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The clash between India no.2 and 3 at the Prague Masters 2020

by Tanmay Srinath - 20/02/2020

The Prague Master 2020 had an intriguing sub-plot to it even before it started - the battle for India's No.2 Position between Vidit Gujrathi and Pentala Harikrishna. Vidit and Hari have played 3 classical games against each other, and 8 games in total, before this round. Hari has always had a stranglehold over the young Vidit, scoring 2.5/3 in their classical encounters. In Round 7, both of them faced off, with Vidit playing white. He got a very nice position out of the opening, but Hari defended tenaciously, and soon the draw was agreed. In the other games, Shankland beat Grandelius in a long Grunfeld middlegame, and Firouzja defended brilliantly against Duda's experimental Anti-Slav system to move back to +1. An extensive report by Tanmay Srinath.

Whew! This one's been a roller-coaster ride so far! What is turning out to be a recurring pattern is that the players seem to fight with both colours against any opponent they face, which has made for some thrilling edge-of-the-seat chess action so far. Vidit continues to remain solid at the top, but now has a motivated chaser in Alireza Firouzja, and with two games against Navara and Duda to go Vidit is certainly the one who has to maintain his superhuman level of play.

 

Today, Vidit had White against Pentala Harikrishna. It has only been a few weeks since Vidit officially surpassed Harikrishna, as the new India No.2, and he continues to go from strength to strength, winning 3 brilliant games in this tournament and reaching the World Top 20. Harikrishna on the other hand has failed to reach the highs of 2016, where he momentarily surpassed Viswananthan Anand to become India's new No.1, and reached a peak rating of 2770, breaking into the top 10. This tournament, he has struggled to consistently challenge for the top spots, opting to play safe and solid openings, and generally aiming to play correct chess.

 

Let me give you a little back-story about these two's classical encounters, before moving on to today's game. They first played each other in 2011, at the Asian Individual Chess Championship, where Harikrishna had one of the finest moments of his career, tying for 1st place with Yu Yangyi with 6.5/9. Here is the game -

The 2nd time the two of them faced off was at the Gibraltar Masters in 2016. Again, Harikrishna proved to be too strong for Vidit. He won and had the best calender year of his chess career!

The 1st time that Vidit got on the scoreboard against Hari was at the Prague Masters last year! Harikrishna had the White pieces, and did manage to get a good position out of the opening. However, Vidit hadn't stagnated - slow and steady improvement over the last 3 years meant that he held the draw comfortably:

With this background, let us come to the game these two played yesterday - their 4th classical encounter:

Definitely the marquee clash of the Round 7! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Vidit-Harikrishna

The game began with the 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined, the absolute main line at all levels.

Here Vidit continued with the natural (and the only move to be played in this position before) 14.Rac1. However, he had a far stronger idea at his disposal. Ruy Lopez and Reti players will recognise it immediately - for the others, White to play and get a serious advantage.

Vidit's move prompted Hari to go for this incorrect exchange of pieces with 14...Nxe5?. Instead, 14...c5! equalises for Black with precise play. After the game move you again have a choice - will you play 15.dxe5 or Vidit's 15.Bxe5?

Your answer to the previous question is correct if you managed to reach this position in your head and assess it as better for White! Yes, the best sequence of moves is 15.dxe5! Nd5 16.Nxd5 Bxd5 17.Bb1!, when White has serious attacking chances on the kingside, that lets him win a tleast an exchange and promises excellent winning chances. Instead, the game move 15.Bxe5? allowed Black to equalise after 15...c5!, and soon the players signed the peace treaty.

Vidit will hope that this miss will not cost him much. | Photo:Vladimir Jagr

Identify the person playing the role of an attentive listener! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Now it is time to move on to the two decisive games. Jan Krzysztof Duda has had a quiet event since his 1st round win over Navara, which would have prompted him to go for an interesting but objectively dubious line against Alireza's Slav defense. However, if there is one clear advantage to being young, it is the ability to play every game to win, discarding the previous results in the tournament. Alireza defended very well, created favourable complications and managed to win a nice game. Let's have a look at some critical moments:

The top seed suffered a painful loss against Firouzja! | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Duda-Firouzja

The position resembles a Reversed Alekhine, and this structure reminds us of the famous game Larsen-Spassky, where Boris won a fantastic game. Here the only move to maintain a complex but objectively slightly worse position is 9.Nd4!. Instead, 9.Ng5?! by Duda is not so good, and soon lands him in hot soup.

Here 11.0-0-0 seems most natural, with a complicated middlegame. Instead Duda retreated (quite unnecessarily) 11.Nh3?! and found himself in a seriously worse middlegame.

Firouzja had the best chance to finish the game off quicker - 16...Bxa3! 17.Bxa3 Nb4 with a nearly decisive advantage for Black. Instead, the immediate 16...Nb4 allowed White to struggle on for longer.

After being punished for his extravagant opening play, Duda has his biggest chance to get back into the game - 21.Nb2! with the idea of planting the knight on c4. Instead, 21.Kg2?! Rad8! Black is really pushing.

Duda had to wait here - 24.h5!? which is a semi-waiting move - asking Black what he intends to do, while fixing the kingside favourably for White. Instead, after 24.Rc1(?!) Rd6! with a doubling on the d-file White is objectively lost.

Here the last chance for Duda to stay in the game came and went - 34.Qe1! bringing the queen into the scene of the battle. Instead, 34.Rxc6!? was a nice try in time trouble, but Alireza's super-fast calculations helped him here - he managed to convert efficiently.

White has a mate threat here, but what is the move that wins for Black here?

Duda's reaction to a series of draws wasn't the best. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

The Phenom is back to a +1 score and shares 2nd Place with Vitiugov| Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Sam Shankland was playing phenomenal chess for most parts, but he was failing to convert winning positions. Today though, was definitely his day, as Grandelius missed many drawing opportunities and lost the game. Here are the critical moments:

 

Shankland-Grandelius

Here the best way for Black to equalise is 15...Be6!. Instead, 15...Bg4!? played in the game seems to give White better chances of an advantage.

There is a concrete way for Black to play here that is quite interesting - 21...g5! and here White is forced to sacrifice - 22.Bxg5! fxg5 23.f6 Bh6 24.Re1 where White has definite compensation, but not enough for an advantage.

24.Rd2 by Shankland is an inaccuracy - instead it was ideal to take on g5, which guarantees White a serious advantage.

29...b5? was too ambitious by Nils. Instead, 29...Bf8! gives Black equal chances.

Time to put yourself in the Thinker's shoes. Black to play and draw!

An instructive position - Black has enough material for the queen but is dead lost because of the monster connected passed pawns on e5 and f5.

The remaining two games were point-splits, so I will not go too much in depth. Here are the games:

Photo Gallery:

David Anton is on the fourth spot with 3.5/7. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

Nikita Vitiugov is still on +1, which is a good sign heading into the business end of the tournament. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

The Organisers have made it a point to put together events for players other than the elite - here are some photos from the Blitz Tournament:

Please Start your Games! | Photo: Petr Vrabec

All those who have played blitz know the feeling of excitement and adrenaline running when you clock starts showing just a few seconds left! | Photo: Petr Vrabec

It's always nice to see side events taking place when the Masters fight it out. It increases the excitement and enthusiasm of the main event! | Photo: Petr Vrabec

Age is just a number in Chess! | Photo: Petr Vrabec

The Nice Guy of Top Level Chess! David Navara never disappoints a fan! | Photo: Petr Vrabec

The "don't mess with me" stare! | Photo: Petr Vrabec

Hannes Stefansoon is the leader in the Challenger section with 5/7. | Photo: Vladimir Jagr

CM Ediz Gurel is the leader in the Future Section - again a 5/7! | Photo: Petr Vrabec

Results of Round 7

Standings after Round 7

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