Mallorca Grand Prix: P Harikrishna clings on to 2nd spot; Teimur Radjabov's Candidates qualification seems suspect
Pentala Harikrishna had white pieces against Francisco Vallejo Pons, played the English Opening and attacked his opponent's king enterprisingly. Right from the word 'go', Harikrishna's play was audacious.
After three consecutive draws, India's Pentala Harikrishna finally struck a blow against the local star, Francisco Vallejo Pons, in round four of the Mallorca Grand Prix. However, it was Levon Aronian's fabulous win against Anish Giri that grabbed all the eyeballs. Hikaru Nakamura also registered his first win in his game against Teimur Radjabov, who is one of the contenders for finishing among the top two of the Grand Prix along with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
Aronian took only 27 moves to score his second win of the tournament. And this was against an elite player like Giri. Kicking off with the English Opening, Aronian flung his h-pawn high up the board and launched an enormous attack on the black king without even bothering to castle. As play proceeded, Aronian continued energetically, throwing more pawns and pieces towards the kingside to make the black monarch suffer.
On the 20th move, Giri, tried to keep the position closed with 20...g5 and attacked the white knight in the process. But Aronian was in no mood to waste time over hanging pieces. He moved his queen instead and soon his pieces came marauding in at the black king.
This knight sacrifice was a one way ticket; either Aronian was going to checkmate the black king or lose due to lack of material. Giri took the offered knight. Aronian, in response, brought all his pieces except the queen's rook around Giri's king. Aronian did slip on move 24 by playing his rook to g4, instead of his queen. But Giri returned the favour immediately by making another inaccuracy. And this simply spelt doom for the Dutchman.
Pentala Harikrishna, just like Aronian, had the white pieces, played the English Opening and attacked his opponent's king enterprisingly. Right from the word 'go', Harikrishna's play was audacious. He castled long, where his king barely had a pawn shelter, wrecked his kingside pawn structure and even sacrificed a pawn, all to break through to the black king. All his efforts paid off well. By the 20th move, Harikrishna already had an advantage.
To stop white's attack along the g-file, Vallejo Pons tried exchanging a pair of rooks. This did stop the attack but cost him a pawn on the queenside. Soon queens were exchanged and black was about to lose a second pawn. Seeing no hope, Vallejo Pons threw in the towel on the 33rd move.
After a turbulent day four that featured as many as six decisive games out of nine, players seemed to have taken a rest day before the official rest day of the tournament. Not only were all of the games drawn, seven out of the nine games were drawn within 30 moves (that is, if you choose to exclude the 31-move draw between Radjabov and Harikrishna strictly because it crossed half-a-move past move 30). In fact, Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura agreed to draw within merely 13 moves of play.
In round five, the Andhra Pradesh-based Grand Master was facing a dangerous opponent - Radjabov. The game started off with the Reti Opening. After his loss against Nakamura in the previous round, Radjabov could have been expected to come back with a win, especially because he had white pieces. And this was quite a possible scenario given Radjabov's situation in the Grand Prix. On the other hand, he might have wanted to regain his composure, make the most of the rest day that followed and come out all guns blazing from round six.
After the game Radjabov said that he was happy that he did not take a draw as early as he had in the previous rounds. At least, he said, he put up a fight. "At least Pentala had to solve some problems. And I think he did well," added the Azerbaijani Grand Master.
Giving his impressions of the game, Harikrishna said it was one of the rare occasions that he played this particular opening (a reversed King's Indian Defence).
But this was not a draw that Radjabov could easily forget after the tournament as he received what was perhaps the biggest setback of this tournament for him in round six. Playing with the black pieces, he overpressed for a win in his game against Evgeny Tomashevsky and ended up with a loss. Given that he is in the run for one of the spots at the Candidates tournament, and given that he must finish either clear first or clear second here to to qualify for the Candidates, this loss can turn out to be terribly painful.
Another Grand Master with a chance of bagging a spot at the candidates is Vachier-Lagrave. In round six, he was paired against Harikrishna. Playing from the white side of a Symmetrical English, Harikrishna was able to get a nice initiative quite early in the game. Vachier-Lagrave also admitted that he was worried about his position right out of the opening. However, Harikrishna was unable to find anything concrete and the players agreed to sign truce after 44 moves of play.
"I blundered from afar, this move 13.Qb5. I played probably a bit too fast. Then I was lucky I did not have to resign on the spot," said Vachier-Lagrave after the game. Perhaps the word blunder is too strong a criticism. White did have initiative but as Harikrishna pointed out, he couldn't find anything concrete in the position. "I mixed the plans too much, you know... and after e5-e4, I think, it should be about equal," remarked Harikrishna after the game.
After this draw, Vachier-Lagrave maintained his joint second spot in the tournament. The downside of this, however, is that there are seven more players along with him who share the same spot. Needing more than 125 points at least to surpass Alexander Grischuk's score in the Grand Prix, Vachier-Lagrave needs to finish at least clear second (if Radjabov performs poorly, that is) in Mallorca. For that to happen, he would need a few more wins in the last three rounds.
The incorrigible innovator, Richard Rapport, played yet another game that went beyond the realms of normal understanding. Besides on Wednesday, he was not only creative over the chess board but also had a couple of witty remarks to make. "I refuted 1.d4, obviously," he said, talking about how he spent his free day. When asked to explain his game, the Hungarian Grand Master candidly replied, "Well, even I am among those people who have no idea what happened!"
After six rounds of play, Aronian is the sole leader of the tournament with a score of 4.0/6. Half-a-point behind him is a pack of eight players including the Indian representative at the tournament, Harikrishna. If Harikrishna can change gears now and harvest a couple of wins, there is a high chance that he can finish the Grand Prix series on a high note. As for the contention for the spots at the Candidates, Vachier-Lagrave seems to be the only one in the race, unless Radjabov pulls off some kind of a miracle in the last three rounds.
Rank after Round 6
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India.
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