Hamburg GP: Vachier-Lagrave's dream start

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/6/2019 – Four players kicked off the third leg of the FIDE Grand Prix Series with a win at the Theater Kehrwieder in Hamburg. The results of the day particularly favoured Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, as he beat Wei Yi with the white pieces, while Ian Nepomniachtchi — another big contender to get one of the two Candidates spots at stake — lost against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Peter Svidler and Veselin Topalov also won their inaugural encounters. | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

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Four decisive results

Half the match-ups in Hamburg will see one of the players needing to bounce back with a win on Wednesday in order to avoid disqualification. Out of the four participants that need to win on demand, only Hikaru Nakamura must do it with the black pieces. Nakamura, much like in the previous leg, was paired up against Veselin Topalov in round one. The Bulgarian took him down after 66 moves in the last game to finish on opening day.

Topalov got an edge quickly, creating threats with his well-coordinated pieces while Nakamura struggled to find an active plan. The current US champion barely prevented his opponent from marshalling a decisive attack, but when the heavy pieces left the board Black had a host of positional trumps:


Topalov's strategic dominance finally turned into a material edge after 52...a5 53.h2 c4. From that point on, it was only a matter of technique, and the former world champion did not take long to get the full point. In Riga, Topalov knocked Nakamura out in the rapid tiebreakers

Veselin Topalov

Former world champion Veselin Topalov | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

Topalov was not the only veteran to get off to a good start, as 43-year-old Peter Svidler also won on Tuesday. His friend and colleague Kirill Alekseenko, who recently climbed to the 31st spot in the latest FIDE ratings list, showed him a variation that came in helpful against Pentala Harikrishna. The Indian got an initiative on the kingside, but when it dissipated his pawn structure was markedly compromised. Svidler skilfully took over:


Black's a7-rook is out of play and his pawn weaknesses on the kingside are sitting targets. On the other hand, White's knight and rook on the seventh are clearly menacing. Svidler went on to capture the h-pawn with 32...f8 33.h7 g8 34.xh5. Harikrishna soon gave up an exchange trusting that his passed a-pawn might give him some drawing chances, but to no avail — Svidler converted without trouble:


Resignation came after 47.xd5, as after 47...a2 White has 48.d7+ xd7 49.a8, winning with his passers on the kingside.

Peter Svidler

A welcomed player everywhere — Peter Svidler | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

Fighting for the Candidates spots

While Topalov has an outside chance of getting into the fight for the top spots at the Grand Prix overall standings and Svidler is all but out of contention, some players' main motivation in Hamburg is to collect GP points. That is the case of Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Radoslaw Wojtaszek, who have a very realistic chance of getting to next year's Candidates through this series.

Vachier-Lagrave played the ever-courageous Wei Yi with the white pieces. The Chinese prodigy went for the Sicilian Najdorf against one of the best-known experts of the setup. Naturally, the Frenchman is also well-versed in the handling of the typical positions from the white side.  

Wei Yi was probably expecting to get a sharp struggle, but his opponent castled kingside, proposing a positional game instead. The queens were swapped on move 19, and Vachier-Lagrave gained a pawn a few moves later:


White's centralizing 21.d5 was a strong shot. Black has nothing better than 21...xd5 and after 22.exd5 c7 White can choose between capturing on b6 or e5. Vachier-Lagrave chose the latter — 23.xe5 dxe5 24.d6 — and went on to convert his extra pawn into a 47-move win.

Ulrich Krause, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Wei Yi

Ulrich Krause, President of the German Chess Federation, made the ceremonial first move | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

Besides getting the upper hand in his round one match-up, Vachier-Lagrave also saw how one of the main contenders atop the GP overall standings table started the event with a loss. Against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Ian Nepomniachtchi blundered inexplicably on move 23:


Apparently, Nepomniachtchi had calculated to go 23...e4 at some point in the foreseen variation...but probably not here. White can simply grab the pawn and get central control with 24.xe4. Duda "couldn't believe [his] eyes", and Nepomniachtchi was probably just as dumbfounded when he realized what he had just done — his reaction was to quickly give up an exchange to get some sort of compensation.

Converting the advantage was not trivial for Duda, especially against such a resourceful opponent, but the young Polish grandmaster sat tight and eventually found a path to victory. 

The rematch game in this head-to-head battle will certainly be of interest, as Nepomniachtchi recently showed that he can quickly recover from a bad performance — at the Fischer Random World Championship, he defeated Fabiano Caruana with an imposing performance after having lost by a large margin against Wesley So.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

We have already seen all the decisive games of the round, but we are yet to mention the most exciting encounter of the day. It was not the 12-move draw between Teimour Radjabov and Daniil Dubov...but the roller-coaster of a game that was Radoslaw Wojtaszek versus Alexander Grischuk. Both kings were vulnerable to attacks and both players had plenty of active ideas at every turn.

At more than one point, Grischuk failed to find a forcing continuation that might have given him better chances to get the full point:


The Russian's 30...d5 makes perfect sense, activating a piece with tempo, but 30...f5 was much more forcing — most likely, Grischuk thought that the lines after 31.♘e5 were dangerous, as Black would need to take the king to the centre when the knights start giving checks from f7 and h6.

After the text, Black is still much better, but the right continuations for him are not forcing — thus harder to find with little time on the clock. After this miss, Wojtaszek first equalized and then missed some chances of his own. 

The sharp battle finished peacefully after Black's 46th move.

Alexander GRischu

Alexander Grischuk right before the round began | Photo: Nadja Wittmann

David Navara v Nikita Vitiugov and Dmitry Jakovenko v Yu Yangyi were quieter draws, with the latter finishing after merely 17 moves — five moves longer than the aforementioned Radjabov v Dubov encounter. The action resumes Wednesday at 14:00 UTC (15:00 CET).

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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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