GM Hikaru Nakamura won the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix series by earning a half-point against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on Thursday. Although there are still games to be played in the third leg, Nakamura has already earned more points than GM Richard Rapport, the former leader, in the overall event.
In the other game, GM Amin Tabatabaei defeated GM Wesley So in a must-win situation after having lost the first game. After a highly dramatic middlegame, Tabatabaei had a decisive advantage, forcing So to resign. With these results, both matches are heading to tiebreakers tomorrow.
The tiebreakers to decide the semifinals will take place Friday, April 1, at 6 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central Europe.
After a somewhat bloodless draw in game one of the semifinal, it was expected that Mamedyarov, with the white pieces, would try something to avoid a draw and a rapid play tiebreaker against Nakamura.
In a Queen’s Gambit Declined with Bf4, Nakamura predictably chose a line that he has used dozens of times before. In fact, as co-commentator and former World Champion Viswanathan Anand pointed out: in the online events during the COVID crisis, Nakamura made a living playing this variation as Black.
Mamedyarov sharpened the game with 9.h4, but even this line has previously been featured in Nakamura’s praxis, and unsurprisingly, he had something fresh prepared in 10…Ng4, deviating from his earlier games which all featured 10…Ne4. Even though the engines like that move, they were less impressed with Black’s follow-up, 11…h5.
In the transition from the opening to the middlegame, Mamedyarov seemed to have several promising options but did not go for any of them, allowing Black to equalize. You could suspect that this would be the beginning of a wood-chopping contest in the spirit of yesterday‘s festival of yawns, but then you would be mistaken!
Nakamura has made an art of playing the types of positions that arise from this line of the Queen’s Gambit, and once he gains something to hang his hat and cane on, he is like a teenager who has been allowed to stay out beyond his usual curfew, liberated and pursuing every opportunity that comes before him. That attitude unfortunately led him to try to cash in his chips sooner than was warranted; his 26…Bxa4 was impatient and let the majority of his advantage slide.
Eventually, the players ended up in an endgame that was more or less equal, but as Nakamura said after the game: “it was drawish, but at one point I wanted to play on, and then Shakhriyar wanted to play on, but nobody had anything special.”
In yesterday’s game, So hammered out a lengthy preparation, culminating in an advantage that he converted with precision. Today, Tabatabaei played fast as well but opted for a peculiar combination of the Samisch Variation and the Fianchetto Variation against So’s Nimzo-Indian. This kind of setup usually renders the c4-pawn impossible to defend, but when that became an issue, Tabatabaei boldly sacrificed it, making the argument that it would give the bishop pair more space to roam. It appears that both So and the engines agreed with that assessment because it did not take long before So decided to refund the pawn. The engines were less enthused by this decision.
This seemed like starting shot for some major action. But rather sprinting forward with precision and measured steps, it was as if the gun blast rattled the players, causing one mistake after another, not least So whose baffling blunder, 23…Nh4??, forced White to find the rather obvious only move to not lose on the spot, 24.Rd3, which also gave White a winning position.
As Tabatabaei said after the game: “I completely blundered …Nh4, but after Rd3, it is so strange that it is completely winning. I thought it was completely lost, but then I have a move that is completely winning.”
I thought it was completely lost, but then I have a move that is completely winning.
—GM Amin Tabatabaei
The remaining few moves of the game saw So try to confuse matters with Tabatabaei waving the attempts off as if they represented a lazy and only mildly annoying fly.
With this win by Tabatabaei, he added another impressive scalp to his belt and undoubtedly set his spirits high ahead of tomorrow’s tiebreaker.
FIDE Grand Prix Berlin is the final leg of the 2022 Grand Prix. The Berlin tournament takes place March 22-April 4. Tune in at 7 a.m. Pacific/15:00 CET each day for our broadcast.