Tournament report

Crucial victory for MVL at the Riga FIDE Grand Prix

Following the fascinating tie-breakers on Sunday, the FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess in Riga proceeds to the second round. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave wins with black and emerges as the only winner of day one.

By Yannick Pelletier

Following the fascinating tie-breakers on Sunday, the FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess proceeds to the second round.

The symbolic first move to open the playing day was made by Dana Reizniece-Ozola, Minister of Economy of Latvia from 2014 till 2016 and Minister of Finance from 2016 until 2019. Well-known in the chess world as a Woman Grand Master and long-time leader of her national team, Mrs. Reizniece-Ozola played 1.Nf3 in the match Duda – Mamedyarov, as instructed by the Polish champion.

This game took on a closed character when pawns started blocking each other on the queenside and in the centre. Thanks to his space advantage in these areas, Jan-Krzysztof Duda reached a pleasant position, but Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played the timely 17…f4 to make sure that he would always have chances for counter-play. Both players agreed afterwards that white’s advantage was probably less serious than what the computer usually suggests in this type of positions. In any case, Duda did not see a plan to improve his position and offered a draw on move 34.

The encounter between Sergey Karjakin and Wesley So came to a premature end, when both players repeated moves after the opening and agreed a draw after half an hour. In the post-match interview, the Russian said that he felt tired from his epic match of the previous day, so that a short game came at the right moment to help him recover. He clarified, however, that he had not planned to waste his white game like this. He had not expected the Petrov Defence from his opponent and could not remember all details of his preparation. Wesley So commented that he had chosen this precise line after seeing Duda play it in the previous tie-break against Svidler. “It seems interesting but also a bit risky. It requires precise play from both sides and I thought that Sergey might not be ready for it”.

Alexander Grischuk and Yu Yangyi played a balanced game and made a draw. The only really tense moment came when the Russian sacrificed a pawn with 15.Ne5. Perhaps surprised that his opponent grabbed it, Grischuk sank into thought. After about 30 minutes, he continued logically with 16.Qg4 and won back the pawn shortly after. Yet, from afar, he had overlooked the reply 24…Rfe8, after which he admitted in the post-game interview that white should be careful to equalize.

The most entertaining and longest game of the day brought Veselin Topalov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave together. Never afraid of challenges, the former World Champion chose an aggressive line against the favourite Najdorf of the French star. By playing 11.Nf4, Topalov made it clear that, no matter what, he was going to sacrifice a knight. Black obliged by going 13…e5 some moves later. After the game, both players seemed to be quite optimistic about their chances here. The Bulgarian thought he had decent compensation with nice piece play, whereas Vachier-Lagrave believed he was better. In any case, the French was not happy with the way he handled the position later on as he felt that he lost control.

Move 28 was a critical moment in the game, as Topalov rejected a draw offer and played on. Whether this was objectively justified is doubtful, but he was certainly hoping to use the momentum and his opponent’s apparent shakiness. Both played well until queens came off on move 40. Topalov hastily took a pawn on d6 but missed that with his strong reply 41…Rd8, black could force the exchange of rooks. After that, the Bulgarian felt that his position could not be saved anymore and that his opponent played technically very well. Thanks to this victory with black, Vachier-Lagrave has achieved a big step towards the semi-final. But the French will be on his guard, as Topalov is famous for his fighting spirit.

Karjakin – So½ – ½
Duda – Mamedyarov½ – ½
Grischuk – Yu Yangyi½ – ½
Topalov – Vachier-Lagrave0 – 1

Leading partners supporting the FIDE Grand Prix Riga 2019 include:

EG Capital Advisors as the Official Partner, PhosAgro as the Official Strategic Partner, and Kaspersky as the Official Cybersecurity Partner.

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