The first stage in the new four-leg World Chess Championship cycle is now underway in the UAE, with 18 of the world’s top players competing in the FIDE World Chess Sharjah Grand Prix that will see two players going forward to the 2018 Candidates tournament; the event that will ultimately determine just who will be Magnus Carlsen’s next title-challenger.
The Grand Prix features a total of 24 players, each of whom will play in three of the four tournaments. The venues and dates for the remaining Grand Prix legs will be: 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).
After getting off to a flying start of 2/2, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, of France, has been joined in the lead by Shak Mamedyarov, of Axerbaijan, who both lead the field undefeated on 3.5/5. But heading the chasing pack just a half point off the lead, there lurks the ever-dangerous Hikaru Nakamura - and the four-time US champion will be looking to once again qualify for the Candidates via the GP, as he did last time.
Nakamura is one of only four elite players who will take part in three Fide Grand Prix tournaments and the rivalling four Grand Chess Tour events through 2017; the other three being: Levon Aronian, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vachier-Lagrave. These commitments, combined with the US Championship and, presumably, the FIDE World Team Championship (Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, mid-to-late June), and the FIDE World Cup (in Tbilisi, Georgia, starting early September), a gruelling month-long knockout competition, could see Nakamura playing virtually non-stop throughout this year.
Round 5 standings:
1-2. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Shak Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 3.5/5; 3-6. Nikaru Nakamura (USA), Michael Adams (England), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia) 3; 7-12. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Ding Liren (China), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Li Chao (China), Francisco Vallejo Pons (Spain), Hou Yifan (China) 2.5; 13-16. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Richard Rapport (Hungary), Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway) 2; 17-18. Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), Saleh Salem (UAE) 1.5.
GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Richard Rapport
Sharjah FIDE Grand Prix, (3)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 The uncompromising Chigorin Defense is a big favourite of Rapport, and is named after Mikhail Chigorin (1850-1908), the first Russian to devote his life to chess, achieving almost iconic, Karl Marx-style status by being regarded as the founding father of Russian chess. The idea behind 2...Nc6 is that Black develops his pieces as fast as possible to generate active piece play. 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.cxd5 Bxf3 5.gxf3 Qxd5 6.e3 e5 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.bxc3 This is what can be considered to be the mainline - White has the two bishops and the prospects of expanding in the center with his pawns; Black seeks to play around this with central control and attempts to exploit the pawn weakness. 9...Qd7 10.Rb1 0-0-0 11.Bg2 Nge7 12.Qb3 b6 13.Qxf7 It's a free pawn, but Nakamura has to be careful as Rapport will get lots of potential piece-play in return. 13...Rhf8 14.Qc4 Kb8 15.0-0 g5 16.Rb5! A timely rook lift from Nakamura, as it targets the Black pawns on e5 and g5 and also threatens a4-a5 and a direct assault on Rapport's king. 16...Rf6 17.e4 h6 18.dxe5 The consequences of playing 16...Rf6, as this now opens the game up for Nakamura's rooks and bishops. 18...Na5 19.Qe2 Rc6 20.Be3 Ng6 Rapport can't play 20...Rxc3, as there's a winning attack after 21.Rxa5! Rxe3 22.Qa6! and Black is quite lost here. 21.Rd5 With Nakamura taking control of the center, sadly, those Chigorin knights on the rim are beginning to look grim! 21...Qe7 22.Rfd1 Rf8 23.Qb5! When Nakamura dominates a position, he dominates it! 23...Qe6 Rapport still can't play 23...Rxc3 as it loses to 24.Bd2. 24.Rd8+ Rxd8 25.Rxd8+ Kb7 26.Qd5 Rapport is now just technically lost, as Nakamura's active pieces and extra pawns should see him clear to an easy win - but only if he can reach the time-control safely. 26...Nc4 27.Qxe6 Rxe6 28.Bh3! With the other bishop now coming into play, Nakamura should easily win this. 28...Rxe5 29.Bc8+ Kc6 30.Bd7+ Kb7 31.Bc8+ Kc6 32.Bd7+ Despite being in time-trouble, Nakamura isn't interested in a draw - he's just wasting a couple of moves to get himself nearer to the time-control at move 40. 32...Kb7 33.Bd4 Ra5 34.Bc8+ Kc6 35.Bd7+ Kb7 36.Bc8+ Again Nakamura repeats, and this means he really was in time-trouble and the trick trick to get closer to the time-control where he can think how he's going to win this. 36...Kc6 37.Be6 Kb5! Rapport gets a "!" for the timing of this move, as he gambles with it coming just before the time-control - and it does its job by confusing Nakamura with just a couple of moves till the time-control kick in. 38.Bd7+?! Perhaps Nakamura thought he was going to get a 'free pass' to the time-control at move 40 with another repeat of the position? If so, it was a wrong assumption that throws the game up in the air again, as he'd missed the winning 38.a4+! Rxa4 39.Rd5+ c5 (39...Ka6?? 40.Bc8#) 40.Bd7+ Ka5 41.Bxa4 Kxa4 42.Bg7 And Black could resign here with a clear conscience. 38...c6 Now, unbelievably, Nakamura has to go about trying to win this again, as suddenly his pawns are under attack and those pesky Chigorin knights come back into the game. 39.Be8 Nf4 40.h4 Nd2 41.Kh2 gxh4? There's more than a kernal of truth in that most mistakes in chess come just after the time-control than at any other stage of the game. And here, Rapport misses his chance to salvage a draw with 41...Nf1+! 42.Kg1 Nd2 and White is back to square one where he can't allow Black to play ...Nxf3+ whilst the king is on the back-rank, as the follow up will be with ...Rxa2 and mating threats as those pesky Chigorin knights have collaborated to cut off all the escape squares. Perhaps Rapport didn't realise that his ...Nf1+ also stopped the White king escaping via g3?. 42.Be3 The difference now is that the bishop attacks both knights, so now Rapport can't play ...Rxa2 anymore. 42...Nxf3+ 43.Kh1 Nh3 44.Bh5 Nxf2+?! Rapport has now well and truly lost the thread of the game. His only (slim) hope was for 44...Nhg5 45.Kg2 h3+ 46.Kg3 Ne5 47.Be2+! Critical, as it cuts the rook off from getting into the game from a2. 47...Ka4 48.Kh2! Ngf3+ 49.Bxf3 Nxf3+ 50.Kxh3 and the passed e- and f-pawns running quickly up the board will win for White. 45.Bxf2 Rxa2 46.Bxf3 Rxf2 47.Rd3 This simplifies everything, as the Black king gets cut off from the e-pawn, and now the simple winning plan is to put the rook behind the e-pawn and push it up the board. 47...Kc4 48.Re3 Rd2 49.e5 Rd7 50.e6 Re7 51.Bxc6 a5 52.Re4+ Kxc3 53.Bb5 a4 54.Bxa4 Kd3 55.Re1 1-0