Belgrade GP: Rapport escapes, reaches final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/11/2022 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got good winning chances but could not bounce back in his match against Richard Rapport at the semifinals of the FIDE Grand Prix in Belgrade. Rapport’s resilient defence made him the first finalist of the event. The Hungarian will get a rest day before facing either Anish Giri or Dmitry Andreikin in the final. Giri and Andreikin drew both their semifinal games and will play a rapid and blitz tiebreaker on Friday. | Photos: Mark Livshitz

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“It’s time to try my luck in lottery”

FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade 2022Richard Rapport has been mentioning how luck has been favouring him in a few of the interviews he has given in Belgrade. The world number 10, for example, referred to how unlikely it was for him to get back-to-back wins in Berlin to reach the semifinals in the first stage of the series. Now, after taking down Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s Grünfeld Defence on Wednesday, the Hungarian saved a draw from a markedly uncomfortable position to reach the final in Belgrade.

Once he got his ticket to the final, Rapport noted that perhaps “it’s time to try my luck in lottery”. His opponent had just missed a number of chances to even the score in a game that was signed drawn after 66 moves.

While Rapport was almost apologetic toward his rival, MVL explicitly thanked the Hungarian for having entered a sharp opening line despite only needing a draw. It was a great display of sportsmanship by the two elite grandmasters, who fought hard over the board and then showed mutual respect during the press conference.

In the other semifinal, Dmitry Andreikin and Anish Giri signed a second draw to take the match to a rapid and blitz tiebreaker. The second game was not as sharp as the first one, but it did include an interesting strategic battle in the opening phase.

Asked about who was the favourite in the playoff, Andreikin noted that Giri has been practising against elite opponents recently at the Champions Chess Tour , while the Dutchman reminded us that his opponent got second place at the 2013 World Cup by winning most of his matches precisely in rapid tiebreakers.

FIDE Grand Prix 2022 Belgrade

Only four players were still in contention in Serbia’s capital

Vachier-Lagrave ½ - ½ Rapport

What to play with black out of a Ruy Lopez while facing the ever-dangerous Vachier-Lagrave? By now, it should not come as a big surprise that the creative Rapport decided to create imbalances and potential kingside attacks with his choice.

 

While 7...h5 is the most popular response here, it was by no means necessary to enter this line. Moreover, 7...Bh5 was playable as well.

As MVL explained afterwards, he knew that if he played precise moves he was sure to get an edge out of this particular opening. However, it was Rapport who was better prepared to deal with this not-particularly-fashionable line — and in fact he managed to get a good position in the early middlegame.

 

White had given up a piece for two pawns and the initiative. Here, MVL correctly assessed that it was time to return the material — 15.Nxf7 Nxf7 16.Qxg4 Nxb3 17.axb3 Bg5 followed.

 

Black’s last move paved the way for simplifications. The bishops and queens were soon traded, leaving an asymmetrical position with two rooks, a knight and six pawns per side, which meant a long struggle lied ahead. 

Things started to go wrong for Rapport as the time control approached. By move 43, a win for White already seemed quite likely.

 

The fact that Rapport’s retreating 43...R2h6 was the best move in the position says it all. The Hungarian knew that he needed to tread lightly if he wanted to avoid a loss.

Vachier-Lagrave had been playing fantastically since the queens had left the board, but could not find the most precise manoeuvres to convert his hard-earned advantage into a win. The Frenchman only managed a draw and was thus knocked out from the tournament. In a bit over a week from now, he will participate in the third leg of the series, where he will face Wesley So, Sam Shankland and Alexandr Predke in the preliminary rounds.

 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Richard Rapport

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave trying to convert his advantage against Richard Rapport

Andreikin ½ - ½ Giri

After getting a draw from what was temporarily a very dangerous position on Wednesday, Andreikin tried to torture his opponent à la Vladimir Kramnik in the rematch. The Russian followed a line used by his compatriot at the 2018 Candidates Tournament — the former world champion had used it to defeat Alexander Grischuk in the first round of the event.

Coincidentally, though, Giri was Kramnik’s second during that tournament, so he was more than familiarized with the position.

 

Precise manoeuvres by Giri allowed him to equalize the position, and here the players began to repeat moves with 29...Nb6 30.Bf1 Nd5 31.Bc4, etcetera.

Friday’s tiebreakers will consist of two 15-minute games with 10-second increments. If the tie remains, a pair of 5’+3” games will follow, and if the tie is not broken an Armageddon encounter will decide who gets the ticket to the event’s final.

 

Dmitry Andreikin, Anish Giri

Dmitry Andreikin and Anish Giri

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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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