Geneva Grand Prix, Round 5: P Harikrishna draws vs Ian Nepomniachtchi; Alexander Grischuk joint top
P Harikrishna too had the same opportunity as Alexander Grischuk, who became the joint leader at the end of Round 5, but couldn't quite close in on the lead as he settled for a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Halfway down the line at the Geneva Grand Prix, tournament leader Teimur Radjabov continued his streak of draws. In Round 5, he drew his game against compatriot Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. A field of six players, who were half a point behind him, now had the opportunity to catch Radjabov in the lead. Alexander Grischuk, who was one of the six players trailing behind Radjabov, made the most of this opportunity by winning his game against Pavel Eljanov.
P Harikrishna too had the same opportunity as Grischuk, given that he was just half a point behind Radjabov. Harikrishna opened the game once again with a king pawn advance. Had Nepomniachtchi played 1. e5, Harikrishna might have gone for the rock solid Italian. But 'Nepo' wasn’t having any of it. He went for the sharpest variation of the Sicilian Defence — the Najdorf. This clearly was a way of testing the Indian’s temperament given that he has exclusively played the Italian in this tournament. But the Indian grandmaster was apparently up for the task, and blitzed out the first 15 moves, showing that he was thoroughly prepared. He chose the 5. h3 setup against the Nepomniachtchi’s Najdorf — a line which is extremely topical at the moment — and the game turned wild very soon.
With kings castled on opposite wings, both Nepomniachtchi and Harikrishna flung their pawns forward to storm the enemy monarch. On his 17th move, Harikrishna went into a 30-minute-long brainstorming session, and came out with a very enterprising idea. Going by the general principles of chess, it isn’t advisable to move pawns on the side where one is being attacked. But Harikrishna did exactly that. He attacked the Russian grandmaster’s knight with his queen knight pawn. The engines didn’t seem to be particularly impressed by this and almost screamed that black should sacrifice the attacked knight and lash out with a counter-attack. But Nepomniachtchi chose to take it slow and allowed the Indian grandmaster to find counter chances.
After a few skirmishes in the middle game, Harikrishna temporarily sacrificed an exchange and steered the game into a rook-and-pawn endgame with an extra pawn — which incidentally was far from the healthiest. To compensate for it, Nepomniachtchi had sufficient piece activity. Not to mention, all the pawns were on the same side of the board, which meant that a draw was inevitable. The players brokered peace on the 51st move.
In the other top board game between Grischuk and Eljanov, the latter played inaccurately in the middle game that began with an English Opening. After the game, Grischuk pointed out that the line he chose to play is a very rare one and his opponent probably lost his way in the middle game because of this. Grischuk had the advantage as early as move 20, and the position kept getting worse for Eljanov thereafter. After Grischuk's 38th move, Eljanov was going to lose a piece by force and decided to throw in the towel.
Richard Rapport had more than just a small opening surprise for Hou Yifan, the only lady in the tournament. Playing with the black pieces, he essayed the Nimzowitsch Defence, an opening rarely seen not only at the elite but also at club-level games. Yifan didn’t go into the mainline, and the game transposed into an obscure Bishop’s Opening. In the middle game, the 21-year-old Hungarian left a queen rook pawn en prise and Yifan grabbed it ambitiously.
Rapport was then able to generate a strong attack on Yifan’s king despite there being no queens on the board. Trying to withstand the attack, the former Women’s World Champion blundered on move 33 and lost an exchange. In the final position, she had no means of stopping Rapport’s pawns from rolling down the board and decided to resign after the 44th move. This was a much-needed win for Rapport who had lost his last three games and was at the bottom of the table in the last round.
While Rapport won his first game of the tournament in Round 5, Ernesto Inarkiev won his first game of the Grand Prix against Salem Saleh. The two played a sharp Sicilian Najdorf. Playing from the white side, Inarkiev went for the English Attack variation and found a novel plan for that particular variation by castling queenside. He then went on to sacrifice a couple of pawns to get his attack going but the complications made him spend too much time. After the game, Inarkiev said that his opponent missed the only move to stay in the game on move 31 and allowed his queen and rooks to enter black territory with decisive effect. The Emirati grandmaster was about to lose his queen when he resigned on move 44.
All of the other games were drawn. Levon Aronian felt he hadn’t prepared well for his game against Peter Svidler but was able to secure a draw anyway within the first two hours of play. Anish Giri pressed hard to win against Alexander Riazantsev but had to settle for a draw in the end. The game between Michael Adams and Li Chao featured a rather tepid Petroff that ended in merely 23 moves. Dmitry Jakovenko and Boris Gelfand also agreed a quick 16-move draw out of a Sicilian Dragon.
Aditya Pai is an Editor at ChessBase India
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