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Harikrishna's last round heartbreak in Biel

by Aditya Pai - 19 August 2017

There is something about Harikrishna's plays that leaves us all enchanted. Perhaps it is his accuracy in playing the endgames, or perhaps it is his ability to find the continuations to pose maximum problems to his "human" opponents or maybe it is just that he calculates lines very precisely. Whatever, it is, Harikrishna managed to use these skills to play power packed chess at the Biel Festival. Just when it seemed that he would win the event, he played a poor game against Bacrot in the last round and had to settle for the third spot. Analysis of Hari's key victories and a report from the event.

Harikrishna (R) on the podium with Hou Yifan (C) and Etienne Bacrot (Source: Official Website)

The Grandmaster tournament of the Biel Chess Festival featured an eclectic field of participants in its Golden Jubilee edition. In the mix were names like the Czech number one, David Navara; former FIDE world champion, Ruslan Ponomariov; and world’s highest rated woman player, Hou Yifan. India’s frontman at the event was the Gunthur-born grandmaster, Pentala Harikrishna.

The town of Biel is at the foothills of the Jura Mountains

Harikrishna had put up an excellent show at his last tournament, the Geneva Grand Prix, and in Biel too, he did not fail to impress. The Indian ace was on an unbeaten run – having won three and drawn five of his eight games – and was leading the tournament with Hou Yifan after the penultimate round.


However, just like in Geneva, Hari fumbled at a crucial moment in the tournament and missed out on winning the title prize. In the final round, Hari failed yet again to convert his tournament lead into a title prize as he blundered right out of the opening by suffered his only loss of the tournament against Etienne Bacrot.

Hari walked on tight ropes in his game against IM Nico Georgiadis (Source: Official Website)
When the curtain rose, Hari was seen struggling against a much lower rated opposition. The inaugural round saw him paired against veteran Grandmaster Rafael Vaganian, who is rated 175 points below him. Given that he was the clear favourite by rating, expecting Hari to play for a win despite having the black pieces was a safe guess. However, the Indian ace chose to take no risk and start safely. Within just 21 moves of a Queen’s Gambit, he chose to sign peace. Round two also saw a similar result. Once again, his opponent, Nico Georgiadis, was much lower rated than him. But this time, he was in a lot more trouble than in the previous game and was perhaps lucky to wriggle out with a draw.

Hari showed some extraordinary bit of calculative ability in his game against Morozevich (Source: Official Website)

In round three, Hari essayed a rare variation of the Nimzo-Indian defence against Alexander Morozevich. This was probably his most spectacular game of the tournament. Paradoxically enough, this game ended in a draw! In the game, Hari seemed to be in deep trouble out of the opening but showed some extraordinary calculating ability and found almost unbelievable tactical resources to cling to a draw. After the game, tournament’s official commentator, GM Daniel King said, “Although Harikrishna has had three draws so far – if he shows that kind of calculating form – I think we could be seeing him storming through in the tournament.”

[Event "Biel GM 50th"]
[Site "Biel"]
[Date "2017.07.26"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Morozevich, Alexander"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Penteala"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E37"]
[WhiteElo "2675"]
[BlackElo "2737"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "81"]
[EventDate "2017.07.24"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "SUI"]
[EventCategory "16"]
[SourceTitle "Mega2017 Update 41"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2017.08.04"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2017.08.04"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 c5 8.
dxc5 Nc6 9. cxd5 exd5 10. e3 Qf6 11. f3 Qh4+ 12. g3 Nxg3 13. Qf2 Nf5 14. Qxh4
Nxh4 15. b4 a5 16. b5 Ne5 17. Kf2 O-O 18. Bb2 f6 19. Rd1 Be6 20. Ne2 Nexf3 21.
Nf4 Bf7 22. Nxd5 Rfd8 23. e4 Ng5 24. Bd3 {Let's just put it this way: If Black
doesn't do something concrete soon, he will be worse because White has the
bishop pair and also queenside majority. Hence, Hari lashes out.} f5 25. Nb6
fxe4 26. Be2 (26. Nxa8 exd3 $17 {is excellent for Black.}) 26... Rf8 $5 27.
Nxa8 (27. Kg3 {might be easy for a computer, but for humans it is like walking
a tighrope.} Nf5+ 28. Kg4 $1 {Now both the knights are attacked and also the
rook on a8. But the f5 knight is indirectly defended. So it might make sense
to defend the f5 knight.} (28. Kf4 Nh3+ $1 29. Kxf5 Bh5+ $1 30. Ke5 Rae8+ 31.
Kd4 Bxe2 $19) 28... h6 $5 (28... Bb3 29. Kxg5 Bxd1 30. Rxd1 h6+ 31. Kh5 Rad8
32. Rxd8 Rxd8 33. c6 $18) 29. Nxa8 Ne3+ 30. Kg3 Nxd1 31. Rxd1 Rxa8 32. c6 $16 {
Material is even, but White is close to winning.}) 27... Bc4+ $1 {The most
accurate discovered check.} (27... Bh5+ 28. Ke3 Ng2+ 29. Kd2 Rd8+ 30. Kc1 $18)
28. Ke3 Ng2+ 29. Kd2 e3+ 30. Kc1 Bxe2 {Black has regained the piece and the
pawn on e3 is very dangerous.} 31. Rd7 Ne6 {Now White has to be accurate to
ensure that he doesn't lose the game.} 32. Nc7 Bxb5 $1 {The bishop is ready to
deflect the c7 knight because there is no stopping the e3 pawn.} 33. Nxb5 (33.
Nxe6 Bxd7 34. Nxf8 Kxf8 {And here the team of the bishop and knight give Black
equal chances. For example:} 35. Rf1+ Kg8 36. Bc3 a4 $11) 33... e2 34. Kd2 Rf1
35. Kxe2 Rxh1 36. Rxb7 Ngf4+ 37. Kf3 Rf1+ 38. Ke3 (38. Kg3 Nd3 $15) 38... Re1+
39. Kf3 (39. Kd2 Re2+ $17) 39... Rf1+ 40. Ke3 Re1+ 41. Kf3 {A game with mind
boggling complications.} 1/2-1/2
And boy, was he right! In his very next game, Hari demolished the Norwegian IM Noel Stuger from the white side of the French defence in merely 24 moves.
[Event "Biel GM 50th"]
[Site "Biel"]
[Date "2017.07.27"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Harikrishna, Penteala"]
[Black "Studer, Noel"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C11"]
[WhiteElo "2737"]
[BlackElo "2493"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "47"]
[EventDate "2017.07.24"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "SUI"]
[EventCategory "16"]
[SourceTitle "Mega2017 Update 41"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2017.08.04"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2017.08.04"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 a6 8. Qd2 b5
9. Nd1 Qb6 10. c3 a5 11. Bd3 b4 12. O-O Ba6 13. Bxa6 Qxa6 {White has castled
and got his pieces into the game. Black king is still in the centre. You can
surely believe that Hari will not let such a king survive.} 14. f5 $1 exf5 15.
Bf4 bxc3 (15... Be7 16. Ne3 $16) 16. Nxc3 Nb6 (16... cxd4 17. Nxd5 Rc8 {
might have been a better choice, but Black's position already is looking very
suspicious somehow.} 18. e6 fxe6 19. Rae1 Nc5 $13 {Black is holding on, but I
am sure that to play this as Black you need nerves of steel.}) 17. a4 $1 {
A very strong move, creating an outpost for the knight on b5.} Nd8 $2 {Too
slow.} (17... cxd4 $1 18. Nb5 Bb4 $1 19. Qc2 (19. Nc7+ Kd8 20. Qxb4 axb4 21.
Nxa6 Rxa6 $11) 19... O-O $1 {Not so easy to see this.} 20. Qxc6 Rfc8 {The
queen is trapped.} 21. Nc7 Rxc7 22. Qxc7 Rc8 23. Qxc8+ Nxc8 $17) 18. Nb5 Ne6
19. Ng5 $1 {Always forward!} Qc8 20. g4 $1 {Opening up more lines.} fxg4 21.
Be3 $1 (21. Nxf7 Kxf7 $19 {somehow doesn't really work.}) 21... Nxg5 22. Bxg5
Qd7 23. Rae1 {All the pieces flood in.} Nc8 24. Qf4 {Studer had had enough! A
fine attack by Hari.} 1-0


With this win, Hari really got the ball rolling and just a round later in round six, got his second victory of the tournament, this time, against the women’s world number one, Hou Yifan.

In round 6, Hari beat the eventual winner of the Biel Grandmaster Tournament, Hou Yifan (Official Website)

The game began as a Symmetrical English but soon transposed into a Sicilian Maroczy bind. Both players got a satisfactory position out of the opening but Hari was able to squeeze out a pawn after a long hard fought middle game. Despite this, the position was within the realms of a draw because of Hari’s oddly placed rook on the queen’s wing. But on the 45th move, when Hari offered an exchange of queens, Yifan backed down and allowed the Indian ace to get his rook out of the pawn wall around it and was able to force resignation by the 52nd move. 

[Event "Biel GM 50th"]
[Site "Biel"]
[Date "2017.07.30"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Harikrishna, Penteala"]
[Black "Hou, Yifan"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B36"]
[WhiteElo "2737"]
[BlackElo "2666"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "103"]
[EventDate "2017.07.24"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "SUI"]
[EventCategory "16"]
[SourceTitle "Mega2017 Update 41"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2017.08.04"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2017.08.04"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. e4 Nf6 6. Nc3 d6 7. Be2 Nxd4 8.
Qxd4 Bg7 9. Be3 O-O 10. Qd2 a5 11. O-O a4 12. Rad1 Qa5 13. Bd4 Be6 14. Qe3 Nd7
15. Nd5 Rfe8 16. h4 Bxd5 17. cxd5 Bxd4 18. Rxd4 Qb6 19. Qd2 Rec8 20. Bg4 Rc7
21. Rb4 Qa5 22. Bxd7 Rxd7 {What I find truly amazing in Hari's games is his
ability to convert such nearly equal positions against the best players in the
world. Let's have a look at how he does it.} 23. Rc1 $1 {Taking the open file.
A natural move.} Rc7 24. Rxc7 Qxc7 25. a3 {Fixing the a4 weakness. Now White
has two weaknesses to attack on the queenside a4 and b7, and also ideas like
h4-h5 on the kingside.} Qd7 (25... Rc8 26. Rxa4 Qc1+ 27. Qxc1 Rxc1+ 28. Kh2 Rc2
29. Rb4 Rxf2 30. Rxb7 Rf4 31. Rxe7 $18) 26. Qd1 b5 27. Qe2 Ra5 {The rook on a5
is passive. And Hari now shifts his attention to the kingside.} (27... Rb8 {
was also possible. Was Hou Yifan afraid of a future b3 followed by a4 break?}
28. b3 axb3 29. Qb2 Qg4 {somehow Black gets good counteplay. So I do not think
b3 is a good move.}) 28. g3 (28. h5 {looks more natural somehow!}) 28... h5 29.
Kg2 Kh7 30. Qf3 Kg8 31. Qc3 Ra7 32. Qd3 Ra5 33. Qf1 Kg7 34. Qd1 Qc7 35. Qd3 {
All these queen moves are intended to tire out the opponent and show her how
passive her position is.} Qc5 36. Qe2 Kf8 $2 {Finally Yifan tires out.} (36...
Qc8 $5 37. Rxb5 $2 Qa6 $19) 37. g4 $1 {Now it is not so easy to defend against
the White initiative.} hxg4 38. Qxg4 Ra8 39. h5 Kg7 40. hxg6 fxg6 $2 (40... Rf8
$1 {taking aim at the f2 point.} 41. Qd7 (41. gxf7+ Kxf7 {Somehow black will
survive this as the White king is also very exposed.}) 41... Rh8 $1 {Another
key move. This time with ideas like Rh2+ followed by perpetual.} 42. Qxe7 Rh2+
$1 43. Kxh2 Qxf2+ $11) 41. Qd7 {White is just in time to attack the Black king
before Black can do it.} Rf8 42. Qxe7+ Rf7 43. Qh4 $16 {An extra pawn for Hari.
} g5 44. Qg3 Kg6 45. Qe3 Qc8 46. e5 {Opening up the rook. Once the rook enters
the game it is all over.} dxe5 47. Qxe5 Qc2 48. Qe3 Rf6 49. Rd4 Kf7 50. Re4 Qc8
51. Qxg5 Qc5 52. Qh5+ (52. Qh5+ Rg6+ (52... Kg7 53. Rg4+ $18) 53. Rg4 $18) 1-0


After the ante-penultimate round, four leaders emerged: Bacrot, Yifan, Harikrishna and Georgiades. However, within just one round, the list of leaders was chopped to half. The penultimate round saw three decisive results, of which two decided the leaders.  While Hari was able to bring the former FIDE world champion, Ruslan Ponomariov on his knees, Hou Yifan got the better of GM Rafael Vaganian. Alexander Morozevich also scored a win against Noel Studer and remained within striking distance of the leaders.

Hari beat two former world champions in one tournament!
[Event "Biel GMT 50th"]
[Site "Biel/Bienne"]
[Date "2017.08.01"]
[Round "8.1"]
[White "Ponomariov, Ruslan"]
[Black "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C09"]
[WhiteElo "2699"]
[BlackElo "2737"]
[PlyCount "116"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. Ngf3 Nc6 5. exd5 exd5 6. Bb5 Qe7+ 7. Qe2 Qxe2+
8. Kxe2 a6 9. Bxc6+ bxc6 10. Re1 f6 11. dxc5 Bxc5 12. Nb3 Bd6 13. Be3 a5 14.
Bc5 Kd7 15. Bb6 Rb8 16. Nc5+ Ke8 17. Kd2+ Kf7 18. Na4 Ne7 19. b3 Bg4 20. Ba7
Rb7 21. Bc5 Bf4+ 22. Be3 Bxf3 23. Bxf4 Bxg2 24. Nc5 Ra7 25. Rg1 Bh3 26. Rg3 Bf5
27. Re1 Rd8 28. Rc3 g5 29. Bg3 Ng6 30. Na4 h5 31. Rxc6 h4 32. Bd6 Rad7 33. Bc5
Ne5 34. Rxe5 fxe5 35. Nb6 Rb7 36. Be3 Be6 37. Bxg5 Rh8 38. Na4 Rbb8 39. Nc5
Rbe8 40. Nd3 Kg6 41. f4 exf4 42. Bxf4 Kf5 43. c4 Rhg8 44. cxd5 Bxd5 45. Rc5
Rg2+ 46. Kc3 Ke4 47. Rc7 Rxa2 48. Bd6 Be6 49. Rh7 Kd5 50. Bc7 Bf5 51. Rxh4 Re3
52. Rd4+ Kc6 53. Bg3 a4 54. Rd6+ Kb7 55. Rd5 Rxd3+ 56. Rxd3 Bxd3 57. Kxd3 a3
58. Be5 Rg2 0-1

The main contenders of the battle, however, were Yifan and Hari. Hari had a slight advantage over Yifan as he was the winner of their individual encounter. As per the tie-break rules, the Sonnenborn-Berger system was to be applied in the case of ties. But if the scores are still tied, the result of the individual encounter between the tied players was to resolve the tie.

During his disastrous game against Bacrot (Source: Official Website)

The stage was set. The final round of the Biel Masters was scheduled 2.5 hours earlier, at 11:00 am in the morning. This was Harikrishna’s chance to not only win the title but also finish with an undefeated score at such a high-level tournament. He was paired against the Frenchman, Etienne Bacrot. Hari had the white pieces.


He put faith in the Italian yet again. Of course, it is a strong opening and white generally gets a small but stable advantage by playing it. More importantly, Hari had played this opening before on several occasions. Maybe it just wasn’t Hari’s day. Right after the opening phase of the game was over, on move 21, he made an inexplicable blunder and lost his game against Bacrot. On the other hand, his rival, Hou Yifan, made the most of her opponent’s inaccuracies and won her game in style against Georgiadis and became the champion of Biel Chess 2017. Hari’s opponent, Bacrot, who was a point behind him before the round, also jumped past Hari by half a point and took the second place while the Indian ace had to be content with the third place.

[Event "Biel GMT 50th"]
[Site "Biel/Bienne"]
[Date "2017.08.02"]
[Round "9.5"]
[White "Harikrishna, Pentala"]
[Black "Bacrot, Etienne"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C54"]
[WhiteElo "2737"]
[BlackElo "2715"]
[PlyCount "58"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. O-O d6 7. a4 Ba7 8. Re1
O-O 9. h3 Ne7 10. Nbd2 Ng6 11. Nf1 c6 12. Bb3 d5 13. Ng3 Be6 14. exd5 Nxd5 15.
d4 exd4 16. Nxd4 Qc7 17. Bxd5 Bxd5 18. Ndf5 Rad8 19. Qg4 Be6 20. Be3 Bb8 21.
Bc5 Bxf5 22. Nxf5 Qh2+ 23. Kf1 Rd2 24. f4 h5 25. Qf3 Qh1+ 26. Bg1 Ba7 27. Re3
Bxe3 28. Nxe3 Re8 29. Nc4 Rc2 0-1

Final Standings

Of course, this is by no means a bad result. But given that he had the chance to win, it is unfortunate that Hari had to miss out on winning such a prestigious event. Within less than a month’s time, he will be playing at the Chess World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia where players like Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand have confirmed their entries. With his performances in Geneva and Biel, Hari has more than proved that he is capable of taking on the best in the world. But it can also be seen that he can falter at crucial moments. If he could somehow find a way to overcome this, Hari is sure to give even the Carlsens and the Caruanas a run for their money in Georgia.


More on Biel Chess Festival on Firstpost:

Biel Chess Festival: P Harikrishna's 3rd place finish no mean feat, but errors at crucial moments still a bane

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