2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin SF1: Aronian And Nakamura Score Emphatic Wins


GM Levon Aronian and GM Hikaru Nakamura outplayed GM Leinier Dominguez and GM Richard Rapport respectively in the first game of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix first leg semifinals in Berlin, both achieved with the white pieces in contrasting styles. They thus take the crucial lead in the two-game semifinal match.

Aronian created a chaotic hand-to-hand combat middlegame, cooked up from home preparation in a complicated variation of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted Opening. Contrastingly, Nakamura steadily built pressure in a Carlsbad structure of a Queen’s Gambit Declined, only to spring an imaginative assault in a queenless middlegame. All in all, it was an absorbing day of chess in Berlin on Saturday. On Sunday, February 13, Dominguez and Rapport will need to win their games to go to tiebreaks.

One of the highlights of the day was GM Viswanathan Anand appearing as a commentator for Chess.com along with host WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili.

Anand revealed in his predictions before the start of the games: “I think Aronian is in superb shape, but Leinier must be very, very happy with the way he qualified—the two back-to-back wins to catch up what was a one-point lead [in the group stage], and then the win in the tiebreak.”

“Maybe Nakamura looks more comfortable on the other end, but really, all of them produced wins on demand. It’s very precarious, qualifying in these group events. It is so short, the number of rounds, and one mistake is fatal. Two of the people who qualified, they actually overcame this one mistake—one loss—and still managed to come back and win. Four guys in very good form!”

—GM Viswanathan Anand


Aronian came with a clear game-plan for the day: to lure Dominguez into the depths of the sharp variation of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted—the only defense the latter employed against 1.d4 in this tournament so far. Jumping ahead, he revealed during the post-game interview: “You can never guarantee that you will get a certain position on the board, but since Leinier employs this opening which I think is very interesting for Black, I thought that there is a probability that this might happen. I prepared a little bit; I cannot say my knowledge is [a lot] about this position. I knew that it’s playable, it’s interesting, and it’s a difficult position for humans to play.”

Aronian – selecting “a difficult position for humans to play.” Photo: WorldChess.

The crux of his plan for the day was in the final sentence, that the opening was a “difficult position for humans to play,” thus revealing the amount of work that went into preparing the opening with engine-generated lines. And he also had a purely human logic to play such a complicated position: “I had this feeling that [after a] difficult tiebreak it would have been maybe my chance, maybe [to] surprise Leinier,” thus clearly indicating that he factored in the tired state of his opponent who came through a grueling tiebreak against GM Wesley So just the previous day.

The encounter between Aronian and Dominguez got so interesting that even the neighbor Nakamura kept an interest in the position!

Anand enjoyed himself analyzing the complicated variations which resulted from the opening phase of the game, saying the position that arose in the early middlegame was “what they told you never to do when you were young! This is just space-barred!”, referring to the way players tap the space-bar of the computer to execute the best moves suggested by the chess engine in any position.

He also commented on the complicated nature of the position, which was impossible to decipher by just following the logical rules of chess: “Steinitz would have fainted at seeing this. Quite a lot of players of 100-150 years back would have fainted. Even a lot of players 30-40 years back would have fainted to see all this! But this is new computer stuff. It shows that you can really test your limit in these positions.”

Chess.com game of the day

Understandably, Dominguez was downcast about his opening choice and his play in the game: “It is a very, very difficult position to play in practice. I was thinking of different possibilities, but I probably took too much time… Difficult game—I felt I had some interesting chances, [but] the way I played [was] just not good.”

Leinier Dominguez: “very, very difficult position to play in practice.” Photo: WorldChess.


Even before the start of the game, there were testimonials on Nakamura’s easy, cool demeanor:

Anand had predicted a creative and sharper opening by Black in the game, factoring in Rapport’s playing style when saying, “Rapport will do something unusual. Rapport has enough unusual stuff,” yet as the game unfolded he added: “This is un-Rapport.” An interesting context for the game was that Nakamura followed the moves of former world champion GM Garry Kasparov, with whom he even trained at some point in his career. Nakamura looked surprised and amused when reminded of the famous game Kasparov-Smyslov, USSR Championship 1988: “I vaguely recall when studying with Garry I saw some position along these lines, but that’s about it. If I am playing like Garry that’s definitely a good thing!”

—GM Hikaru Nakamura

From the first game of this Grand Prix tournament till the semifinals today, Nakamura has traveled a long, long way—after earlier proclaiming: “…playing classical [chess] seemed very boring! Maybe I have to move a bit slower.” When he reached what appeared to be a crucial juncture after 18 moves, Nakamura had already consumed about 49 minutes on his clock. But, that is where he started his excellent onslaught on Black’s position, uncorking a brilliantly imaginative sequence of moves:

“I felt it was kind of bad luck, but I know there is no luck in chess,” was how Rapport described how the endgame turned out to be.

Rapport: “Bad luck, even though there is no bad luck in chess.” Photo: WorldChess.




All Games Semifinal Game 1

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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