First lap of the Berlin Grand Prix

The third round of the FIDE World Chess Grand Prix began with four decisive matches and four matches ended in a draw. The 16 players are split into four pools with four participants each and Day 1 saw a draw and a win in each pool. Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez, Alexandr Predke and Nikita Vitiugov left the playing room with a full point. There will be six rounds in total in the group stage and the winner of each pool will advance to the knockout semi-final, with the two winners meeting in the final.

Pool A:

Aronian won a second Grand Prix match in the same pointy Queen’s Gambit Accepted variation. In the semi-finals of the first stage of the Grand Prix series in Berlin, he beat Lenier Dominguez. Today Levon picked up a crucial win over Hikaru Nakamura. Levon was expecting anything but this line today from Hikaru but still had “a few ideas” in this variation. According to Hikaru, the critical moment came at move 20 where he spent most of his time thinking about playing or not playing g5. He didn’t go and ended up in a worse position. “If Levon had played 25.Qa5 instead of 25.Qa7, I probably would have just given up the game, I was just ready to go home,” the American player said with a smile on his face, admitting always that the game was everything. much better for his opponent even after 25. Qa7. Hikaru put on a stubborn defense and Levon still needed a few moves to score a full point, but the result was never in question.

Andrey Esipenko failed to give himself a birthday present in his match against Grigoriy Oparin, and the match eventually ended in a draw. Nevertheless, the gift was ‘delivered’ a few days earlier when Esipenko became the latest entrant to join the third leg of the Grand Prix series replacing Dmitry Andreikin at the last moment.
Andrey turned 20 today and as a true professional player he spent all day playing chess. His opponent Grigoriy Oparin came well prepared for the game and knew the position until move 25. The end turned out to be slightly better for Andrey but Grigoriy defended well and after 56 moves the peace was signed.

Pool B:

Daniil Dubov and Leinier Dominguez played a very eventful match. Daniil, who had white pieces today, got a very promising position from the open and Leinier spent a lot of time trying to find a way to stop White’s kingside initiative. During the post-match interview, the American grandmaster noted that he had missed the Qe4-Qh4 queen maneuver and thought his position looked very questionable at that time. He traded his bishop for the knight on f3, opening the g-file for his opponent, but managed to survive the game’s toughest moments by moving his knights to the h5 and f6 squares.

Later in the game white won a rally but the superior position of black’s pieces gave him more than enough compensation. It was time for Daniil to look for draw chances and just when it looked like the worst was behind him, Daniil was the last to make a mistake. Dominguez managed to win after Dubov blundered heavily in a seemingly balanced position.

The second Pool B match was a peaceful duel between local GM Vincent Keymer and Azerbaijan GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. White couldn’t create anything substantial and after many rallies the game was transferred to the ending Bishops and eventually ended in a draw.

Pool C:

Once again, Sam Shankland surprised everyone with his preparation at home in today’s match against fellow countryman Wesley So. He played the novelty on the 12th move and analyzed everything at home until the 23rd move with a different move order. “The whole position looks symmetrical but it’s not so easy for black because white gets to the d5 square first with the knight and black’s knight on f6 is passive,” Sam noted after the game. He managed to win a pawn in a late rook and kept some winning chances but Wesley So defended with precision and held the draw.

Meanwhile, in the other encounter, Alexandr Predke beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in style after just 23 moves. An inaccurate decision in the opening led to disaster for the French player, who failed to survive a frightening attack on his king. Alexandr remembered that castling was not a good move for Black and was sure that after 15.g4 Black would find himself in a difficult position.

Despite the result, the French Grand Master did not lose hope: “I know that all I have to do is win this tournament and obviously it’s not a good start for me but there are still a few matches left and I will be ready to fight”.

Pool D

Anish Giri didn’t follow the recommendations on his own Chessable course in the Petroff Defense but decided to try a new line starting with 9.Be3. Yu Yangyi knew the line but forgot to check it before the match and had to play unprepared.

White sacrificed a pawn for better development and “convinced” black to return the gift later in the game. It was obvious to Anish that he got the position with a mid-game advantage, but it wasn’t easy to find the precise way to convert it into a full point. “I probably played well until very far but it took me a long time. To be honest, I can’t say that I regret taking the time because I couldn’t see all these ideas in the game at the start. Yu Yangyi found a way to create counter threats from the queen’s side and the game ended in a draw after 32 moves.

The Vitiugov-Tabatabaei match was the last to be completed. Vitiugov got a big opening advantage. “I think after 14…f6 White is much better, but later Black definitely had a chance to draw,” Nikita said after the match. Amin agreed that the greatest chance to tie the game came at move 30 after white played 30.Ra5. “I should have played 30…Re1+ then continued Kd8”, explained the Iranian Grand Master, who had time problems at the time and missed this last opportunity. It took more than 30 shots for Nikita to convert his advantage in the Rook Final and claim his first win in Stage 3 of the Grand Prix Series.

The pairings for the second round are as follows:

Pool A
Levon Aronian – Grigoriy Oparin
Hikaru Nakamura – Andrey Esipenko

Pool B
Daniil Dubov – Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Leinier Dominguez – Vincent Keymer

Pool C
Alexandr Predke – Wesley So
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – Sam Shankland

Pool D
Nikita Vitiougov – Yu Yangyi
Amin M. Tabatabaei – Anish Giri

Main partners supporting the FIDE Grand Prix Series 2022:

Kaspersky as an official cybersecurity partner;
Algorand as an official blockchain partner;
Prytek as a technology transfer partner;
FIDE Online Arena as an official partner.

The second round of the Berlin Grand Prix will be played on March 23 at 15:00 local time (CET).

Photos: World Chess

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