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Geneva Grand Prix Round 8: Harikrishna’s chances to win the Geneva GP evanesce

by Aditya Pai - 15/07/2017

India's Pentala Harikrishna was having a tremendous run at the Geneva Grand Prix. Until round 8, he hadn't lost a game and had even been co-leading the tournament. The penultimate round, however, brought disaster for the Indian ace. Not only did he lose his first game of the event to Li Chao, he also lost all chances of winning the title prize. Report with analysis.

Who could have predicted that things would go so badly wrong for Pentala Harikrishna at the Geneva Grand Prix? The Indian ace had shown tremendous form in this tournament and had an undefeated run until round 8. In fact, he was even co-leading the tournament after rounds 1 and 7. But the penultimate round turned out to be a disaster for the Indian number two. In round 8, he suffered his first loss against the Chinese GM Li Chao. And with this loss, not only have his chances of winning the title prize in the tournament faded away, but he has also been almost knocked out of contention for the two places at the Candidates tournament – the tournament which decides the challenger for the world championship.

Harikrishna's first loss in the tournament destroyed all his chances of winning the title prize

The game began with the Ragozin variation of the Queen’s Gambit in which Hari had the black pieces. Out of the opening, Hari seemed to have a balanced position. Queens were also traded quite early – on the 11th move, to be accurate. Hari then played a pawn sacrifice and seemed to have sufficient counterplay for it. But on the very next move, he went on to move his knight instead of his light squared bishop which was still on its home square. Going by general principles of chess, one should proceed energetically after sacrificing material. Of course, there are exceptions to this. But Hari’s position in this game probably wasn’t one of those exceptions. After the game, Li Chao said that it was after he played his reply to Hari’s seemingly dubious knight move, Hari offered him a draw. Perhaps, the Indian realised he had erred after having played it and had bouts of discomfort. The Chinese GM declined the offer, however, and Hari’s discomfort with his position became even more pronounced after his 22nd move which damaged his position further.

Li Chao, after his win against Hari
Another critical moment came in the endgame when Chao, on his 39th turn, made an inaccuracy and gave the Indian some hopes of survival. But within just two moves, Hari returned the favour by making an inaccuracy himself and his position was beyond repair. The next 15 moves were simply a mopping up operation for the Chinese GM who executed it with precision.
[Event "FIDE Geneva Grand Prix 2017"]
[Site "Geneva"]
[Date "2017.07.14"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Chao, Li"]
[Black "Harikrishna, P."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D38"]
[WhiteElo "2735"]
[BlackElo "2737"]
[Annotator "Tanmay Srinath"]
[PlyCount "119"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]

{This 8th Round Game was an interesting pairing, between the Chinese Super GM
Li Chao and Pentala Harikrishna. For Chao, a win here would mean a +2 score
and a chance to catch Rajdabov in the final round.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 {
Chao plays the 3.Nf3 move order, thus denying Black the chance to play the
Nimzo. However, it doesn't allow white to play the Exchange variation and the
Botvinnik plan with f3, Nge2, Bd3 etc, a trade off of this move move order.} d5
4. Bg5 Bb4+ {We enter the Ragozin Defense of the QGD, a line that is always
hotly debated at the top level.} 5. Nc3 h6 6. Bxf6 {Li decides to exchange
bishop for knight in this position, and it is not a bad idea. Firstly, black's
DS bishop will find it hard to get an active diagonal. Secondly, black often
exchanges on c3, so it isn't a bad trade.} Qxf6 7. e3 O-O 8. Qb3 c5 {Hari
protects his bishop, and launches a counterattack in the center. But, there
were options.} 9. cxd5 {Li Chao decides to liquidate in the center, and it
isn't a bad choice.} (9. Be2 {is one, trying to keep black guessing. After}
cxd4 10. Nxd4 Bxc3+ 11. Qxc3 dxc4 12. Bxc4 b6 13. Nb5 Qxc3+ 14. Nxc3 $11 {
we reach an equal endgame, though I slightly prefer white, as his king is
better placed in the center.}) (9. Rd1 {is another, improving the rook. After}
Nc6 10. Be2 cxd4 11. Nxd4 dxc4 12. Bxc4 Nxd4 13. Rxd4 Bxc3+ 14. Qxc3 Rd8 15.
Rxd8+ Qxd8 16. O-O {We reach an equal middlegame.}) 9... exd5 10. dxc5 Bxc3+
11. Qxc3 Qxc3+ 12. bxc3 {Both players have traded queens, and one can only
assume a draw is near. But, Li Chao has other ideas.} Nd7 13. Rd1 Nxc5 $5 {
An interesting decision to give up a pawn.} (13... Nf6 {is a serious candidate,
and after} 14. Bd3 Be6 15. Nd4 Rac8 16. Rb1 Rc7 17. Rb5 Ne4 $11 {Black is
close to equal, as the doubled extra pawn is not really an asset.}) 14. Rxd5 b6
15. Rd4 Ne6 $5 {A mysterious move. The knight was well placed on c5.} ({
I would prefer bringing the pieces out quickly with} 15... Be6 {After} 16. Bc4
Rac8 17. Nd2 Bxc4 18. Rxc4 b5 19. Rd4 Ne6 20. Rd3 Nc5 $11 {White has no choice
but to repeat moves.}) 16. Rd6 {Chao finds himself better, and doesn't let go.}
Bb7 17. Nd4 Nxd4 18. Rxd4 $5 {Another one of those captures that don't feel
right.} (18. cxd4 {Feels so good. White removes his only weakness and
transforms it into a strong passer. After} Rfc8 19. Kd2 Kf8 20. Bb5 Bxg2 21.
Rc1 Rxc1 22. Kxc1 Ke7 23. Rd7+ Ke6 24. Rc7 $14 {White has a risk free edge.
The rook is immobile for the moment, and so is the king.}) 18... Rac8 19. Kd2
Rc5 20. Rg1 Rfc8 21. Bd3 {So far Hari has played well, keeping his
disadvantage to a minimum, and restricting Li Chao. Now, he starts to go
slightly wrong.} Kf8 $6 {I give it a dubious mark, because black allows some
activity along the 7th rank, and we can never be careless in a plawn down
position.} (21... Bd5 22. e4 Be6 {is a slightly better version, improving the
bishop, and keeping an eye on the a-pawn. After} 23. f4 f6 24. f5 Bf7 25. Rc1
Kf8 $14 {Black should have few problems drawing this game.}) 22. Rd7 Bd5 $6 {
Generally, trading pawns or pieces when you are down material is a bad idea.
Here, it is even worse, as the bishop is badly placed on d5, and white can
safely pouch a7.} (22... Bc6 $1 {is the right move, but the follow up is
difficult. After} 23. Rxa7 {Black exploits the king on d2 with} Rd8 $1 $14 {
Threathening Bb5 or Rd5. White has to be careful here, and he can only claim a
modest edge.}) 23. Rxa7 Rxc3 {Why trade a potentially good pawn for a weak
one? Hari makes a bad decision, and White is now substantially better.} 24. e4
Be6 25. Rb1 R3c7 $6 {Another inaccuracy. Exchanging is good, but the timing is
very important!} (25... R3c6 $1 {maintaining the position, and after} 26. f4
Bc4 27. Bxc4 Rxc4 28. Rxb6 Rc2+ 29. Kd3 R8c3+ 30. Kd4 Rc4+ 31. Ke5 Rc5+ 32. Kd6
Rc8 $14 {White should forever worry about perpetuals. Black is only slightly
worse here.}) 26. Rxc7 Rxc7 27. a4 Bd7 28. Bc2 Rc6 {Now with fewer pieces on
the board, it is difficult to find counterplay. White now slowly transforms
his advantage. Step 1: Create a passer to divert Black's forces.} 29. f4 Ke7
30. Rb4 h5 31. g3 Kd8 32. Bb3 {Notice how Li Chao doesn't hurry. He is near
the time control, and doesn't want to risk blundering.} f6 (32... Be6 $2 {
here is simply bad, as after} 33. Bxe6 Rxe6 34. Kd3 $18 {white will plow
through in the center.}) 33. h4 {Preventing any counterplay with g5. White
stops Black's ideas first, then goes on to execute his own.} Kc7 34. Kd3 f5 $2
{Hari blinks first. I don't understand why he gifts white a passer.} (34... Rc5
35. Rc4 Kd6 36. Rxc5 Kxc5 37. Bd1 Be8 $18 {and Black still has a long torture
session awaiting him. Still, this was the lesser evil.}) 35. e5 $18 {White is
now winning, and Li Chao converts with minimal fuss. Stage 2 - Push the passer,
and isolate the bishop, then, target the weakened kingside pawns.} Rg6 36. Kd4
Rxg3 37. e6 Be8 38. Ke5 Rc3 39. Kxf5 $6 {Unfortunately, this move is an
inaccuracy, as it helps black prolong the battle.} (39. Rc4+ $1 Rxc4 40. Bxc4
Bxa4 41. Kxf5 Be8 42. Ke5 $18 {and even an earthquake can't stop white from
winning.}) 39... Rc5+ 40. Ke4 Bc6+ 41. Kd3 Rc1 $6 {Hari spoils the last chance
given to him.} ({There was still hope with} 41... b5 42. a5 Rc1 {and after} 43.
Rd4 Ra1 44. Bd5 Be8 45. Ke4 Rxa5 $16 {White still need to be accurate and hope
for black committing a mistake.}) 42. Bc2 $18 g6 $2 {A blunder in a bad
position.} (42... Rf1 {Preventing f5, was a way of prolonging the battle, but
after} 43. Ke2 Rg1 44. Be4 Bxe4 45. Rxe4 Kd8 46. f5 $18 {White should win.})
43. Kd2 Rg1 44. e7 Be8 45. Re4 Rg2+ 46. Kc3 Rg3+ 47. Bd3 $18 {The checks stop,
and the white king decisively enters the fray. Final Stage- Win the bishop,
and force the black king into a bad position, then push the f-pawn.} Kd6 48.
Kd4 Bxa4 49. e8=Q Bxe8 50. Rxe8 Rg4 51. Ke3 Rg3+ 52. Ke2 Kd5 53. Rg8 Rg4 54.
Kf3 Rxh4 55. Be4+ Kd4 56. Rd8+ Kc3 57. Bxg6 Rh1 58. f5 Rf1+ 59. Ke2 Rf4 60.
Rd3+ {and Hari resigned. A great game by Li Chao, who milked blood from a rock,
and never let go of his extra pawn. He now stands a chance of winning the
tournament, should Rajdabov slip. As for Hari, I hope he will now come out all
guns blazing in the final round, as his chances of winning the tournament are
gone.} 1-0
This loss demolished all chances of Hari winning the tournament. More importantly, it also means that Hari’s qualification for the Candidates tournament via the Grand Prix series – which is highly unlikely now – will be dependent upon the results of other players. That is if he wins the next leg of the series in Palma de Mallorca. Hari hadn’t had the best start in this series. Finishing with a tie for 10th-12th place in Moscow, he had only been able to gather 20 Grand Prix points. In this Geneva leg, it was essential for him to finish very high on the leaderboard in order to keep his chances alive. And he did deliver to a huge extent. In a field that comprised of the crème-de-la-crème of the chess world, he managed to remain unbeaten for seven successive games. But just one slip has almost shattered everything for him. This just goes on to show how cut-throat the competition is in this tournament.
On his birthday, Ian Nepomniachtchi not only won against Aronian but also earned the right to play tournament leader, Radjabov in the final round.

Birthday boy, Ian Nepomniachtchi got the best birthday present he could have hoped for in his game against Aronian. The Armenian superstar essayed the same line of the English Opening with which he had lost to Harikrishna in round 6. One major difference being that this time he was on the black side of the position. Desperate for a win in order to keep up his chances to finish among the tournament toppers, Aronian threw everything but the kitchen sink at his Russian opponent.  Sacrificing a pawn right out of the opening, Aronian went on to offer an entire piece on the 18th turn. “The position was objectively equal. But from a human perspective, black’s (Aronian’s) initiative was very dangerous,” remarked Nepomniachtchi after the game. However, Aronian played a bit too ambitiously in his quest for a win and ended up making mistakes. He had to resign after 36 moves of play.

[Event "FIDE Geneva Grand Prix 2017"]
[Site "Geneva"]
[Date "2017.07.14"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"]
[Black "Aronian, Levon"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A29"]
[WhiteElo "2742"]
[BlackElo "2809"]
[Annotator "TA"]
[PlyCount "71"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nb6 7. O-O Be7 8.
a3 a5 9. d3 O-O 10. Be3 Be6 11. Rc1 a4 {4 LiveBook: 5 Games. A29: English
Opening: Four Knights Variation with g3} 12. Nd2 (12. Bxb6 cxb6 13. Nxa4 e4 14.
Ne1 Nd4 15. Nc3 Bg5 16. e3 Nb3 17. Bxe4 Nxc1 18. Qxc1 Qd7 19. d4 Qxd4 {1-0 (36)
Nepomniachtchi,I (2730)-Bocharov,D (2609) Apatity 2011}) 12... f5 13. Bxb6 cxb6
{The position is equal.} 14. Nxa4 $146 ({Predecessor:} 14. Re1 Bg5 15. e3 Qxd3
16. Bf1 Qd7 17. Nc4 Qf7 18. Nxb6 Rad8 19. Qe2 {1/2-1/2 (28) Recasens Sanchez,J
(2048)-Gudkov,A ICCF email 2012}) 14... Bg5 $1 {[#] White must now prevent ...
Bxd2.} 15. Nc3 e4 16. Rb1 Ne5 17. Nb3 Ng4 18. Qc2 (18. h3 $16 Ne5 19. Qc2)
18... Be3 $11 19. dxe4 (19. Bh3 $11 Nxf2 20. Rxf2) 19... Qg5 $2 (19... Nxf2 $1
$15 {stays ahead.} 20. Rxf2 fxe4) 20. fxe3 $16 Qxe3+ 21. Kh1 Qh6 22. h3 (22. h4
$16 {Threatens to win with Nd4.} Ne3 23. Qd2) 22... Ne3 $1 $14 23. Qd2 f4 $1
24. gxf4 Nxf1 (24... Rxf4 $11 {remains equal.} 25. Nd5 (25. Rxf4 Qxf4 26. Nd4
Bxh3 $11) 25... Rxe4 26. Nxe3 (26. Bxe4 Qxh3+ 27. Kg1 Qg3+ 28. Kh1 Qh4+ 29. Kg1
Qg3+ 30. Kh1 Qh4+ 31. Kg1 Qg3+ $11) (26. Nxb6 $2 Bxh3 27. Bxe4 Bf5+ 28. Kg1
Bxe4 $19) 26... Rxe3) 25. Rxf1 $16 {Hoping for Nd4.} Bxb3 26. e5 Rae8 27. Ne4
Kh8 (27... Ba4 $16 {was worth a try.}) 28. Kh2 $18 Bg8 29. e3 Re6 30. Nd6 Qh4
31. Qd4 ({Inferior is} 31. Bxb7 Rxe5 32. Bg2 Re6 $11) 31... Rg6 {[#] ( -> ...
Qg3+)} 32. Rf3 $1 Qe1 $2 (32... Rh6 33. f5 (33. Qxb6 Bd5 $16) 33... Qxd4 34.
exd4 Rxd6 35. exd6 Rd8) 33. f5 Rg5 34. h4 Rh5 35. Rg3 Be6 36. fxe6 {Precision:
White = 79%, Black = 25%.} 1-0

With his win today, Nepomniachtchi has climbed up to joint second on the leaderboard. More important is the fact that he will be playing the tournament leader Teimour Radjabov in the final round with the white pieces. If he manages to win, he might just run away with the title!
After quite a few unevemtful games, Mickey Adams was very happy to play Richard Rapport because "things happen" in Rapport's games!
In the other games of the round, tournament leader, Teimour Radjabov went for a quick 22-move draw against Alexander Riazantsev and kept his lead. After making several quick draws, English no 1, Michael Adams, finally lashed out with a win against Richard Rapport. Playing on the black side of a Sicilian Paulsen, Anish Giri also won his first game of the tournament against Hou Yifan.
Full pairings of round 8 with results.
With just one round to go, Radjabov is looking strong to be the winner of the Geneva Grand Prix having scored 5.5/8. Just half a point behind him are Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi with a score of 5.0/8. Harikrishna, after his loss today has slipped down to the third spot along with Giri, Li Chao, Mamedyarov, Mickey Adams and Alexander Riazantsev. All of them have scored 4.5/8. Svidler, Eljanov, Gelfand and Jakovenko share the fourth place with 4.0/8 each.

Also on ChessBase India

Geneva Grand Prix Round 1 & 2: Hari off to a great start!

Geneva Grand Prix Round 3: Hari misses a big chance against Mamedyarov

Geneva Grand Prix Round 4: Hari maintains his second spot; holds Radjabov to a draw

Geneva Grand Prix Round 5: Grischuk joins Radjabov in the lead; Hari draws Nepomniachtchi

Geneva Grand Prix Round 6: Harikrishna stuns Levon Aronian! 

Geneva Grand Prix Round 7: Radjabov overtakes Hari and Grischuk to take sole lead

Coverage on Firstpost

Firstpost and ChessBase India have collaborated to bring you extensive and detailed coverage of the chess scene in India and internationally.


The Geneva Grand Prix 2017 has been covered extensively by Aditya Pai for both ChessBase India and Firstpost.



Geneva FIDE Grand Prix: P Harikrishna beats Alexander Riazantsev after 84-move grind in round one 

Geneva Grand Prix Round 2: Mamedyarov wins in just 20 moves; Michael Adams holds Harikrishna to a draw

Geneva Grand Prix, Round 3: P Harikrishna fails to capitalise on Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s errors in drawn game

Geneva Grand Prix, Round 4: P Harikrishna stays second after 20-move draw against Teimur Radjabov

Geneva Grand Prix, Round 5: P Harikrishna draws vs Ian Nepomniachtchi; Alexander Grischuk joint top

Geneva FIDE Grand Prix: P Harikrishna cutting Levon Aronian to size the highlight of round six

Geneva Grand Prix: P Harikrishna knocked off top perch after modest show against Alexander Grischuk

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