Geneva FIDE Grand Prix: P Harikrishna cutting Levon Aronian to size the highlight of round six
India's Pentala Harikrishna went all guns blazing at his round six opponent, Levon Aronian. With this win, Harikrishna has joined Grischuk and Teimur Radjabov in the lead.
Wednesday, 12 July was quite an eventful one at the third leg of the Grand Prix series in Geneva. Coming back after a rest day, the players seemed to be full of energy and did their best to capitalise on the smallest of errors of their opponents. Five out of the nine games ended decisively, which is the highest in the tournament so far. India's Pentala Harikrishna went all guns blazing at his round six opponent, Levon Aronian.
The Guntur-based Grand Master had black pieces against the Armenian megastar who kicked off with an English opening which went on the lines of the Reversed Sicilian Dragon later. Interestingly, Alexander Grischuk had essayed the same line with black pieces against Pavel Eljanov and had won the game. But Harikrishna decided to not repeat Grischuk's preparation and deviated on move six. Posting his pawns at the centre, Harikrishna played in a very principled manner in the opening phase.
Transitioning into the middlegame, Aronian had a slight edge - a perk of having white pieces. As is common for the Dragon, the Indian then went on to generate an attack on the kingside while Aronian sought counterplay on the queen's wing. In his post-game interview, Harikrishna mentioned, "I think the critical mistake - unless the computer claims otherwise - was 20.f4."
Aronian faltered again on his 21st and 22nd moves, after which his position had more holes than Swiss cheese. In the next few moves, Harikrishna was able to improve his position further by manoeuvring his knight via the e5 square. At the outset, the square looked taboo for the knight, but because of the counterplay Harikrishna would have got had the knight been captured, it was immune. The Indian number two then went on to launch a strong attack on the white king by bravely marching his kingside pawns forward. To resist the attack, Aronian had to shed a pawn. In no time after this, Harikrishna was able to force an exchange of queens and march his extra pawn forward with decisive effect. Unable to stop the pawn from queening, the Armenian Grand Master called it quits on the 38th move.
With this win, Harikrishna has joined Grischuk and Teimur Radjabov in the lead. The two were pitted against each other in the round on Wednesday but neither of them was able to crash through his opponent's defences. After playing 40 moves of a Sicilian Rossolimo, they decided to repeat the position and sign peace.
The only woman in the tournament, Hou Yifan, clinched her first win of the tournament against the Emirati Grand Master Salem Saleh. Coming back from two loses after the rest day, she said in the post-game interview that she was looking to play more solidly rather than going all out for a win. Playing on the black side of an Italian opening, the women's world number one was able to get a pleasant position out of the opening. Building up on her edge acquired in the opening, she went on to get a much better position by the middlegame. But a few inaccuracies on her part made her advantage almost evaporate. However, trying to find the best defensive moves, Saleh had spent a lot of time and struggled to make it to move 40 in the stipulated time. Playing hastily, perhaps hoping for a repetition, he moved his queen back and forth and allowed Yifan to break through decisively on the kingside.
Hou's countryman, Grand Master Li Chao, also won against his Ukrainian counterpart Pavel Eljanov. The game opened with a Queen's Indian Defence in which Eljanov missed a tactical shot in the opening and gave his opponent a significant advantage. Li kept playing energetically after this and never let his opponent come back in the game. By the 35th move, Li was able to catch Eljanov's king in a mating net. To avoid mate, Eljanov would have had to give up a piece and still remain in a hopeless position. Cutting short his troubles, the Ukrainian decided to resign at this point.
The round featured two more decisive games. Ian Nepomniachtchi won his game against Ernesto Inarkiev and hopped into the pack of players on the second spot. Alexander Riazantsev got the better of the Hungarian Grand Master Richard Rapport. Rapport, as is characteristic of him, played an irregular opening with white pieces and came up with some mystical manoeuvres with his heavy pieces. After a few skirmishes in the middlegame, the players reached an endgame where Rapport had to deal with Riazantsev's far advanced king-rook-pawn. Although the material on the board was equal, this turned out to be an insurmountable task for Rapport. By the 58th move, the Hungarian was forced to resign as his king was caught in a mating net.
Of the four draws in the round, Peter Svider's draw against Grand Prix leader Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was the most entertaining. With whites in hand, Svidler chose the Neo Catalan opening and sacrificed a piece on move 18 to expose Mamedyarov's king. But before Svidler could execute his attack, the Azerbaijani Grand Master returned Svidler his extra piece to trade queens and thereby secure his king. In the endgame, both players had sufficient piece activity. Hence, Svidler decided to force matters by perpetually checking his opponent's king and sign peace.
Round six pairings with results:
After six rounds, three players - Radjabov, Grischuk and Harikrishna - are leading the tournament with 4.0/6. A gnat's hair away are Mamedyarov, Svidler, Nepomniachtchi and Li Chao with 3.5/6. A six-player pack including Anish Giri, Aronian, Michael Adams, Boris Gelfand, Dmitry Jakovenko and Riazantsev share the following spot with 3.0/6. Eljanov and Inarkiev come next with a score of 2.5/6. Hou Yifan is in the second last place with 2.0/6. Rapport and Saleh are at the bottom of the table with 1.5/6.
Aditya Pai is an Editor at ChessBase India.
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