After yesterday’s tiebreaks, GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Wesley So, and Amin Tabatabaei were ready for the semifinals in the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix with Nakamura facing Mamedyarov in one match and So meeting Tabatabaei in the other.
In the first semifinal, Nakamura and Mamedyarov played a mostly uneventful draw, while So hosted a masterclass in home preparation followed by flawless execution of the advantage.
The semifinals continue Thursday, March 31, at 6 a.m. Pacific / 15:00 Central Europe.
The two combatants in this semifinal have played each other countless times before, but as co-commentator GM Daniel Naroditsky pointed out: while the score in games with the classical time control is more or less even, the score in Nakamura’s favor goes up dramatically as the time limit decreases, and in blitz, the score is a heavy 20-4 with some draws in the American’s favor.
If that score had anything to do with his choice of openings is anyone’s guess, but I suspect it might have. Why else, with White in the first game, would he choose to play the Spassky Variation, 5.Qe2, against the Petroff, a line which has a very drawish reputation?
His choice of 11.c4 further seemed to point in that direction. Mamedyarov, however, is no fool and will not willingly accept a decision in a blitz tiebreaker, even if he is no slouch in blitz chess either. After White’s imprecise 13.Rfe1, Black grabbed the initiative. Realizing the potential severity of his position, Nakamura uncorked a rather clever maneuver: Be2-d1-a4, exchanging White’s restrained bishop against Black’s strong knight on c6.
This sequence opened up a series of further exchanges, eventually sending the players into an ending with opposite-colored bishops where the players had to shuffle a bit to reach move 30 where they could agree to a draw.
A tame start to this semifinal, as Nakamura said after the game: “I was always heading for something simple … without saying too much, the opening in today’s game is one that many of the people in the Candidates might play.”
It is quite certain to heat up tomorrow when Mamedyarov, with the white pieces, will make an attempt to win and avoid playing a tiebreaker against the online king of rapid and blitz play.
As So mentioned in his postgame interview after yesterday’s tiebreaker, he has never previously played against Tabatabaei. As far as classical, over-the-board games go, that is true; they have played each other in several games in online rapid and blitz.
This, however, did not prevent him from being exceedingly well-prepared against the Iranian’s Queen’s Gambit Declined. So blitzed out the first 18 moves, even gaining time on the clock. While the preparation as such did not yield a large advantage, it did have the desired result for So in that the technical position that arose was easier for White to play.
In his quest for counterplay, Tabatabaei played several inaccuracies, allowing White’s advantage to grow, lead to winning a pawn, and ultimately take on a decisive nature. After exchanging down to a queen and bishop vs. queen and knight ending with an extra pawn for White, the American grandmaster converted the advantage effortlessly to a full point, putting him in a perfect position to qualify for the final ahead of game two.
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.