Teimour Radjabov had dominated the Geneva leg of the FIDE Grand Prix from the word go. Kicking off with a dream start, winning both of his first two rounds, the grandmaster from Azerbaijan did not let the lead slip from his hands at any point in the tournament. Going into the final round of the Geneva Grand Prix, he drew against one of his closest rivals, Ian Nepomniachtchi and clinched the title.
In Magnus Carlsen-like manner, Radjabov had been fishing for small but stable advantages out of the opening in this tournament. Perhaps, the most prominent example of this was his game against Peter Svidler in the ante-penultimate round. His final round game against Nepomniachtchi also featured this theme. The game started with a rock solid Italian in which Radjabov had the blacks. Coming out of the opening phase, Radjabov felt he had a solid position after plpanting his knight on the f4 square and following it up immediately with a draw offer, which the Russian declined. Nepomniachtchi was only half a point behind Radjabov and a win would have enabled him move past the Azerbaijani and clinch the title himself.
It is therefore understandable that he declined the draw offer. What’s confusing, however, is that Nepomniachtchi offered Radjabov a draw just a move after this. But this time, Radjabov declined and later got a better position. However, he was unable to break through the Russian’s resourceful defence. The players, therefore, agreed to end matters peacefully on the 56th move. After the game Radjabov said, “I was happy about the opening, that I got this solid position that you can play around for ages.”
Radjabov’s draw gave hopes to grandmaster Alexander Grischuk, who was also half a point behind him. If Grischuk had managed to win his game, he would have joined Radjabov in the first place. But for that to happen, he would have had to get past the super solid Dutchman, Anish Giri, with the black pieces, which was no easy task. Their game, however, was far from being solid. Both players agreed that they were not sure what was going on in the position. Giri was able to imprison Grischuk’s bishop behind his pawn chain and felt he was “half-a-piece up” because of this. But Grischuk uncorked the resource 29. d4 which led to mass exchanges and equality in the end. By the 44th move, the position looked dead equal and both players thought it was a good time to call it a day. This meant that Radjabov was the sole winner of the Geneva Grand Prix.
The only Indian in the field, P Harikrishna, had a promising start to the event with a score of 1.5/2 after the first two rounds. In this run, he had not lost a single game until the penultimate round, when he lost to the Chinese grandmaster, Li Chao. In fact, he was in contention for the title prize until the beginning of Round 8. But his loss against Chao ruined all his chances of winning the title. Nevertheless, he was able to finish joint third. Although this means that he will not be able to qualify for the Candidates through the Grand Prix Series, it is a very good result in itself, keeping in mind the fierce competition he was facing.
In his final round game, he played the Russian grandmaster Dmitry Jakovenko. With white pieces in hand, the Indian ace essayed the Italian opening for the umpteenth time in the event. As has been characteristic for him in this tournament, Harikrishna came out of the opening with a small advantage. Breezing through the opening and middle game with a pleasant position, the Indian number two was able to win a pawn in the endgame and pressurise his opponent. But Jakovenko defended accurately and in the end sacrificed his bishop for Harikrishna’s last pawn. The game now was a theoretical draw, but in practice things might be different. Harikrishna tried his luck for 38 more moves and agreed to concede a draw on the 115th move.
With this draw Harikrishna has finished in joint third place. But since this was a seven-way tie, he could only gain 60 Grand Prix points. This means the he is out of the run for the first two places in the overall Grand Prix. Harikrishna had scored 20 points in the Moscow leg, and he added 60 in Geneva, bringing his total to 80 points. The current top two, Mamedyarov and Grischuk, have scored 340 and 336 points respectively. Although they have finished their share of three tournaments in the Grand Prix, with Harikrishna having another event in his worklist, it is not mathematically possible for the Indian grandmaster to surpass this score. Even if he lifts the champion's trophy in Palma De Mallorca (the next venue of the Grand Prix), he will only gain 170 points, bringing his total GP score to 250. The only three players who have a chance to surpass the scores of the leaders are Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ding Liren.
While this might not have been the best result in terms of qualification for the Candidates tournament for Harikrishna, his overall performance was applaudable. As for the qualification for the Candidates tournament, he will have another go at it at the Chess World Cup which is to be held in Tbilisi, Georgia in September this year.
Aditya Pai is an Editor at ChessBase India
Updated Date: Jul 16, 2017 18:04 PM