Berlin's Grand Prix second round leaves no stone unturned
Berlin, February 5th 2022 – "I don't understand why Svidler predicted that everyone will play very safe. In this format, you have to risk". This statement by Alexander Grischuk after his game with Bacrot sums up the general feeling of the players in this new tournament format. With only one player of each group qualifying for the semifinals, cautious play is not to be recommended.
Tired of boring 30-move draws, fans all over the world are having the time of their lives enjoying the exciting games delivered each afternoon from the playing venue in Berlin's center. Surrounded by magnificent buildings and monuments (the Brandenburg Gate is within walking distance), players seem to be inspired by the historical events that have come to pass in this area.
Thanks to the fighting spirit being displayed on the boards, after two of the six rounds, each group already has a sole leader: Hikaru Nakamura, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Levon Aronian and Lenier Dominguez. All four are on 1½/2, but anything can happen as all games are played with great intensity.
This group is clearly one of the toughest of the four, and today's round proved to be no exception. In the first game to finish, French GM Etienne Bacrot missed a huge opportunity to score his first point in the tournament and punish his opponent's risky opening strategy.
Bacrot had a huge advantage after only fifteen moves. "15.d5 is on the board and I don't see the move for Black. I think it was a disastrous opening experience for Alexander Grischuk," affirmed online commentator GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko.
However, under huge pressure both on the board and on the clock, Grischuk once again demonstrated why he is one of the best players in the world as he defended tenaciously in a very difficult position until the draw was unavoidable. "Bacrot has all the reasons to be disappointed" was Mironischenko's final conclusion after Grischuk's narrow escape. But as Grischuk pointed out after the game, "Only one player qualifies from each group, so you need to take risks".
In the other game, USA's representative Hikaru Nakamura, conducting the white pieces, scored a very important win against Russia's GM Andrey Esipenko. The opening was classical English, and Hikaru seemed to achieve a small edge. Episenko was defending well until move 23 when he blundered big with …Qe6? allowing Hikaru to win a pawn and the game.
In a postgame conversation with IM Michael Rahal, Press Officer for the event, Nakamura mentioned that Esipenko had missed 25.Re4! (he had probably only considered 25.Rxc7, which also looks slightly better for White). The American finished off the game with a display of excellent queen and pawn ending technique and now leads this group after two rounds.
Poland's GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek vs Russia's GM Grigory Oparin was a tough technical battle. After losing yesterday, the 24-year-old winner of the 2016 Higher League was eager to score his first point in the tournament, but the in-form Polish number two had other plans.
"Radek" was ahead for most of the game, nursing an extra pawn and the bishop pair, but Oparin was continuously on the lookout for "tricks" with his knight and was finally able to force a drawn rook ending.
"I missed one move and then I couldn't see how I could win. It felt really close, but I'm not sure where it went wrong" was Wojtaszek's feeling after the game. Oparin said: "Obviously, a half-point out of two was not what I was looking for but OK, with two Black's, things could have gone worse!
The game of the afternoon was the incredible fight between GM Richard Rapport from Hungary and GM Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia). Rapport bounced back from his loss yesterday, defeating Fedoseev in an exciting and complicated game.
With 22. Ng4! Rapport initiated a so-called "king-walk" plus a piece sacrifice, completely unclear but intuitively interesting. His plan was to create a mating net around his opponent's king. Maybe Fedoseev was holding at some point, but it was always very complicated, and both players agreed in the postgame interview that it had been very interesting.
Thanks to this win, Richard has caught his opponent in the Pool B standings, and both of them are now only half a point behind the leader, Radoslaw Wojtaszek.
Both games in this group finished in a draw at about the same time, just under the 2.5 hours mark. The first two players to exit the playing venue were Russian GM Danil Dubov and USA GM Levon Aronian. Their game ended in a perpetual check just after the 30-move limit, leaving Aronian as the group's sole leader with 1.5/2.
Although his opponent is one of the world's leading experts in the London System with White, Dubov tried his hand in this setup. Aronian defended with the precise 5…Nh5 continuation and secured the bishop pair. "Daniil is always a surprising player with an exciting style, so I was trying to predict during my preparation what he would play!" were the kind words to his opponent in his postgame interview.
However, Dubov managed to keep the balance thanks to his excellent piece coordination coupled with the symmetrical pawn structure that didn't offer any chances to play for a win.
In the other game, Indian GM Vidit Gujrathi, playing with Black, demonstrated excellent opening preparation in a popular line that goes into a minor piece ending very fast. Facing the question by Press Officer IM Michael Rahal in the postgame interview, Vidit explained that "As Black, I have a limited choice. I thought I'd just play, and it's up to my opponent if he wants to play more ambitiously. The endgame is well-known to be slightly worse, but more often than not, it ends in a draw".
His opponent, German GM Vincent Keymer, knew that this line was very solid for Black, but he "decided to try something different but my opponent defended very well, and I didn't really get a chance". Faced with the prospect of two consecutive games with Black in the next two rounds, Keymer took it in stride: "Yesterday I missed a few chances to get more than half a point, two draws against two 2700+ plus players is certainly a good result, and now I will have to defend as Black".
American GM Wesley So had to fight hard today to earn his half-point. Still slightly jet-lagged, So managed to hold a tricky ending a pawn down, once again reminding everyone of Tarrasch's famous idiom "All rook endings are drawn ".
His opponent, Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna, was pressing for most of the game after introducing a new idea in a sideline of the Berlin Defence. With razor-sharp precision, he isolated and then captured So's weak d-pawn and tried hard to convert for nearly 50 moves to no avail. "I don't know where I can clearly improve or at least pose more problems" was Harikrisna's final reflection after the game.
The other game in this group was very exciting. Current Spanish number one GM Alexei Shirov (tied in the ratings with Vallejo Pons at 2704 but ahead on activity) was surprised in the opening by his opponent's 9th move …e5, after which he spent nearly 20 minutes to get his grip on the position.
The opponents fought hard in a very unclear opposite-side castled king position, but GM Leinier Dominguez eventually took down the point with a crushing attack on Shirov's king, leaving the American leader of his group after the first two rounds. A heart-breaking defeat for Shirov, but the Spaniard has demonstrated time and time again his comeback capability, and there are still four rounds to go.
About the Tournament
The three-tournament Grand Prix series, which will unfold from February to April, features twenty-four of the world's best Grandmasters, who will compete in two of the three events. In order to make the series more exciting and reduce the percentage of draws, FIDE and World Chess have changed the format.
This innovative approach is new for the chess world but very similar to the Super League: the first stage has four pools of four players, and the winner of each pool advances to the semifinals and then to the final.
The venue of the first leg is the World Chess Club Berlin, located at the City Centre on Unter den Linden, 26-30, and the games will be played from February 4th-17th every afternoon at 3 pm. Along with the two qualification spots for the Candidates, the event has a 150.000 euros prize fund, 20.000 euros more than the 2019 series.
All the games will be broadcasted live with expert commentary in three languages at https://chessarena.com/broadcasts/13604 More information and the full schedule can also be found on the worldchess.com website. Full pairings can be found here.
Due to COVID restrictions currently in place, only a limited number of tickets are available. Please note that the 2G+ rule applies to the event, which means that visiting the venue is only possible for those who either have a complete vaccination with EU-certified vaccine or proof of recovery and can additionally present a booster dose certificate or a negative test result.
Leading companies supporting the FIDE Grand Prix Series 2022 include:
For further questions, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Text: IM Michael Rahal
About World Chess
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