Riga GP: Vachier-Lagrave and Mamedyarov are the finalists

by Antonio Pereira
7/20/2019 – No tiebreakers were needed to decide who will play the final match of the FIDE Grand Prix in Riga, as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov drew Wesley So (after having beaten the American in game one) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took down Alexander Grischuk in the rematch encounters of the semi-finals. Given that the sole rest day was scheduled for Sunday and the potential tiebreaks were to take place on Saturday, the finalists will have two days to recover before the deciding match-up. | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

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Vachier-Lagrave honours Benko

Hungarian legend Pal Benko turned 91 on Monday, and we can call Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's exemplary handling of the gambit that is named after him — the Benko Gambit — a belated honorary gift. The Frenchman took down Alexander Grischuk with the black pieces after their first encounter had finished in a draw, which means he has reached the final of the Grand Prix in Riga without needing tiebreaks even once (he also won rounds one and two in the classical stage).

Meanwhile, Wesley So was in a must-win situation against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The American did not choose an over-the-top risky strategy, which meant his opponent was in position to simplify into a balanced queen endgame. So kept on trying but could not prevent Mamedyarov from finding a threefold repetition, which secured him match victory and a spot in the final.

Match results

Click or tap any result to open the game via Live.ChessBase.com


The final match-up kicks off Monday, July 22nd, as Sunday is the only scheduled rest day in Riga and there was no need for tiebreaks on Saturday.

FIDE Grand Prix Riga 2019

"What is going on?!" | Photo: World Chess

Grischuk ½:1½ Vachier-Lagrave 

The game started 1.d4 f6 2.c4 g6 and Alexander Grischuk escaped his rival's Grünfeld with drastic measures — 3.h4, a move previously played by the likes of Anton Korobov and Richard Rapport. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave thought long and hard before responding with 3...c5. There followed 4.d5 b5 5.cxb5 a6 and the players were exploring Benko Gambit territory, but with the h-pawn already committed on the fourth rank.

As usual, the computers assessed White's position favourably, with his central space and the extra pawn two highly valued commodities by the engines. By move 15, the players reached the following complex position:


Grischuk was not happy with his 15.e1, but at the same time he thought he had some chances, as at this point he rejected his opponent's draw offer. 

Vachier-Lagrave continued to create threats on the queenside and showcased his great calculation abilities in the following lengthy sequence:


Feel free to try your own variations on the diagram above

There followed 20...bd3 21.f4 b4 22.b1 c3 23.fxe5 b2 (a move missed by Grischuk) 24.c2 cxd2 25.xb2 xe4 26.xd2 c2 (the rook joins the fray) 27.d3 xe2 28.xe4 xe4 and the players reached an endgame in which White was still a pawn up, although Black had better piece coordination. 

The Frenchman handled the position masterfully, and by the time he played 42...g5 it was clear that only a miracle would save his Russian opponent:


The rook on a3 is completely out of play, while the knight is the only piece preventing Black from capturing on f2 with decisive effect — therefore, Grischuk had to play the ugly 43.f1. The game lasted five more moves, when the black rooks doubled on the second rank.

Grischuk's assessment of the game could not have been clearer:

I think it was a fantastic game by Maxime. [...] At least to me it seems that he played extremely precisely. I mean, I just need one move and I will be totally fine, but I never got the time to make it.


Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk needed a change of perspective | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Game analysis with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

So ½:1½ Mamedyarov

Meanwhile, in the other semi-final, Wesley So was looking for ways to create holes in the Queen's Gambit Accepted structure put forth by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The Azeri grandmaster never fell prey to the temptation of leaving aside his solid strategy — in fact, the pawn structure only lost its symmetry when there was not enough material left on the board for White to stir up trouble:


After 25.xd5 exd5, White cannot capture the central pawn due to the mate on the back rank. The American pushed 26.h4 but Black kept things completely under control with 26...c5

So tried to make something out of nothing until move 38, when there was no way to prevent Black's perpetual checks. Much like Grischuk, he decorously accepted his defeat:

It's hard to come back after losing the first game, and Shak played very well and I think he completely deserved to win the match. All the best in the finals.


Wesley So, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Wesley So thought Shakhriyar Mamedyarov deservedly defeated him in their match-up | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

Post-game interview with So and Mamedyarov

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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