GM Levon Aronian and GM Hikaru Nakamura outplayed GM Leinier Dominguez and GM Richard Rapport respectively in the first game of the semifinals of the first leg of the FIDE Grand Prix 2022 in Berlin, both scoring with the white pieces in contrasting styles. This gives them a decisive two-game lead in the semifinals.
Aronian invented a chaotic melee middlegame that he had dreamed up at home in a complicated variant of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted Opening Game. In contrast, in a Karlovy Vary structure, Nakamura steadily built the pressure with a queen’s gambit declined, only to launch an imaginative attack in a queenless middlegame. All in all it was an exciting chess day in Berlin on Saturday. On Sunday, February 13, Dominguez and Rapport need to win their games to get into the tiebreak.
One of the highlights of the day was GM Viswanathan Anand, who joined host WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili as a commentator for Chess.com.
Anand revealed in his predictions before the games started: “I think Aronian is in great shape but Leinier must be very, very happy with his qualification – back-to-back wins to come up a one-point lead [in the group stage]and then winning the tie-break.”
“Maybe Nakamura looks more comfortable on the other end, but really, everyone got wins on demand. It’s very precarious to qualify for these group events. It’s so short, the number of rounds, and one mistake is fatal. Two of those “The guys who qualified actually got over that one mistake – a loss – and still managed to come back and win. Four guys in very good shape!”
—GM Viswanathan Anand
Aronian came out with a clear game plan for the day: to lure Dominguez into the depths of the sharp line of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted – the only defense the latter has used against 1.d4 so far this tournament. First of all: “You can never guarantee that you will get a certain position on the board, but since Leinier uses this opening, which I think is very interesting for Black, I thought there was a probability that this could happen. I prepared a little bit, I can’t say my knowledge is [a lot] about this spot. I knew it was playable, interesting and a difficult position for people.”
The crux of his plan for the day was in the last movement that the opening was a “difficult position for people to play,” revealing the amount of work that went into preparing the opening with motor-generated lines. And he also had purely human logic for playing such a complicated position: “I had this feeling that [after a] difficult tiebreak, it might have been my chance, maybe [to] Surprise Leinier”, making it clear that he was taking into account the tired condition of his opponent, who survived a grueling tie-break against GM Wesley So just the day before.
The encounter between Aronian and Dominguez became so interesting that even neighbor Nakamura retained interest in the position!
*Naka constantly checks the monitor with the games and later “visits” the other board! Check the comment pic.twitter.com/H6tBbBKskC
— world chess (@theworldchess) February 12, 2022
Anand enjoyed analyzing the intricate variations that arose from the opening phase of the game, saying the position that emerged in the early middlegame was “what you were told never to do when you were young! It’s just spaces!”, meaning the way players tap the computer’s spacebar to execute the best moves suggested by the chess engine in each position.
— Chesscom Live (@ChesscomLive) February 12, 2022
He also commented on the intricate nature of the position, which was impossible to decipher simply by following the logical rules of chess: “Steinitz would have fainted at the sight of it. Quite a few players 100-150 years ago would have fainted. Even many players 30-40 years ago would have fainted at all this! But this is new computer stuff. It shows that you can really push your limits in these positions.”
Understandably, Dominguez was dejected about his choice of opening and his game in the game: “It’s a very, very difficult position to play in training. I’ve been thinking about different possibilities, but it probably took me too much time… Difficult game— I felt like I had some interesting chances, [but] how i played [was] just not good.”
Even before the game started, there were testimonials about Nakamura’s laid-back, cool demeanor:
— F_Offermann (@F_Offermann) February 12, 2022
Anand had predicted a more creative and sharper opening by Black in the game, taking into account Rapport’s style of play when he said: “Rapport will do something unusual. Rapport has enough unusual stuff,” but added later in the game, “This is Un-Rapport.” An interesting context for the game was that Nakamura tracked the movements of former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov, with whom he even met at some point in his Nakamura looked surprised and amused when he was reminded of the famous game Kasparov-Smyslov, USSR Championship 1988: “I vaguely remember when I was studying with Garry that I saw a position along these lines, but that’s about it. If I play like Garry, that’s definitely a good thing!”
—GM Hikaru Nakamura
From the first game of this Grand Prix tournament to today’s semi-finals, Nakamura has come a long, long way – having previously proclaimed: “…playing classical [chess] looked very boring! Maybe I need to slow down a bit.” By the time he reached what seemed to be a crucial point after 18 moves, Nakamura had already used up about 49 minutes on his clock. But there he began his superb attack on Black’s position, uncorking an ingeniously imaginative movement sequence:
“I felt like it was kind of unlucky, but I know there’s no such thing as luck in chess,” Rapport said of how the endgame had unfolded.
Even before the pandemic hit, Hikaru’s game seemed really down for a while. Factor in 2 years of inactivity, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen this version of him play classical chess. It’s such a pleasure to see him in such great form.
– Sam Shankland (@SamShankland) February 12, 2022
This retired streamer seems to be going strong. #FIDEGrandPrix
— Jonathan Tisdall (@GMjtis) February 12, 2022
The FIDE Grand Prix Berlin is the first of three stages of the event. The Berlin tournament takes place from February 4th to 17th. Tune in to our broadcast every day at 6:00am Pacific Time / 3:00pm CET.