Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won his last four games on top board as Baden-Baden clinched the German League title for the 13th time in 14 seasons. It was fitting that the decisive match came in the penultimate round against Solingen, who have won the title 12 times themselves. Although wins for MVL, Peter Svidler and Richard Rapport made it look comfortable, it was anything but, and we have interviews with all the winners. Maxime, Peter and 14-year-old Vincent Keymer also talk about the upcoming GRENKE Chess Classic.
The Schachbundesliga, or German Chess League, is arguably the world’s strongest national team event, and although Baden-Baden have reigned supreme in recent years, it’s been incredibly hard-fought. Last year it went to a playoff, and this year three teams entered the final weekend with chances of the title – Hockenheim, on 21 points, and Baden-Baden and Solingen, both on 22. The latter two teams met last Saturday in the penultimate round, with Baden-Baden knowing they were all but guaranteed to be champions if they could win, since they had an easy opponent in the final round.
You can replay all the games from the 14th round, and check out all the other rounds as well, using the selector below:
The decider got off to a very smooth start for the reigning champions, as their players accomplished the classic team tournament task of making draws with the black pieces:
As you can see, though, that meant they hadn’t exploited large rating advantages on all those boards (Anish Giri would be on top board for Solingen if not for Shamkir Chess), and nerves began to jangle when Paco Vallejo found himself in trouble. 24…Be8! made it clear that the Najdorf of Danish GM Mads Andersen was going very well:
It’s symptomatic of how bad things are that the computer recommends 25.Rxe8!? here, while in the game after 25.Nd4 Ne5! 26.Qh4 Bf7! 27.Bxf7 Qxf7 White was left with a hanging pawn on a2, a bishop on g5 that might run out of squares if Black plays f4 and, in general, a ruined position. Black didn’t put a foot wrong and it was Solingen who took a 3:2 lead in the match!
That result would have a ripple effect through the rest of the games, and in particular in the clash of the 8-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler and the 8-time Dutch Champion Loek van Wely. Their 3.Bb5+ Sicilian wasn’t flawless, with Peter seemingly putting half of his moves down to oversights of one kind or another. They led him to feel that “objectively” he should repeat moves for a draw, but seeing Paco was losing he decided he had to play on. The key moment of the whole game came after 31.e5!?
Here Loek could have called the bluff and played 31…Bxb4!, since after 32.Rxb5 Black has 32…Rc1+ 33.Rxc1 Rxc1+ 34.Kh2 and now the move both players had missed: 34…Qf8!, covering the bishop.
Peter summed up:
So I think my whole brilliant continuation of not taking a draw probably should have cost me a lot, maybe a full point even. Instead of all that Loeky kind of believed me…
Loek went for 31…Ne4? and after 32.Rxb5! was smoothly outplayed as Peter picked up a vital win:
Afterwards Peter talked about the game:
That wasn’t all he talked about, though, and let’s interrupt the Bundesliga action to give some brief highlights. Is Peter looking forward to facing Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and co. in one week’s time in the GRENKE Chess Classic?
I’m very scared! The line-up is extremely strong and it’s been a while since I played in a round-robin of this strength. I’m very much looking forward to it, I like tournaments like this - who doesn’t like tournaments like this? - but it will be very, very difficult. I want to play, but I’m also very anxious about how I will do, because it’s been a while.
You have a good score against Magnus?
I have a decent score against everybody... it doesn’t matter. I am getting older faster than they are getting older, is kind of the point. It sounds stupid, but it’s not! It will be interesting and generally I play quite well, or at least I used to play quite well exactly in tournaments like this, because it’s much easier for me to motivate myself to play against very strong players, but as I said, I haven’t played tournaments like this in a while and I’m quite anxious.
What about young Russian talents Vladislav Artemiev and Andrey Esipenko?
A new generation is coming in, and it’s nice to see. There was never really any doubt that Russia as a chess country will not stop with my generation, but Artemiev in particular is having an unbelievable year and it’s obvious that he’s here to stay. You will see a lot more of him in the coming years.
The next big win for Baden-Baden came on the top board, where MVL beat Harikrishna, though it was a game that proved immensely more difficult that it had seemed early on for the French no. 1. In a Taimanov Sicilian Maxime followed his game from the 2018 GRENKE Chess Classic against Vishy Anand for 18 moves, then varied with 19.Ree2 instead of 19.Bxf8. That novelty almost won the game on the spot, since 19…e5? ran into a refutation:
20.b3! Qa5 21.Qh3! left Black in trouble since, as Maxime pointed out, the move his opponent probably intended, 21…Qc3?, would lose to 22.Qxd7+! After 17 minutes Hari played 21…Rd8 and after 22.b4! the game looked to be over as a contest. Maxime commented:
The match was a lot of pressure, and when I got this winning position quite quickly I felt I need to win and I was trying to be careful, and at some point I was too careful and Hari came back… I lost some tempi trying to deprive him of any counterplay, but it turns out I left him a lot of counterplay!
Hari was without touching distance of a draw:
51…Ra8! and although White can win a rook with 52.c8=Q Rxc8 53.Nxc8 it would soon be won back with 53…Be4+! After 53.Rxc8 White wins the exchange, but it wouldn’t be enough to win the game. Instead after 51…Be6 52.Nc4+ Kf6 53.Nb6 Maxime gradually reasserted control and went on to pick up his 4th Bundesliga win in a row. Understandably he’s hoping to continue that trend in the GRENKE Chess Classic:
That meant the match could only be saved if Erwin l’Ami could beat Baden-Baden’s star performer, Richard Rapport - the Hungarian GM ended with 8 wins and 5 draws for the season.
That seemed very unlikely when Richard, as he himself said, got a dream position where he was only playing for two results, a win or a draw. The match situation somehow got to the players, though, and Rapport commented, “I started to make some incredibly bad moves”. He suddenly found himself needing to fight for a draw, “which, professionally speaking, is quite humiliating from this position”. He felt Erwin, “got a little bit over-excited”, however, and 55…Re3?? was the blunder that ended the match:
56.Nxd5! is simply crushing in all lines, including 56…cxd5 57.Bb5+. Erwin tried to stumble on with 56…Bxd4, but after 57.Rxd4 cxd5 58.Rxd5+ Ke7 the move 59.f6+ forced the win of a piece. Black resigned a couple of moves later, leaving Richard Rapport a relieved man:
That match did indeed mean the title for Baden-Baden, since they duly dispatched Düsseldorfer SK 7:1 in the final round, even if Svidler had an interesting morning!
After 16 minutes he replied 4.Qb3 and gave an impressive demonstration of how to handle an offbeat opening that had been scoring very well for Black.
Solingen would go on to lose in the last round as well, allowing Hockenheim, led by Ruslan Ponomariov and David Howell on the final weekend, to finish in second place, two points behind the leaders. You can see the winners lifting their trophy later on in this German interview with Baden-Baden manager Sven Noppes:
Before we leave the Bundesliga for another 7 months or so, let’s end with an interview with 14-year-old Vincent Keymer. The youngster qualified for the GRENKE Chess Classic after winning last year’s Open, and has decided to take up the challenge of playing the world’s best. Here he is talking about that after beating Marcel Harff in Round 14:
Vincent commented about how he’s preparing for GRENKE:
Just the normal training. Of course it’s a very special tournament, but there’s nothing special you can do. You can train a lot, you can prepare everything, but not some special kind of training.
In the end Vincent could only draw with GM Borki Predojevic in the final round, which meant he again fell just short of clinching the grandmaster title with a 3rd norm. It’s all set up for him to try and become a grandmaster when he takes on the world’s best in the GRENKE Chess Classic from next Saturday!
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