Riga GP: Mamedyarov beats So

by Antonio Pereira
7/18/2019 – In the first game of the semi-finals at the FIDE Grand Prix in Riga we saw a couple of elite chess battles, as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov surprised Wesley So to get a quick win and Alexander Grischuk got himself in trouble out of a Berlin Defence against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Grischuk and So will have the white pieces in Friday's rematch encounters. | Photo: World Chess

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A Catalan and a Berlin

At the end of the twentieth century, when Garry Kasparov was dominating the chess elite, the best players in the world were looking for theoretical ways to 'solve the game'. To find surprising novelties was a huge commodity, with certain openings more prone to be explored by those following this 'scientific approach' — the Berlin and the Catalan were among these systems (in fact, one of the biggest advocates to this approach, Vladimir Kramnik, studied both of them deeply).

On day one of the semi-finals, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov uncorked a nice novelty in the Catalan to get a comfortable win over Wesley So, while Alexander Grischuk got himself in trouble from the black side of a Berlin Defence against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but managed to save a draw in the end.

Match results

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Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk looking on his potential contenders | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess 

Mamedyarov 1:0 So

The Azerbaijani went for a sharp line of the Catalan, in which White is a pawn down but gets the pair of bishops and cripples Black's pawn structure. As so often happens in this opening, the theoretical lines are lengthy and specific. This time, Mamedyarov was the first one to deviate:


The novelty was the quiet 14.a3, which nonetheless prompted So to invest around fifteen minutes on 14...fb8. Later on, Mamedyarov mentioned that the American had told him in the post-mortem discussion that he considered his fourteenth move to have been a mistake, but the Azeri — who remembered this line completely — clarified that So's move was actually the best one in the position. 

The mistake came after 15.e4:


So now spent twenty minutes on 15...c3, the crucial mistake. Mamedyarov seemed worried, as he thought he had every line analysed in full, except this one. But, in fact, he had not memorized it because it gave White too much of an advantage.

After explaining that this will probably be a 'one-off novelty', Mamedyarov noted that after e4 Black has the strong 15...♞xe4 — the point of this move is that after the long sequence 16.♗xe4 ♛xd4 17.♗e3 ♛xe4 18.♗xb6 ♜xb6 19.♖fe1 Black has the unexpected 19...♛g6. 


We certainly cannot blame So for not having seen this line from afar, as the more natural-looking 19...♛c2 or 19...♛f3, for example, are bad for Black.

After the text, it did not take long before the queens left the board. From that point on, Mamedyarov showed fine technique to prove his pair of bishops was stronger than Black's rook. Resignation came on move 34.


Wesley So

It is tough to be an elite chess player — Wesley So knows it all too well | Photo: World Chess

Game analysis with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Vachier-Lagrave ½:½ Grischuk

Two well-established members of the elite explored the notorious Berlin Defence and followed a Vachier-Lagrave v Aronian game from the 2018 London Chess Classic until move 12. Grischuk himself spent some time — as usual — before going for the novelty of the game:


The players started figuring things out over the board after 12...a5, and things seemed to be going well for Black until Vachier-Lagrave's 21st move:


The problem with 21.d3 is that Grischuk had not foreseen it, while he already thought it was only a matter of time before a draw would be agreed. The Russian, in fact, spent over half an hour before finding the correct plan to defend against White's initiative — to advance on the queenside with 21...b5, 22...b4, 23...a4.

Grischuk kept pushing his queenside pawns later on:


The game continued 26...b3 27.cxb3 axb3 28.a4 c5 29.a5 c4 30.a6 c3 and the point was split three moves later. Both players were not sure whether White had some study-like win at some point, but certainly Vachier-Lagrave was the one with the chances.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Post-game interview with Vachier-Lagrave and Grischuk

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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