Riga GP: Grischuk, So and Mamedyarov in semis

by Antonio Pereira
7/18/2019 – Alexander Grischuk and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov knocked out Yu Yangyi and Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the first two games of the quarter-finals tiebreaks at the FIDE Grand Prix in Riga. Meanwhile, Sergey Karjakin and Wesley So drew all their 25'+10" and 10'+10" games — in the end, So emerged the winner after turning around a sharp tactical position in the first 5'+3" encounter and saving a draw in a roller-coaster of a rematch game. | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

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The final four

The semi-finals in Riga begin on Thursday, July 18th, as the four survivors will continue to fight for Grand Prix points and a chance to qualify to next year's Candidates Tournament. Wesley So will be facing Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while Alexander Grischuk will play against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, after the three final spots in the semis were decided on the tiebreaks of round two.

Grischuk beat Yu Yangyi with the white pieces in their first rapid encounter and went on to hold a 57-move draw to get the ticket to next round; Mamedyarov drew first and then used positionally sound play to knock out Jan-Krzysztof Duda; while So only defeated Sergey Karjakin after getting a sole win in the midst of seven draws at the first 5'+3" encounter.

Match results

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In the previous leg of the Grand Prix, Grischuk noted that it is rather strange for the sole rest day of these tournaments to be scheduled only after the semi-finals, instead of after round two, at half-point. Despite mentioning it again after his win over Yu Yangyi, the Russian — much like So — will play for a seventh day in a row on Thursday.

FIDE Grand Prix Riga 2019

Only four players are left in Latvia's capital | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess  

Grischuk 2½:1½ Yu Yangyi

When the classical phase was over, Alexander Grischuk confessed that he was happy to reach the tiebreaks as he had survived two inferior positions. In his first rapid game against Yu Yangyi, however, he got to show what he later called "an important novelty" on move 14:


White immediately started creating specific problems for his opponent with 14.c7. Consequently, after having blitzed out most of his moves, Yu Yangyi invested almost three minutes on 14...e8. Nonetheless, a couple of moves later, 'time trouble addict' Grischuk spent no less than twelve minutes — let us remember that the players received twenty-five minutes for the whole game.

It was time well spent for the Russian though, who kept the initiative in the middlegame. And, on move 27, his rival faltered:


You can try your own moves on the diagram above

27...b4 allowed the forcing 28.xb4 xb4 29.bxc4 xc4 30.a4 when Black needs to be accurate to avoid losing material. Grischuk kept his cool and simplified into a knight endgame a pawn up and got the win after 62 moves.

In game two, Yu Yangyi chose a setup with White which Grischuk himself has used repeatedly in the past — the Russian noted, however, that he had never managed to score a win with it, only draws. Yu Yangyi did not give up quickly though, and kept trying to create imbalances until move 57, when a threefold repetition sealed Grischuk's victory.

Grischuk vs. Yu Yangyi - All tiebreak games


Yu Yangyi

Yu Yangyi collected one point for the overall standings of the Grand Prix in Riga | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Post-game inteview with Grischuk and Yu Yangyi

Mamedyarov 2½:1½ Duda

In the battle between uncompromising players, the more experienced Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ended up on top after four fighting games (two classical and two rapid). In the first tiebreak encounter, Jan-Krzysztof Duda did not notice one of White's tactical shots in the middlegame:


After 20.xh7, Black cannot recapture the knight due to the double attack on d8 and, unlike many similar positions, 20...xd1 is not check (when White would have simply given up a piece on h7). Thus, Duda cut his losses by giving up his queen for two rooks: 21.xf6+ xf6 22.xf6 xa1

In this case, having the active queen and some potential passers on both flanks gave Duda an edge, but the Polish grandmaster erred with 29.h5. Mamedyarov kept things under control from that point on and managed to hold the draw after 41 moves.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

In game two, Duda borrowed a page from the Azeri's repertoire by going for a quick 9.g4 with White. He was facing an expert in these structures though, with Mamedyarov explaining later on that if Black knows there is no mate for his opponent he has an easier task at hand. 

Duda was suffering all throughout, but made the critical mistake on move 31. Mamedyarov found a nice killer blow soon after:


Black's light-squared bishop joined the fray with 33...xf4 34.exf4 e3+, and White resigned after 35.f3 xf3+ 36.xf3 exf2. It was a valiant performance by Duda, who did not shy away from sharp struggles neither against Svidler nor Mamedyarov.

Mamedyarov vs. Duda - All tiebreak games


Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is a semi-finalist in Riga | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Post-game interview with Mamedyarov and Duda

So 4½:3½ Karjakin

Two long-standing members of the chess elite played cautiously until the blitz phase of their match-up. Their 25'+10" games finished peacefully after 31 and 27 moves, while — more notably — their 10'+10" encounters lasted barely 17 and 18 moves. When asked about this afterwards, Wesley So explained that they know each other's e4-openings very well, particularly the Berlin and the Giuoco Piano, which makes it distinctly difficult to find a way to get an advantage for either of them.

Notwithstanding, perhaps the increasing tension after all those draws led to a couple of lively blitz games. The American had White in the first five-minute encounter, and he blundered as early as move 11:


So's 11.c3 allowed Karjakin to play 11...e5, which prompted the Philippine-born grandmaster to give up his queen with 12.xe5 xd1 13.xf7 e7 14.xd6 cxd6 15.cxd6 xd6 16.xd1 e5. Black was clearly better, but converting with a queen against numerous pieces is never easy, particularly in blitz. 

Karjakin was making headway, but a single blunder completely turned the tables:


30...d6 gave way to 31.f8+ and White ensnared Black's queen with 31...d7 32.b5+ c7 33.c4+. Black resigned.

Sergey Karjakin

Sergey Karjakin with two small fans | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Now Karjakin had the challenging task of beating the ever-solid So on demand. The Russian ace went for 1.b3 but did not get many attacking chances in the opening. In fact, Black was the one creating dangerous threats against the opposite king — after 26 moves, the computer gave Black an advantage of over three pawns. 

But the drama continued, as the American first let go of his edge and then gave White an opening to create a lethal attack:


So blundered with 30...g6, allowing Karjakin to go 31.c4, targetting f7. The game continued 31...f4+ 32.f3 h3:


And now Karjakin chose the incorrect piece to capture on f7 — he needed to start with 33.♗xf7+ instead of 33.xf7. After the text, Black had a perpetual with 33...h5+ 34.g4 h3+ 35.xf4 h2+ 36.f3 h3+, etcetera. 

What had been an uneventful battle became, out of the blue, a thrilling struggle.

So vs. Karjakin - All tiebreak games  


Sergey Karjakin, Wesley So

Sergey Karjakin facing Wesley So | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Post-game interview with So and Karjakin

Commentary webcast

Commentary by GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Arturs Neikans

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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