2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin R6: Nakamura Reaches Semifinals On Day Of Nerves


The last round of the group stage of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix first leg produced high-voltage drama in Berlin with GM Hikaru Nakamura joining GM Levon Aronian for the semifinal lineup after winning Group A and Group C respectively. In a day of nerves, many games witnessed fortunes swinging wildly as players struggled to keep their nerves on a crucial day at the Grand Prix.

GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek and GM Wesley So missed valuable opportunities to win their games and sail to the semifinals, and they will now face their group-members GM Richard Rapport and GM Leinier Dominguez respectively in the tiebreak matches in faster time controls scheduled for Friday, February 11.  It was a difficult day at the office for GM Andrey Esipenko and GM Vladimir Fedoseev who enjoyed better positions of varying degrees before their nerves got the better of them.

There were moments in the sixth round when the tension was at its near-highest on all the crucial boards. By “crucial” we mean all the boards where qualification—or at least tying for qualification—to the knockout stage was at stake.

With his strong sense of positional basics, Wojtaszek had built up a huge advantage by this point, and it was only required of him to proceed with straightforward play and attack the opponent’s king in the center. What could be the way forward here?

After uneven play by Nakamura till this point, Esipenko had a near-winning position, and he could have forced matters by spotting a hidden combinative element in the position. Is it possible to unearth the motive and the move here?

With his usual logical play, So built up a considerable advantage by this stage. But he was required to choose between many plausible plans and find the crucial way to press forward—while being aware of his own king’s safety too. Among 29.Bh3, 29.Rc7, or 29.Qc5, what should he choose here?

Almost throughout the entire middlegame, Fedoseev enjoyed dominating the c-file, but now Rapport might be threatening counterplay on the kingside. Should he concentrate on the queenside with 43.a3 or should he consider a prophylactic 43.g3? 

Patiently nursing an advantage through the middlegame, Dominguez faces a crossroads here as the black rook on e2 threatens to create counterplay. How should he respond?

As the games entered the fourth hour of play, GM Daniel Naroditsky remarked on the Chess.com official commentary: “It started off as a quiet day; now a lot of these games are getting spicy!”

In a nutshell, the above diagrams tell the story of the entire final round of the group stage of the 2022 Grand Prix first leg in Berlin. A careful reader would also recognize that whichever player had to make the decisions in the above positions enjoyed varying degrees of advantage in the game. Hence, it was ultimately a question of keeping their nerves under control.

Group A

Esipenko trailed Nakamura by half a point, needing to defeat the latter to top the group and advance to the semifinals. He had the white pieces too, which is generally an advantage in such scenarios.

Esipenko – rolling up his sleeves and preparing for a long struggle. Photo: WorldChess.

The way Nakamura had played so far in the tournament, the American Grandmaster did not seem seriously threatened at first. But as the game progressed, Nakamura’s play was not optimal, especially in the initial stages:

Informed about the resource 26…Nb6 after the game, Nakamura came up with the memorable reply: “Computers. Computers! That’s all I am going to say.”

—GM Hikaru Nakamura

Away from all the pressure of reaching the knockout stage, GM Alexander Grischuk produced an eventful attacking game against GM Etienne Bacrot. Though the game was not without tactical inaccuracies, it was entertaining nevertheless:

Grischuk-Bacrot: a well-conducted attacking game by the Russian grandmaster. Photo: WorldChess.

Group B

This was the only group where three players had a theoretical chance to qualify to the knockout stage. With a win in their games, both Wojtaszek and Fedoseev could hope for a passage to the semifinals or a tiebreak. GM Richard Rapport could also hope for a tiebreak or even a direct place in the semifinal if things moved his way. In such a scenario, it is no wonder that both the games proved to be tense affairs:

Fedoseev-Rapport also was decided in equally dramatic circumstances:

Fedoseev-Rapport: another tense encounter of the day. Photo: WorldChess.

Group C

Aronian-Dubov ended in a draw quickly—but not before a curious Grischuk contribution. After the players agreed to a draw after a threefold repetition, they went ahead and made a… fourfold repetition:

In the post-game interview, GM Daniil Dubov explained the incident, saying that Grischuk pointed out that in the first position, it was possible for Black to play 0-0-0, whereas it was not possible in the further instances of the same position. Hence, the players repeated the position another time! Dubov came up with the deadpan: “Sasha is the only man there who knows the rules!”

As soon as he drew his game and emerged as the top of his group, Aronian came up with a quip when asked about the possibility of facing another fellow-American in the knockout stage: “They are old Americans, and I am a new American. I have to prove that I can be as good as them or even better.”

—GM Levon Aronian

Group D

At the halfway mark of the games, it looked favorable for Wesley So as he looked to be cruising to a good win against Harikrishna:

This meant that Dominguez could catch up with So if he managed to win against Shirov, and he rose to the occasion splendidly:

Chess.com game of the day

Leinier Dominguez – keeping his nerves under control in a crucial game. Photo: WorldChess.


All Games Round 5

FIDE Grand Prix Berlin is the first of three legs of the event. The Berlin tournament takes place February 4-17. Tune in at 6 a.m. Pacific/ 15:00 CET each day for our broadcast.

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