Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 9

In my Round 1 report I wrote that getting a “luxury” in the beginning of a tournament is the perfect start and Nepomniachtchi went on to prove that he also had the perfect finish.

Needing a draw to secure shared first Nepo was obviously nervous playing black against Gelfand. It showed in the decisions he took in the game – first a solid and symmetrical opening, instead of his usual dynamic Grunfeld-type positions, then unsure treatment of the comfortable IQP position that arose. As Anand proved against Tomashevsky in Round 6 these positions have a very high safety margin. But things were going downhill for him because his play was timid and then suddenly Gelfand’s poor form came to the rescue. On more than one occasion he missed very promising options and eventually allowed Nepomniachtchi to draw. A nervy game!

Saving a lost game always feels like a win and Nepomniachtchi was even awarded a win in the tournament when Giri failed to win a winning position against Li Chao (too many words starting with “w” in this sentence!). This would have forced a tie-break between them. I wrote on several occasions that Li Chao’s white openings were odd, and again around 10 he was fighting for equality (and again in the Nimzo!). He failed and by move 15 was worse. And then after the time-control this happened:

Anand and Aronian drew a calm game in the Giuoco Piano (this is obviously the elite’s new favourite opening) and Tomashevsky and Svidler did the same in the London System.

Mamedyarov managed to beat Kramnik’s QGD and catch him on 50%. Like against Nepomniachtchi in Round 3 I couldn’t understand how it was possible for Kramnik to lose that position! And the answer is: by playing for a win and losing objectivity.

Kramnik’s attempts to play like Carlsen and try to win in every game are commendable, but these games when he oversteps the limit of acceptable risk are happening more and more to him. Only in this tournament he lost two. Against weaker players (like against Buhmann in Dortmund this year) it goes unpunished, but against the elite he gets punished more often than not. Something to think about for Big Vlad.

And so the youth won in Moscow, the youngest players ended up 1st and 2nd, followed by the perennial Anand and Aronian. Anand especially is impressive with his solidity, he probably cannot win tournaments like this one anymore, but he is still up there on the top.

The winner finally got his “lucky” break. Nepomniachtchi was considered a talent at least on par with Carlsen and was probably even better than him at one point while they were playing in the youth championships. But a complex character and unstable psychologically, for many years he was consistently failing to fulfill his potential. And now he finally won something big. Where will that lead him? Probably to at least a couple of invitation to big events and then we will see whether he will establish himself as a regular Top 10 player or will suffer the fate of many who quickly entered and then just as quickly exited the coveted club.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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