Football star Māris Verpakovskis kicks off the tie-break matches of the FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess in Riga. Shakriyar Mamedyarov, Alexander Grischuk and Wesley So join Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the semi-final.
By Yannick Pelletier
The FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess in Riga welcomed a very special guest at the start of the tie-break matches on Wednesday. Football legend Māris Verpakovskis kicked off the day by playing 1.d4 in the game between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
The Azeri Grand Master was delighted to see the star who had spent two seasons at the FC Baku.
This first rapid game was rather shaky, as Mamedyarov got a significant advantage before blundering inexplicably with 29.h5. Two pawns were gone, but Duda’s king proved vulnerable enough for white to reach a draw by perpetual check. The Pole started the second encounter in typical “Mamedyarov style”, by pushing his g pawn very early on. Indeed, the Azeri has won several brilliant games in different openings with the idea Rh1-g1, followed by g2-g4-g5. Was this strategy too provocative from Duda? His opponent commented afterwards that he knew precisely how to react, and that the key was not to be scared of the white attack. Mamedyarov simply centralized his forces, convincingly repelled the aggressive attempts of his opponent, and cashed in the whole point to qualify to the semi-final.
Another match finished after the first set of rapid games. Alexander Grischuk knocked out Yu Yangyi thanks to a win with the white pieces in the first game. In the post-match interview, the Russian praised 14.Bc7 as a strong novelty which poses new problems in this line. He was, however, not too happy with his further move 16.h3, which he considered primitive. After that, Yu Yangyi obtained enough activity for his damaged pawn structure. He commented afterwards that the whole game had been hard, but that he might have held if he had not blundered with 27…Bb4. After that, there was no coming back. Grischuk won a pawn and converted it in the endgame. Yu Yangyi’s attempts to create some active play in the second game did not prove fruitful, as the Russian defended confidently to obtain his qualification.
Sergey Karjakin had won a thrilling tie-break match last Sunday, but the one he disputed against Wesley So remained quiet for a long time. In view of their very solid opening repertoire with the black pieces, both players neutralized each other, thus leaving their fate to blitz games. There, the rhythm changed completely. The American mixed up some moves in the opening and eventually went wrong with 11.Nc3, allowing the powerful Ne5. Not wishing to end up in a bad and passive position, he decided to sacrifice his queen for two pieces and two pawns.
As Karjakin commented after the game, his position was perhaps close to winning, but the white moves were easier to find under time pressure. The Russian indeed played inaccurately and somewhat lost control, before collapsing with the terrible blunder 30…Rd6. In game 6 he tried to avoid mainstream openings, which is a common strategy in must-win situations, but rather ended up in trouble. Wesley So played forcefully with 18…d4 and launched a strong attack which he would certainly have concluded in a game with longer time-control. But blitz chess often witnesses turnarounds, and Karjakin somehow survived the attack. He imperceptibly took the upper hand and could have turned the tables on move 33, had he not overlooked a perpetual check. With this draw, Wesley So qualifies and will meet Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the semi-final. The other match will bring together Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk. The first games will start on Thursday at 15:00 in the National Library of Latvia.
The rapid tournament of the “Mikhail Tal Memorial” saw the victory of Vladimir Fedoseev from Russia with 9,5 out 11. The Czech David Navara did well to extend his stay after his premature elimination from the FIDE Grand Prix, as he took the second place with 9 points, ahead of seven players 8,5 with points.