Tournament report

Four draws at the Riga Grand Prix

All return games of the second round of the FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess in Riga end in a draw. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the only player qualified directly to the semi-final. Tuesday marks the start of other chess events alongside the Grand Prix, with a very strong rapid open named after Mikhail Tal.

By Yannick Pelletier

The second day of the quarter final matches were launched with the formal execution of the first move by a special guest. The Vice-President of the International Chess Federation Lukasz Turlej played 1.e4 for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave against Veselin Topalov. In a must-win situation after his loss on Monday, the Bulgarian relied on his old love, the aggressive Sicilian Opening. Vachier-Lagrave had a surprise ready, the recent idea 4.Ba4. Not aware of the nuances of this move order, Topalov failed to find a promising continuation and offered a draw as early as move 12. The French accepted instantly, as he thus qualified directly to the semi-final. Right after the game, Topalov explained that the final position is not only unpleasant, but offers him no perspective to play for a win whatsoever.

Next to finish were Wesley So and Sergey Karjakin. The American chose the aggressive line 4.f3 against the Nimzo-Indian, which he commented afterwards as being Mamedyarov’s usual way to tackle Karjakin’s favourite defence. “There must be a good reason for this, and I noticed that Sergey always goes for a different set-up against it. Therefore, “he added with a smile,” I looked at all possible variations here!” Despite being quite rare, the reaction 7…c5 had not escaped So’s attention. But he had focused only on the immediate exchange on d5 and not 8…0-0. The battle unfolded evenly and the position was equal when the two players signed the peace agreement on move 19. Both are very tough mentally and strong rapid and blitz players. Their tie-breaker on Wednesday promises to be hard-fought.

The game between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda bore definite similarities to their encounter of the day before. Black treated the opening rather passively and White obtained a large space advantage. The critical moment occurred when the Azeri decided to bring his knight to c6, thus forcing his opponent to exchange it. A far-advanced passed pawn appeared on this square that looked like a thorn in black’s position. But Duda defended resourcefully, first by solidly blockading this pawn, then by pushing his own pawns on the queenside. As he admitted after the game, he was relieved to finally play some active moves and understood that his position was in fact quite resilient. After some more attempts, a visibly disappointed Mamedyarov offered a draw. In the post-match interview, Duda felt that his chances were probably higher at rapid and blitz than in classical. The tie-break is likely to be heated.

For the second time, Alexander Grischuk felt like he had escaped from a bad position against Yu Yangyi. The Chinese indeed obtained a pleasant position on the white side of a Catalan. In his usual witty and self-deprecating manner, Grischuk mostly blamed his suffering on early dementia, adding that he could barely remember the lines he had looked at the same morning. Memory aside, he recovered his faculties in time and found some creative resources to hold the balance. In view of his legendary composure in tense situations, as well as his impressive record in rapid and blitz chess, the Russian can be considered the favourite in the tie-break. But Yu Yangyi has proven in his previous epic match against Aronian that he was a tough fighter to reckon with.

All three tie-breakers will start at 15:00 in the Ziedonis Hall of the National Library of Latvia.

The International Chess Federation always encourages local organizers of such prestigious events to prepare side activities linked to chess. The Latvian Chess Federation, therefore, stages the “Mikhail Tal Memorial” from July 16 to 23. It features a rapid tournament on the first two days, a blitz tournament on the 18th, and a youth tournament over 5 days until the 23rd. All details and results of the first day can be found on the website