Tournament report

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave bounces back and wins

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beats Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a straight-forward game and equalizes the score. The tension rises at the final of the FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess in Riga, as the fight will be decided on Wednesday in a tie-break.

By Yannick Pelletier

The final of the Riga FIDE Grand Prix witnesses an unusual scenario. After his disappointment in the first game on Monday, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had to try everything in this must-win situation.

The Grand Prix welcomed Juris Radzevich on the stage of the Ziedonis Hall of the National Library in Riga to play the traditional first move of the match. The Executive Director of the Riga City Council tried the eccentric move 1.b4 for Vachier-Lagrave, but the French “corrected” it and played his favourite 1.e4. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov answered with the solid 1…e5, to which Vachier-Lagrave reacted with the flexible Italian. His choice is understandable, inasmuch his other weapon, the Ruy Lopez, bears a more concrete character. Keeping tension instead of trying to force matters is the best strategy in must-win situations. In the post-game interview, Mamedyarov was very critical of his move 16…Nd7, claiming that this passive more was at the origin of his defeat.

Until that moment, the French had played very fast, showing that he had still prepared this variation. He took some time for his next move and continued with 17.d4 in order to gain space in the centre. One of the main problems of the black position was actually the offside queen on the a-file. The danger of having a badly-placed piece becomes concrete when the position opens up or the fight becomes sharper.

That’s exactly what happened after black exchanged pawns on d4, as the white knight appeared on the dangerous square f5. Vachier-Lagrave increased the pressure with the strong manoeuver 23.f3 followed by 24.Qf2 and Qg3, ready to threaten mate on g7. With his position about to collapse, Mamedyarov sacrificed a pawn, but this did not ease his defence. Vachier-Lagrave confidently wrapped up the game with a few precise moves.

After a win for each contender, the final proceeds to a tie-break on Wednesday, which promises to be hard-fought. The outcome will depend on the shape of both players on that final day. Both have benefitted of several rest days during the event and could therefore save some energy. All these factors being equal, Vachier-Lagrave can be considered the favourite. His record in rapid chess has been slightly superior to Mamedyarov’s recently. Last but not least, the French leads the world ranking in blitz chess with a stunning rating of 2948.

The games will resume at 15:00.