Features Nov 1, 2016 | 1:41 PMby IM David Martínez

MVL triumphs in Corsica

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has won the 20th edition of the Corsican Circuit after beating Vishy Anand in the final. The French no. 1 swept through the tournament, needing only two rapid games to win each of his four matches. Our report includes analysis of Maxime's dramatic final win with the black pieces against Anand in the Najdorf Sicilian.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave dominated in Corsica | photo: official website

The traditional Corsican tournament takes place in two phases. First there's a classical 9-round open to select 12 players, with Anton Korobov taking clear first on 7/9. You can play through the top games using the selector below:

Then the 12 qualifiers were joined by four of the world's top stars - Vishy Anand, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Teimour Radjabov and Hou Yifan - for a 16-player rapid knockout. Class told, with the favourites generally making it through, though some had more difficulties than others. 

15-year-old Romanian star Bogdan-Daniel Deac had held his own against Radjabov for two rapid games, one blitz game and now 125 moves of the second blitz game. It seemed they were headed for Armageddon, until 126...Ke5??

You can see the moment when Radjabov played 127.f4+! in the video above.

The ultimate winner, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, was on fire from the start, beating IM Bilel Bellahcene 2-0 in the last eight, with his use of the bishop pair to win with the black pieces standing out. He also scored a whitewash against Ukrainian GM Vladimir Onischuk. Once again it was his win with the black pieces that stood out - another brilliant effort in his beloved Najdorf!

The decisive game of the semifinals | photo: official website

In the semifinals Maxime met Anton Korobov - a tough nut to crack! Maxime won the first game with the white pieces despite getting a bad position in the opening. When the queens came off, however, he seized the initiative and took his chance. In the second game Korobov employed the move 9.Nd2, which merits attention as a good alternative to the hackneyed 9.Qd2:

The game soon reached virgin territory, with Maxime failing to fully equalise and having to suffer in a rook and opposite-coloured bishop ending a pawn down. 

The final stages of the 2016 Corsican Masters

The other semifinal took place between Anand and Radjabov. The Indian had only conceded a single draw up to that point in the tournament, and was pressing with the white pieces. The Azeri star seemed to have established a fortress, though, until he committed a grave error:

Radjabov could have repeated with 67...Ra7 and it seems there's no way for White to improve his position, since 68.Rf6 can be met with Be8, not permitting any liquidation. Instead he went for 67... Rd5+? which regained the pawn by force... but also lost the game! After 68.Kc6 Rd4 69.Rb7 Rxf4 Anand simplified with 70.Rxf7+! reaching an easily won pawn ending. A draw in the second game took Anand into the final.

Watch this video recap of the quarter and semifinals:

The final showdown

If it had been an arm-wrestling contest the outcome might have been different! | photo: official website

After a draw in the first game, with Vishy choosing a neat rook vs. queen fortress to finish, the match was decided by Maxime with the black pieces in the second game. 

For the final the players moved to Corsica's capital, Ajaccio | photo: official website

His opening play may have been inaccurate at times, but when he got to switch to dynamic play in his beloved Najdorf he didn't put a foot wrong:

Click "moves" to see the annotations

Replay all the knockout stage games with computer analysis:

In short, a great tournament took place in Corsica with theoretical discussions, fine play and, of course, time trouble blunders - what more could you ask for?

See also:

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