On top of the world – Vachier-Lagrave at Tokyo Skytree Tower

by ChessBase
12/30/2012 – At 2000+ feet it is the tallest tower in the world. Recently the French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ascended the Tokyo Skytree for a simultaneous exhibition against two Shogi legends: Yoshiharu Habu and Meijin Toshiyuki Moriuchi. The IM-strength chess masters played interesting games (Grünfeld and Taimanov), which Maxime won – and graciously annotated for them to study.

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On top of the world – Vachier-Lagrave at Tokyo Skytree Tower

By Jacques-Marie Pineau, Kawagoe Japan

Tokyo Skytree (Sukaitsuri) is a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower in Sumida, Tokyo, Japan. It became the tallest structure in Japan in 2010 and reached its full height of 634.0 metres (2,080 ft) in March 2011, making it the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure after Burj Khalifa (829.8 m/2,722 ft).

Tokyo Skytree – this impressive image is by Jamie Saine and was published on the
In-The-Wild blog
, the one on the right by Kakidai in Wikipedia

It was in the chess piece-like Tokyo Skytree that French ace Maxime Vachier-Lagrave recently showcased his amazing chess skill in a chess and shogi match with Shogi legends Yoshiharu Habu and Meijin Toshiyuki Moriuchi. This encounter was a rematch of last year's event which occured in Villandry Castle in 2011 between the same protagonists.

Clearly this time GM Vachier-Lagrave was very well prepared to meet both Shogi champions. It seems to me that his strategy was first of all to not go for a sharp tactical melee, in which the Shogi champions have obvious natural disposition. A dynamic but solid system was therefore selected, the Taimanov Defence.

Yoshiharu Habu, 19e Lifetime Meijin in Shogi

Strangely enough Yoshiharu Habu had already met the creator of this opening over a chess board. Mark Taimanov was no longer the fierce fighter he used to be in his younger days, and their game ended in a draw, even though the Russian grandmaster had managed to gain some opening advantage out of his trademark system. However, the elderly Taimanov still very much enjoyed a good conversation, and he later exchanged many anecdotes and experiences with Habu in a Paris subway.

The setup for the two-board simultaneous in the Skytree in Tokyo

The audience waiting for the start of the match

Another subtle trademark of GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's strategy was to keep the queens on the board for as long as possible. Her Majesty is indeed one of the most difficult chess pieces to handle for Shogi players (unlike rook and bishop, there is no queen in Shogi!).

Jacques-Marie Pineau and IM Almira Skripchenko commenting for the audience

The outcome of this well-designed approach was a good technical lesson for the Shogi Champions, whose chess experience is actually quite limited. In fact in all games the French Champion took the advantage quickly through his superior understanding of the ensuing endgames. It was a very impressive display, which underlined the need to keep inviting top GMs to Japan in order to improve the country's overall chess level. In spite of having had virtually no time to prepare for this event, the Shogi Champions also showed a great deal of zest. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave admitted very sportingly that he had a rather uncomfortable spell on both boards toward the end of the opening.

With Yoshiharu Habu (above left) we had prepared this opening scheme in the Gruenfeld: our main idea was to keep d4 solid for as long as possible, and get the control of d5 with pieces rather than with pawns. Seeking to control d5 with a pawn (c4 or e4) inevitably weakens d4 and tends to fully justify Bg7. In addition, a subtle point of Bf4 was the control of b8. In some lines the rook can't gain access to this useful square. Here are the games commented by GM Vachier-Lagrave just before his departure from Japan, as a present to the Shogi Champions.

[Event "Event Tokyo Japan"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.09.23"] [Round "?"] [White "Habu, Yoshiharu"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D91"] [Annotator "Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime"] [PlyCount "82"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [SourceDate "2012.09.23"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Bg7 5. Nf3 Ne4 6. Bf4 {A very rare but very solid variation.} c6 7. e3 O-O 8. Qb3 Qa5 9. cxd5 $1 Nxc3 10. bxc3 $1 (10. Qxc3 Qxc3+ 11. bxc3 cxd5 12. c4 dxc4 13. Bxc4 Bf5 $11) 10... cxd5 11. Bd3 { This position is somewhat unpleasant for Black.} b6 (11... Nd7 12. O-O Nb6 { was interesting but seemed dangerous to me.} 13. Rfc1 (13. Bc7 Bg4 14. Rab1 $6 Rfc8 15. Bxb6 axb6 16. Rfc1 Rc7 $15) 13... Bd7 14. h4 $5 {with a certain initiative but the position remains about equal.}) 12. O-O Ba6 13. Bxa6 (13. c4 $5 dxc4 (13... Nd7 $5 14. cxd5 Bxd3 15. Qxd3 Qxd5 16. Rfc1 Rfc8 17. Qa6 Rxc1+ 18. Rxc1 e5 19. Rc8+ $5 Rxc8 20. Qxc8+ Bf8 21. Nxe5 Nxe5 22. Bxe5 Qxa2 $13) 14. Bxc4 Bxc4 15. Qxc4 Nd7 16. Rac1 e5 $11) 13... Nxa6 14. Rac1 Rac8 15. c4 dxc4 16. Rxc4 b5 (16... Rxc4 $5 17. Qxc4 b5 18. Qb3 Rc8 {transposes.}) 17. Rxc8 Rxc8 18. h3 $6 {not enough dynamic here.} (18. Qd5 $5 Nb4 $1 19. Qd7 (19. Qb7 Qa6 $1 20. Qxe7 Nd5 21. Qd7 Nf6 $13) 19... Rd8 20. Bc7 $5 (20. Qxe7 Nd5 21. Qc5 Nxf4 22. exf4 Qxa2 23. Qxb5 $11) 20... Rxd7 21. Bxa5 {and this ending is unpleasant, due to the pawn on b5 instead of b7 for example.} Nc6 22. Bd2 f5 23. Rc1 Rd6 24. Be1 $1 $146 {prophylactique} e5 $6 25. dxe5 Nxe5 26. Rc8+ Kf7 27. Ng5+ Ke7 28. Rc7+ Rd7 29. Bb4+ $16) 18... e6 (18... b4 $5 19. Ne5 Bxe5 $1 {again, this move works thanks to the not very dangerous white attack. It is more important to prevent the knight from sitting on the c4 square.} (19... e6 20. Nc4 Qd5 21. Rc1 $14) 20. Bxe5 Rc3 21. Qb1 f6 22. Bg3 Qd5 $13) 19. Qb1 (19. Rb1 b4 20. e4 $5 {this idea was interesting to take advantage of the out of play Na6.}) 19... Qb4 (19... Bf8 $1 20. Rc1 Qb4 {During the game, I realized that this line was stronger, first inviting the opponent's rook to come on the c column.}) 20. Qe4 Qe7 21. Ne5 $6 (21. a3 $1 {Habu was very impressed by this idea, saying with his usual modesty and humour that he doubted he would have found it even with an additional one hour to his clock.} b4 22. Qd3 $14) 21... Nb4 22. Qb1 a6 { now, it is obvious that Black is aiming to win: all black pieces are well grouped together and the queen side majority will work when the major pieces will be exchanged.} 23. e4 $5 (23. Rc1 Rxc1+ 24. Qxc1 Qb7 $15 25. e4 $2 Nxa2 26. Qd2 Qxe4 $17) 23... Bxe5 $1 {this move is really the strongest but here white is mistaken.} 24. Bxe5 $6 {the bishop is in fact misplaced here. White should play} (24. dxe5 $1 Rc4 $1 {a difficult idea to play because it seems that we let some counterplay against our king and apparently, Black's pieces are perfectly placed to prevent it.} (24... Rd8 25. Rd1 $1 Rxd1+ 26. Qxd1 Nc6 $13) 25. Rd1 Qh4 26. g3 Qh5 $15 27. Kg2 (27. Rd8+ Kg7 28. Qb2 Nc6 29. Rd6 Rxe4 $1 30. Rxc6 $6 Qd1+ 31. Kg2 (31. Kh2 Re2 32. Rc1 Qd3 $1 $19) 31... Rxf4 $1 32. gxf4 Qd5+ $19) 27... g5 28. Be3 Nc2 $15) 24... Rc4 25. Rc1 Nc6 26. Rxc4 $2 (26. Bg3 $1 {This was the last chance but was far from obvious.} Nxd4 (26... Qb4 $5 27. d5 Qxb1 28. Rxb1 Nd4 $15) 27. Rxc4 bxc4 28. Qb8+ Qf8 29. Qc7 Ne2+ 30. Kh2 Nxg3 31. fxg3 {gives good practical chances, a priori I would have given back the pawn here.} a5 $1 (31... Qb4 32. Qd8+ Kg7 33. Qd4+ Kh6 34. h4 $44) 32. Qxc4 Qb8 $15) 26... bxc4 $17 27. Qb6 (27. Bg3 Qb4 $1 $17) 27... Nxe5 28. Qb8+ Qf8 29. Qxe5 Qc8 $19 {the c-pawn is running too fast now, the game is over.} 30. d5 (30. Qc5 Qxc5 31. dxc5 c3 $19) (30. Qf4 c3 31. Qc1 Qc4 $19) 30... c3 31. Qf4 c2 32. Qc1 Qc3 33. d6 Qd3 34. d7 Qd1+ 35. Kh2 Qxc1 36. d8=Q+ Kg7 37. Qd4+ Kh6 38. Qf6 (38. Qd6 g5 $1 $19) 38... Qd2 39. Qxf7 Qd6+ 40. e5 Qxe5+ 41. f4 Qc5 0-1

In defeat Shogi champion Yoshiharu Habu has actually tipped over his king

As for Toshiyuki Moriuchi (above), the great lesson was that a knight is not inferior to a bishop until some pawns are exchanged (I used to say that at best three pawns should be exchanged in order for a bishop to exert its superiority vis-à-vis the knight, as a rule of thumb, of course!). As I did myself, both shogi champions enjoyed deeply appreciated the chess lessons of GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

[Event "Event Tokyo Japan"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.09.23"] [Round "?"] [White "Moriuchi, Toshiyuki"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B49"] [Annotator "Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime"] [PlyCount "100"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [SourceDate "2012.09.23"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Be2 a6 8. O-O Bb4 9. Na4 Be7 10. Nxc6 bxc6 11. Nb6 Rb8 12. Nxc8 Qxc8 13. Bd4 c5 14. Be5 Rb6 15. Qd3 (15. b3 d6 16. Bb2 O-O (16... Nxe4 17. Bxg7 Rg8 18. Bb2 Bf6 19. Bxf6 Nxf6 {leads to an unclear position, where in my opinion White should avoid exchanging rooks and avoid playing c4, and perhaps trying to move both rooks on the third line is the most ambition plan.}) 17. Qd3 Nd7) 15... d6 16. Bc3 O-O 17. b3 d5 18. exd5 Nxd5 19. Bb2 $6 (19. Be5 Rd8 (19... Bf6 $5 20. Bxf6 Nxf6 21. Rad1 Qc7 $146 {solid but Black suffers a little bit without having real chances to create some play.}) 20. Qg3 Bf6) 19... Rd8 $2 (19... Nf4 20. Qf3 Nxe2+ 21. Qxe2 $11 {seemed to me too equalizing.}) 20. Qg3 Bf6 21. Bxf6 Nxf6 22. Rad1 $14 Rd5 23. Bc4 $6 (23. Bf3 $1 Rd7 (23... Rxd1 24. Rxd1 c4 25. Qe5 $1 $14) 24. Rxd7 Nxd7 25. Rd1 $14) 23... Rd7 $1 24. h3 (24. Qe5 $1 {White should centralize his pieces as much as possible, as the d-file is not under immediate control.} h6 25. a4 $14) 24... h6 25. Qf3 $6 Qb8 $1 $11 26. Rd3 $6 ( 26. Rxd7 Nxd7 27. Qe2 a5 (27... Rd6 28. Bxa6 Qa8 29. Bb5 Qxa2 $11) 28. Qd2 Ne5 $11) 26... Rxd3 27. Qxd3 Rd6 {The position becomes even dangerous enough to play for White, even if nothing too serious yet.} 28. Qe2 a5 29. Rd1 g5 $1 30. Rxd6 Qxd6 $15 31. Qd3 $6 (31. Qe1 Qd8 32. a3 $11) 31... Qxd3 32. Bxd3 Kf8 {now, the queen exchange makes it more complicate to use the queenside majority, which creates problems.} 33. Kf1 Ke7 34. Ke2 Kd6 35. Kd2 h5 $5 36. Kc3 (36. a3 h4 37. c3 Nd5 38. Be4 $1 (38. Bc4 Nf4 39. Bf1 f5 $15) 38... Nf4 39. b4 cxb4 40. cxb4 axb4 41. axb4 f5 42. Ba8 $1 (42. Bf3 $2 e5 $17 43. Ke3 $2 Nd5+ 44. Bxd5 Kxd5 45. Kd3 e4+ 46. Ke3 f4+ 47. Kd2 Kc4 $19) 42... e5 43. b5 $11) 36... Nd7 37. Kc4 Kc6 38. Be4+ Kb6 39. g3 $1 h4 40. gxh4 gxh4 41. a3 f5 42. Bg2 Ne5+ 43. Kc3 Ng6 44. Kd2 Nf4 45. Bf1 e5 46. Ke3 $6 (46. c3 {white should clearly play to exchange some queenside pawns, in order to clear out some pawns and to create some counterplay. Even if Ke3 is not a bad move, it doesn't take part in the good plan.}) 46... Nd5+ 47. Kf3 $6 (47. Kd2 $1) 47... Kc6 $1 {White's king is not on the right battle field. There is no entering square on the kingside, and the Nc3-b1 manoeuvre will create trouble and make the queenside majority useless.} 48. Bc4 (48. Ke2 $1 {was the last chance.}) 48... e4+ 49. Kg2 Nc3 $17 50. Kf1 Nb1 0-1

Habu, Vachier-Lagrave, the author of this report Jacques-Marie Pineau and Moriuchi

This event was sponsored by SkyPerfect TSAT and organized by Go&Shogi Channel with the collaboration of Nekomado and the support of the Shogi Renmei, the French Embassy and the FFE. I should say that Shogi woman professional Madoka Kitao and her friend Tanaka Makoto of the Go&Shogi channel did a fantastic job to make my project a reality. All my thanks go to them, and to all people who were working for them during the weeks of the preparation of these events. All this was realized in a friendly atmosphere with the conviction of being part to a historical moment for chess in Japan.

Part two, which included Maxime, Almira Skripchenko and some sumo wrestling, will follow soon...

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