Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will contest the Riga Grand Prix final from Monday after winning their semifinals without the need for tiebreaks. Mamedyarov unleashed a quiet novelty on move 14 and just one move later was winning against Wesley So, who was unable to mount a comeback in the second game. MVL-Grischuk witnessed two thrillers, with Alexander Grischuk describing their second clash as a “fantastic game” by the French no. 1.
You can replay all the games from the 2019 Riga FIDE Grand Prix using the selector below:
The Shakhriyar Mamedyarov recovery that began midway through the Croatia Grand Chess Tour has gathered pace in Riga, with Shakh knocking out Dubov and now So in classical games as well as beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda on tiebreaks. He played one of the Top 5 novelties in Zagreb, according to Laurent Fressinet, and in Riga came up with 14.a3!? in the Catalan against Wesley. That prevented the Qb4 move Black had often relied on, and Wesley later felt his 14…Rfb8 had been a mistake. In fact, however, it was only the position after 15.e4 that was critical:
Mamedyarov described his novelty as, “a very good move – minimum for one game it’s very good, and after this move Black needs to play very accurately”. The reason it might only be for one game is that Black has a radical solution to all his problems, which Mamedyarov revealed after the game, since he reasoned he’s unlikely to get this position again and, “everyone has engines and everyone can check!”
The drawing line is 15…Nxe4! 16.Bxe4 Qxd4 17.Be3 Qxe4 18.Bxb6 Rxb6 19.Rfe1 and even here Black still faces a critical choice:
Mamedyarov pointed out that 19…Qd5? loses to White putting either rook on d1, while 19…Qf3? loses much less obviously to putting either white rook on b1. There was a path to equality, however, with 19…Qg6! “It looks very complex” was how Wesley summed things up when shown the idea.
Back in the game it was understandable that Wesley wasn’t thrilled with passive play such as 15…Qd8 16.Rd1 Qc8 17.Bg5, which Shakh described as looking “very bad” for Black, even if the computer claims it holds. Still, that would have been much better than the blunder 15…c3? which followed. Mamedyarov spent 14 minutes on the obvious 16.e5! just to make sure he hadn’t blundered anything himself. He hadn’t, and his guess was that Wesley might have originally planned something like 16…Qxd4 17.Be3 Qd3 18.exf6 Rb1 19.Raxb1 Rxb1 and now…
20.Qxa6! wins for White. That’s possible, though for instance 19.Qg5! is even stronger. In the game Wesley simply retreated the queen with 16…Qd8 and played a hopeless position until finally resigning on move 34.
Watch Mamedyarov talking about that encounter:
Wesley fought hard in the second game, but couldn’t stop Mamedyarov achieving the draw he needed to win the match and reach the final. Wesley acknowledged his opponent, “played very well and completely deserved to win the match”, but was looking forward to a break:
I think this has been my 5th tournament in a row and I played around 80 rapid, classical and blitz games in the last 2.5 months, so I’m really tired and also it’s difficult for me to adjust to having to play the tiebreaks and then the next game a long game again, and a long game, then again rapid and blitz, and then right after a long game.
The good news for Mamedyarov is that he now has two whole rest days to recover, as does his opponent, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave:
In the first game Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had White and showed once again that he’s one of the few remaining players willing to take on the Berlin Endgame. Grischuk followed the recommendations of Laurent Fressinet in his recent Play the Berlin video series on chess24, until move 12:
The Berlin Endgame is notoriously dull, but this game would be anything. Why? Grischuk commented:
Of course it has a lot of content if you blunder like this! I completely missed Rd3.
When he played 17…Bg5 he thought he was forcing a draw and even offered one, only to realise after 21.Rd3 appeared on the board that he was in deep trouble:
White is threatening to play Rf3, Rf7 and start collecting material, and Alexander summed up his feelings as he spent 33 minutes on his next move:
For half an hour I actually thought since my draw offer was not taken I will just resign, because it looked completely hopeless.
In the end, however, he found the idea of 21…b5! followed by b4 and a4, when he felt that if there was a win for White (and he “smelled” that there was) it would be a study-like one. It came very close, and Laurent Fressinet takes us through all the twists and turns in the action:
And here are the players on that game:
The return game only upped the stakes and the excitement, with Alexander Grischuk making his intentions clear very early on by pushing his h-pawn on move 3:
Maxime decided to meet that by sacrificing a pawn, Benko-Gambit-style, with 3…c5 4.d5 b5, and what followed was a fitting tribute to the great man!
As always in such positions, computers liked White, while the players heavily criticised 15.Re1!?. That may have been unfair, but as Grischuk mentioned afterwards, the game soon became “completely random”, with Maxime finding a clear path through a forest of variations when he “played fantastically” with 20…Nbd3!, 21…Qb4!, 22…c3! and finally 23…Nb2!, a move Grischuk admitted he’d missed - he thought he was just winning!
Grischuk took refuge in an endgame, but Maxime maintained the pressure:
I think the endgame should not be that bad for White, but I didn’t play it precisely and at least to me it seemed that he played extremely precisely. I just need one move and I will be totally fine, but I never got the time to make it. At some point if I have time to play a5 I think no problems, but I was always one tempi short and just great game!
Resignation came on move 47:
Jan Gustafsson takes us through a fantastic encounter:
And here are the players afterwards:
That means that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has not only reached the final but done so while gaining three bonus points for winning all three of his matches in classical chess. At 8 points he’s behind only Ian Nepomniachtchi (9 points, as the winner in Moscow) and Alexander Grischuk (10 points, 7 in Moscow and now 3 in Riga) in the overall Grand Prix standings.
His opponent Shakhriyar Mamedyarov scored no points in Moscow and really needs to win in Riga to keep the dream of qualifying for the Candidates Tournament alive. Statistics give him hope, however, since his career score against Maxime is an impressive 6 classical wins to 1.
The final has exactly the same format as the preceding rounds, but it begins only on Monday! That means we can switch focus to the final two rounds of Dortmund, and how better to do that than with commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet.
They’ll also be playing Banter Blitz later on Saturday to help celebrate International Chess Day. For one day only there’s a chance to get two months of chess24 Premium for the price of one if you take out a monthly subscription ($9.99) using the voucher code CHESSDAY.
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