Nakamura Wins Again, Leads With Aronian: 2022 FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Leg 3, Round 5

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The fifth round of leg three of the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix saw four decisive games. The wins by GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian mean that they lead in Group A. In Group B, GMs Leinier Dominguez Perez and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov still share the lead. GM Wesley So and Sam Shankland both won today to share the lead in Group C, and in Group D, all four players are even ahead of the last round.  

Round six, the final of the pool play, begins tomorrow, Monday, March 27, at 7 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central European.

Clearly, many of the players had used the rest day to gather energy for the final stretch and put in some solid preparation. However, GM Andrey Esipenko had the first shock of the day when he showed up at the playing hall.

He explained after the game: “I was surprised that I was playing Aronian today. I thought I was playing against Hikaru! And when I came, I was shocked. Then, with Black pieces.”

I thought I was playing against Hikaru!

—GM Andrey Esipenko


Esipenko smiles after the game. Photo: World Chess.

As Nakamura said when told about this afterward: “That explains his opening!”

With victories by four of the five American players, they have put themselves in the best possible positions ahead of the last round.


Group A

Another round of excitement in Group A. Two decisive games meant that the lead slipped out of GM Grigoriy Oparin’s hands, and now Nakamura and Aronian share the lead before round six tomorrow.

The first game to finish in today’s round was Aronian’s encounter with Esipenko. The young Russian lost a very instructive game against Oparin in round four and probably wanted to find a way to recover on the board. However, via a Ragozin Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the players ended up in Nimzo-Indian, resulting in a position that resembled the game between Nakamura and Esipenko in the second round. However, Aronian had something entirely different in mind which he showed when playing 11.Ng5 followed by 12.h4, throwing caution to the wind to attack Black’s king.

However, this was not the first surprise of the day for the young Russian, as he thought he was supposed to play White against Nakamura and not Black against Aronian.

Today was full of surprises, especially for Esipenko. Photo: World Chess.

Esipenko, for his part, responded inaccurately with 12…c5, which Aronian acknowledged after the game he knew was a losing mistake; the better move was 12…Bg7, which Esipenko admitted he had not even considered. Subsequently, Black was torn apart when Aronian sacrificed material to rip Black’s king out of its shelter. When Esipenko resigned, Aronian almost had as much time left on his clock as he had at the beginning of the game!

Chess.com game of the day dejan bojkov

A stunning victory by Aronian. Photo: World Chess.

Nakamura wanted to build on his victory in round four against Aronian, particularly considering that this was his last game with the white pieces in the pool play.

Like Aronian, Nakamura played a quick and somewhat unusual 9.h4!? to shake things up from the start in an otherwise well-known position in the Nimzo-Indian. The move had previously been played by former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov when he joined the fun at the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis five years ago. Indeed, Nakamura was one of the players who faced the idea from the black side of the board.

GM Ding Liren has also used the move against Nakamura. This rare idea, however, did not seem to rattle Oparin too much, and he secured some close-to-equal play. Just like yesterday, Nakamura was not deterred by this, putting pressure on Black and by capturing on a7, securing a pawn majority on the queenside.

Nakamura was not deterred. Photo: World Chess.

Despite this, Black remained in the game, never more than a little worse as White seemed to have issues bringing his bishop on f1 into play. When the bishop finally joined the fun on move 39, it became clear that Nakamura had winning chances, even if the win was still far from being a certainty. When Black allowed the queens to be exchanged, it began to look like a certain win for Nakamura, although he thought for a while before making the decision to chop the queens off.

After the game, Nakamura said about Black’s decision to offer the queen exchange: “Either it’s an easy draw or it’s completely lost”.

 “Either it’s an easy draw or it’s completely lost,” said Nakamura. Photo: World Chess.

However, even then, Black could possibly have saved himself after an inaccuracy by White, although co-commentator GM Robert Hess expressed that he would never have even considered the move that was needed. When questioned about it after the game, Nakamura chewed on the idea, and rightfully said, “That’s too much for humans!” and Oparin joined in, saying, “That’s impossible to find.” In the end, White had exactly one passed pawn too many for Black to stop. Another crucial win for Nakamura.

Group B

With two draws in today’s round, Mamedyarov and Dominguez continue to share the lead.

The two leaders, Dominguez and Mamedyarov had the pleasure of playing each other in today’s round. Although both play many different things, the opening, the Open Variation of the Ruy Lopez, was hardly a surprise as Mamedyarov has been resorting to it whenever he has faced the Ruy Lopez in the most recent events.

The two leaders face off. Photo: World Chess.

According to Dominguez, the line chosen by Mamedyarov is supposed to be better for White, but as Dominguez said: “I decided to play very fast. thinking I have been in time trouble in all my previous games, but maybe I should have given more thought, so I have to find the middle point somehow.” There was indeed a good opportunity for White to gain an advantage, but that was missed by both players. In the end, the players traded down to a double rook ending that should be drawn unless one of the players got too optimistic. That, of course, did not happen.

 

When GMs Daniil Dubov and Vincent Keymer met in the first leg of the Grand Prix, Dubov basically won from his opening preparation against Keymer’s Caro-Kann. Clearly, Keymer did not see the need to discuss that line one more time, even though improvements on Black’s play have already been found, and therefore Keymer played 1…e5, entering a line in the Ruy Lopez he had already played once in this event, against Dominguez in the second round.

Dubov played very sharply, trying to shake Keymer once more, first by playing the temporary piece sacrifice 9.Nbd2!? and then the more permanent sacrifice 16.Nxf6.

Dubov played sharply. Photo: World Chess.

At one point, White had four pawns for the piece but could not make anything concrete out of it. Despite Dubov thinking it was probably winning, it objectively never looked like it thanks to impressive defensive play by Keymer in the endgame.

Dubov was very frustrated and critical of his own play after the game, saying “clearly this is not the tournament for me.”

Group C

Wins by Shankland and So mean that they lead by half a point ahead of the last round, where both of them are playing the white pieces. 

Sam Shankland had the black pieces against GM Aleksandr Predke, who chose a very unusual 5th move, 5.b3, which according to my database has only been played once before. Shankland had the opportunity to exchange queens with 5…Nxc3, but instead opted for a more dynamic setup with pressure on the d-file and seemed to equalize fairly smoothly. 

Shankland opted for dynamic play. Photo: World Chess.

Then Predke figured, this is my last white, so let me try something to play for a win, and sacrificed a pawn with 11.b4!?/?!. Objectively speaking, White gets more or less sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn, but the trajectory of the game certainly seemed to suit Shankland better as he found a way to keep the pawn and when White played a few further mistakes, it was an expressway to a full point for Black. A surprisingly weak effort by Predke.

Yesterday, French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s win against Predke meant that all four players were even before the start of the fifth round. Today, against So, he surprised his opponent by playing 1.d4, and when facing the Nimzo-Indian, he opted for 4.f3. While he had an interesting idea in the opening with g2-g4 followed by Ng3, it seemed clear that he was not particularly familiar playing this type of position and soon slid into an inferior position where So gradually increased his advantage, and he converted the advantage into a full point in the endgame.

A much-needed win for So. Photo: World Chess.

Group D

With two draws in today’s games, the lead is shared by all four players ahead of the last round. 

In the previous leg of the FIDE Grand Prix, GM Yu Yangyi had excellent chances of making it to the semifinal from a group as even as this one, but it required a win in the last round. Yet he pressed too hard, lost, and had himself eliminated at the hands of Predke. 

Today, he faced the Iranian GM Amin Tabatabaei, who had beaten GM Nikita Vitiugov convincingly in the previous round and undoubtedly felt on fire. In a Nimzo-Indian as White, Tabatabaei played an interesting, new move, 7.a4!?, which objectively should not present Black with any problems, but it clearly rocked the Chinese player in some fashion because he responded with the overly aggressive 7…Ne4, 8…Nxc3?! and 9…cxd4?, after which White had a large advantage, causing speculation that Tabatabaei would win fast and make it in time to fill the spot in the Rapid Chess Championship knockout that he had qualified for. 

Tabatabaei (left) had a lot on his mind. Photo: World Chess.

None of that, however, came to pass. A couple of poor moves by White first threw the advantage away and then handed it to Black. Once the advantage shifted to Black, Yu seemed less bashful, taking command of the game and then outplaying White and apparently converting the endgame convincingly.

But then, as Tabatabaei said after the game, a “miracle” happened, allowing him to save a draw from a lost position. 

In Vitiugov-Giri, the Russian grandmaster played a move, 9.h4, which originally was played by GM Mikhail Botvinnik and then later was re-introduced by Aronian in a game against GM Magnus Carlsen in 2011. Giri had faced this line before, back in 2013; White seemed to have some initiative, but it never amounted to much, and eventually, the players traded down to an opposite-colored bishop endgame, making it to move 30 before agreeing to a draw.

Giri and Vitiugov rise as the other games continue. Photo: World Chess.

Playing White in the last round, Yu and Giri must be expected to have better chances to make it into the semifinals, but as we have seen, anything can happen. 

Results

All Games – Round 5

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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