13 Feb

The Race Begins

The 2017 Fide Grand Prix gets underway at the weekend in Sharjah, UAE, and this is the first stage of the year-long process which will officially begin the race to determine World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s next title-challenger, with the two leading players from the four-leg cycle going forward as qualifiers for the 2018 Candidates tournament.

After 18.Rb1!!

The venues and dates for the Grand Prix cycle is: Sharjah, UAE: February 18-27; Moscow, Russia: May 12-21; Geneva, Switzerland: July 6-15; andPalma De Mallorca, Spain: November 16-25. Each event will have a prize fund of €130,000 ($137,000), and 24 qualified or nominated players will be contesting the four tournaments.  Agon Ltd made the announcement recently during a press conference in Sharjah, alongside the unveiling of their new global sponsors, the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. Full details here.

The two top seeds will be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Hikaru Nakamura (USA).  Missing from the line-up is the top two US stars, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, respectively world numbers two and three, and that’s only because they have all but already secured automatic entry into the Candidates by virtue of their ratings - but Nakamura will be looking for yet another good run in the GP (he was runner-up in the last cycle) to be the third American in the Candidates.

Another notable name missing from the Grand Prix line-up is Veselin Topalov, the former world number one and title-challenger.  The Bulgarian has a long-standing feud with FIDE, and he’s announced he's opted to decline his spot in the GP.  But if Topalov’s recent performances are anything to go by, his days playing at the top are now numbered anyway.

The Bulgarian had yet another lacklustre performance at the recent Tradewise Gibraltar Masters - however, despite this, Topalov did win the Best Game prize for the tournament, as age and guile triumphed over youth and innocence in his match-up with the 16-year-old Romanian teenager, Daniel-Bogdan Deac.

GM Veselin Topalov - GM Daniel-Bogdan Deac
Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, (5)
Catalan Opening
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Bd7 6.Ne5 A common theme in the Catalan - the knight heads to e5 not so much to reclaim the pawn on c4, but more to prevent ...Nc6 or ...Bc6. 6...Bc6 7.Nxc6 Nxc6 8.e3 Qd7 9.0-0 Rd8 10.Qe2 e5 11.Nc3 Be7 12.dxe5 Nxe5 13.Bxb7 Bb4 14.Rd1 Nd3 15.e4 In the Catalan, as White, you have to play energetically if you want to win. And here, 15.Bg2 is just too slow as it will allow Black the vital time needed to consolidate his position. 15...Bxc3 16.bxc3 Qb5! And likewise, Black also has to play energetically to stop White taking control of the position, even if it means not castling for now. 17.e5 Nd5?! Admittedly, it does look good as it gets the piece out of the attack, threatens ...Nxc3, and puts the question to White's Catalan bishop on b7 - but first impressions can often be decieving, as Black has totally missed the concept of Topalov's next move. Instead, simply better was 17...0-0! 18.exf6 Qxb7 19.fxg7 (Not 19.Qg4 Qh1+!! and the knight fork on f2 guarantees Black a better game.) 19...Rfe8 20.Be3 Qe4 and with all the central pressure and the knight jammed in d3, Black can claim the advantage here. 18.Rb1!! This must have come as a big shock to the young Romanian. 18...Nxc3?! It looks attractive, so why not? Of course, if 18...Qxb1 19.Bc6+ and 20.Ba3+ wins the Black queen. But unfortunately, with the benefit of hindsight (which is always 20/20), Deac had to play 18...Qc5 19.Qf3 0-0 20.Bxd5 Qxd5 21.Qxd5 Rxd5 22.Rb7 c6 23.Rxa7 Rxe5 and there is nothing much in the position. Although White has the big outside passed a-pawn, it is difficult to see how this can be turned into a winning position without Black playing carelessly. 19.Qf3! Simple and strong. Black is lost due to the big threat of Bc6+ 19...Qxe5 20.Qc6+ There was also a case for 20.Ba3 and the bishops leave the Black king stranded in the middle of the board. 20...Kf8 No better was 20...Rd7 21.Bb2 Ne2+ 22.Kg2 Nd4 23.Bxd4 Qxd4 24.Bc8! Qxf2+ 25.Kh1 and White is going to win the rook on d7. 21.Bb2 Ne2+ 22.Kg2 c3 Sometimes the agony of playing on can be too much for some players. Here, Black can last longer with 22...Qe6 23.Qxe6 fxe6 24.Ba6 Kf7 25.Ba1! but, in the end, White's bishop-pair and active rooks will easily pick off all of Black's weak pawns for an endgame-winning advantage. 23.Ba3+ Kg8 24.Qe4! With Black perhaps wondering where the hammer blow was coming from, Topalov casually offers the exchange of queens - and now Black suddenly sees that if the queens are exchanged, then his back-rank is vulnerable. 24...c2 If 24...Qxe4+ 25.Bxe4 c2 26.Rxd3! winning, as the capture of either rooks leaves a back-rank mate. 25.Rxd3 1-0

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