On Sunday, Russian top GM Ian Nepomniachtchi outlasted 15 opponents to reach the quarterfinals of the 2019 FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship, defeating GMs Zhamsaran Tsydypov, Sam Sevian and Pentala Harikrishna and the untitled Yurii Marinskii, in a stacked field.
Nepomniachtchi had an exceptional performance, going 7/8 and never requiring tiebreaks to reach the quarterfinals.
After disposing of Marinskii in successive games, the eventual winner was forced to wait for his second round opponent to be determined. The wait may have given Nepomniachtchi some fatigue as he drew in his first game, clawing back from a lost position in miraculous fashion against Tsydypov, who put up a valiant fight.
In his semifinal match, Nepomniachtchi faced the formidable Sevian, who was coming off a double tiebreak win against Yuriy Kuzubov. Nepomniachtchi was searching for a win after downing Sevian in game one, but settled for a draw after playing 34. Nxf3+ and giving Sevian the chance to exchange queens.
“I probably missed something in that last game, but a draw is OK,” said Nepomniachtchi.
Nepomniachtchi was then forced to wait once again as Harikrishna and former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov played a tightly-contested match on the other side of the bracket, requiring 10+2 tiebreaks to determine the winner and other finalist for the first of six knockout qualifier groups.
The final between Nepomniachtchi and Harikrishna was the expected pairing heading into the bracket. The two super-grandmasters were the top-two seeds and immediately demonstrated their value in game one, with “Hari” succumbing to an ill-advised 17…N8b6?, handing Nepomniachtchi an advantage he never relinquished:
In game two, Nepomniachtchi managed to trade pieces early and find a justifiable exchange sacrifice to get into an drawn position, where he escaped a series of rook checks by Harikrishna, who later resigned.
The Indian GM was a late addition to the knockout qualifiers, accepting his invitation just a day before the start of the qualifier. With such little time to prepare, he reflected on his performance.
“I think I should be completely winning (in the second game),” Harikrishna said. “Taking the pawn on h2 is risky or maybe just bad. I think I played the worst possible way; there should be many ways to win. I think Ian gave me some chances.”
Nepomniachtchi said he was happy to qualify for the quarterfinals even with a busy chess schedule.
“Some people have easier tests not playing in the qualifiers,” said Nepomniachtchi. “My tournament today could have gone either way. I could have lost to Tsydypov, for example. Of course I’m happy that I qualified but on the contrary, this year is too busy for me and if you add one more tournament…but it should be fine.”
With his win, Nepomniachtchi has secured himself a place in the quarterfinals along with a minimum guaranteed prize of $10,000. He will join Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and the other five winners of each knockout qualifier group. The next knockout qualifier is this Sunday, August 18 at 8 a.m. PDT.
Sunday’s broadcast with commentary from GM Aman Hambleton: