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Prague Masters 2020 Round 3: Vidit's Gargantuan Grunfeld Genius!

by Tanmay Srinath - 15/02/2020

After three hard-fought rounds of chess in Prague we finally have a sole leader! Vidit Gujrathi, after surviving a mega-scare against David Anton yesterday, found his rhythm and squeezed Markus Ragger in a Grunfeld Endgame to go to World No.21 and 2.5/3. Alireza Firouzja has found the going tough in the first two rounds, but he seems to have benefited from the close shave yesterday, as he outplayed Harikrishna in a Closed Ruy Lopez structure to score his 1st win of the event. David Anton was seriously worse, but David Navara's struggles continued as he missed numerous chances for an advantage with White to gift the Spaniard the point. Grandelius continued to falter in decisive moments, as Vitiugov escaped by a hair's breadth to maintain a plus score, and Shankland missed out on what could have been a brilliant win over Duda as Black. A comprehensive report by Tanmay Srinath.

What differentiates a World Top 10 player from an 'ordinary' Super Grandmaster? Well, to answer this question let me give you two positions to solve:

 

Duda - Shankland

Black to play. Is it necessary to immediately restore the material balance?

Vitiugov-Grandelius

Black to play. How would you assess the position? What is most important?

Well, I hope you thought long and hard in the given positions. Here are the games with the solutions to the questions:

To answer the question posed at the very top, there are 4 basically factors:

1.Incisive/ Clinical - The World Top 10 player is usually far more clinical and incisive in his/her calculations. He is able to finish a game off without allowing a lot of counterplay most of the time, and when there is a need to find the only move to win/draw, he will most likely find it.

 

2. Better at bending the rules - No, not the rules of the game, but the rules of positional chess. Many a times in the World Chess Championship 2018 during the live commentary I used to notice that Alexander Grischuk suggested moves that Svidler would fail to consider, understand, but most importantly fail to refute as well, and it turned out that Sasha was right most of the time! Shows how open minded they all are.

 

3.Greater Consistency - The top 10 player has fewer bad days/moments, and they play at a stronger level consistently!

 

4. Will to Win - The champion's attitude, which is to fight and fight, even when there is no hope, and the will to grind out an equal endgame - these are some of the qualities that a top 10 player must have.

Shankland played brilliant chess today, but it wasn't enough to win. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

There can be different interpretations, and perhaps better points than these, but these 4 should encompass the main strengths of a Top 10 player. Why this subject? Well, as one could observe, both Shankland and Grandelius missed big chances! Both are super strong players, but when it came to finishing their opponents off they failed. This shows how hard it is to actually win games, and why we should appreciate the legends of the game who win, even against the very best. 

Vitiugov has Caissa on his side! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Vidit 1-0 Ragger:

The game of the round, and possibly one of the best technical games in recent times! Let's see how to ace it like Vidit!

Vidit-Ragger

The game started with a Grunfeld Defense, against which Vidit decided to enter the Endgame Variation.

After the Alpha Zero-Stockfish Match many top players investigated this endgame in depth, and have come up with some interesting ideas. The current consensus is that White should have a small stable advantage, but Black should hold.

Here Ragger chose 16...Rd8, which is a natural move but perhaps objectively not the best. Bd7 seems like a better try.

Moving the same piece again and again, even if the position is closed, is rarely a good option. Can you find the best way for Black to equalise here. Hint - Ragger played 21...Bf8?!, which is objectively a dubious sacrifice.

Vidit's 25.Bb3? was his only mistake of the game. Ragger missed a golden opportunity and played 25...Nd5?!, giving White his advantage back. What did the Austrian miss here?

After a few twists and turns we reached this position on the 36th move. What is Black's best move here, to effectively hold the balance?

Two more moves to the time control - What would you do here as Black?

It's time trouble. You have to make one more move to gain additional time on the clock. What is the only move for Black to stay in the contest?

The final position is a beauty to behold - Black has no good way of stopping the h-pawn.

Wow this guy is strong! Vidit's tenacity and persistence have lead him to 2.5/3! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Navara 0-1 David Anton

Is it the pressure of the home turf for David Navara? He is clearly playing sub-optimal chess at critical moments, and Anton took his chances when it came:

David Navara is a great ambassador for the sport, as he is not only a great player, but also a genial person! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Navara-David Anton

Here the right recapture is 20.Rxc3!, not fearing Black grabbing the d4 pawn, as White then gets a humongous initiative that decides the outcome of the game in his favour. Instead, 20.bxc3? as played in the game allows Black to equalise.

White's last chance to keep an advantage was Qe1!. Instead, Re3?! equalised the game, and soon David started misplaying the position.

Here it was already time to try and force a draw with 32.Qc2! Rdb8 33.Bc1. Instead, the immediate 32.Bc1 allowed Black to take over with 32...Re8!. There were a few mistakes, but eventually Anton managed to win.

After three topsy turvy games David Anton is on 1.5/3. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Firouzja 1-0 Harikrishna

This is a mildly shocking result, as Pentala Harikrishna is usually close to unbeatable when he is playing well. Today though, was just not his day. Let us have a look at some critical moments from this game:

Champions are known to bounce back after a loss, and one can expect Hari to make amends quickly! | Photo:Vladimir Jagr

Firouzja-Harikrishna

The players reached the Chigorin Ruy Lopez where White is a tempo down, but whether Black can take advantage of this or not is something only further testing will tell.

Black's best chance to equalise was here - 15...cxb3! 16.Bd3! Nfd7! followed by f5 gives him enough play.

Where to develop the bishop? a3 or e3? Alireza played Ba3 in the game, but the other move is stronger - check the notes to the game.

The best defensive setup here is Nb6, Ba6 and f5!. Instead Hari chose Nc5?! and was in big trouble already.

Can White take on f5?

The cleanest finish here was Bd1!-e2, simply mopping up a pawn. Instead Alireza went for 28.Qa1?, drastically reducing his advantage.

Black's last hope was 29...Rxa5! 30.Qxa5 Qa6. Instead, 29...g5 just sped up the defeat.

After a slow start, Alireza has got his 1st win of the event! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Results of Round 3

Standings after Round 3. A sole leader for the 1st time!

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