Reports Jul 15, 2019 | 9:39 AMby Colin McGourty

Riga GP: R1, Tiebreaks: All the way to Armageddon

Anish Giri, Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler and Hikaru Nakamura are all out of the Riga FIDE Grand Prix after chess followed the Wimbledon final and the Cricket World Cup in going all the way to Armageddon in two of the matches. Those ended with Yu Yangyi beating Aronian and Sergey Karjakin getting the better of Giri. It’s Karjakin-So, Duda-Mamedyarov, Grischuk-Yu Yangyi and Topalov-MVL in the quarterfinals.

2017 World Cup winner Levon Aronian was knocked out in Round 1, just as in Moscow | photo: Niki Riga, official website 

After strange things happened in Moscow - 6 first round matches were decided in classical chess, only a single match in the whole event went to 10-minute games and none to blitz - the FIDE Riga Grand Prix has been a return to what we expect from the latter stages of top-level knockout tournaments: a lot of draws in the classical games and some matches going all the way to Armageddon. You can replay all the action using the selector below:

And here’s the live commentary on the final day of tiebreaks, with Daniil Dubov joining the show:

Let’s take the Round 1 matches in Riga in order of when they finished:

Classical games: 2 matches

MVL 1.5:0.5 Navara

After David Navara lost in 19 moves to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on the first day of the event he was the one player who went into the second day in a must-win situation. He had the white pieces and got an interesting opening, but a little combination from Maxime removed the queens from the board. Although White had an extra pawn it was extremely hard to convert into real winning chances, and by the time Maxime forced a repetition he was already better.

There was no way back for David Navara | photo: Niki Riga, official website

Mamedyarov 1.5:0.5 Dubov

After an exciting first game in which Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had rejected a draw offer from Daniil Dubov, the roles were reversed, with Dubov making the fateful decision to reject a draw offer in what he acknowledged was an equal position.

When Daniil Dubov plays the opening people pay attention! | photo: Niki Riga, official website

He offered a draw later himself, but by that point Shakhriyar was already scenting blood, and Daniil admitted to blundering the possibility of 34…Bb8!:

The Russian player had assumed he’d get to pick up the a-pawn with a relatively simple draw. The position was probably still drawn after that, but Dubov gave credit to Mamedyarov for delaying decisive action until the pressure was increased by time trouble. Daniil cracked and summed up:

I think he played very well and I’m obviously an idiot not to draw such a position.

25-minute rapid games: 4 matches

Duda 2.5:1.5 Svidler

This was arguably the match of the round, with all four games featuring high-level manoeuvring and dynamic play by both players, though with 21-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda usually dictating play. Jan Gustafsson has analysed the encounter for us:

Peter commented of the final game:

Those are the most painful: when you defend for 30 moves and you find only chances and when you’re almost there your brain just switches off for one second and you die!

But he summed up, “Jan-Krzysztof just played the better the whole match and he deserves to win”.

Grischuk 3:1 Vitiugov

When Grischuk's attack came, it was absolutely vicious | photo: Niki Riga, official website

After a thrilling first classical game in this match the second, with Grischuk playing White, ended in a 10-move draw. We returned to drama in the first rapid game, which featured what Jan describes in the video above as, “the move of the day”. It’s worth noting that 18…0-0 was the losing move, since after 19.Ne5! Black had nothing better than setting up the killer blow with 19…Qe8:

20.Bf6!! followed, with the point that after 20…gxf6 there’s no defence against Qh5 and Rh3 (in either order) and giving mate on h7 (20...g6 also runs into 21.Qh5!). The game continued 20…Bd8 21.Bxg7! Kxg7 22.Rg3+ Kh8 23.Qh5! and Black resigned:

At first glance it seems a move like 23…f6 might offer some hope, but 24.Qxe8 Rxe8 25.Nf7# is checkmate.

Needing only a draw with Black in the 2nd game, Grischuk won a pawn in 20 moves, with Vitiugov resigning 4 moves later. Nikita was highly self-critical after getting knocked out for a second time in the first round of a Grand Prix:

I probably should learn the basic rules of chess, so first of all, a safe king. Not too much to say.

Grischuk noted his brilliancy had only been possible as he’d played inaccurately with 17.Bh4!? not 17.Bxc7 earlier:

So 2.5:1.5 Harikrishna

This match was remarkable for the same Queen vs. Rook + 2 minor pieces ending as in the first classical game occurring again in the first rapid game. This time, although again he came close, Harikrishna didn’t manage to hold, and Wesley So confidently drew the second game to advance to the quarterfinals.

Topalov 2.5:1.5 Nakamura

This was arguably the shock of the round, with observers and the players themselves all considering Hikaru Nakamura to be a heavy favourite if the match went to tiebreaks. He felt he hadn’t quite recovered from a miss in the second classical game, telling Yannick Pelletier, “I think the problem is I was actually quite mad at myself for the game yesterday”. He’d missed a zwischenzug:

He played the immediate 20…bxc6, when White was ok after 21.d4! Instead he could have played 20…Bf7!, driving away the queen and only taking on c6 a move later, when he felt Black would be much better.

There's no pressure on Veselin Topalov, who has long claimed to have no great remaining chess ambitions | photo: Niki Riga, official website

That was still in his head during the second rapid game, when he first needlessly swapped off queens into a worse ending with 35…Qb6? (35…Bc6!) and then played 40…f5?!, missing that Veselin Topalov didn’t need to capture immediately but could bring his king into the game. The position was soon hopeless:

White can methodically pick up Black’s weak pawns. It’s not clear if 46…Nc6 was an internet blitz desperado move played out on a live board, but after 47.Nxc6 the match was well and truly over.

Armageddon: 2 matches

On a day when the Wimbledon final reached 12:12 and a tiebreak in the final set, and the Cricket World Cup saw England and New Zealand amazingly tie the game and then the playoff as well (England won after hitting the ball to or over the boundary more times), God tweeted (it was later removed, for reasons unknown): “Armageddon will go to tiebreaks”. That was almost right, as two chess tiebreaks did indeed go to Armageddon:

Yu Yangyi 4.5:4.5 Aronian (Yu wins as he had Black in the Armageddon)

This match was extremely tightly balanced until the 5-minute blitz games, when Levon Aronian exploited an endgame blunder:

If Yu Yangyi captured with the e-pawn that pawn is fast enough to allow him to sacrifice a rook for Levon’s b-pawn, but after 51…Kxe4? 52.b7 the white king went to c7 and it was game over.

Yu Yangyi and Levon Aronian interviewed by Yannick Pelletier after their match | photo: Niki Riga, official website

All Levon needed to do was draw the next blitz game, but his problem was perhaps that he did too well in the opening!

Black has a big positional advantage, and even though 23…c3!? was perhaps hasty, allowing 24.Bxc3 bxc3 25.Rxc3, there was still no reason for Black to lose that position. Exchanging queens with 25…Qxd4 26.Nxd4 would have been the most cynical approach, but instead after 25…h6 the Chinese player somehow managed to organise a winning attack on the black king.

Yu Yangyi had Black in the Armageddon and held the position with relative ease, meaning that Aronian has now lost in the first round in both Moscow and Riga and is out of contention for one of the two Candidates Tournament places available through the series. He’s not alone, as top seed Anish Giri finds himself in the same boat…

Karjakin 5:4 Giri

This match flared into life in the rapid games, when Sergey Karjakin won an impressive positional game with the white pieces only for that to be cancelled out by Anish Giri doing the same in the next game. Sergey Karjakin summed up the match well:

I’m first of all very happy and I have to admit that it was probably one of the most difficult matches in my career. We both had chances, for example, in the second [10-minute] rapid game when I was Black… At one moment I was just winning but I didn’t manage to win, and then I was very lucky in the final blitz game, before Armageddon. Then Armageddon, and basically anything could happen.

Anish Giri lost out in Armageddon | photo: Niki Riga, official website

Giri only needed a draw and had an excellent position out of the opening, but Karjakin criticised the decision to exchange knights on c3 and then later, after playing 28.Ba4!, he felt he was winning:

The computer would coolly accept the loss of the c6-pawn and struggle on a pawn down. Giri instead both defended against the threat of Qxd5 and defended the pawn with 28…Ne7?, but that ran into 29.d5! Rc8 30.dxc6 Nxc6 and while Black had avoided losing material 31.Qh4+! signalled Karjakin had switched to playing for higher stakes. Four moves later there was mate on the board!

So once again the brutal knockout format has left 8 top grandmasters packing their bags after just 3 days, with the only consolation being that they get a break. As Nakamura commented:

There are many things I could say in regard to the schedule this year, but everyone has to deal with it, so we’ll see who survives at the end!

For the remaining 8 players the action moves to the quarterfinals, where the pairings are:

  • Karjakin vs. So
  • Duda vs. Mamedyarov
  • Grischuk vs. Yu Yangyi
  • Topalov vs. MVL

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