Ian Nepomniachtchi’s hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Candidates Tournament is now entirely in his own hands.
He eliminated his rival Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to advance to the final of FIDE Jerusalem Grand Prix. The Russian Grandmaster will need to win the tournament to overtake Vachier-Lagrave in the overall points standings and earn the right to play at the prestigious Candidates tournament.
The second classical game of their semi-finals ended in a draw to give Nepomniachtchi a winning score of score of 1½-½.
Vachier-Lagrave made an audacious choice in the opening, going for an early 3.h4 that he had already tested against Grischuk in the Grand Prix in Riga.
Nepomniachtchi was well aware with this move.
“When I saw this move for the first time I thought, ‘how can you play like this?’ But then Alexander Grischuk beat me in blitz with this line. I was analyzing it in the summer, but I could not remember my analysis,” commented Nepomniachtchi after the game.
Failing to remember his preparation put Nepomniachtchi in a very unpleasant situation, and the Frenchman came out of the opening with a clear edge in a very dynamic position.
However, Vachier-Lagrave lost the thread on move 25, when he made the grave mistake of allowing his opponent to break on f5.
“My original idea was to play 26.e5 after f5, but after 26…f4 27.Bf4 gxf 28.Nh5 I suddenly realized that after 28…Be5 29.dxe and a long castle, I can just resign. I decided to offer a draw in the end because I am really worse there and there is nothing to hope for anymore,” said Maxime in the post-game interview.
“For the last 7 months I played chess for at least 3 months, I was traveling for another month, and one more month I spent it resting but also away from home. It has been a huge challenge for me! There was nothing I could do about it, since the schedule for both Grand Prix and Grand Chess Tour had been fixed”.
Nepomniachtchi still needs to win the final in order to overcome Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in total Grand Prix points and qualify for the Candidates. As it stands at the moment, Vachier-Lagrave has 17 GP points while Nepomniachtchi has 16.
If the Russian grandmaster loses the final, he will still have a final chance to qualify by playing a play-off for the wild card between him and Kirill Alekseenko.
“I will be watching the match from home, and of course I will be rooting against Ian, there is nothing else I can do. But if Ian wins, it will be well deserved,” he added.
In the second semi-final game, David Navara and Wei Yi drew again.
Wei Yi chose a rare line 10…Nbd7 in the Russian System of the Grunfeld, and after 11.Be3 Ng4 12.c6 he came up with a piece sacrifice, which was played earlier in the game Volkov-Riazantsev in 2017. David Navara didn’t know this idea and decided to take the piece.
Black had enough compensation due to the activity of his pieces and a few moves later the Czech grandmaster was forced to give back his extra material and take the game into an ending.
After the Queen’s exchange Wei Yi had extra pawn in the rook ending but David Navara was defending precisely to finish the second game in a draw.
The fate of this match between Navara and Wei Yi will be decided through tiebreaks, with Navara playing white in the first game.