Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is through to play a FIDE World Cup semifinal against Levon Aronian after knocking out Peter Svidler in the quarterfinal tiebreaks. Their rapid match was short and bitter for Peter, as he fell behind on the clock and on the board in both games. In the first with Black he managed to fight back and hold a draw, but in the second he was unable to put up much resistance. Maxime now faces Aronian after the first rest day and commented, “He has no reason to be afraid of anyone. I also have no reason to be afraid of anyone, so it should be a good match!”
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The lucky England Cricket top, the support of thousands of fans here on chess24 and all the experience of getting to the final of two of the last three World Cups came to nothing on Sunday, as Peter Svidler was eliminated by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the first two rapid games of their quarterfinal tiebreak.
Afterwards Maxime felt a lot was down to energy:
Yes, I think that’s what made a huge difference today. I still didn’t feel like I had a top level of energy, but decent enough to fight, and I think in most cases he was fighting with his last resources left, but it took him a lot of time, and of course at some point his position collapsed.
Maxime also won a curious opening battle, with both players repeating the lines they’d used in the classical games. In the first rapid game Svidler was first to deviate with 11…Na7 instead of 11…Ne7, but MVL didn’t blink and soon Black was under uncomfortable pressure. Svidler spent over 6 minutes on his 17th move and came up with some bold decisions, including 21…f5:
After 22.exf6 the e6-bishop looked vulnerable, but Peter had correctly judged everything was holding and he exchanged queens and continued with 22…Qxf6 23.Be3 Qxd4 24.Bxd4 Bd7! 25.Rd1 Rae8 26.Rxe8:
Another indication of the fine line Black was treading is that the more “obvious” 26…Rxe8 here loses on the spot to 27.Bxc5! Bxc5 28.Rxd5, attacking both bishops. Svidler of course dodged that bullet with 26…Bxe8! and some ingenious play saw Black simplify the position until it was down to two pawns vs. one on the kingside.
There was still ample opportunity for torture, but Svidler spotted that with White’s light-squared bishop unable to support a pawn queening on h8 he could sacrifice his way to safety:
69…Nxg4!, and after giving a couple of checks first Maxime decided to show chess fans the point by playing on until stalemate!
The players were in good spirits at the end of the game and
Svidler could claim the moral victory of surviving a tricky position with the
black pieces. Maxime would later comment:
I got what felt like a substantial advantage, but I somehow couldn’t make it work. He was defending by tempi in most lines. I pressed basically as much as I could, and it didn’t amount to much.
Svidler now had the white pieces and seemingly the initiative, but he took the fateful decision to repeat the strange opening from their classical game where White loses the right to castle on move 7.
It was understandable in the sense that Peter had a close to winning advantage in that game, but Maxime sprung a surprise a move earlier than he had in the classical game with 10…e6 instead of 10…Nbc6:
It’s hard to believe Peter hadn’t looked at the move, but instead of replying 11.Nb5 as he had against 10…Nbc6 in the classical game he switched to a different plan with 11.Bf4, and only after a 4-minute think. Things escalated fast, and soon instead of a safe position in which the white king’s early outing made no difference, there was a razor-sharp position with opposite-side castling. Svidler was committed to making something work on the kingside when MVL defended his queen with the unusual 21…Kc7!:
Still, things were very tricky – it all comes down to my move 21…Kc7, which I have to admit I didn’t see in advance. I was a bit lucky there to have this move, but of course it was a nice move to spot, because then he has no discoveries that work for him and he’s not in time anymore. I’m just going to take on f5 and get a very pleasant endgame.
This was a key moment, though, since either 22.Rc1 immediately or 23.Rc1+ after 22.Bxf7 gxf5, as happened in the game, seems to work out better for White. The black bishop (or knight) is forced to block on c6 and no longer control the f5-square. It’s not straightforward, though, since e.g. after 23.Rc1+ Bc6 24.Qxd6+ Rxd6 White apparently shouldn’t play 25.exf5 immediately but instead get the king out of Dodge with 25.Ke1!
We’re dwelling on this moment, since after 23.Qxd6+ Kxd6 24.exf5 Nxf5 25.Ne4+ Ke7 26.Bb3 Ne3+ it was close to game over:
Then I felt he could have defended better in the endgame, but it’s very tough, because I have threats from everywhere. He also has some sort of threats with his rooks, but overall with a knight on e3 my position should be dominant, and I managed to prove it.
An exchange sacrifice didn’t bring any relief for White and Peter resigned after 34…Rb7:
So Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was through to the World Cup semifinals, and in fact the favourites had won all four matches:
Big chess knockouts undoubtedly do introduce randomness, but only very good players tend to go on to win them, with the last four survivors in 2017 in positions no. 2 (Aronian), 3 (MVL), 7 (So) and 11 (Ding Liren) on the live rating list. Numbers 2 and 3 of course meet in one semifinal, in a match that would also be a fitting final. Maxime took it quite well when Anastasia Karlovich confronted him with Aronian’s words from the day before: “I hate both of them!” (about MVL and Svidler)
Well, I’m a good friend of Levon, but he likes to make strange statements that probably don’t define his mood. He has no reason to be afraid of anyone. I also have no reason to be afraid of anyone, so it should be a good match!
You can watch the full interview below:
By this stage it’s hard to talk about favourites, especially since if you take the players in terms of the number of games they’ve needed the standings are reversed: Ding Liren (14), Wesley So (16), MVL (18), Aronian (20). Levon is also the only player of the remaining four to have lost a game at any time control (in fact he lost two to Maxim Matlakov)!
Peter Svidler, meanwhile, can look back at another World Cup in which he exceeded pre-tournament expectations and played some fine games. It was, in fact, a repeat of his 2013 World Cup, when he also went out in the quarterfinal rapid tiebreaks after two draws in the classical games against Dmitry Andreikin. Although Peter has been a Candidates wildcard in the past it’s unlikely he’ll manage to play in the 2018 tournament in Berlin, but that might at least be good news when it comes to commentary!
Meanwhile in Tbilisi… the players, journalists, photographers, arbiters and, of course, chess fans finally have a rest day after 15 straight days of action. Then it gets really serious fast on Tuesday, when Aronian, MVL, Wesley So and Ding Liren are all just one step away from a place in the Candidates.
Catch the semifinal action here on chess24 from 13:00 CEST onwards on Tuesday. At the same time on Monday, meanwhile, we'll have Banter Blitz with Jan Gustafsson to fill that chess-shaped hole in our lives!
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