Reports Jul 23, 2019 | 9:05 AMby Colin McGourty

Riga Grand Prix Final 1: Mamedyarov strikes first

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov needs only a draw in the second classical game to win the 2019 Riga FIDE Grand Prix after crushing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s Grünfeld in the first. As in the semi-final against Wesley So, an opening novelty almost immediately gave the Azerbaijan star a winning position, while Maxime will have had painful memories of the final round of the Zagreb Grand Chess Tour. Back then it was Magnus Carlsen who did unspeakable things to his Grünfeld Defence.

More trouble for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the Grünfeld | photo: Niki Riga, official website 

Replay all the games from the 2019 Riga FIDE Grand Prix using the selector below:

And here’s the complete live commentary on the first day of the final:

There can’t be many players in chess who French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a worse record against than Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, with their classical score before Monday’s final reading 6 classical wins to 1 for Shakh. The comforting thought for Maxime was that in the previous round he’d ended another negative streak by scoring his first ever classical win over Alexander Grischuk, but this particular streak was about to get worse.

Mamedyarov 1-0 MVL | Riga FIDE Grand Prix Final, Game 1

Mamedyarov was in total control of the game from start to finish | photo: Niki Riga, official website

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a much narrower opening repertoire with Black than most of his super-GM colleagues, overwhelmingly meeting 1.e4 with 1…c5 and the Najdorf, while against 1.d4, as played by Mamedyarov, Black can be almost certain to get the Grünfeld Defence with 1…Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5.

Asked after the game if that made him an easy target for concrete opening preparation by his opponents he responded:

Well, it’s the case for most people. You can be a target in the Berlin, in the Marshall, but of course maybe in the Grünfeld it’s more concrete and of course there’s a lot of stuff to remember. Today I didn’t remember how to play, but I should have done better anyway.

Chess can be a lonely game... | photo: Niki Riga, official website

It was impossible to watch what followed without recalling two recent games. One was Mamedyarov’s quarterfinal game with White against Wesley So, when another novelty had hit home with devastating effect:

13.a3 against Wesley might not have looked much, but it was a new move in a position played over a dozen times, and one that posed immediate concrete questions. So played one good move after 14 minutes, 14…Rfb8, but then after 15.e4 his 15…c3?, which took another 20 minutes, was already losing to 16.e5!.

In the final Mamedyarov’s 12.Bf4 was again a new move in a position seen about a dozen times, with Sebastian Bogner once having played 12.Rd1 against MVL himself in the Bundesliga. This time Maxime thought 7 minutes before playing one good move, 12…cxd4, but then after 13.cxd4 he almost instantly played 13…Nc6?, later commenting, “it probably went wrong when I played Nc6”. Mamedyarov agreed, and Maxime would go on to compound his mistake by following up 14.d5! by putting the knight on the rim with 14…Na5?!   

Those mistakes weren’t as instantly losing as in the Wesley So game, but Mamedyarov had another reason for distinguishing the two games:

I think against So and here is absolutely different, because if in the So game he played correct moves it’s immediately a draw – 15…Nxe4 is a very strong line. If he finds it it’s a draw.

In the game from the final even if Maxime had played the best moves (13…e6 or 13…Bxd4) Shakh points out that White would have got a playable position with a pleasant edge, making 12.Bf4 a move that’s much more likely to continue to prove a thorn in Black’s side.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is back in fine form after a terrible start to the year | photo: Niki Riga, official website

As the game developed, another parallel was crying out to be made – with Carlsen-MVL from the Croatia Grand Chess Tour. Mamedyarov himself commented, “I remember his game against Carlsen in Zagreb, last game, and without queens this looks like the same positions”.

In both games the white d-pawn, supported by White’s bishop pair, became a monster, while Black was essentially playing on a piece down due to the horribly misplaced knight on a5:

The position in the Mamedyarov-MVL game above is after Maxime played 18…Bxf3. He explained afterwards that he’d thought at this stage he was “getting away”, but he’d missed the zwischenzug 19.exf6!, after which he concluded, “I’m probably just lost”. Things went downhill very fast after that, and if the resignation on move 28 came as a surprise to the commentators, who weren’t using computers, it wasn’t premature. Black is completely busted and can barely make a move:

Maxime resigns | photo: Niki Riga, official website

For a move-by-move account of the game don’t miss the following analysis by Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson:

And here are the players after the game:

That means, of course, that Maxime must now win the second classical game with the white pieces to take the match to tiebreaks. His approach?

A must-win situation is never pleasant, but I’ll just be ready to play for as long as it takes!

Be sure to tune into the action from 14:00 CEST live here on chess24!

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