Paris Rapid & Blitz: Vachier-Lagrave grabs the lead

by Antonio Pereira
7/29/2019 – The second day of the GCT Paris tournament at the Head Office of mass media conglomerate Vivendi saw local hero Maxime Vachier-Lagrave climb to first place after collecting two wins and a draw between rounds four and six. Vishy Anand and Jan-Krzysztof Duda are trailing a point behind the leader with three more rounds of rapid chess left for Monday. Eighteen rounds of Blitz will wrap up the event on Wednesday and Thursday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Le Tour de France

Le Tour de France, the most important race in the cycling calendar, came to a close on Sunday, with Colombian Egan Bernal getting first place and two French riders in the Top 10. Not far from the cycling action, the Grand Chess Tour (the bicycle race is also one of three Grand Tours, coincidentally) saw local hero Maxime Vachier-Lagrave reach sole first place after six rounds of Rapid. 

France's top grandmaster defeated Anish Giri and former co-leader Fabiano Caruana before drawing his last encounter of the day against Alexander Grischuk. The local has two players breathing down his neck a point behind — Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who got a victory against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and Vishy Anand, who drew all three games on Sunday and is the only player to remain undefeated in the field.

Viswanathan Anand

Former world champion Vishy Anand has yet to lose a game in the event | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Round 4: Deep prep

Seeing either Anish Giri or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave blitzing out theoretical moves is not a surprise, but when they are playing against each other, and they go into a sharp Sicilian in which Black captures the so-called "poisoned pawn" on b2, nobody should be shocked if they play no less than 25 moves of theory! 

The fact that it had all been seen before does not mean the fight was over though, as a complex middlegame with imbalanced material ensued. By move 32, some of the smoke had cleared, but it was nonetheless difficult to assess the resulting endgame:

 

After 33.xb7, Black has a passed pawn for the exchange, but we all know how hard it is to face a couple of restless knights with little time on the clock — when the engines still thought the position was dynamically balanced, Giri failed to find the right square for his king:

 

White resigned after 47.f2 d3+, as the king cannot escape without losing material to a knight fork! Giri needed to play 47.♔g2 in the diagrammed position to continue the struggle.

Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri

Grischuk is interested in this theoretical battle | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

While the local hero got the better of Giri, his opponent from an epic final match-up in the recent Riga Grand Prix, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, had White against Ian Nepomniachtchi (who incidentally won the first leg of the GP). The Azerbaijani had a comfortable position out of the opening and cleanly gained a pawn on move 21:

 

The knights were traded with 21.xc7 exd4, and here White has 22.c4, looking at f7. Mamedyarov captured the e-pawn in the sequence 22...d7 23.xd4 xc7 24. xc7 and went on to pick up his first win of the event.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is on 5 out of 12 | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The move of the round, however, was seen in the game that faced Fabiano Caruana against Daniil Dubov:

 

Dubov had the black pieces and continued to show his predisposition to give up material for the initiative by playing the unimaginable 15...b5. Caruana grabbed the pawn but ended up conceding a draw when his opponent found a perpetual check. 

Dubov is really making a name for himself with the opening ideas he has been showing lately! 

Daniil Dubov

A fully concentrated Daniil Dubov | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Alexander Grischuk v Vishy Anand and Hikaru Nakamura v Jan-Krzysztof Duda were also drawn, with Anand and Nakamura missing chances to get a significant advantage in their games.

Games from Round 4
 

Round 5: Change of command

Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana and Anand were now sharing the lead, but the French grandmaster grabbed the lead convincingly by taking down Caruana from the white side of a rarely seen Sicilian:

 

White had 8.e5 prepared, and Caruana once again (much like against Dubov) was offered a free pawn he could not refuse to capture: 8...dxe5 9.xd8+ xd8. Only once had White traded queens immediately, but the strategy served Vachier-Lagrave well, as he slowly but surely squeezed his rival's position. The Frenchman put pressure on the white king until gaining an exchange and patiently converted his advantage into a second straight victory.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fabiano Caruana

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave versus Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

On Saturday, in the second round of the event, Vachier-Lagrave had taken revenge for his loss in Riga's final match against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. In round five — the second one of the day incidentally — it was Duda who avenged his loss in the semis of said tournament against the Azerbaijani. As usual, the players went into a sharp fight:

 

Duda, with White, had already given up his g-pawn and now responded to 11...f5 with 12.e4. The players continued to exchange blows until Mamedyarov committed a mistake:

 

Instead of protecting his f4-knight, White can play 19.xf5 with decisive effect — in case of 19...exf4, 20.♗xf6 follows and White's attack is unstoppable without big material concessions. After the text, Mamedyarov played 19...ad8, but Duda showed enough precision to get a 33-move victory.

Grand Chess Tour Paris 2019

The live audience following the games | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour 

In the other decisive game of the day, Dubov blundered a piece against Grischuk and the older Russian got his second win of the event. Anand v Nakamura was a short draw, while Nepomniachtchi v Giri ended peacefully after 32 moves.

Games from Round 5
 

Round 6: Caruana blunders away a winning position

Much like in Zagreb, former World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana had a winning position against Ian Nepomniachtchi and ended up losing the game. The Russian ace payed a Pirc Defence with Black and seemed all but lost after 29 moves:

 

Already two pawns down, Nepomniachtchi looked for some last-ditch attempts to create an attack on the queenside with 29...a4 30.b4 c5 31.c3 f2, but Caruana was able to keep things under control. 

Later on, however, the American did not find a plan to effectively convert his advantage. When the queens had left the board, Nepomniachtchi gave up his knight to stop White's passers and was left with a couple of dangerous passed pawns himself.

On move 51, the tables turned in the Russian's favour:

 

Caruana needed to capture the a-pawn with 52.♗xa4 but opted for 52.d7 instead. Black combined the strength of his a and h-pawns to capture White's rook and eventually got the win in the rook+pawn versus bishop+pawn endgame.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi never shies away from a fight | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Meanwhile, Hikaru Nakamura, closed the day with a win for a second time in a row. After a forgettable first day, which kicked off with two straight losses, the American has bounced back to 50% with wins over Mamedyarov and now Dubov. In round six, he even got to mate his opponent:

 

White's position is completely busted, but after Dubov's 38...d2 Nakamura got to show mate on the board with 39.xh3+ g5 40.g7+ xf5 41.h5#.

Hikaru Nakamura

Grand Chess Tour defending champion Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Mamedyarov also finished the day with a win, over Anish Giri, who is the tail-ender after having lost four and drawn two in Paris. Grischuk v Vachier-Lagrave and Duda v Anand were non-trivial draws.

Games from Round 6
 

Standings after Round 6

 

All games

 

Commentary webcast

WGM J. Shahade, GM P. Svidler, GM A. Ramirez and GM M. Ashley


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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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