Belgrade GP: MVL beats Predke, breaks drawing spell

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/5/2022 – Seven out of eight games finished drawn in Friday’s fourth round of the preliminaries at the FIDE Grand Prix in Belgrade. The only winner of the day was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman’s win was the first one of the event in pool D. With two rounds to go in the double round-robins, MVL and Anish Giri are sole leaders in their pools. | Photos: Mark Livshitz

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Two sole leaders

FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade 2022In what was the most peaceful round of the FIDE Grand Prix series so far — i.e. including the first stage in Berlin — seven out of eight games finished drawn, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave the only winner of the day. With two rounds to go in the prelims, set to be played after the rest day, the Frenchman became the sole leader in pool D, which had seen no decisive results in the first three rounds.

Pool C also has a sole leader, as the two draws signed on Friday left Anish Giri atop the standings table, a full point ahead of Nikita Vitiugov. After playing Pentala Harikrishna on Sunday, the Dutchman will get the black pieces against his closest chaser in the sixth and final round of the double round-robin.

Pools A and B, meanwhile, have two players sharing the lead after four rounds. Sam Shankland missed a chance to beat Etienne Bacrot and is still sharing first place with Dmitry Andreikin in pool A, while Richard Rapport and Vidit Gujrathi are tied atop the standings in pool B, each with 2½ points.

FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade 2022

Chessboards are set up for spectators to play (or analyse) while following the games

Pool A: Shankland’s missed chance

Dmitry Andreikin and Alexander Grischuk played 27 moves of theory in a sharp-looking yet drawing line of the Grünfeld Defence. The peace treaty followed soon after.

Sam Shankland could have taken advantage of the circumstance to grab the sole lead, but could not make the most of his superior position in his game with white against Etienne Bacrot.

 

After skilfully outplaying his experienced opponent in a queenless middlegame, Shankland played the imprecise 34.Ra8 in this position, going for the a7-pawn. Instead, further hindering Black’s coordination with 34.e5 was the way to go — the key idea is that Black cannot centralize his knight with 34...Nd5 due to 35.Rxd5 exd5 36.Nd8+, forking rook and king.

Surely Shankland saw this line, but nonetheless assessed his continuation as stronger. Unfortunately for him, going for the pawn gave Black key tempi to activate his pieces and get counterplay. Bacrot eventually gave up his knight for White’s passed a-pawn, but grabbed White’s remaining central and kingside pawns in exchange. 

The point was split after 44 moves.

 
 

Pool B: 31-move draws

Nikita Vitiugov and Amin Tabatabaei failed to create enough imbalances to fight for a win with the white pieces in their games against Pentala Harikrishna and Anish Giri respectively. Both games were agreed drawn after 31 moves.

 

Vitiugov and Harikrishna decided to call it a day after 31.Qxd3, as there is no way for either side to create winning chances in such a symmetrical rook endgame.

 
 

Anish Giri

Anish Giri has a 1-point lead with two rounds to go 

Pool C: Negligible extra pawns

Top players do not need for a perfectly symmetrical, materially balanced position to appear on the board for them to agree to a draw. In both round-3 games of pool B, White had an extra pawn when the contenders agreed to split points.

 

Vladimir Fedoseev has a passer on the b-file, but can confidently trust that his opponent will manage to hold the balance with his more active king and minor pieces. Playing black was Richard Rapport, who is still sharing the lead with Vidit Gujrathi on 2½/4 points.

 
 

Pool D: MVL’s trusted Najdorf

Holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is one of the strongest opening theoreticians in the world. The Frencham is also known for playing the sharp Grünfeld and Najdorf Defences with black almost exclusively. After drawing Yu Yangyi with the Grünfeld on Thursday, MVL defeated Alexandr Predke with the Najdorf in round 4.

 

In this double-edged position, Predke’s 26.g3 turned out to be a regrettable pawn push for the Russian. Vachier-Lagrave continued with the forceful sequence 26...b4 27.Na2 Rf5, and after 28.Nd4 Black got to happily trade queens.

 

28...Qxe2 must be responded by 29.Rxe2, since 29.Nxe2 fails positionally to 29...Ng4 when Black has a much better coordinated army.

After the text, MVL had 29...Bf3, skewering both white rooks. Note that this would not have been possible with the pawn on g2.

 

Black cannot capture Black’s rooks with his knight, since after 30.Nxf5 Bxe2 31.Nxh6 Bxd1 the knight has no place to escape while the black bishop will remain on the board.

Predke had prepared a much more drastic solution — which does not work — with 30.Rxe6. MVL was in the driver’s seat and calmly calculated that 30...Bxd1 31.Rxe7 Bxc2+ 32.Kxc2 Rc5+ 33.Kd2 Kxe7 simply leaves him two exchanges to the good in a simplified position.

 

With little time on the clock, Predke continued to blitz out moves until reaching move 40. Soon after, he realized there was no chance of defending his position against a player of MVL’s tactical ability. Resignation came on move 44.

 
 

Alexandr Predke, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Alexandr Predke facing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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