Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won his first classical game in 22 attempts as he beat David Navara to grab the only win of Day 1 of the Riga FIDE Grand Prix. It may have owed something to the Igors Rausis cheating case, since Navara said he’d overlooked a line in his preparation as he was busy checking the chess news. Alexander Grischuk was in “a very good mood before the game because Rausis finally got caught cheating”, which led him to go for a risky line. It almost paid off against Nikita Vitiugov, but it the end that was one of a number of lively games that finished drawn.
You can replay all the games from the Riga FIDE Grand Prix using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary with GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko and WGM Dana Reizniece-Ozola:
Before we get into Friday’s action let’s quickly recap where we are in the 2019 Grand Prix. The 22-player series consists of four 16-player knockouts, with each player (except Boris Gelfand, who’s only a wildcard for Tel Aviv) competing in three of them. 8 points are up for grab for winning a Grand Prix, with an extra point for any match you finish without needing tiebreaks. The ultimate goal is to finish in the top two and qualify for the 2020 Candidates Tournament that will determine Magnus Carlsen’s next World Championship challenger.
The event in the National Library of Latvia in Riga is the 2nd stage after the Moscow Grand Prix that was held in May. That was won by Ian Nepomniachtchi, who tops the standings (like Radjabov and Wojtaszek he’s playing in Dortmund from Saturday onwards):
The players who lost in Round 1 in Moscow are on zero points and need to do very well in Riga to stay in contention for Candidates qualification, but that didn’t necessarily mean they’d come out all guns blazing. Let’s take the day’s games in reverse order of interest:
Karjakin-Giri was one of the match-ups between players needing to do well in Riga, but the outcome could perhaps have been predicted…
Anish Giri quipped that they were “doomed to play such a game”, since “Russian Minister of Defence” Sergey Karjakin’s first move was made by the Latvian Minister of Defence. The players shook hands again 16 moves later.
Aronian-Yu Yangyi was a 29-move Exchange Slav draw that wasn’t even livened up by any garish Levon Aronian shirt due to the strict dress code, while although Nakamura-Topalov followed a 2004 Kasparov-Topalov game until 19…Qa1 it merely reinforced the pre-match assumption that Nakamura would be very happy to take the encounter to tiebreaks, where he should be a big favourite. “I think in a normal game, which isn’t a match, perhaps I would have gone a little crazier”, said Hikaru.
The good news in the Grand Prix is that two draws in classical chess lead to guaranteed decisive action on the third tiebreak day. And in any case, all the other games on Day 1 in Riga were dramatic!
Let’s start with the all-Russian clash Vitiugov-Grischuk, which featured a truly wild opening battle that didn’t die down until the very end.
Grischuk said afterwards:
It’s inexcusable of course to go for such lines without remembering anything, but I have a little excuse that I was in a very good mood before the game because Rausis finally got caught cheating and it’s very good news. But it’s dangerous to be in a good mood when playing chess!
Let’s clear up one moment in the game. It seems from a glance at the +3.52 Stockfish evaluation (at a fairly reasonable depth of 23) that Grischuk’s 19…0-0-0 was a blunder. In fact he described it as his “best move in the game by far”, and Nikita agreed. The point is that the computer’s “winning” 20.Nxe4? runs into 20…Qg6!, and it’s Black who wins. Only now does the computer spot that it’s intended 21.Bxc5…
…is met by the refutation 21…Rh2+!! and White gets mated down the h-file.
Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson takes us through the game move-by-move:
There were lively openings everywhere, with Peter Svidler and Jan-Krzysztof Duda both living dangerously early on. Peter described his choice to play 10.d4!? e5 11.Nh4:
I thought ok, maybe this is incorrect, but it looks weird and interesting and let’s go for it! And then I thought, ok, maybe I’m now losing by force.
Jan-Krzysztof was caught off-guard but had correctly assessed, or guessed, that 11…Nb6! was a playable move:
I didn’t prepare d4 and afterwards I gambled with this Nb6 and Qf4 idea, because ok, it possibly was good for Black, but I could have also lost in 15 moves!
The game continued 12.Qxg7 Qf4! 13.Qxh8+ Ke7, and although Black is temporarily down a rook and a pawn the threat of Qc1+ forced White to give back material, with Peter choosing 14.Nc3. In the murky play that follows Svidler thought he was only trying to save the game, though the computer suggests that after 14…Qxh4 15.Qg7 Bg4 he could have played 16.Nxe4! instead of 16.Bxd5, with chances of an advantage. Duda was initially worried, then felt he was winning, before 29.Re6! and 30.g5! appeared on the board:
This wasn’t an only move, but it was elegant way of getting at the seemingly invulnerable g6-bishop, the lifeline of the d3-knight. After 30…fxg5 31.Rxg6! there was no preventing a draw.
Why had the players been in such a fighting mood? Svidler explained:
Obviously the knockout system informs our choices to a large degree because I think both of us probably need to win a Grand Prix somewhere and probably even winning as many matches as possible without rapid is quite important to get the most points, so yeah, I wanted the sharpest game possible today, and almost paid the price for it.
Either that or Peter really wants to watch the Cricket World Cup final on Sunday rather than playing tiebreaks!
There’s never any need to explain why Daniil Dubov is aggressively inclined, since the creative young Russian is always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in chess. Recently we’ve seen his ideas employed by Magnus Carlsen, who employed him as a World Championship second, but Daniil is quite capable of giving a debut to bold “AlphaZero-style” ideas all on his own.
In this case he pushed his h-pawn all the way to h3 by move 14 against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:
Dubov couldn’t quite remember his notes, but he recalled enough to know that the computer evaluation drops to 0.00 when White puts his bishop on h1, and it’s not the kind of 0.00 that’s dry equality.
The rest of the game is too complicated for any quick evaluation, but it was fascinating to see how Dubov and Mamedyarov diverged almost completely in their assessment of the resulting positions:
So-Harikrishna was a game that the computer was willing to call for White, but to human eyes it never left the realm of “unclear”.
Harikrishna decided to go all-in on the kingside rather than defend a slightly worse position, which culminated in this picture:
When the players were told the computer thought White was winning afterwards Harikrishna wondered if 33.Kh1!? here was the best move for White. It's definitely playable, but giving up the queen with 33.Qxg2, as picked by Wesley, is also the silicon choice. White got a piece more than usually required in compensation for a queen, but the weakness on d3, with Black’s d4-pawn ready to run, made it very difficult to consolidate a material advantage. Wesley instead made a safe draw in 45 moves.
That meant there was only one decisive game:
This game was remarkable for a number of reasons. For one, it finished in just 19 moves with both players still having almost an hour on their clocks. It was also the first classical win for Maxime in 22 games, since he’d drawn against Laurent Fressinet in the French Top 12 and then scored 8 draws and a loss in Stavanger before 9 draws and 2 losses in Zagreb. The first big moment arose on move 9 of a Caro-Kann, when Maxime played 9.Qf4:
Maxime described this as “kind of new” – it had been played by his regular second Etienne Bacrot before – but he wasn’t expecting it to catch David Navara unprepared. In a way, it didn’t, but…
I somehow forgot to prepare for this, because I was watching chess news too much. I mean not only the website chess-news but also other websites, so ok, after 9.Qf4 I think I had prepared 9…Qb6, I looked at it, for some 5 seconds with the computer before the game, but during the game I realised there was 10.e5 Nfd7 11.Na4 Qb4 12.c3 Qxa4 13.b3 Bxf2+ 14.Qxf2 and White has a strong initiative for the sacrificed pawn.
That line is nicely-calculated, but 10.e5 perhaps isn’t the only problem with 9…Qb6. The real test of the line, as Maxime confirmed, is 9…Bxc3 and then 10…Nxe4, but in the game Navara played 9…e5 and went for something he called “ambitious”, “logical” and “probably wrong”: 10.Qg3 dxe4 11.d3 exd3 12.Bxd3 Nbd7 13.Ne2 0-0 and here came the move he’d missed - 14.Bf5!
Suddenly Black is in grave danger down the d-file, and perhaps all that was surprising was the speed at which he fell apart: 14…Nc5 15.Bh6! Nh5!? 16.Qg4 Qd6? (16…g6 was an only move, but Black’s position is still grim) 17.Qxh5 Qxh6 18.Qxh6 gxh6 19.c3 Black resigns
The black bishop has been caught. Watch Maxime talking about the game:
That means that only David Navara goes into Saturday’s return game in a must-win situation, but all the other match-ups are also sudden-death: a decisive game and the loser’s Riga Grand Prix will be over!
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