Tournament report

Wojtaszek Is First Semifinalist, the Rest Decided in Playoffs

Radoslaw Wojtaszek is the first player to advance to the semifinals of the Moscow Grand Prix after he beat Peter Svidler on Tuesday. The other semifinalists will be decided on Wednesday in playoffs as the rest of the quarterfinal matches ended in ties after all the games were drawn.

By Dylan Loeb McClain

The Grand Prix is using a knockout format this year in which each player faces another in mini-matches of two slow games. If there is no clear winner after those games, the players go to two rapid tie-breaker games, followed, if necessary, by blitz games. If there is still no winner, there is an Armageddon game in which Black has less time but only has to draw to win the match.

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.

All the games on the first day of the quarterfinals on Monday were drawn, so any victory Tuesday would clinch a match. Wojtaszek, who is from Poland, was the only player to break through.

He had White against Svidler, who is from Russia. By transposition, the opening became a Benoni, which is not thought to be very good for Black, but is ultra-sharp and certainly offers both sides many possibilities.

Svidler consumed more time on the clock in the opening, but he achieved a reasonable position after 20 moves. The question was how should each side continue?

At Move 25, Svidler took a calculated risk: He sacrificed an exchange (rook for bishop) plus a pawn to put Wojtaszek’s center under pressure. It seemed like a reasonable decision, despite the stakes, but Wojtaszek found the best moves, particularly 2 Rf3!, and Svidler was gradually driven back.

Wojtaszek eventually won a queen for a rook and, after that, it was only a matter of mopping up. Svidler resigned after 42 moves.

In an interview afterward (which can be seen on the official Youtube page), Svidler pinpointed 27 … Bd4 as the critical mistake.

Though none of the other games was decisive, they were hard fought.

The longest game of the day was between Wesley So of the United States and Alexander Grischuk of Russia. So, who had White, opened with 1 e4 and Grischuk replied with the Sicilian Defense, 1 … c5. The game went down the path of the Sveshnikov or Pelikan Variation, which is known to be a very solid defense for Black. So managed to win Black’s backward d pawn on Move 21, but it allowed Black to simplify the position and achieve activity for his remaining pieces. The players continued to Move 69, long after there were any reasonable winning chances.

The game between Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia and Wei Yi of China went nearly as long – 68 moves – but Nepomniachtchi had slightly better winning chances than So had. The opening was an Open Ruy Lopez in which Wei had two pawns (his b and d pawns) that were a little lose and hard to defend. Nepomniachtchi managed to win one of them, but only by allowing doubled b pawns and some exchanges of pieces. After that, with accurate defense, Wei was able to hold on.

The other game, between Daniil Dubov of Russia and Hikaru Nakamura of the United States, was a Catalan, with Dubov handling the White pieces. Though there are many tricky variations in the Catalan, the opening has been very heavily analyzed and it is hard to surprise anyone at the top level these days. Nakamura had little trouble equalizing chances and the game was drawn in a largely symmetrical position after 32 moves.

The playoffs begin Wednesday with the rapid games at 3 PM local time. The broadcast can be viewed free and live at worldchess.com.

Given the high caliber of the players, there are no real favorites in any match.

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