Holding his nerve in what became a tense final round of the 10th Tal Memorial in Moscow, Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi managed to overcome the many troubles he had in his game against tail-ender Boris Gelfand to hold the draw, as he took the title that honours the eighth world champion - Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) - by a half point ahead of his nearest rival, Anish Giri, who squandered a golden chance to win his last round game that would have taken the top two into a playoff.
Nepomniachtchi, 26, did all his scoring in the early rounds with his start of 4.5/6, but was unable to maintain the pace as he finished with three draws to just get over the line ahead of Giri for the biggest victory of his career, easily eclipsing his previous best of capturing the Russian and European championship titles in 2010.
Born in the same so-called “golden year” of 1990 as Magnus Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin and Maxime VachierLagrave, Nepo - better late than never, I suppose - now finally fulfils his early promise of being one of Russia’s stars for the future, as he captures his first super-tournament title. And with it, he’s now also set to enter the World Top-10 for the first time, being tied for the tenth spot on the unofficial live rating list with Giri, both on 2766.8.
The pace noticeably slowed down towards the end of the tournament, with all but one game of the final three rounds ending in a draw - the one exception being Mamedyarov-Kramnik in the final round, won by Mamedyarov. So as we started our coverage of the Tal Memorial with Mamedyarov beating Kramnik (to win the pre-tournament blitz) then, fittingly, we end it with Mamedyarov again beating Kramnik.
1. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 6/9; 2. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 5.5; 3-4. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Vishy Anand (India) 5; 5-8. Peter Svidler (Russia), Li Chao (China), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 4.5; 9. Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia) 3.5; 10. Boris Gelfand (Israel) 2.
GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - GM Vladimir Kramnik
10th Tal Memorial, (9)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 More common in the QGD is 5.Bg5, but this flexible move is not as innocent as it looks. It has an English pedigree, having been first played in 1887 by the leading English master, Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924). However, the player who did much to pioneer this line and bring it to prominence was, in fact, Hungary's Lajos Portisch, who in the late 1970s and 1980s won many wonderful endgames using this system. The cudgels were then taken up in the noughties by Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov - and then championed by Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian. 5...0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.a3 c5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Nxd5 exd5 10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Be5 White's play is all centred around exploiting Black's isolated d-pawn - and the best play against an isolated pawn is to control the square in front of it, which Mamedyarov now does. 11...Bf5 12.Be2 Bf6 13.0-0 Bxe5 14.Nxe5 Qf6 15.b4 Qxe5 16.bxc5 Rac8 17.Rc1 Rfd8 18.Qd4 f6 19.g4 Bg6 20.Rc3 Rc7 21.Rfc1 Re7 22.Rd1 Qg5 23.Qb4 Re4 24.Rd4 Rde8 25.Rcd3 Kh8? (See Diagram) It is highly unusual for Kramnik to make a mistake such as this, but perhaps the ex-world champion was spooked by a "ghost" in this position? Whatever, it just seems so unnatural for him, especially as it self-inflicts a game-losing back-rank mating threat. The correct move was 25...R8e7 protecting the seventh rank and the struggle continues, with White retaining an advantage - but with Black holding the likely saving counter-play with pressure on g4. 26.Rd2 h5 Now we see the full horrors of 25...Kh8. If Black tries to cover the b-pawn now with 26...R8e7 then, suddenly, those back-rank mating threats come into play after 27.c6! bxc6 28.Rxe4 and Black will lose a whole rook. 27.Qxb7 The damage has now been well and truly done, as capturing on b7 allows White's c-pawn to quickly run home. 27...hxg4 28.Rxd5 f5 29.Bf1 Rxe3 30.c6! The c-pawn cannot be stopped without a big loss of material. 30...Rc3 31.c7 Qf4 32.Rd7 Rg8 33.R2d4 Qc1 34.Qb8 Kh7 35.Rd8 Bf7 36.Rxg8 Bxg8 37.Rd8 Be6 It may well cover the queening square, but it does leave open now a mating attack on the Black king. 38.Rh8+ Kg6 39.Qe8+ Kf6 40.Qf8+ Kg6 41.Qd6 Rc6 42.c8Q! 1-0 Kramnik resigns, faced with a mating attack AND a big loss of material after 42...Rxc8 43.Qxe6+ Kg5 44.Rxc8 etc.