All of the games of the second day of the first round of knockouts at the FIDE Grand Prix in Hamburg ended with a draw, but not without drama.
Four players advanced to the next round, and four need to pack their bags. The remaining eight players will meet again in tiebreaks.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has lived up to expectations so far. After winning the first game against Wei Yi in grand style, he was close to winning the second game as well.
The rivals again decided on the line of the Najdorf Variation, but once more the Frenchman seemed to be better prepared.
The critical moment arose after White’s twelfth move. Vachier-Lagrave correctly pushed his h-pawn and then his e-pawn to destroy the pawn armada that threatened to overrun his position.
Black’s pieces exerted a lot of pressure, and although his king stayed in the centre for the whole game, it was the white king that was in much more danger.
Instead of risking anything, Vachier-Lagrave forced a draw by repetition at move 27. “So far the preparation before the tournament pays off”, said the smiling 29-year-old after the match.
A draw in the second game of the first round against Pentala Harikrishna was enough for Peter Svidler to qualify for the next round as well.
With a strong pawn centre and well-placed pieces, the Indian grandmaster could hope for more than a half-point during the middlegame, but Svidler’s position was very solid and Harikrishna could not find a way to breakthrough. After a massive exchange of pawns, there was no play left and the players agreed to a draw.
Hikaru Nakamura with the black pieces was not able to turn the tables in his match against Veselin Topalov.
In a Queen´s Gambit accepted White had the upper hand due to his better development. Nakamura left his king in the centre and tried to create some play against the white king with his queen and the bishop pair.
In the end, it caused only a slight disturbance to White, who obtained a clear advantage. After 25 moves Topalov was a pawn up in an ending and could have continued without any risks, but decided that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Ian Nepomniachtchi was in a must-win-situation after he lost the first game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The rising Polish star chose the Accelerated Dragon with Black, but was never able to equalize.
The ending came after only 15 moves that favoured White due to the better structure and the more active pieces. After a long fight, Nepomniachtchi managed to win a pawn, but it was not enough to win the game due to the reduced material.
This defeat in the first round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Hamburg decreases the chances for the Russian grandmaster to qualify for the Candidates substantially, but there is still hope for him to bounce back in the last leg of the series in Jerusalem.
In total contrast to their exciting first battle, Alexander Grischuk and Radoslaw Wojtaszek concluded the second game of their mini-match after an hour with a draw.
In a line of the Italian Game, the Polish grandmaster showed excellent preparation, whereas Grischuk weighed the pros and cons of the position in his typical tempo. After spending more than 50 minutes for the first 14 moves and realizing that his opponent still was blitzing out his analysis, he offered a draw which Wojtaszek accepted.
Grischuk justified his decision by saying “I didn’t want to continue playing against a computer”, and added with an ironic undertone: “Besides I don’t want to spoil the spectators”.
Nikita Vitiugov and David Navara will meet again in the tiebreaks after drawing both games with classical time controls.
It seemed that the Russian grandmaster was applying pressure throughout the whole game, but afterwards, he denied doing so: “Actually this was nothing until David tried to lose the game”.
He was referring to the unnecessary way the Czech grandmaster handled the position. Navara deliberately sacrificed material to enter a rook endgame a pawn down. Here he showed great technique and knew how to save the half point.
Yu Yangyi missed a big chance to win the second game against Dmitry Jakovenko.
After only 18 moves, the two players had exchanged most of the pieces including the queens, but it went wrong for the 36-year-old Russian as he lost a pawn shortly thereafter. The battle headed into a knight ending where Yu Yangyi was completely winning but failed to convert his advantage.
“It was a miracle, and it took several mistakes from my opponent to save the game”, Jakovenko admitted.
Daniil Dubov tried to bedazzle Teimour Radjabov by using the Italian Gambit as White, a rare choice in top-level chess.
The Azeri took his time to remember the critical lines, and after forcing the exchange of queens, the players reached an equal ending with two rooks and one minor piece respectively.
The rising Russian star, who used only a bit more than 15 minutes for the whole game, entered the 7th rank with one of his rooks and forced Radjabov to oppose the threats with one of his own rooks.
The heavy pieces shuffled back and forth and the players showed that a draw was unavoidable.
Round 1, game 2 results:
Wei Yi – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: 1/2-1/2
Veselin Topalov – Hikaru Nakamura: 1/2-1/2
Nikita Vitiugov – David Navara: 1/2-1/2
Alexander Grischuk – Radoslaw Wojtaszek: 1/2-1/2
Daniil Dubov – Teimour Radjabov: 1/2-1/2
Pentala Harikrishna – Peter Svidler: 1/2-1/2
Yu Yangyi – Dmitry Jakovenko: 1/2-1/2
Ian Nepomniachtchi – Jan-Krzysztof Duda: 1/2-1/2
Modus for the tiebreak:
Two 25+10 rapid games are played. If still tied, there are two 10+10 games, then two 5+3. Finally, a single Armageddon game is played, where White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4 (with a 2-second increment from move 61), but Black wins the match with a draw