2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Leg 3, R3: Keymer Wins, Nakamura Escapes


The third round of leg three of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix produced only one decisive game. With today’s win, GM Vincent Keymer joins GM Leinier Dominguez Perez in the lead in Group B. All the other games ended in draws and so the other groups’ leaders remain unchanged.

Round four begins on Friday, March 25, at 7 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central European.

The round saw considerably more excitement than yesterday’s festival of draws, yet it still produced just one win. In Group A, GM Levon Aronian remains the leader. GM Alexandr Predke could have been caught but remains the sole leader in group C. Finally, in Group D, GM Nikita Vitiugov takes his half-point lead into the second half of the pool play. 

Group A

In the middle of the round, it looked certain that Aronian would get caught by Grigoriy Oparin, but with the two draws, he holds the lead at the midway point. 

Thus far, Esipenko is the player who has gained the least from his advantageous positions, pushing long and somewhat hard in both of his first two games in this event. Today, he had to play against group leader Aronian with the white pieces. For this encounter, he chose the Ruy Lopez. Aronian, as always, was excellently prepared using the Berlin Defense, and after 4.d3 he equalized with surprising ease, utilizing a line he had previously played against World Champion Magnus Carlsen in Paris 2016.

Aronian plays the Berlin. Photo: World Chess.

Around move 20, it looked like Black had solved all of his problems, but it took more than one or two imprecise moves by Aronian to see the evaluation needle swing in White’s favor. However, in his play on the queenside, Esipenko chose the wrong pawn advance, and the advantage evaporated as quickly as it had appeared. In the endgame, the players agreed that neither side would be able to make progress and settled for a draw.

Oparin took on the struggling Hikaru Nakamura. Needing a win, Nakamura resorted to his old love, the King’s Indian Defense, a combative and complex opening that gives both sides a chance to win. Oparin countered with a sharp 5.Be2 followed by 6.h4, a line that used to be considered somewhat harmless but has seen a resurgence in popularity, in part on account of being part of the lines that Black resorts to after the Basman-Williams Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4), which I recently published a book about. While Black objectively should be okay, the difficulties of playing Black’s position quickly became apparent in today’s game.

Nakamura defended miraculously. Photo: World Chess.

Nakamura played natural moves, but thanks to the white pawn on h6(!), the typical ideas for counterplay did not work, and soon Nakamura had a very difficult position, where themes of back-rank mate, mate on g7, trapped pieces, etc. were everywhere. The American grandmaster resorted to a Hail Mary sort of solution by opting for 19…Nb4 followed by 20… Nxd5 in response to White’s stunning 20.Bxg6!, hoping against hope that Oparin would miss 21.Bf5 that would, more or less, have forced resignation by Nakamura.

Instead, Oparin opted for 21.Bxh7, giving Black some hopes of survival, even if he objectively still was in serious trouble. If anything should be obvious at this point, you do not allow Nakamura chances he should not have because he will take them and make the most of them. And so it was, inaccuracy after inaccuracy by White, Black clawed his way back into the game, and, eventually, a peace accord was signed by the combatants. An amazing escape by Nakamura. 

Chess.com game of the day dejan bojkov

Group B

With a win, the Benjamin of the group, in fact of the entire tournament, German GM Keymer joined Dominguez in the lead. 

With the white pieces, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov saw the need to try and beat Dominguez before the second half was to begin. However, in today’s battle, he never really came close. At one point, he had some initiative, but it quickly expired after an imprecise move. 

Keymer was lucky to escape with a draw in yesterday’s game against Dominguez. Today, he faced the luckless Russian GM Daniil Dubov. They had also faced each other in the first leg of the Grand Prix, where they had drawn in a Slav Defense.

Keymer was the only one to win. Photo: World Chess.

Here, the players went for a sharp line with an unbalanced pawn structure, something that Keymer had played on several occasions before on both sides of the board, whereas it was a new line in Dubov’s praxis. Dubov, however, was doing fine until he played the imprecise 18…Nd3 followed by the blunder 21…Nd5??, which resulted in Keymer winning two pawns and ruining Dubov’s king’s shelter. 

Group C

Another day with two draws in Group C means that Predke hangs on to the lead, although it seemed like GM Sam Shankland had good chances for the full point.

The first game to finish was the one between GM Wesley So and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The American grandmaster undoubtedly had looked at the tournament table and thought, “Vachier-Lagrave will want an unbalanced game where he will have some chances to win. Let’s avoid that!” 

One of the more peaceful games of the day. Photo: World Chess.

Therefore, So went for something that can hardly be considered ambitious. After being surprised by Vachier-Lagrave’s sixth, seventh, and eighth moves, he essentially pulled an emergency brake, sending the game towards an endgame, which at best can be considered fractionally better for White, but without any real winning chances. The players agreed on a draw after 37 moves.

In the last game to finish, Shankland played against the group leader, Predke.  In a Queen’s Gambit Declined Exchange Variation, Shankland got very little out of the opening; in fact, Black had every reason to be satisfied. That, however, did not deter Shankland who methodically improved on his position in the middlegame, got an edge, and won a pawn in the transition to the rook ending, mainly because Predke saw that this transition was better than trying to defend passively.

While Shankland tried for a while, Predke never cracked and the draw was never too far out of sight, although the players deserve full credit for playing a fascinating game.

Their long rook endgame was the last to end. Photo: World Chess.

Group D

Another day with two draws in this group made sure that Vitiugov remained the sole leader, half a point ahead of GMs Anish Giri and Yu Yangyi.

For Giri, round three represented an opportunity to catch up with the leader and he chose to play 1.e4. Vitiugov responded by playing a line of the Kan Variation of the Sicilian Defense that he had used on several occasions before, including against fellow Russian GMs Alexander Grischuk and Sergey Karjakin. With that in mind, it seemed certain that Giri would be prepared against this line.

Round three was an opportunity for Giri. Photo: World Chess.

However, it was Vitiugov who first varied from his previous games, allowing White to capture on a7. White gained the initiative, but it did not take more than one imprecise move to let the initiative slide, although this was only due to Vitiugov’s precise and efficient defense with 19…f5, 20…Rc7, 21…e5! which gave Black everything he needed to create the sufficient counterplay. 

In the other game, Tabatabaei used the solid but out-of-fashion Tartakower Variation in a Queen’s Gambit Declined. White gained some initiative, but with precise play Tabatabaei temporarily sacrificed a pawn, seeing that White would have to hand it back with a completely equal position. Soon after, the players agreed upon a draw.


All Games – Round 3

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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