Big names off the board as 2020 chess title cycle takes shape – Washington Times

Posted: December 24, 2019 at 2:45 pm


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It was an early Christmas present for the plummily-named Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi (henceforth Nepo) and a lump of coal for some of the biggest names in the game.

Defeating Chinese GM Wei Yi in the finals of the just-concluded Jerusalem FIDE Grand Prix knockout event Sunday, the 29-year-old Nepo secured one of the last two slots in the eight-player 2020 candidates tournament in March for the right to challenge world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway

The tournaments host country, Russia, gets to fill the final slot and all indications are that Russian GM Kirill Alekseenko, rated 37th in the world, will get the coveted final golden ticket.

Carlsens 2018 challenger, GM Fabiano Caruana, gets an automatic bid, but two other American stars GMs Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura are on the outside looking in, as are such stalwarts as former world champ Vishy Anand of India, Armenian star Levon Aronian and Russias own longtime champion Peter Svidler.

Perhaps the most painful omission for chess fans will be the absence of French super-GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the worlds No. 4 player by rating, who also missed out on the last candidates cycle. MVL has some sterling results this year, but just missed out in the qualifying events and fell short on FIDEs complex point system.

With Nepo and fellow Russian Alexander Grischuk already in the field, theres a movement afoot to lobby the Russian Chess Federation to reconsider Alekseenkos automatic entry and give the Frenchman the slot. We shall see.

Nepomniachtchis worthiness as a candidate isnt in question. A former Russian and European individual champion, hes ranked ninth in the world and eliminated both Vachier-Lagrave and So in Jerusalem before defeating Wei.

Nepo all but punched his ticket to Yekaterinburg with a grueling, 96-move win over Wei in the first game of the finals. It was a devastating result for the Chinese player, who simply handed the initiative to Black by declining a queen trade on Move 12, and then, in deep time trouble, inexplicably rejected a dead-certain threefold repetition with 29. Qg4+ Kh8 30. Qh5 Kg8 31. Nb5??! (see diagram).

Black doesnt hesitate, sacrificing the exchange to reach an ending only he can realistically win: 31Rxb5! 32. Qxb5 Qxb2 33. Rb1 (and not 33. Qxd7?? Ra2! with unstoppable mate) Qc2 34. Rfc1 Qd2 35. Qxb4 Qxe3+ 36. Kh1 Ra2 the Black knight shuts down all Whites threats, while Weis king is in constant danger and the Black d-pawn is ready to roll.

A lengthy bit of shadow-boxing ends when the black pawn finally advances: 84. Qb2 d4 85. Rd2 Qd5+ 86. Kg1 d3 87. Qe5? (Qa3!?, angling for a queen-and pawn ending, appears to be Whites last best hope) Qe4! 88. Qxe4 fxe4, and the White rook is no match for the Black knight and connected passed pawns. In the final position, Black now has three connected passers and cant be held back much longer; Wei resigned.

Heres a warm holiday greeting to chess lovers everywhere and to all this columns faithful readers. Hope to see many of you at the 46th annual Eastern Open Chess Congress, the regions traditional four-day, year-end blowout, being held this year at the Westin Hotel in Tysons Corner starting Dec. 27.

Spectating is free and there will be chess books, equipment and other swag for sale. Check out the schedule at EasternOpenChess.com.

May you have victories aplenty in 2020!

Wei-Nepomniachtchi, FIDE Grand Prix, Jerusalem, December 2019

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 e6 6. g3 Qb6 7. Ndb5 Ne5 8. Bg2 a6 9. Qa4 Rb8 10. Na3 Bc5 11. O-O O-O 12. Rb1 Qb4 13. Qd1 d6 14. Na4 b5 15. Nxc5 Qxc5 16. cxb5 axb5 17. Bg5 Ba6 18. Nc2 b4 19. Nd4 Bb7 20. Rc1 Qa5 21. Bxb7 Rxb7 22. Bxf6 gxf6 23. Qb3 Ra8 24. f4 Qa7 25. e3 Nd7 26. Qd1 Qxa2 27. Qg4+ Kh8 28. Qh5 Kg8 29. Qg4+ Kh8 30. Qh5 Kg8 31. Nb5 Rxb5 32. Qxb5 Qxb2 33. Rb1 Qc2 34. Rfc1 Qd2 35. Qxb4 Qxe3+ 36. Kh1 Ra2 37. Rc8+ Kg7 38. Rb2 Qf3+ 39. Kg1 Qd1+ 40. Kg2 Ra1 41. Qb5 f5 42. Qe2 Qd5+ 43. Kh3 Nf6 44. Rbb8 Ra2 45. Rc2 Rxc2 46. Qxc2 f3 47. Rb3 Qf1+ 48. Qg2 Qe1 49. Qb2 Kg6 50. Kg2 d5 51. Rb8 Qe4+ 52. Kh3 Qf3 53. Rb3 Qf1+ 54. Qg2 Qe1 55. Qc2 Qf1+ 56. Qg2 Qc4 57. Rb8 h6 58. Kh4 Qd3 59. Rb2 Ng4 60. Qe2 Qd4 61. Kh3 Qg1 62. Qg2 Qd4 63. Qe2 Qc5 64. Qc2 Qg1 65. Qg2 Qe3 66. Qe2 Qd4 67. Qc2 Ne3 68. Qb3 Nd1 69. Re2 Nf2+ 70. Kg2 Ng4 71. Qb8 Nf6 72. Qb2 Qc5 73. Rc2 Qe3 74. Re2 Qa7 75. Qa2 Qc5 76. Qc2 Qd6 77. Qb2 Ne4 78. Qd4 Qa6 79. Rc2 Nf6 80. Rd2 Qa5 81. Re2 Qa3 82. Qb2 Qa7 83. Qa2 Qd7 84. Qb2 d4 85. Rd2 Qd5+ 86. Kg1 d3 87. Qe5 Qe4 88. Qxe4 fxe4 89. Kf2 Nd5 90. Ke1 Kf5 91. Rd1 e5 92. Kd2 exf4 93. gxf4 Nxf4 94. Ra1 Ke5 95. Ra6 h5 96. Ra8 f5 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [emailprotected].

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Big names off the board as 2020 chess title cycle takes shape - Washington Times

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December 24th, 2019 at 2:45 pm

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