Harikrishna finishes strong to beat Navara in Prague
Pentala Harikrishna won the CEZ Chess Trophy this Saturday after defeating David Navara in a 12-game rapid match. The Indian scored three wins in the final games to overcome the one-point advantage Navara had amassed before the last day of play. It was a great result for the hastily invited Harikrishna, who replaced Ding Liren at the last minute. | Photo: Prague Chess Society
Positional play turned sharp
To examine in what kind of form the players arrived at the event, we can mention that Harikrishna entered the match as the 39th highest-rated player in the rapid list, while Navara arrived as the 25th. The Czech player also came from winning nine of his last fourteen games in the French and Polish leagues (both classical events). If we add the fact that Harikrishna did not have much time to prepare, we might have thought that things did not look well for the Indian. On the other hand, exhaustion might have been a factor that affected Navara.
In the match, the common thread of the twelve games played at the Michna Palace was the fact that they started with slow positional openings that quickly turned into sharp tactical battles. Apparently, both players decided that this would be a good strategic approach to face rapid games with a 20+10 time control. This scheme resulted in twelve highly entertaining and instructive games.
The first one to strike was Harikrishna. After failing to convert his one-pawn advantage in the first game, he showed great calculation skills in an opposite-coloured-bishops middlegame. A stern defence seemed to have gotten Navara off the hook, but White's active pieces allowed Pentala to execute a strong pawn break:
Harikrishna vs Navara, Game 2
The h7 weakness is effectively used with 44.f6!. Naturally, David did not capture the pawn and played 44...g6 instead. A few moves later, a strong final touch left Black completely busted:
After 48.h5+ Rxf6, the passed pawn decides, as the threats against the f5-rook — regrettably placed on a light-square — will win the game:
White promotes the pawn with 53.h8Q and after 53...Bxh8 54.Bh7+ Kf6 55.Rb6+ Black is unable to save the rook.
Navara recovered rather quickly, winning the fourth game with Black. Three rounds later, in game seven, the Czech star played a sharp theoretical line where White sacrifices an exchange as soon as move 12:
Navara vs Harikrishna, Game 7
There followed 12.Qa4 Bxf1 13.Kxf1 e4 and the position is perfectly set up for a sharp battle. By move 23, White had already gobbled two pawns for the exchange and, with only one open file to work with his rooks, Harikrishna played a combination that looked highly attractive:
The computer approves 23...Bxd4+. However, Navara continued precisely to convert his advantageous position:
White does not defend his queen but attacks Black's most valuable piece in return with 26.Rd1. After the queen exchange, 26...Rxb3 27.Rxd4, Navara nurtured his advantage until getting the win seven moves later.
Final day turnaround
Since the event had a schedule of four games per day, Navara arrived to the last day with a one-point advantage. Saturday's first game ended in a draw, but Harikrishna soon showed that he was not going to let the match slip away so easily. In game ten, he positionally outplayed his opponent and got to a queen endgame a pawn up that was impossible for David to save.
In the next round, Navara went for an attack, which lasted no less than 24 moves. Everything started with an exchange sacrifice:
Navara vs Harikrishna, Game 11
White has the queen, a knight and a rook in attacking positions, therefore, he decided that removing a potential defender was called for, 20.Rxc5.
According to the computer, Black had an advantage, but it is not easy at all to defend against White's threats. Suddenly, however, Navara decided to go all-in and lost the thread:
White played 30.Bxg5? and after 30...Rh8 31.Bxf6+ Qxf6 Harikrishna defended precisely and won with his big material advantage. The complete game:
A win in the last game left the score 7-5 in favour of Harikrishna. The Indian player gained 27.2 rating points and climbed eighteen positions in the rapid rating list. Navara, on the other hand, played very strong games and only had a run of bad results towards the end. Soon enough, the Czech player surely will recover from this loss.
About the Author
Antonio Pereira is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.