Leon Rapids Semifinals

by Leontxo García
6/14/2015 – The traditional Leon Rapids are taking place in Spain. The players this year are Wei Yi, Anton Guijarro, Ponomariov and Vachier-Lagrave. The semifinals have taken place and the Frenchman and the Chinese player have advanced, but both did so with great difficulties, winning their matches 2.5-1.5! Tomorrow will feature the strong final between Wei Yi and MVL.

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The 27th edition of the Leon Rapid tournament is taking place in Leon, Spain. Leontxo Garcia brings us a report from the two semi-finals:

Left to right: Vachier-Lagrave, Ponomariov, Wei Yi and Anton Guijarro

Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime vs. Ponomariov, Ruslan

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave plays more tournaments than Ruslan Ponomariov, and perhaps this was the deciding factor in his victory 2.5-1.5 in the first semifinal of the XXVIII Leon Masters.

"I managed to retain my psychological strength in the most difficult moments, and perhaps that was the key" explained the winner. After resisting an attack by his opponent with precise play in the first game, it was MVL that was pressing in the second game but without success against the good defense from the Ukrainian.

MVL and Pono right after the drawing of lots

That was the moment that Vachier-Lagraeve was referring to in the previous paragraph. A bad streak in the last few months translated in a loss of over twenty positions in the FIDE rankings. Even though he finished without losses in the French League last week, and that everything indicates the crisis has passed, his confidence in himself is not as high as it was in January. That is why, after noticing victory escaped him in the second game, he entered the third game with hesitation.

And yet, it was Ponomariov that faltered in this moment, despite having the white pieces. He allowed his opponent to obtain a comfortable position that was finally converted into victory. The ticket to the finals seemed within reach for the Frenchman.

MVL's sharper instincts brought him the win

But things were not so easy, as he was playing an ex-World Champion who was full of resources. In the fourth bout the Ukrainian achieved what he needed: an advantageous position, complex, and with lots of play in both flanks with more time on the clock. Now things were gunning towards an electrifying tiebreak.

Ponomariov, however, paid the price for being rusty. Instead of pushing hard for a win, he chose a small material advantage at the cost of liberating his opponent's pieces. MVL managed to reach a rook and bishop vs. rook endgame, a theoretical draw. The Ukrainian pushed for 159 moves, but without success, only two less moves than the longest game in the history of the event (Dominguez-Aronian, 161 moves in 2010). After five rounds of fight, Ponomariov offered the draw and stretched out his hand.

MVL will disconnect from chess on Saturday while waiting for the other semi-final. "I have played plenty in the last months, and my priority tomorrow will be to enjoy some famous "tapas" from Leon".

Wei Yi vs. Anton Guijarro

The Ice Floe from Jiansu, as Arturo Perez Reverte has nicknamed this young genius, has unbelievable reflexes. The mix of sang froid and quickness was the key for the Chinese player Wei Yi, 16 years old, to win against David Anton Guijarro, 19, by the minimal margin of 2.5-1.5. Wei Yi will face Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the finals of the Leon Magistral tournament.

Two very talented young players

Perez Reverte, who left us with an unforgettable phrase from last year's edition ("It has already been some time since I exchanged God for chess"), had a special interest: after performing the opening move he had the opportunity to practice one of his favorite hobbies, which is observing chess players from up close. "The Wei Yi's cool is impressive" commented the novelist.

David Anton gave a lecture on hanging pawns to young students

However, serenity is also one of the qualities of David Anton, second place in the World Champion u18 in 2013 and in the European Championship in 2014. So it was not in that department that the player from Antocha lost the battle against the Chinese. "He saw many ideas and variations much faster than me, especially in the first two games, in which he obtained several minutes advantage on me" said David Anton.

[Event "28th Leon GM 2015"]
[Site "Leon ESP"]
[Date "2015.07.13"]
[Round "1.1"]
[White "Anton Guijarro, David"]
[Black "Wei, Yi"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D85"]
[WhiteElo "2626"]
[BlackElo "2721"]
[Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"]
[PlyCount "56"]
[EventDate "2015.06.12"]
[SourceDate "2015.02.07"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Bd2 {Bd2 Grunfelds seem to be
more popular in the recent months. The idea are varied and Black has yet to
fully equalize in some lines.} Nb6 6. e3 Bg7 7. f4 {This idea of preventing e5
at all costs has been seen at the top level a few times. Wang Hao has used it
three times, Tomashevsky twice.} O-O 8. Nf3 Be6 9. Ne4 (9. Rc1 {was
Moiseenko-Khusnutdinov from 2014.}) 9... Nc4 10. Qc2 Nxd2 11. Nfxd2 {Black's
bishops are not powerful yet - the central blockade is doing a good job of
lessening the power of the fianchetto bishop while the one on e6 lacks targets.
However, things change quickly - Black only needs to break through on c5..} Nd7
12. Ng5 c5 $1 {An excellent time for this break. Wei Yi ignores his structure
and gives priority to the activity of his pieces.} 13. dxc5 $6 (13. Nxe6 fxe6
14. dxc5 Rc8 $13 {and despite the weakness on e6, Black's superior activity
gives him the easier play.}) 13... Bd5 $1 14. e4 Bc6 {This simple maneuver
gives White very unpleasant problems. The structure on the center is easily
attacked, while the pawn on c5 will not survive for long. Notice the
difference in power between the bishops now and a few moves ago.} 15. Bc4 Qa5
16. Rc1 e6 17. O-O Qxc5+ 18. Kh1 Qe7 $1 {Black has recovered his pawn and his
pair of bishops gives him an advantage. It is uncomfortable to find moves for
White, who simply does not have an answer to the bishop on g7.} 19. Ngf3 Rac8
20. Qb1 Qb4 21. Bb3 Nc5 22. Rc4 Qb6 23. Rcc1 Rfd8 24. f5 exf5 25. exf5 Bxf3 26.
Nxf3 Nxb3 27. axb3 Qxb3 28. fxg6 hxg6 {Anton gives up in a position that is
hopeless. He is down a pawn and Black's activity is overwhelming.} 0-1

Wei Yi was unusually expressive and happy after winning one game and drawing his other three after four and a half hours of play, as if he had lifted a great weight from his shoulders. "I had mentioned after the pairings for the semifinals were ready that Anton has talent and plays quite well. It was not easy to beat him and tomorrow I have another difficult battle against Vachier-Lagrave, a player that is able to both attack and defend very well, depending on the circumstances.", he explained. He also mentioned his preference of preparing in the morning, after breakfast. "Today I am very tired, and all I want to do is sleep after a good dinner. I like food a lot here and for now I don't miss Chinese food".

The conclusion from Anton was very clear: "I join without a doubt the people that see Wei Yi as a series challenger for the World Championship in the next few years. He is incredibly strong."

Anton Guijarro is one of the most, if not the most, promising players in Spain

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Photos from the official website


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Leontxo García is a renown Spanish sports and chess journalist.


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