidates' is suddenly "ajar" for "Raja." But then, it's been a backward kind of tournament anyway.

After winning a game early at the final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, GM Teimour Radjabov then drifted into a minus score with only three games remaining. After today's win, his second in a row, he's improbably back in the hunt, and controls his own fate.

Winning on demand is a rare enough occurrence anyway, but to do so twice in a row, and once as Black, is quite another. Today Radjabov got what he considered a favorable matchup -- GM Boris Gelfand. He knew the veteran would play sharp chess -- exactly what you want to see in yet another must-win situation.

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GM Teimour Radjabov (right) -- the most clutch man in chess at the moment. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

While Radjabov didn't trot out his famous King's Indian, he did develop essentially a Benoni-type pawn structure, which fits a recurring theme of the tournament. He broke through with the classic ...b5 idea, then showed that three separated pawns were too much for a knight.

Meanwhile, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was frustrated for the second day in a row, and could only draw GM Ernesto Inarkiev. The Frenchman didn't lure his opponent into a similar double-edged position, much to the disappointment of the other would-be Candidates' qualifier.

Tournament leader GM Levon Aronian drew GM Evgeny Tomashevsky in less than 40 minutes. Aronian could be seen sniffling and told Chess.com he caught a cold and wasn't feeling well.

Palma Grand Prix | Round 8 Results

Bo. No. Fed Title Name Rtg Pt. Result Pt. Fed Title Name Rtg No.
1 1 GM Aronian Le 2801 ½ - ½ 4 GM Tomashevsky 2702 14
2 3 GM Nakamura 2780 4 ½ - ½ 4 GM Harikrishna 2738 9
3 5 GM Svidler 2763 4 ½ - ½ 4 GM Ding Liren 2774 4
4 15 GM Rapport 2692 4 ½ - ½ 4 GM Jakovenko 2721 10
5 16 GM Inarkiev 2683 ½ - ½ 4 GM Vachier-Lagrave 2796 2
6 13 GM Vallejo 2705 3 ½ - ½ GM Eljanov 2707 12
7 7 GM Li Chao 2741 1 - 0 GM Giri 2762 6
8 11 GM Gelfand 2719 0 - 1 GM Radjabov 2741 8
9 18 GM Hammer 2629 2 ½ - ½ GM Riazantsev 2651 17

After four long events, the Grand Prix qualification race all comes down to tomorrow. The large mass of players on +1 means the "live" fractional points must be calculated with a "63" as the denominator!

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 nine-way tie for second place, which would be 140+110+90+80+70+60+50+40+30 = 670 / 9 = 74 4/9 .

Vachier-Lagrave (who needs 126 points, or 130 if Radjabov overtakes Mamedyarov) would also fall short, finishing in the same nine-way tie for second place, which would be: 140+110+90+80+70+60+50+40+30 = 670 / 9 = 74 4/9.

That means for the four relevant players, the final scores would be:

Mamedyarov: 340, qualifies.

Grischuk: 336 3/7, qualifies.

Radjabov: 315 55/63, fails to qualify.

Vachier-Lagrave: 285 55/63, fails to qualify.

For more information see our first report.

Before we tackle the games today, here's all the final-round scenarios (that we could think of!) beyond our usual live update:

If Aronian wins on top board tomorrow, he will take first with 6.0/9. Then:

  • If Radjabov wins (against GM Richard Rapport), he is in the Candidates, no matter what. This is because at most four players will tie for second. The points would be 140+110+90+80= 420 / 4 = 105 and Radjabov would finish first with 346 3/7. Both he and Mamedyarov would qualify.
  • Vachier-Lagrave would need to win (against GM Dmitry Jakovenko), and have no other 4.5-scorer win (regardless of who it is). If he is the only 4.5-scorer to win, then he and Mamedyarov would qualify. If there is one other 4.5-winner that is not Radjabov, Vachier-Lagrave would merely tie Grischuk for the second Candidates' spot. The first tiebreak is actual games won in the three events, and they would tie there (16.0-16.0). The second tiebreak is number of games played with Black, and Grischuk played 14/27 games with Black while Vachier-Lagrave will have played only 13/27 games. So Vachier-Lagrave cannot afford to go to the tiebreak.

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Whereas Radjabov is "win and in," GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave needs a win and some help tomorrow. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

If Aronian draw or loses, then there will be one player on 5.5 from board one (either him or GM Hikaru Nakamura). In that scenario:

  • Radjabov is still in the Candidates' if he wins. There could be at most five total players tying for first, so his minimum points would be 170+140+110+90+80 = 590 / 5 = 118. Radjabov only needs 96 to qualify, so he and Mamedyarov would be in the Candidates'.
  • Vachier-Lagrave still needs to win, and have not more than one other player in the 4.5-score group win also (not counting the top board, where someone will be getting to 5.5/9). Vachier-Lagrave would not care if Radjabov was one of the other two people tying with him. That's because 170+140+110 = 420 / 3 = 140. In this case Vachier-Lagrave would qualify and so would Radjabov if he was one of the winners, or Mamedyarov if Radjabov failed to win.
  • Here's where it gets fun: Vachier-Lagrave can still qualify if he wins and there are two other winners in the 4.5 score group win (in addition to the top board player scoring 5.5/9). But in that case he cannot have Radjabov be one of the winners. That's because the four-way split would be 170+140+110+90 = 510 / 4 = 127 1/2, which is more than the 126 that Vachier-Lagrave needs to overtake Grischuk. However, that's not enough to overtake Mamedyarov's total (it's about three points short). So if Radjabov is one of the four finishing on 5.5/9 for first, then he'd take first qualification overall, and Mamedyarov would barely hang on over Vachier-Lagrave.

There are no scenarios at all where Vachier-Lagrave or Radjabov can qualify with a draw. So, this is all academic for them. They both must win for any chances to exist.

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Vachier-Lagrave may want to choose this Mallorcan restaurant tomorrow. Even if he wins in round nine, his situation is highly unclear. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

It's not often in journalism that in the report we readily admit there could be an error, so please take all of this as unofficial and there are surely scenarios not covered!

Whew. Where were we? Oh yeah, Radjabov refusing to hit the mat like Rocky:

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Chess.com interviewed Radjabov on camera:

Aronian's health-induced draw on top actually arose from the same opening, with the boards matching until move eight. 

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Ailing leader GM Levon Aronian only played for 40 minutes for his draw, while two other players nearly touched eight hours! | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

While GM Li Chao scored the only other win of the round (over GM Anish Giri), the other "main event" was Vachier-Lagrave's own attempt to win as Black against Inarkiev.

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Vachier-Lagrave now has seven straight draws following his opening-round win. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

The Frenchman spoke at length to Chess.com about his opening decisions and the expectations he had about the game. He said he stuck to the Grunfeld because he thought it gave him the best chances for complications. He didn't seriously consider playing something brand new.

"The frustrating thing is that today I was hoping for more of a fight," he said. "I was not going to play something I’ve never played before. If it meant learning a new opening from scratch, I would not have had the energy.” He added that nearly every opening could be met by some solid rejoinder, so going rogue doesn't necessarily create messiness.

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Although he played a man named after Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Vachier-Lagrave couldn't lure GM Ernesto Inarkiev into a real battle today. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In the end, Vachier-Lagrave repeated a line he played as Black against Giri in Leuven this year, but changed the development of his queen's bishop from b7 to d7. 

"Already by that point I was thinking if I have any chance to win today it would be remote. I was very disappointed. I didn’t expect Ernesto to go for this line. I was looking forward for something more sharp. That’s why I didn’t deviate from the Grunfeld."

Vachier-Lagrave added that he thought there was a "50-50" chance Inarkiev would play 6. Rc1 instead of 6. cxd5. "Knowing Ernesto, he goes for sharper positions in general." But that didn't happen today:

"Now the situation is very simple," Vachier-Lagrave told Chess.com well before all the other games finished to crystallize the math. "You have to win tomorrow and hope for the very best. I’m going all out tomorrow. If it’s not enough, it’s not enough."

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Vachier-Lagrave is seeking to become the first French world champion since Alexander Alekhine. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

If he doesn't qualify, he will have come so close on most of the Candidates' methods: just short in rating, one round shy in the World Cup, and perhaps a few points short in the Grand Prix (Vachier-Lagrave said he hates the wildcard option and wouldn't have wanted to make it via that method anyway).

"It would be tremendously frustrating," he said about the missing out on his first-ever Candidates' Tournament. He said he considers himself a much more well-rounded player than two years ago. "I feel like I would have pretty decent chances against the field."

Lastly, local GM Francisco Vallejo proved that true Catalans don't go to dinner until past 10 p.m. He played for 140 moves and nearly eight hours, but never strayed from close equality to GM Pavel Eljanov

Palma Grand Prix | Round 8 Standings

Rk. SNo Name FED Rtg Pts. Rp rtg+/-
1 1 GM Aronian Levon 2801 5,0 2832 2,9
2 2 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 4,5 2787 -0,8
3 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2780 4,5 2786 0,9
4 GM Ding Liren 2774 4,5 2775 0,3
5 GM Svidler Peter 2763 4,5 2782 2,4
8 GM Radjabov Teimour 2741 4,5 2768 3,3
9 GM Harikrishna P. 2738 4,5 2763 2,9
10 GM Jakovenko Dmitry 2721 4,5 2780 6,7
14 GM Tomashevsky Evgeny 2702 4,5 2788 9,8
15 GM Rapport Richard 2692 4,5 2759 7,6
11 12 GM Eljanov Pavel 2707 4,0 2725 2,0
16 GM Inarkiev Ernesto 2683 4,0 2748 7,0
13 6 GM Giri Anish 2762 3,5 2697 -7,5
7 GM Li Chao B 2741 3,5 2662 -9,0
13 GM Vallejo Pons Francisco 2705 3,5 2674 -3,6
16 17 GM Riazantsev Alexander 2651 3,0 2631 -2,7
17 11 GM Gelfand Boris 2719 2,5 2564 -16,5
18 GM Hammer Jon Ludvig 2629 2,5 2574 -5,7

Pairings final round nine: Nakamura-Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave-Jakovenko, Tomashevsky-Ding Liren, Harikrishna-Svidler, Radjabov-Rapport, Eljanov-Gelfand, Hammer-Inarkiev, Giri-Vallejo and Riazantsev-Li Chao.

Download Tournament PGN

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.


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