Tournament report

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has one foot in the final

Latvian superstar Mairis Briedis kicks off the semi-finals of the FIDE Grand Prix organized by World Chess in Riga. Shakriyar Mamedyarov beats Wesley So, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk make a draw.

By Yannick Pelletier

The Riga FIDE Grand Prix had the great honour to welcome Mairis Briedis to kick off the semi-finals on Thursday. The WBC World Diamond Champion and current WBO cruiserweight World Champion, who was awarded the Order of the Three Stars in 2017, opened the game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk with the move 1.e4.

The Russian chose the Berlin Defence, which is considered one of the most solid openings nowadays. He obtained a fine position but got careless with the move 17…Bg5, instead of 17…Bf5 for instance. He had missed the strong resource 21.Rd3 which poses black tremendous problems. After thinking for half an hour, Grischuk came up with the only defensive plan, the advance of his queenside pawns. In the post-game interview, both Grand Masters suspected that there might be a study-like win for white, but they did not see anything concrete. Vachier-Lagrave made a good practical attempt but his opponent found the accurate 26…b3 and secured a draw.

The game between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Wesley So took an unexpected turn of events shortly after the opening. The Azeri chose a fighting line in the Catalan, where the pawn structure is damaged for both sides. Generally, black is supposed to be alright there, but the white pair of bishops is a long-term asset to reckon with. After Mamedyarov’s novelty 14.a3, meant to prevent a possible exchange of queens by Qb4, the American sank into thought and played the inexplicable mistake 15…c3. He apparently considered his position to be worse, but there was no reason to burn bridges yet. After that, Mamedyarov won two light pieces for a rook and converted with exemplary technique. Wesley So now finds himself in an all or nothing situation and will have the white pieces on Friday.

Mamedyarov– So 1 – 0
Vachier-Lagrave – Grischuk ½ – ½