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FIDE Grand Prix Berlin – the first three rounds

FIDE Grand Prix Berlin 2022 is the final leg of the Grand Prix series that will determine the participants in the Candidates Chess 2022. With Richard Rapport practically qualified after winning the Belgrade Grand Prix, just one spot is available for grabs. Replay games / See players videos

The third leg of the FIDE World Chess Grand Prix got off to a promising start, with four players securing victories and four games ending in a draw

The first round of the final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix saw Levon AronianLeinier DominguezAlexandr Predke and  Nikita Vitiugov score victories and grab the lead in their pools. The four other games all ended in a draw.

Pool A:

Andrey Esipenko didn’t manage to give himself a birthday present in his game against Grigoriy Oparin as the two split a point. Nevertheless, the present was “delivered” a few days earlier when Esipenko joined the tournament becoming the last-moment replacement of Dmitry Andreikin. Esipenko turned 20 today and as a real professional player spent the whole day at the board. The opponents tested a popular line of the Catalan in which Black solved all his opening problems, reached equality and confidently made a draw in a slightly inferior endgame. 

Hikaru Nakamura challenged Levon Aronian with Black in a sharp line of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted that the latter had played against Leinier Dominguez just a month ago at the first FIDE Grand Prix leg. Levon expected anything but this line today but still had “a couple of ideas” in his pocket. He deviated with 14.Qd2 (one of the possible moves in this position) and probably threw Hikaru off his preparation as just five moves down the road, he committed a serious inaccuracy 19…Bf5. Still, the position remained quite unbalanced but another grave mistake by Nakamura 23…Nf4? became the last straw. Aronian immediately transposed to a won endgame and smoothly scored a full point. 

According to Hikaru, the critical moment came on move 20 when he spent most of his time contemplating g5. He didn’t go for it and ended up in a worse position. “If Levon would have played 25.Qa5 instead of 25.Qa7 I would probably just resign the game, I was just ready to go home,” said Nakamura with a smile on his face, admitting that the game went off the track for him either way.

Pool B:

Vincent Keymer obtained a slightly better position in a quiet line of the Queen’s Gambit against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but after massive exchanges the Azerbaijani GM had no problems holding a draw in a bishop ending. 

Leinier Dominguez defeated Daniil Dubov in a topsy-turvy game that could have ended in a draw. The American gradually outplayed his opponent in a fresh position with two knights vs. two bishops that emerged from a classical line of the Nimzo-Indian but let his advantage slip away in a mutual time scramble. 

During the post-game interview, the American grandmaster noted he missed the queen’s manoeuvre Qe4-Qh4 and thought his position looked very dubious at that point. He exchanged his Bishop for the Knight on f3, opening g-file for his opponent, but managed to survive the toughest times of the game by moving his knights to h5 and f6 squares. 

Surprisingly, right after passing the time control, Dubov dropped the ball with 43.Rf3?? and after 43…Rc2! he had no other option but a hopeless rook endgame in which he capitulated just a few moves later. 

Pool C:

Sam Shankland and Wesley So played a trendy line of the Nimzo-Indian tested on a very high level recently. Once again Shankland impressed everyone with his home preparation as he introduced a novelty 12.Ne2 and had analysed everything at home until move 23, albeit with a different move order. “The whole position looks symmetrical but it’s not so easy for Black as White gets first on d5 square with the knight and Black’s knight on f6 is passive,” noted Sam after the game. Wesley managed to equalize with a series of precise moves. The opponents ended up in a rook endgame in which White had some practical chances. Shankland even managed to win a pawn, but it was not enough with four-vs-three on one side. So demonstrated necessary accuracy and reached a draw on the move 50. 

The game Alexandr Predke – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave saw a very sharp line of the English Opening in which the former demonstrated much better preparation. On the move fourteen, the Frenchman quite optimistically castled short, apparently missing quite a strong pawn sacrifice 15.g4! White opened the lines on the kingside and arranged his pieces for an attack which became unnecessary after Maxime blundered with 19…Nxe4? and threw in the towel facing the loss of a piece. 

Despite the result, the French grandmaster doesn’t lose hope: “I know I just need to win this tournament and obviously it’s not a good start for me but there are a few more games to go and I will be ready to fight.”

Pool D:

Anish Giri didn’t follow the recommendations of his own Chessable course in the Petroff Defence and instead surprised his opponent Yu Yangyi with an interesting novelty 9.Be3, achieving a good compensation for the sacrificed pawn. The Dutchman quickly restored material equality and got the upper hand. Anish built up pressure with precise moves, but just one mistake 26.h5? was enough to change the evaluation from “White is winning” to “not so clear”. “Probably I played well until very far but it took me a lot of time. To be honest I can’t say I regret taking the time as I could not see all those ideas in the game at first.”The Chinese player got some dangerous activity on the queenside and even emerged slightly better, but after going through a very tough position earlier, he accepted a draw. 

Nikita Vitiugov probably caught Amin Tabatabaei on the back foot by introducing a novelty 13.Qxd2 (the first line of Stockfish) in the Open Variation of the Ruy Lopez. Indeed, the GM from St-Petersburg quickly won a pawn and although his conversion was not ideal, he eventually put away the Iranian in a rook endgame.

“I believe that after 14…f6 White is significantly better, but later on Black definitely had some drawing chances,” said Nikita after the game. Amin agreed that the biggest chance to equalize the game came on move 30 after White played 30.Ra5. “I should have played 30…Re1+ and then continue Rd8,” explained the Iranian grandmaster, who was in time trouble at this moment and missed this last opportunity.

The second round of the group stage will be played on Wednesday, March 23, at 3 PM local (CET) time.

The pairings for the second round are as follows:

Pool A:

Levon Aronian (USA), 2785 – Grigoriy Oparin (FIDE), 2674  
 Hikaru Nakamura (USA), 2750 – Andrey Esipenko (FIDE), 2723

Pool B:

Leinier Dominguez (USA), 2756 – Vincent Keymer (Germany), 2655  
Daniil Dubov (FIDE), 2711 – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 2776  

Pool C:

Alexandr Predke (FIDE), 2682 – Wesley So (USA), 2778  
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 2761 – Sam Shankland (USA), 2704  

Pool D:

Amin Tabatabaei (Iran), 2623 – Anish Giri (Netherlands), 2771  
Nikita Vitiugov (FIDE), 2726 – Yu Yangyi (China), 2713

It was a peaceful, but by no means uneventful day at FIDE Grand Prix Berlin although all eight games in Round 2 were drawn.

“Let’s talk about how dramatically the situation changed in every group after today’s round” joked the tournament commentator GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko and certainly, the standings have not changed at all as we have the same leaders as after Round 1 in each pool, namely Levon AronianLeinier DominguezAlexandr Predke, and Nikita Vitiugov. Round 2 results still don’t tell the entire story, as, despite peaceful outcomes, the games were hard-fought and enthralling.

Pool A

In the Giuoco Piano Levon Aronian, playing with White against Grigoriy Oparin, essayed the idea 12.Ra3, introduced by Nils Grandelius in the match against David Howell. After the game the American player added that he learnt from the best. He could not regret his choice as the game turned out to be very eventful. By lifting his rook White offered a pawn sacrifice, hoping to get some long-term initiative instead. Grigoriy spent a lot of time trying to remember his notes but eventually had to figure everything over the board.

“At that point, I had to take the pawn. With the whole concept of Black’s play, it doesn’t make any sense otherwise,” Oparin explained after the game. Aronian managed to regain the pawn in the ensuing complications, but he is not sure if 21.g4 was the best option. According to Levon, he could have played 21.Nc8 trading the knight for the bishop, followed by g3, which he thinks is more unpleasant for Black. On the other hand, it looks like after 21…g5, Black is OK. Grigoriy defended with precision, and the peace was signed right after the first time control. 

Hikaru Nakamura obtained a promising position in Nimzo-Indian against Andrey Esipenko with a strong knight on e5. American Grandmaster played creatively in the opening, trying to get something interesting but then allowed the opponent to grab initiative by planting his knight on c4. “The game was basically around two squares e4 and e5. At some point, I just needed to trade the knights on c6 and make a draw, but I didn’t want to and just kept playing,” said Hikaru after the game. He called his plan with b4 and Na4 “insane” as after those moves, Black emerged clearly better, and for the rest of the game Andrey pressured Hikaru.

Being in a time trouble Andrey didn’t find the a precise way to keep the tension, and after the massive exchanges, the game stirred into the ending with a visible edge for Black due to the pair of Bishops and better pawn structure. Nevertheless, it was hard to break through the position of White, and the American escaped with a draw thanks to the resilient defence.

Pool B:

The game Leinier Dominguez – Vincent Keymer saw a topical line of the Ruy Lopez in which the American introduced a novelty (the first line of Stockfish) on the move 14. After a tactical battle in the centre, Leinier won a pawn for which Black did not have sufficient compensation. After trading the queens, a very interesting ending with opposite-colour bishops and extra pawn for White appeared at the board. According to Lenier, he thought Black could not allow g6 move and had to take on g5 on 49th move. It seemed White had good winning chances, but the endgame requires a detailed analysis to make the final conclusions. To Vincent’s credit, he defended exceptionally well and saved a half-point in the game.  

Daniil Dubov surprised Shakhriyar Mamedyarov with a rare 4.Nc3 in the Italian Game, but did not achieve much. Daniil pointed out that c5 was a strategically risky move for White as if White doesn’t manage to push d4, he can be worse. The Azerbaijani GM played solid, logical moves and got some play against the d3-pawn that outweighed White’s pressure in the center. The opponents started repeating the moves in a very complex balanced position in which draw seemed like a logical outcome.

“I think both sides could actually play in the final position, I don’t think I was better or worse; in general, it all felt very logical, and I think it was just a decent game. The reason why we repeated the moves is that if my opponent will play Nh7 when I don’t have d4 I’m much worse. That’s why I needed his rook to go away from d8,” explained Daniil after the game.

Pool C

Alexandr Predke, playing with White, managed to pose some serious problems for Wesley So in Giuoco Piano, which he called “very playable”. As the American confessed in a post-game interview, he missed the move 23.Ne3, which gave White a dangerous activity in the center. Alexandr thought that he had good winning chances, but it seems that Black’s position was not that bad, as Wesley reached a draw with several precise moves.

“This is the first time I play against Alexandr… He is a very good player; yesterday, he won a very good game against Maxime,” said Wesley at the post-game interview.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Sam Shankland played the Berlin Defense, which is known as the Berlin Wall. Many great players have struggled to breach this solid barricade, and the French GM could not complete the task. Sam went for a strategically risky line, allowing White to play f5 as he was looking for a more dynamic fighting position. In a critical moment of the game Sam correctly sacrificed an exchange and got good compensation in the form of two pawns and active pieces. After trading a pair of rooks, none of the sides had winning chances and the game finished in a draw.

It turned out that both players had visited the Berlin Wall and surprisingly didn’t think about chess while walking next to it. Sam Shankland was actually thinking about his close relative who lived in Germany many years ago. “My dad grew up in Germany, my grandparents are from the US; after WWII was over, my grandfather, a soldier, stayed around to try to rebuild Germany. So my dad always told me that he could never cross the Wall because it was still around when he was growing up,” said Sam Shankland.

Pool D

Nikita Vitiugov didn’t expect Sicilian from Yu Yangyi, who normally chooses Petroff as in the previous game against Anish Giri. Nikita opted for a somewhat harmless line with Bb5 where White got a comfortable position. “I had some possibilities to play more actively but I was not able to find a proper way to create some problems”. The game ended in a draw after 22 moves.

Amin Tabatabaei and Anish Giri fought hard but did not manage to outplay each other. Anish Giri chose the only opening he has never played before – Chebanenko Slav. Amin thought he had checked all possible variations before the game, but Anish still managed to surprise him. “For the next time I’ll just take a rest and not prepare at all; in any case he will surprise me”, said Amin after the game with a smile.

Nevertheless, the Iranian GM managed to get a position with a small but clear edge after the queens left the board, and Anish had to work hard to maintain the balance. He came out with an interesting but provocative move e5. “I had a vision to play this move e5, and I missed everything, every single thing! I had to recalculate from the start while he started thinking, then I saw everything once it was not my move any longer. I think I missed Nb6 first, and I think I was worse after”, commented Giri on his critical decision. After half an hour of thinking, Amin took the pawn on e5 and was surprised by his own play later in the game as he turned his pleasant position into the worse one. However, he held it into a draw and yet it was another draw today, one which left Nikita Vitiugov in the lead of pool D.

Round 3 of the group stage will be played on Thursday, March 24, at 3 PM local (CET) time.

The pairings for the third round are as follows:

Pool A:

Grigoriy Oparin (FIDE), 2674 – Hikaru Nakamura, (USA), 2750
Andrey Esipenko (FIDE), 2723 – Levon Aronian (USA), 2785

Pool B:

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 2776 – Leinier Dominguez (USA), 2756 
Vincent Keymer (Germany), 2655 – Daniil Dubov (FIDE), 2711 

Pool C:

Sam Shankland (USA), 2704 – Alexandr Predke (FIDE), 2682 
Wesley So (USA), 2778 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 2761 

Pool D:

Yu Yangyi (China), 2713 – Amin Tabatabaei (Iran), 2623 
Anish Giri (Netherlands), 2771 – Nikita Vitiugov (FIDE), 2726

Round 3

The local hero Vincent Keymer outplayed Daniil Dubov and joined Leinier Dominguez in the lead of Pool B. The rest of Round 3 games ended in a draw, which allowed Levon Aronian, Alexandr Predke, and Nikita Vitiugov to keep leading positions in other groups.

Two more games could have finished decisively today. Grigoriy Oparin came very close to upsetting Hikaru Nakamura, who eventually escaped with a draw. Sam Shankland had winning chances in the endgame with Alexandr Predke but could not make it work. It was the longest game of the day, which ended in a draw after 57 moves.

Pool A

Nakamura played the most existing game of the round. Oparin guessed his opponent’s choice in the opening right, which was the Queens-Indian Defence today. It has been more than five years since Hikaru Nakamura played it in the tournaments, so he was not expecting the idea of h4-h5-h6. White quickly got quite a promising position but had to play precisely in order not to give a chance for Black to consolidate.

A beautiful move 19.Bg6 came as a huge surprise to Hikaru, who simply missed this option. “I was very upset with myself during the game because essentially I blundered one move. In this line with 19.Bg6 and after 19…fxg6 20. Qe7 Rd5 White has this Re6. I simply have forgotten this move existed,” said Hikaru in his post-game interview. Similarly to the game against Aronian in Round 1, the American player was ready to resign once his opponent had played 20.Bb1. Even better was 20.Bf5! simply winning a piece. Grigoriy failed to find these continuations and opted for 20.Bh7, which gave Hikaru some hope to escape with a draw. Despite being down a pawn, Black had some compensation due to the pair of Bishops and active pieces. After a few exchanges, the game ended in a draw after a three-fold repetition.

“After finding Bg6 it feels it would be nice to win the game, but it is what it is,” said Grigoriy Oparin after the game.

Andrey Esipenko and Levon Aronian tested one of the lines in the Ruy Lopez but Andrey mixed something up right in the opening and was clearly disappointed with his play. He had to show a certain level of creativity not to get into trouble and came up with an interesting idea 17.Bg5 which changed the course of the game. Levon Aronian saw the strongest continuation 17…Kh8 but started seeing ghosts in some lines as he pointed out after the game. He chose another option 17…h6 but it turned out that White could trade the queens and maintain the balance in the game that was drawn on move 33.

Pool B

The Ragozin Variation was played in the game Mamedyarov – Dminguez and for the first time in the tournament Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was satisfied with the outcome of the opening. He came up with a very tricky idea Ba2 hoping to get a very strong attack on the King’s side. The American Grandmaster proved he has nerves of steel once again and found very precise moves to stop ambitious plans of Azeri Grandmaster.

17-year-old Vincent Keymer managed to break his drawing streak in Berlin by defeating Daniil Dubov. Players chose a complicated line in Vienna Variation of Queen’s Gambit, where Daniil showed an original set up of the pieces by placing his knight on d7 with an idea of pushing c5. Vincent started to like his position after Black put his queen on e8 as he felt it was easier to play with White. The German thought he could afford many waiting moves without worsening his position. In contrast, Daniil thought he should get better after White’s Bishop maneuvers g5-f4-g3 as, in his opinion, it was not the way to play for victory with White. “I was trying to find some ways to get a better position, and I thought it must be winning, It became complicated and then I blundered a piece”, described the game Daniil.

According to the heartless computer, the position became hopeless for Black after move 21 when Daniil didn’t remove his knight from d3 but went for a very complex line. White always had the upper hand from that moment to the very end. Vincent Keymer scored a crucial victory over Daniil Dubov, leaving him on minus two after three days of play.

Pool C

Sam Shankland and Alexandr Predke had an interesting discussion in the  Carlsbad structure of the Queen’s Gambit. Alexandr chose an interesting plan of advancing his pawns and the queenside and trading his light-squared bishop on a6. White regrouped his pieces and managed to place his knight on the central square e5 but didn’t achieve much by this point. The first critical moment happened on move 23 when Predke carelessly played  Nc4 missing a strong reply  24.a4, which left Black with weaknesses on the queenside. Shankland transposed into a rook ending with a pawn up, but it was not enough for a victory.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave used his pet Gruenfled Defence against Wesley So reached a draw quite comfortably. “I have no idea what to play against Maxim’s Gruenfeld after seven years now”, confessed Welsey So. He didn’t expect the line with c5 and Bf5, which was previously played by Alexander Grischuk and had prepared for a different variation. Maxim didn’t want to burn bridges despite the tournament situation and found the precise way to avoid any trouble. After massive exchanges, the players ended up in an equal ending and signed the peace after 37 moves.

Pool D

The game Yu Yangyi – Amin Tabatabaei saw a rock-solid Makagonov-Bondarevsky system in which White has problems getting any edge. After the Chinese player made a thematic breakthrough in the center e3-e4, the game liquidated in a drawn endgame in which the opponents spit the point on move 30.

Nikita Vitiugov essayed the Paulsen System of Sicilian against Anish Giri, and very soon, the opponents found themselves in uncharted territory. After the players castled to the opposite wings, White got some edge, but in such positions, the value of every move is very high. Most likely the queen sortie 19.Qh5 was too optimistic as it cost Anish a couple of precious tempi. After a timely pawn sacrifice 21…e5! followed by 22…Be6 Black engineered some dangerous counterplay on the queenside, which resulted in a draw perpetual on move 30.

Round 4 will be played on March 25 with the pairings as follows:

Pool A:

Oparin, Grigoriy – Esipenko, Andrey
Nakamura, Hikaru – Aronian, Levon  

Pool B:                        

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar – Keymer, Vincent
Dominguez Perez, Leinier – Dubov, Daniil

Pool C:

So, Wesley – Shankland, Sam
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime – Predke, Alexandr

Pool D:

Yu, Yangyi – Giri, Anish                
Tabatabaei, Amin – Vitiugov, Nikita 

Leading partners supporting the FIDE Grand Prix Series 2022 include:

Kaspersky as the Official Cybersecurity Partner;

Algorand as the Official Blockchain Partner;

Prytek as the Technology Transfer Partner;

FIDE Online Arena as the official Partner.

Photo: Official Photo FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Press kit and Niki Riga / Report by

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