Tournament report

Six Players Advance at Grand Prix; Four Head to Playoffs


The second day of the Moscow Grand Prix produced five decisive results, including a spectacular win by Daniil Dubov over Anish Giri, the tournament’s top seed. All told, six players, including Dubov, advanced to the second round of the tournament.

By Dylan Loeb McClain

Four other players will face off on Sunday in a series of tie-breaker games to determine who else will move on.

The Moscow Grand Prix 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.

There are 21 players in the Grand Prix, with each playing three of the four tournaments.

The prize fund for each competition is 130,000 euros with an additional 280,000 euros allocated among the top 10 finishers in the series, for a total of 800,000 euros.

The principal sponsors of the series 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.

Daniil Dubov, the lowest-rated player in the Series, undergoes a body scan before entering the playing hall. Dubov, a wild card in the Series, was nominated by World Chess. He defeated the top-seeded player Anish Giri, and advanced to the quarter-finals fo the Moscow Grand Prix.

Sergey Karjakin (left) lost today to Alexander Grischuk, his compatriot and fellow Russian team member. Karjakin, who remains in the Series but leaves the Moscow Grand Prix, said during the post-game interview that he will try to join the rapid event in Scotland next week because he had to leave this event early. 

Watch the games live!

Watch the full broadcast of the day on World Chess Youtube Channel 

For the first time, the Grand Prix is using a knockout format. Each player faces another one in two classic, or slow games over two days, going to a series of faster tie-breaker games on a third day if the match is tied. The idea of adopting such a format was to make the tournament more exciting.

On Day 2 of the Moscow Grand Prix, that idea paid off.

The game of the day, and perhaps of the tournament, though it is obviously still early, was Dubov’s win over Giri. Dubov, who is Russian, had White and essayed a slightly offbeat line of the Queen’s Gambit with 4 Bg5 instead of the more common 4 Nc3. Giri, who is Dutch, replied in what is generally considered the most appropriate way – by taking the White pawn on c4.

The game transposed to a position that resembled the Botvinnik Variation of the Semi Slav Defense, which is among the sharpest openings in chess. Dubov, who was obviously better prepared than Giri as he took little time in the opening, played the unusual 10 Bf6 instead of the more common 10 Bh4. The idea was that after 11 ef6, Giri faced a rather unpleasant choice of taking the pawn on f6, and leaving his queen a bit offside, or allowing the White pawn to continue to sit at f6. Giri chose the second option and the pawn eventually became a huge thorn in his side.

The game became sharper and sharper, with Giri lagging behind in development. Dubov’s decision to castle long on move 19 looked almost like a joke – his king was castling where it had no pawn cover, while all of White’s pawns on the kingside, the more standard resting place of the king, remained on their original squares. But Giri’s queen blocked the diagonal that would have allowed Dubov to castle on the kingside, and castling on the queenside immediately threatened mate on d8.

Though logical, Dubov’s followup, 20 Nb5 was also spectacular. The knight was taboo and the move allowed Dubov to cover the squares that Giri would normally have to deliver check. Later, in the commentator’s studio (at 4:02 of the broadcast) Dubov explained, “Nb5 looks completely natural but it is a complete mess.”

Giri found the best defensive moves until Dubov played 22 Kb1, another counterintuitive move. Dubov said later (at 4:05) that he was trying to find the best spot for his king and to “stabilize” the position.

Giri immediately blundered (computer engines said that 22 … Bc5 was his best bet) and his position began to rapidly deteriorate. He was also in time pressure, having used up most of his time earlier in the game.

After Dubov’s king found refuge on f3 (!), he was firmly in control. Giri resigned after 36 … Kh8 because 37 Nf7 would have rapidly delivered mate.

In the studio, Dubov said of the game (4:11), “In general, I probably just played well, but it is hard to believe.”

That was far from the only interesting game of the day.

Wesley So of the United States faced a must-win against Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland as Duda had won their first game on Friday. So had White and opened with 1 e4. Duda, to his credit, or perhaps because of his youth (he is 21) and, therefore, relative inexperience, replied with the Sicilian Defense, the most dynamic response. He then steered the game into the Dragon Variation, which is particularly double-edged.

The game followed a well-known but very complex path until Duda sacrificed an exchange (rook for knight) to break up the pawns covering So’s king protection on the queenside. Though the sacrifice is thought to be sound, So demonstrated cool under pressure and slowly built up his position, threatening to exchange pieces and go into an endgame with a material advantage.

In a complicated position, So found the best moves and eventually emerged in an endgame a pawn up, which was passed on the a file. Duda began to err and though So made some mistakes, the result was not really in doubt. Duda finally resigned, sending their match into playoff on Sunday.

The game, and the match, between Dmitry Jakovenko of Russia and Wei Yi of China ended in Wei’s favor when it looked for much of the day that Jakovenko would prevail. Jakovenko, who had White, opened with 1 e4 and Wei replied with 1… e5. The game entered the Ruy Lopez and Jakovenko chose the relatively quiet move 5 d3.

Wei delayed castling and then, after Jakovenko had pinned his knight on f6 with his dark-squared bishop, lashed out with h6 and then g5. While it gained space on the kingside, it left his king with no good place to seek shelter.

Jakovenko responded energetically by opening the center with 15 d4 and 16 e5. He soon had a clear advantage and Wei, who was also facing time pressure, had to eventually give up an exchange with 22 … c5.

Just as it seemed that Jakovenko would be moving on, he began to err. Wei’s pieces soon took up active posts in the center and Jakovenko was on the ropes. After 33 … Kg6, Wei threatened to chase Jakovenko’s queen away from defending g2 (and stopping mate) by playing f5. The only way to stop it was for Jakovenko to give up his bishop. He promptly resigned. In an interview afterward (3:43 of the broadcast), Wei said, “I think that I was so lucky because my position was so dangerous.”

Another player to advance on Saturday was Peter Svidler of Russia who beat his compatriot and friend, Nikita Vitiugov. Svidler, who had White, gained a pawn out of the opening of an Open Ruy Lopez and managed to hang on to it as the game headed toward the endgame. Vitiugov never generated much counterplay and Svidler eventually won a second pawn, sealing the victory.

Afterward (4:22 of the broadcast), Svidler said that he was not entirely familiar with the opening but believed that he had managed to play the most critical line.

Alexander Grischuk of Russia beat Sergey Karjakin, another compatriot and friend, in their game on Saturday, putting him through to the second round after their first game had ended in a draw. Game 2 was a slow grind, with Grischuk, who had White, always having a slight but clear edge. Karjakin, who is known for his defensive skills, was never quite able to equalize and eventually blundered into a mating net.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland also made it through to Round 2 on Saturday. After beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan in Game 1 of their match, Wojtaszek only needed to draw their second game. He managed to do so, though there were some tense moments, as he admitted afterward.

Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia also only had to draw his game against Levon Aronian of Armenia after beating him in Game 1 on Friday. Though Aronian tried to muddy things in Game 2, he took a lot of time on his clock, got into time pressure and also lost a pawn. At the end, they agreed to a draw in which Nepomniachtchi was, if anything, slightly better.

In addition to So and Duda, Hikaru Nakamura of the United States and Teimour Radjabov of Azerbijan will also have a playoff on Sunday as their second game, like their first, was a short draw. Indeed, the game ended after just over an hour and only 14 moves. Nakamura said in the interview afterwards that Radjabov, who had Black, surprised him by playing a line he normally does not play and he could find no advantage so he proposed a draw. He said, “Why waste a few more hours when it is going to be a draw anyway?” (1:24 of the broadcast)

The tie-breakers are two rapid games and, if there is no clear winner, blitz games followed, if necessary, by an Armageddon game (Black has less time, but is declared the winner even if the game ends in a draw). The games begin at 3 PM local time on Sunday. The broadcast can be viewed free and live at worldchess.com.

One way or another, two of the four players – So or Duda and Nakamura or Radjabov – will advance on Sunday.

Photos for media use are available in the event’s archive.