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Geneva Grand Prix Round 3: Hari misses a big chance against Mamedyarov

by Aditya Pai - 09/07/2017

In the third round of the Geneva Grand Prix, only two games ended decisively. Pentala Harikrishna was pitted against the current Grand Prix Leader, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Playing with the white pieces for the second consecutive time, Hari put his faith yet again in the seemingly calm Italian Opening and was able to obtain an edge. But just one step away from victory, he faltered and conceded a draw. A comprehensive report on round three.  

Another thrilling round ended in Geneva yesterday evening. Although seven out of the nine games were drawn, the players fought hard and even took gambles in their quest for victory. The most tumultuous game of the round was the one between the Indian number 2, Pentala Harikrishna and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

It was a complicated game so Harikrishna wasn’t too disappointed about missed opportunities.

Harikrishna had the white pieces for the second time in a row, in round three. Across him sat the man who has recently surpassed the 2800 Elo mark recently – a feat only eleven players have been able to achieve in the history of the game.


Hari opened with the king’s pawn and steered the game into the placid waters of the Italian Opening yet again (he had played the same opening against Adams in the last round). Building up slowly, he was able to establish a strong influence in the center. Mamedyarov tried to neutralize it by offering the trade of the light squared bishops. But the Indian ace dictated the terms and tried to maintain his central influence by exchanging the bishops on the c4 square, rather than on e6 which Mamedyarov was hoping for.


As the game progressed, Mamedyarov, in his attempt to put pressure on Hari’s centre, ended up with his knights in two corners of the board. This eventually gave Hari a pleasant advantage and Mamedyarov knew that if he didn’t act, Hari would show no mercy steamrolling him. The Azeri, therefore, tried complicating matters by sacrificing a pawn. But this too backfired as Hari obliged to his invitation into the dense woods of variations and generated a strong attack on his king. The Azeri Grandmaster was in dire straits now and took desperate measures to save the game. On the 27th move, he offered a rook sacrifice which was nothing but a bluff to confuse Hari. Unfortunately, Hari fell for it and failed to find the winning continuation. It seemed he was unaware of this until the very end of the game when his opponent told him about it.

Even after Hari failed to find the right continuation, he had a slight edge in the position. But Mamedyarov had been able to exchange a pair of rooks and stabilized his king position. More importantly, there was time trouble to deal with. When Hari had only had a couple of minutes to make six moves, the Azeri number one sought the opportunity to offer a draw which Hari accepted.
[Event "FIDE Geneva Grand Prix 2017"]
[Site "Geneva"]
[Date "2017.07.08"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C54"]
[WhiteElo "2737"]
[BlackElo "2800"]
[Annotator "Tanmay Srinath"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]

{This 3rd Round game could potentially have a big influence on the standings.
Hari had white against Mamedyarov, the overall GP leader, and a win here for
Hari would have been an excellent push for the top spot.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 {Again an Italian. The Ruy Lopez has been relegated in top level chess
due to the Berlin Wall.} Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. O-O {A quiet move. There
are other options for the attacking player.} (6. Bg5 {is what Hari played
against Adams yesterday. I guess he wanted to try something new.}) ({The most
common move here is} 6. Bb3 d6 7. h3 Ba7 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. Nf1 d5 {I guess this
position doesn't suit Hari's positional style. Thats why he probably avoids it.
Also, playing agressively against the Shak can be potentially disasterous.})
6... d6 7. a4 {The best scoring move according to the databases. White tries
to stop b5, and creates another escape square for the bishop.} Ba7 8. Re1 O-O
9. h3 b5 $5 {An unexplored move at the top level. Black uses tactics to force
white to retreat the bishop.} (9... Ne7 {was essayed by Carlsen against
Kramnik earlier this year in Norway, and was not inspiring. After} 10. Nbd2 Ng6
11. d4 c6 12. Bd3 $14 {White has a risk free plus. This game forced Black
players to look for alternatives.}) 10. Ba2 $5 $146 {Harikrishna is not to be
outdone, and introduces his novelty. He's obviously done his homework.} ({
The only previous top level game went} 10. Bb3 b4 11. a5 Rb8 12. Nbd2 Be6 13.
Bc4 Qc8 14. Bxe6 Qxe6 15. Nc4 Rb5 $13 {1/2-1/2: Shankland-Tari. Hari
introduces an improvement over Sam's play.}) 10... b4 {We are now in
unexplored territory. The assesment of the position will depend on whether
white can successfully achieve d4, or whether black can generate counterplay
on the b-file and the queenside.} 11. Bg5 Rb8 12. Nbd2 h6 13. Bh4 Be6 14. Bc4 {
Hari introduces a small nuance. By attacking the a6 weakness, he forces black
to either capture on c4, where he will take with his Nd2, improving its
placement, or offsiding his Nc6. Either way, black is forced to react, which
Shak does without hesitation.} g5 $5 {A good intermezzo. Black invites white
to sac on g5.} 15. Bg3 $6 {Hari politely refuses.} (15. Nxg5 $1 {is the right
move. Usually, these sacrifices occur when the white king is still on e1, and
has not commited itself to the kingside, so that the rook can join in via
h3-g3 after a h4 move. Also, the fact that black's DS bishop is on a7 is not
helping matters. The computer might show a small minus, but it is extremely
hard for a human to defend such an attack. After} hxg5 16. Bxg5 Kh7 17. Qf3 Kg6
18. Bh4 $44 {[%csl Rf6][%cal Rh4d8,Rd3d4] White is atleast equal, and has
chances to put the maximum pressure.}) 15... Na5 {Shak chooses the 2nd option,
and forces white to take on e6.} (15... Bxc4 16. Nxc4 bxc3 17. bxc3 Re8 {
was the other option, and after} 18. Qe2 Nh5 19. Bh2 Ng7 20. Ne3 Bxe3 21. fxe3
Qd7 22. d4 $13 {a balanced position occurs, with white having slightly better
chances.}) 16. Bxe6 fxe6 17. d4 {So Hari achieves d4 as planned. As I see no
immediate queenside play for black, the assesment is that white is better here.
} bxc3 18. bxc3 Nh5 19. Bh2 exd4 {Shak seeks to undouble his pawns, and try to
forcefully claim equality. However, I don't see that happening in the near
future, especially with the offside a5 knight, the a6 weakness, and the weak
light squares around the black king.} 20. cxd4 $16 {Hari has definite reasons
to be happy. He has a clearly better position against the GP leader. A win
here would greatly help his rise up the standings.} Nc6 {Mamedyarov hurriedly
tries to regroup, but his position has too many holes.} 21. Rc1 $1 Qd7 22. Re3
$5 {[%cal Ye3c3] An interesting rook lift. The rook has sights on both parts
of the board, and can be employed on either wing. I will mention two other
alternatives} ({The first move that game to my mind in this position is} 22.
Nxg5 $5 {[%csl Rh5] exposing the fact that the Nh5 is undefendes. Indeed, after
} Ng7 23. Ngf3 Nxd4 24. Nxd4 Bxd4 25. Nf3 Bb6 26. Qd2 Qxa4 27. Qxh6 $16 {
Black's king is very weak, and his passer on the a-file too slow.}) (22. Nc4 {
Is Houdini's suggestion, protecting d4. After} Nf4 23. e5 Kh8 24. Ne3 Rb4 25.
Bxf4 gxf4 26. Ng4 Nxd4 27. Nxh6 Qh7 28. exd6 $1 $18 {White will strike a fatal
blow on the black king sooner rather than later.}) 22... Rb7 $2 {Shak is
having a bad day. I don't understand why an agressive player of his caliber
would play such passive chess. The move is not that bad, but it shows negative
mentality from the Azeri No.1} 23. Nb3 {Hari chooses a good move, but not the
best one.} (23. Nc4 {With the same idea of protecting d4, is even better, as
it also adds extra protection to e5. After} Nf4 ({Here,} 23... e5 {doesn't
work because of} 24. dxe5 $1 Bxe3 25. Nxe3 Ne7 26. Nf5 Nxf5 27. Qd5+ Qf7 28. e6
Qe8 29. Qxb7 Nfg7 30. e7 Qxe7 31. Rxc7 $18 {and the whole house collapses.})
24. Bxf4 Rxf4 25. Rec3 Qh7 26. Nxd6 $1 $18 {[%csl Rc6] I can't see black
drawing this game.}) 23... e5 $1 {Shak finds the best resource available and
tries to create counterplay against d4.} 24. Nxe5 $1 {Asthetically pleasing,
but not the only move.} (24. Rec3 $3 {is even better, attacking c6. After} Nxd4
25. Nbxd4 exd4 26. Nxd4 Nf6 27. Rf3 d5 28. e5 Ne4 29. e6 $18 {White should win.
}) 24... dxe5 25. Qxh5 $18 {White should win this position.} Kh7 $2 {A blunder
in a bad position.} (25... exd4 $1 {Is the best among devils. After} 26. Qg6+
Qg7 27. Qxc6 dxe3 28. Qd5+ Qf7 29. Qxb7 Qxf2+ 30. Kh1 e2 $132 {Black gives
white chances to go wrong. Still, White should win after} 31. Bg1 e1=Q 32. Rxe1
Qxe1 33. Qxa7 $18) 26. Rec3 $1 {Black is objectively lost, but Shak fights on,
and shows us all why he is among the best in the world.} Nxd4 27. Bxe5 {
A move that appears strong. White threatens to take on c7 and d4 is attacked
twice.} (27. Na5 {Ends the game sooner. The ideas is that after} Qf7 28. Qxf7+
Rxf7 29. Nxb7 Ne2+ 30. Kh1 Nxc3 31. Rxc3 Bxf2 32. Bxe5 $18 {White is a whole
piece up, and should win.}) 27... Rxf2 $6 {Credit to Mamedyarov here. Knowing
he would just lose here, he decides to confuse the matter one last time, and
succeeds, much to the chargin of all the Indian fans.} 28. Kh2 $4 {Hari plays
a very timid move here. A player of his quality should have found the best
move here, and forced resignation. I suspect he was in acute time trouble, and
didn't want to blunder anything.} (28. Nc5 $1 {A very calm move that decides
the game. After} Qf7 29. Qxf7+ Rxf7 30. Bxd4 Re7 31. Rc4 $18 {Black should
just resign, and hope to fight another day.}) 28... Ne6 $1 {Shak grabs his
chance with both hands. Hari has lost a large chunk of his advantage. Still,
he is much better, and can press on.} 29. Rd1 Qe7 30. Qg4 $6 {I suspect Hari
was shocked at his mistakes, and forgot that he is much better here.} (30. Rcd3
{Is a very strong move, threatening to invade on the 7th or 8th ranks. After
the forced} c6 31. Na5 Qf7 32. Qxf7+ Rbxf7 33. Rd6 $16 {White can still hope
of winning this game, but black's drawing chances are not that miniscule
anymore.}) 30... Qf7 31. Rc6 $6 {A move that seals the draw, from a better
position.} (31. Rcd3 {Was still possible, but after} c6 32. Na5 {Black has} h5
$1 $11 {and is equal.}) 31... h5 32. Qg3 Rf1 33. Qd3 Rxd1 34. Qxd1 Be3 {
Here both players called it a day, and decided to end the game. Hari could
have pressed on with} 35. Nd4 Bxd4 36. Bxd4 Nxd4 37. Qxd4 Rb6 38. Rc5 $14 {
But he is slightly better at best. A disappointing game for Hari, failing to
make the most of his two consecutive whites. He is lacking finishing power
this tournament, and I feel he will be kicking himself after this game, where
he surrendered his large advantage. Credit to Mamedyarov, who showed the
difference between a normal GM and a 2800 player.} 1/2-1/2

Michael Adams drew against Alexander Grishchuk in merely 13 moves. “Yesterday, I played the longest game and today I played the shortest. I think that is fair”, said Grischuk after the game.
Svidler wasn't pleased with his play after the opening but made sure to recommend the books written by his opponent to all aspiring masters. The two agreed a draw in 20 moves.
World's highest rated woman, Hou Yifan tried hard for a win but couldn't break through Inarkiev's defence. The two signed peace after a 71-move-long battle.

The two games that ended decisively were Eljanov-Nepomniachtchi and Rapport-Jakovenko. In the former, Eljanov went for the Opocensky variation to counter his opponent’s Sicilian Najdorf. The game soon got sharp as players castled on opposite wings.  At one point, it looked like Nepomiachtchi would be the first to break through to his opponent’s king. But in a sly manner, the Ukrainian deluded his opponent into going for a seemingly promising pawn break and stationed his bishop on the longest diagonal of the board. From its post, the bishop performed both offensive and defensive duties. He then sacrificed an exchange to maintain this bishop and later advanced his queen’s pawn with decisive effect.


Dmitry Jakovenko essayed the Nimzo-Indian Defence to counter Rapport’s queen-pawn advance on the first move. In the middle-game, Rapport seemed to have attacking prospects on the king side but the Russian Grandmaster shut it down by exchanging his light squared bishop for Rapport’s knight which could have been an instrumental in orchestrating the attack. The Hungarian youngster still kept attacking but Jakovenko was able to defend successfully and exchange into an endgame with an extra pawn. The game was still within the realms of a draw but Jakovenko coordinated his knight and rook brilliantly to catch Rapport’s king in a mating net.


In the other games, tournament leader, Teimur Radjabov played enterprisingly against Levon Aronian throwing his kingside pawns forward in a Catalan Defence game. The game turned very sharp in no time but fizzled into a draw very soon. Anish Giri was pressing all through the game but had to settle for a draw in the end against Li Chao. Salem Saleh opened his score in the tournament with a draw against Alexander Riazantsev.
Round 3 results at a glance
After three rounds, Teimur Radjabov has been able to maintain his half point lead over the rest of the field with 2.5/3. Harikrishna along with Aronian, Eljanov, Adams, Mamedyarov and Grischuk is on the second spot with 2.0/3. Giri, Svidler, Jakovenko, Gelfand and Li Chao share the third place having scored 1.5/3. With one loss each, Hou Yifan, Nepomniachtchi, Riazantsev, and Inarkiev share fourth place with a score of 1.0/3. After his second lost in a row, Richard Rapport joined Salem Saleh at the bottom of the leaderboard with 0.5/3.
About the author

Aditya Pai is an ardent chess fan, avid reader, and a film lover. He has been an advertising copywriter and is currently pursuing a Master's in English Literature at the University of Mumbai. He loves all things German and is learning the language. He has also written scripts for experimental films.

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