Alexander Grischuk of Russia beat Hikaru Nakamura of the United States on Friday to earn a place in the final of the Moscow Grand Prix.
By Dylan Loeb McClain
He will have to wait until Saturday to find out who is opponent is in the final as the other semifinal – between Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland and Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia – ended in a tie after both regulation games were drawn.
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The Moscow Grand Prix, which is being held at the Central Chess Players’ House, is the first in a series of four tournaments to select two players for next year’s Candidates tournament. The winner of that tournament will become the challenger for the 2020 World Championship match to be held in November.
This year’s Grand Prix is using a knockout format in which players face each other in mini-matches of two regulation, or slow games. If there is no victor after the regulation games, the competitors play two rapid games, followed, if necessary, by blitz games. If there is still no victor, the match is decided by an Armageddon game in which Black has less time but only has to draw to win.
The principal sponsors of the Grand Prix are PhosAgro, a giant Russian fertilizer company, and Kaspersky Lab, a worldwide leader in data security. The series is being organized and broadcast by Worldchess on its Web site under the auspices of the World Chess Federation, which is better known as FIDE, the game’s governing body.
Both semifinals started with draws, so a win on Friday could clinch either match. Grischuk, who had White, was able to take advantage.
Grischuk v Nakamura
(1 – 0)
The opening was a Catalan, which has been very heavily analyzed. Nakamura chose an aggressive continuation and Grischuk sacrificed a pawn, giving him a lasting initiative. Though chances were objectively equal, the position was much easier to play as White. The players repeated moves a couple of times, but Grischuk chose not to repeat the position, which would have led to a draw.
The position became increasingly complicated, but Grischuk navigated the situation a little better than Nakamura, who found himself under greater and greater pressure. Grischuk finally restored material equality on Move 29 by winning a pawn, but his position remained better and easier to play.
Nakamura erred with 31 … Bf6, and then cracked with 35 … Nb6. Grischuk pounced with 36 Ne5 and then 37 Nc6! After a forced sequence of moves, Grischuk had won a pawn and had a significant edge in an endgame.
Grischuk eventually won a second pawn, which was decisive. Nakamura resigned after 54 moves, allowing Grischuk to advance.
In an interview after (which can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmmNFHtpCzw), Grischuk said he sort of expected the variation that Nakamura played, but that he believed it is a very difficult line for Black to defend. Still, he said it was not easy, mentioning that at one point he calculated 15 moves deep (!), but found a resource for Black.
For his part, Nakamura pointed to 25… Kh8 as a crucial mistake because he overlooked 26 Bd3.
Neppo v Wojtaszek
(1/2 – 1/2)
In the other semifinal game, Wojtaszek had White and played a relatively passive opening against Nepomiachtchi’s King Indian formation. White’s set up did not pose any particular problems for Nepomniachtchi and he managed to equalize without trouble. The players agreed to a draw after only 22 moves, sending their match into overtime.