Tournament report

Two Players Move to Round Two of the Riga Grand Prix

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is the sole winner on the second day of the FIDE Grand Prix organized in Riga by World Chess. He and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave advance directly to the second round, whereas twelve players will compete in tiebreak matches on Sunday.

By Yannick Pelletier

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The second leg of the FIDE Grand Prix Series organized by World Chess has kicked off splendidly on Friday with many thrilling games. Day two of the first round was globally less tense, which can be explained by the high stakes at this stage of the competition. Players are less eager to take risk in order to avoid immediate elimination.

Incidentally, the only decisive game of the day was also the longest. But all could have been different, had Daniil Dubov accepted Shakhriyar Mamedyarov‘s draw offer on move 17. In fact, the first phase of the game was slightly confusing. The Russian chose a very solid line against the Grunfeld, implying that he might be happy with a draw. By playing 10…Bg4 instead of the exchange on d4, however, Mamedyarov seemed inclined to keep some live in the game.

But he nevertheless offered a draw, which Dubov declined. As he admitted after the game, the Russian should not have gone for this psychological warfare. Possibly regretting his decision, he himself proposed a truce when going for the exchange of queens on move 22. But Mamedyarov felt that he would be able to put some pressure in the ensuing endgame. His technique worked miracles and he managed to gradually improve his position and win a pawn on move 35. Dubov felt that his position should still be defensible with exact play. But in practice, this task is extremely hard. Mamedyarov did all the right things and cashed in the full point on move 78.

Mamedyarov – Dubov game was the only decisive game on Day 2, and clearly one of the most interesting. MVL and Grischuk are watching the game mid-round while Dubov is trying to stand his ground. Dubov lost on Move 78 some two hours later.

Danill Dubov of Russia was knocked out of the Tournament after round 1. 

The Chief Arbiter starts the clock

View of the four tables from the top of the stage.

Alexander Grischuk of Russia will move on to tiebreaks after a draw with Vityugov

In a must-win situation, David Navara tried to side-step Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s famously deep preparation in the Sicilian. True to his style, the French went for an active continuation after the opening and sacrificed a pawn. Yet, as he admitted after the game, this optimistic approach left him with a slightly worse position. Navara said that he did not handle the following phase of the game accurately and allowed his opponent to solve his problems too easily. Vachier-Lagrave could have played for a win at the end, but preferred forcing a draw and assuring his direct qualification to the second round.

All other encounters ended in a draw, meaning that six matches will be decided in tie-breakers on Sunday.

As in their first game, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Peter Svidler entertained the crowd with an exciting battle. The 8-time Russian champion went for an original line in this King’s Indian setup, but underestimated Duda’s strong plan 18.Rc2 followed by Rd2 and Qa1. As it turned out, the Pole gained a serious advantage after 24.Ne2. But under time pressure, he let it slip away and Svidler saved the draw. The upcoming tie-break promises to be very tense. The Russian has a huge experience in knockout tournaments, having won the World Cup in 2011 for instance. But Duda is extremely strong at short time controls, as proven by his silver medal in the Blitz World Championship 2018.

Alexander Grischuk and Nikita Vitiugov made a short and quiet draw. To the question whether this early offer with the white pieces was a consequence of the missed opportunity in their fascinating game of the day before, Grischuk answered in the negative, adding that he simply did not like his position after the opening. Vitiugov commented that he would certainly be the underdog in the upcoming tie-break, but that he saw no objective reason to refuse the draw and take unnecessary risks.

The game between Pentala Harikrishna and Wesley So was rather balanced throughout. The Indian felt that he did not play accurately and allowed his opponent to make a draw too easily, but both agreed afterwards that the black position was very resilient. The American can safely be considered the favourite of the tie-break on Sunday, but as is usually the case, everything will depend on the respective shape of both players on that day.

Yu Yangyi made a very practical choice in the opening by going for a variation where only white can supposedly hope for an advantage. Levon Aronian reacted with 13…Qc6 and then pushed his e-pawn to create some counter-play against the white king. As a general rule, trying to play actively is a good strategy in chess. The draw was signed on move 25. With his two World Cup victories in 2005 and 2017, the Armenian is the logical favourite of the tie-break.

Anish Giri got a nice edge from his opening against Sergey Karjakin. After the game, the Russian commented that this is exactly the kind of positions which are most unpleasant to defend against Giri. Yet, the Dutch lacked patience when he exchange on e4 instead of keeping the tension with 20.Qf4. The position simplified after that and both players signed the draw on move 30. There is no clear favourite in their upcoming tie-break. Anish Giri is the highest-rated participant in Riga, but the Russian is known to have nerves of steel in knockout events. After all, he did not win the World Cup 2015 by chance.

Veselin Topalov and Hikaru Nakamuramade a draw in 25 moves. The game was fairly balanced, and both players agreed that the advantage of the two bishops at the end was not significant. Known for his amazing skills at speed chess, the American is the clear favourite in the tie-break games.

All six matches will start at 15:00 on Sunday in the National Library of Latvia.


GameDay 2Total
Giri– Karjakin1/2 — 1/21 — 1
Harikrishna – So1/2 — 1/21 — 1
Duda – Svidler1/2 — 1/21 — 1
Dubov – Mamedyarov0 — 11/2 — 1.5
Grischuk – Vitiugov1/2 — 1/21 — 1
Yu Yangyi – Aronian1/2 — 1/21 — 1
Topalov – Nakamura1/2 — 1/21 — 1
Navara – MVL1/2 — 1/21/2 — 1.5

Leading partners supporting the FIDE Grand Prix Riga 2019 include:

EG Capital Advisors as the Official Partner, PhosAgro as the Official Strategic Partner, and Kaspersky as the Official Cybersecurity Partner.