Both semi-final matches are decided before tie-breaks at the FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess in Riga. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave eliminates Alexander Grischuk after a thrilling game, while Shakriyar Mamedyarov draws and qualifies against Wesley So.
By Yannick Pelletier
Both second games of the semi-finals were launched symbolically by special guests. Latvian artist and songwriter Markus Riva opened the encounter between Wesley So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich kicked off the other battle between Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The game So-Mamedyarov began on an amusing note. The American left the choice of the first move to Markus Riva, upon which Mamedyarov himself suggested the dubious 1.a4. The musician obliged and the battle began in a relaxed atmosphere. For the record, Wesley So obviously corrected the unofficial first move and played 1.Nf3 instead. Following his loss yesterday, the question remained open whether he would go all-or-nothing, or rather stay true to his quiet style and try to squeeze a win from a technical game. Sometimes, circumstances are such that you do not have a choice. The Azeri played the solid Queen’s Gambit Accepted and reached a symmetrical pawn structure. Wesley So definitely kept a symbolic advantage throughout, but this proved insufficient to shake Mamedyarov’s resistance. The Azeri held the draw and thus qualified to the final.
Arkady Dvorkovich guessed Grischuk’s first move correctly, as he played 1.d4. What nobody could have figured out, though, is that Grischuk would sidestep Vachier-Lagrave’s beloved Grunfeld opening with the rare and eccentric 3.h4. The fight transposed into the realm of a Benko Gambit, when the French, famously called MVL in the chess world, decided to sacrifice a pawn with 3…c5 4.d5 b5. This setup is considered risky at the highest level, but the premature advance of White’s h-pawn changes the situation, as it creates long-term weaknesses on the kingside. In such tense positions, the value of every move is very high, and any mistake can tip the scales decisively.
With hindsight, Grischuk was not happy with 15.Re1 and he might have been well-advised to accept his opponent’s subsequent draw offer. The Russian played on but it turns out that he slightly over-estimated his chances. The return of the rook with 18.Rf1 felt like a concession, which MVL exploited in a very powerful way. The whole sequence of moves, starting with 19…Rfc8 and running up to 26…Rc2, completely shook the Russian. Grischuk ended up in time trouble and understandably failed to put up the strongest resistance. After the time-control, the French increased the pressure with 42…g5 and eventually broke the white position. In the post-game interview, a clear-headed Grischuk showed exemplary fair-play and praised his opponent for his brilliant game.
Since no tie-break will be needed, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will have two rest days until the start of their match on Monday.
Besides all happenings on the chess board, the organizer of the Grand Prix Series, World Chess, announced the signature of an agreement with the company Algorand on Friday. Thereupon, Algorand becomes the Official Blockchain Partner of the FIDE Grand Prix Series.
Alex Grischuk, who was eliminated by MVL, gave an extensive post-game interview:
All games of the World Chess Championship cycle events are played with the official World Chess Championship sets, produced in limited edition for the cycle. The sets are available from the World Chess Shop. Automatic 15% discount is applied during the Riga Grand Prix.