The first round of the group stage in the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix in Belgrade saw four decisive games, three hard-fought draws, and several surprises. After the first of six rounds, GM Dmitriy Andreikin has taken the lead in Group A, GMs Anish Giri and Nikita Vitiugov share the lead in Group B, GM Vidit Gurathi is the sole leader in Group C, while both games in Group D ended in draws.
A notable development was that none of the four Russian players played under the Russian flag, two chose a white flag with FIDE written on it, while two others chose the RCF (Russian Chess Federation)/FIDE combo.
In the game between the two nominal rating favorites of the group, Russians GMs Alexander Grischuk and Andreikin, the play started with a Taimanov Sicilian move order but eventually transposed into something that resembled a traditional Scheveningen where White had some pressure.
Just as Black seemed to have neutralized White’s initiative, Grischuk played the extremely committal 19.Nxe6?!, leaving the knight pinned and tied to the queen. However, it was only after the subsequent blunder of 21.Bh6??, the game fully turned in Black’s favor.
In the second game of Group A, GM Etienne Bacrot and GM Sam Shankland had an intense battle, where Bacrot seemed to be in control, throughout most of the game, although subsequent analysis reveals that Shankland was not without chances. Right before the time control at move 40, Shankland managed to find a sequence of only moves that secured equality.
In Group B, Vitiugov and Giri both won their games to take the early lead. The first game to conclude was between Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna and the Russian GM, where the Indian grandmaster made a terrible oversight and was lost right out of the opening, and eventually lost a miniature.
In the second game, Giri had the white pieces against Iranian GM Amin Tabatabaei, who played a sensational tournament in Riga. After nine apparently trivial moves in an Italian Game, Giri uncorked a surprising novelty in 10.b4!?. Black’s follow-up was not entirely the best and, as a result, Giri took control of the game and won an impressive game. Here is the game of the day with annotations by GM Dejan Bojkov:
In the group’s only decisive game, Gujrathi beat the veteran GM Alexei Shirov. Vidit, like Harikrishna above, went for the somewhat unusual 6.Qd3!? against Shirov’s Najdorf Variation, and already after eight moves, the players were in virgin territory.
Thanks to Shirov’s original and very aggressive approach for Black the position turned quite unbalanced though apparently with White in the driver’s seat. However, it was only after successive mistakes by Shirov on move 21, where he missed an excellent drawing chance, and move 23, that White could secure a decisive advantage.
In the second game of Group C, GM Richard Rapport and GM Vladimir Fedoseev continued their rivalry from the first Grand Prix tournament in Berlin. There Rapport had won both of their encounters, and for a while, it looked like he was going to make it three in a row. Rapport met the Nimzo-Indian with the Capablanca Variation, 4.Qc2, and seemed to gain a relatively clear advantage after very aggressive play by Black; mainly Black’s 12…g5 seemed like a questionable choice.
Just as the pendulum seemed to swing entirely against Fedoseev, he came up with 26…Bf3!? which allowed him to stay in the game, while admittedly forcing him to enter an uncomfortable endgame. However, with Rapport running low on time, Fedoseev escaped with a draw.
Last but not least we have Group D, where both games ended in draws. In the first game to finish, GM Yu Yangui played the Scotch Game against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Mamedyarov opted for the unusual 9…d6 which is quite rare but also seems to offer White a chance to play for an edge.
White seemed to miss his best chance for an advantage when he on move 21 played 21.b3?!. After that, the play seemed to go straight for the draw which was agreed upon on move 36.
In the round’s last game to finish, GM Maxime Vachier Lagrave faced GM Alexandr Predke. With White, MVL repeated a line that Predke had played as Black against GM Alireza Firouzja in the Grand Swiss in Riga last year. With 15…Rc8!? departed from that game, and with 18…d5!?, the position turned very tactical. The French Grandmaster committed a serious blunder with 19.dxe5, which gave Black a clear advantage. However, indecisive play by Black allowed the French grandmaster to escape into a drawn rook ending.