Prague: Harikrishna and Niemann win decisive victories
Hari and Le in shared lead
The two players who were clearly stronger than the rest of the field in the Masters section of the Prague Chess Festival will enter Friday’s final round tied for first place, a full point ahead of a group of three chasers. Given their strong and solid performances so far, it is highly unlikely that Le Quang Liem and Pentala Harikrishna will lose their final round matches, which would be the only scenario in which the players tie for 3rd and 5th place. would manage to catch up. with them.
While Le will play black against Paco Vallejo (currently in 4/8 with one win and one loss to his name), Hari will have the white pieces against David Anton (in 2/8 with no win and four losses to his name). On the day the Candidates Masters kicks off in Madrid, two Spaniards will play a big part in the title fight in Prague.
Le had taken the only lead on lap 6, with a victory over Saleh Salem. Two days later, Harikrishna caught up with him defeating the Emirati grandmaster as well. Salem miscalculated in a sharp mid-game position.
With both kings uncastled, Black unraveled his position with 16…b5, the only move that didn’t leave him with a clearly inferior setup. Salem, who didn’t hesitate to step into a sharp position, knew this was a critical point in the game and spent nearly 15 minutes pondering his response.
17.cxb6 and 17.Raa1 are playable, but not as strong as the subtle 17.Ra3. However, Salem was in a combative mood and instead opted for 17.Re1, pinning the bishop to the black squares. This would prove to be the decisive error of the game – Hari refuted his opponent’s idea with precision 17…Nxc5 18.dxc5 19.bxa4 Ra7consolidating its material advantage.
Seeking to justify his aggressive approach, Salem forfeited another exchange two shots later, but Harikrishna kept his composure and quickly refuted his colleague’s attempts to get the full point soon after. The Indian later explained:
It was good that he went for a tough line – he didn’t go for the solid stuff. […] I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s game.
Round 8 Results – Masters
Ranking after the eighth round
All the games
Niemann wins a game full of errors
In his last tweet, Hans Niemann wrote, “If only my failures were as good as my Twitter trolling,” referring to a friendly back-and-forth he had with social media star Anish Giri. The American grandmaster posted this message shortly after picking up a second consecutive victory, which saw him catch up with Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Vincent Keymer at the top of the Prague Challengers tournament.
For a second straight day, Niemann entered a double-edged tactical position. At move 51, he had Peter Michalik against the ropes, but failed to find the nice killer shot. That was just the first big mistake at this point in the game – ergo, the tweet.
White has the upper hand with his most active pieces in this position with bishops of opposite colors. However, he must be precise in order to achieve a clear victory.
52.Rxh6 was the winning move Niemann had to find — after 52…dxe3+ there is 53.Re2, and Black has nothing better than 53…Qc4+ 54.Qxc4 dxc4, when White takes definitely the initiative via 55. Rh8+.
Instead, Niemann hesitated with 52.Be6who put Michalik in the driver’s seat after 52…dxe3+ 53.Rxe3 (53.Ke2 is no good here because of 53…Qc2+) 53…Qxf4+ 54.Re2 d4
The rook on f7 and the one on e3 are attacked, but black is the one with the initiative at this point. Niemann found the engine’s first suggestion in 55.Rgg3and saw his opponent squander his advantage after 55…dxe3 56.Rxe3
Black is a real rookie and should try to consolidate his clear advantage even at the cost of some material — 56…Rfd7 is the strongest and most sensible move in the position. Much like Niemann a few moves earlier, however, Michalik prompted the assessment to abruptly switch sides with 56…Be5.
It was just the beginning of the roller coaster. Both players got it badly wrong more than once in the crazy position that followed, but it was Michalik who made the final mistake, as he had to quit with a companion in six on the board at move 67.
In the final round, Niemann and Keymer will play with the black pieces, while Abdusattorov will get the whites against Jergus Pechac, who lost consecutive matches in rounds 7 and 8.