Wesley So defeated Sam Shankland in the rapid tiebreak games by a score of 1½:½ to reach the semifinals of the third stage of the FIDE Grand Prix Series organised by World Chess in Berlin. The tiebreak games were played with the quicker time control of 15 minutes per game with an increment of 10 seconds per move starting from the first move. In the second tiebreak match, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov won the first game against Vincent Keymer, but the 16-years-old local hero managed to win on demand and levelled the score. The tiebreak continued with a shorter time-control of 3 minutes per game with an increment of 2 seconds per move. Shakhriyar dominated the blitz outplaying his young opponent in both games, finishing the match by a 3:1 score. In the semifinals scheduled for the 30 and 31st of March, Welsey So is up against Amin Tabatabaei, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will face Hikaru Nakamura. More about the FIDE Grand Prix: All about the FIDE Grand Prix in Berlin / Live games / FIDE GP – the first three rounds / Hikaru Nakamura and Richard Rapport qualify to the Candidates
Both American players, Nakamura and So, will play with white pieces in the first game.
Wesley So – Sam Shankland 1½:½
Sam Shankland got a nice position with White in the Catalan in the first the game against Wesley So. With a pair of bishops and the prospects to open the center, he was planning to fight for an advantage but Wesley had a solid position that was not easy to crack. After losing the central pawn, Sam was hoping his a-pawn would play a decisive role in the endgame, but Wesley’s pieces surrounded White’s king, forcing Sam to give up some an exchange. The rest was a smooth sail for So, who sealed the victory on move 54.
In the second game, Sam got really good chances to equalise the score. He sacrificed an exchange and, after a few inaccuracies by Wesley, got a strong initiative on the kingside. So felt he was in trouble and returned material, moving the game into an ending with an extra pawn for Black. The only problem with Sam’s position was his rook on g5, which got stuck on the kingside. Sam didn’t find the precise way to activate his rook (33…f6! instead of 33…c5 looks much better) and let all his advantage slip away. The game was drawn in an equal rook endgame after 40 moves of play.
Sam Shankland summed up his FIDE GrandPrix performance: “On paper, it was fine. I came in seeded number 3 in a group both times, and I finished in second both times, and I gained some rating. But I am sort of annoyed with myself that I never managed to get through.”
“Sam is a very strong player and also very hardworking. He’s got a strong will to improve,” said Welsey So after the game. In a post-game interview, Wesly noted that he was looking forward to facing Iranian Grandmaster Amin Tabatabaei representing a new generation of Iranian players, who showed good play in the tournament.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – Vincent Keymer 3:1
All the games of the tiebreak match between Mamedyarov and Keymer ended decisively. “It was a very fighting match – no draws. I tried to play for a win with both colours, and I think we had good tactical games,” commented the winner Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
Certainly, all the games were very exciting, and Mamedyarov was the first one to break the ice. A very sharp position with opposite castling appeared on the board in the first game, and Shakhriyar, known for his aggressive style, felt like a fish in water. He managed to open the files on the kingside, aggressively arranged his pieces and launched an unstoppable attack on his opponent’s king.
It was the first-ever tiebreak match for Vincent, and he managed to pull himself together and staged an impressive comeback by defeating Mamedyarov in the second game.
“I know myself; I cannot play for a draw in such situations when I need to make a draw”, commented Shakhriyar on his opening choice in the second game. Vincent knew the Botvinnik Variation in the Semi-Slave Defense quite well and thought it was a pleasant position to play with White. In an unbalanced position with chances for both sides, Vincent played precisely and managed to stir into a favourable ending in which his passer on the h-file, created in the opening, played a critical role. Eventually, this pawn sealed the deal for Vincent, who levelled the score.
Mamedyarov was not taken aback and scored a crushing win in the first blitz game. In the Anti-Meran system, both players were slowly manoeuvring, preparing for the fight in the center. After numerous pawns exchanges, it turned out Black pieces are much more powerful and active. Mamedyarov won in style after sacrificing his knight on g2.
After the loss in the first blitz game, Keymer was in a must-win situation again, hoping to force Armageddon, but the second encounter also went wrong for the German Grandmaster, who found it hard to defend the open king with a few seconds on his clock.
“I think, in our pool, he showed the best play … He is fighting, he’s very good and still young. I hope he will be 2800 – I think he can do it. His only problem, I think, is school, university. If he can solve it somehow, he can be the very top player,” said Mamedyarov about his opponent after the match.
The semifinals starts on March 30 with the pairings as follows:
Hikaru Nakamura – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Wesley So – Amin Tabatabaei
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Photo: Official Photo FIDE Grand Prix Berlin Press kit and Niki Riga