Geneva FIDE Grand Prix: P Harikrishna beats Alexander Riazantsev after 84-move grind in round one
Harikrishna will have to finish among the toppers in this and the next Grand Prix tournament in order to have a claim on one of the two spots for the Candidates.
Eighteen of the world's biggest talents in the game of chess have gathered at the Le Richemond Hotel in Geneva for the third leg of the FIDE Grand Prix. The stellar field includes some of the very best in the world including Norway Altibox Chess winner, Levon Aronian; world number six, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov; the Dutch number one, Anish Giri; the women's number one, Hou Yifan; and many more. The only Indian playing at the event is Grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna. Along with a hefty prize fund of €130,000, on the line are two spots at the Candidates 2018 - the tournament whose winner gets the right to challenge the world champion.
Grand Prix is a series of four tournaments which includes 24 players chosen on the basis of several criteria. This includes the current world champion and his challenger, semi-finalists of the previous FIDE World Cup, players with the highest average rating in the past one year, the highest placed participant of the ACP Tour, nine nominees nominated by AGON, the commercial partner of FIDE; and replacements, if any player chooses not to participate, from those with the highest average FIDE ratings.
Each tournament features 18 of the 24 qualified players and every player can participate in three out of the four tournaments. Based on their performance in every individual tournament, players are assigned Grand Prix points. At the end of all the four events, two players with the highest Grand Prix points qualify for the Candidates tournament. Current overall standings are given below:
Currently, the Indian number two, Harikrishna is in the 18th place in the overall standings. But this is only his second tournament in the Grand Prix. The first one he played was the Moscow Grand Prix from May this year. In the Moscow tournament, Harikrishna finished joint fourth with a score of 4.5/9 along with Boris Gelfand and Evgeny Tomashevsky. With two more tournaments to go, his chances cannot be discounted. However, the leaders, Mamedyarov and Ding Liren (who played in both Sharjah and Moscow) have amassed a huge total score in their last two events. Keeping this in mind, Harikrishna will have to finish among the toppers in this and the next Grand Prix tournament in order to have a claim on one of the two spots for the Candidates.
Harikrishna's first round game in Geneva was a long, uphill struggle against Alexander Riazantsev that lasted 84 moves. Kicking off with the Nimzo-Indian defence, he essayed the classical variation of the opening. As the middle game commenced, the Indian ace began manoeuvring his knights to neutralise his opponent's centre control. The computers didn't seem to like this plan, however, and within just a few moves, Riazantsev was able to generate pressure on black's queen side. After some ups and downs, the players reached an endgame where Harikrishna had a nice blockade on his opponent's central pawns along with a passed pawn on the queen's wing. On the other hand, Riazantsev was defending well and the position was within the realms of defensibility despite Harikrishna having some pressure on the queen side. Unable to find the right plan, Harikrishna started shuffling his pieces when time trouble approached. Low on time, Riazantsev erred on move 65, allowing his opponent's queen into his position. The rest was just a matter of technique for the Indian star.
Among the other games of the round, Giri faced a slight upset as he lost to Teimur Radjabov with the white pieces; Pavel Eljanov got the better of the top-rated woman in the world, Hou Yifan; the English number one, Michael Adams won against GrandMaster Salem Saleh; while Aronian wriggled out of an inferior position with a draw against Li Chao.
In round two, Harikrishna will be playing against Adams. Having won with the black pieces against a strong Grandmaster, he must surely be in high spirits. But Adams too has won his round one match and this will be an interesting one to witness, especially because in the Moscow leg of the Grand Prix, Harikrishna had managed to beat Adams. The full results of round one can be found below.
Aditya Pai is an Editor at ChessBase India.
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