The fourth and final leg of the Grand Prix Series got underway in the Spanish island of Mallorca on Thursday. The players will be fighting not only for a fat share of the €130,000 prize purse but also for the two spots at the Candidates tournament which will be awarded to the top two finishers of the entire Grand Prix Series. Some of the big names in the tournament include Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian. The Indian contender at the event is the country current No 2, Pentala Harikrishna.
The series includes a total of 24 players who were selected to participate 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 Association of Chess Professionals (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.
Currently, Grand Master (GM) Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and GM Alexander Grischuk are at the top of the leaderboard with 340 and 336.4 points respectively. But since both of them have finished their share of three tournaments, it remains to be seen if their total score could be beaten by someone in this tournament. As of now, the only players who have a realistic chance of doing this are Teimur Radjabov, Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. However, since Ding has already qualified for the Candidates via the World Cup, the race is really between Radjabov and Vachier-Lagrave.
With the black pieces in hand, Harikrishna had no problems neutralising in a Queen's Gambit Ragozin. Jon Ludvig Hammer came up with a new move in the opening on move 12 and tried gaining space on the queenside. But Harikrishna's counter in the centre led to a mass exchange of pieces. In no time, the players reached an endgame where, after a few careful moves by Harikrishna, all pawns were exchanged and a draw was agreed.
In the game between Vachier-Lagrave and Boris Gelfand, the latter put his faith yet again in the Accelerated Dragon variation of the Sicilian. Right out of the opening, the Israeli GM sacrificed a pawn with the hope of rounding it up later and winning it back with a better position. Vachier-Lagrave, however, shattered all of his opponent's dreams masterfully. Deploying some neat manoeuvres and tactical tricks, he not only maintained his pawn which had penetrated deep into black's position but also converted it into a strong passer eventually. By the 34th move, it was impossible to stop white's connected passers without losing a significant amount of material. Gelfand threw in the towel at this point.
After an easy draw in round one against Hammer, Harikrishna opted to go for one of his favourite lines from the Geneva leg of the Grand Prix, the Italian Opening, once again in round two. This time, however, Harikrishna was unable to obtain any advantage out of the opening. However, just like in the previous round, he wasn't really in trouble either.
Right out of the opening, Harikrishna allowed a trade of queens on the d-file after a central break by Tomashevsky with 13...d5 and more exchanges followed soon. Tomashevsky gave up an exchange for two pawns in order to unpin his dark-squared bishop and gain better control over the centre. Not to mention, he gained two extra pawns in the process. But black was about to drop one of his pawns and by the thirtieth move, players agreed to a draw.
Going into the third round, four players – Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and Radjabov – shared the lead, having won a game each. In the third round, two decisive results later, Peter Svidler added himself to the list while Harikrishna was half-a-point behind at 2.5/3.
Harikrishna and Ernesto Inarkiev simply did not seem to be in the mood to have a fight in their round three game. With the black pieces, Harikrishna went for the Scheveningen variation of the Sicilian and just 20 moves into the game, the players repeated moves and shook hands.
There are indeed six more rounds to go before the event concludes, but if Harikrishna continues to play in such lackadaisical manner, he will definitely find it difficult to reach the top of the charts in this event which features such bigwigs as Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura.
Here are the standings after Round 3
Updated Date: Nov 20, 2017 15:43 PM