SuperUnited Croatia: Vachier-Lagrave leads, Vidit struggles

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/11/2024 – The first three rounds of rapid action at the SuperUnited Rapid & Blitz Tournament in Croatia saw Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scoring two wins and one draw to become the early sole leader in Zagreb. MVL defeated Levon Aronian and Ivan Saric in the first two rounds before holding a draw in a pawn-down endgame against Wesley So. Tied for second place at a 1-point distance (wins are worth 2 points in the rapid) are So and Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Tactical alertness

Rapid games are often decided after one of the contenders comes out on top of a tactical skirmish. The time control at the rapid section of the SuperUnited tournament in Zagreb allowed for entertaining, tactical battles in the first three rounds of play. Not surprisingly, a tactical expert, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, emerged as sole leader with 5/6 points (wins are worth 2 points in the rapid events of the Grand Chess Tour).

MVL kicked off the event with consecutive wins over Levon Aronian and Ivan Saric, and ended the day holding Wesley So to a draw in a minor-piece endgame with 4 v. 3 pawns on the same side of the board. The Frenchman was the only player who scored two wins on Wednesday.

Sharing second place at a 1-point distance are So and Fabiano Caruana. Both US stars won their round-1 encounters and signed draws in their remaining two games, with So beating Gukesh and Caruana getting the better of Vidit. Unfortunately for Vidit, his loss against Caruana was only the start of what turned out to be an inauspicious overall performance, as the 29-year-old went on to also lose his encounters against Aronian and Saric.

Aronian and Saric’s ability to bounce back from losses (against MVL in both cases) left them tied for fourth place with three players who collected three draws on opening day: Anish Giri, Alireza Firouzja and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana is tied for second place — the US grandmaster comes from winning the Superbet Classic in Romania | Photo: Lennart Ootes

A fearless fighter, MVL played the Grünfeld Defence against Aronian in the first round. Despite emerging victorious in the end, the French GM failed to find a good-looking tactical shot on move 33, one that might have led to a quicker victory.

Black has a big advantage but, as engines show, the one move that retains it is 33...Ne3, attacking the white queen while leaving his own queen pinned along the g-file. What justifies the manoeuvre, though, is that after 34.Rxg6+ Black has 34...fxg6, opening up the f-file for the rook — crucially, the knight defends f1, and White must deal with the threat of back rank mate from that very square.

MVL missed this chance and played 33...h5 instead. After 34.Nxf8 Rxf8 35.Nf5 Re8 36.Rg1 Kh7, engines evaluate the position as dynamically balanced.

37.Rc1 was an imprecise manoeuvre by Aronian. The weak pawns on c7 and e4 left the board, and MVL went on to show good technique to convert his extra pawn into a win.

Remarkably, by the time the players reached the second diagrammed position, MVL had 10 minutes to Aronian’s 30 seconds on the clock.

Grand Chess Tour 2024

The first round of action in Zagreb | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Aronian got to show his tactical abilities in the very next round. Once again he was a pawn down, but this time around, playing black against Vidit, he had the more active army and the much safer king — White had left his monarch stranded on e1.

Vidit’s 27.d5 was the deciding mistake. Resignation came after 27...Rc8 — covering a potential king escape to the queenside — 28.Qd4 Bg4

White can only prevent mate on e2 by making major concessions (i.e. Nd2-c4). Game over.

Levon Aronian

The ever-friendly Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after round 3 (win = 2 pts, draw = 1 pt)

All games


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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