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    Entries in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (40)

    Thursday
    Nov232017

    Updates: TCEC Superfinal, Palma Grand Prix

    It's still early in the superfinal of season 10 of the TCEC, but so far it's looking pretty one-sided. After 14 games (of 100), Houdini has won four and lost none, drawing 10. (Okay, technically it's +3 =10, but game 14 is a foregone conclusion in Houdini's favor, and it might finish the second after I upload this post.) Unfortunately, we weren't treated to a Houdini-asmFish match, but regardless, this is an impressive performance so far by Robert Houdart's program.

    As for the Grand Prix tournament in Palma de Mallorca, the leaderboard is even more crowded. Those in first, or in the second-place tie, all drew, maintaining the status quo amongst themselves, while even more players managed to jump into the huge tie for second. Levon Aronian still leads - now with four points out of six (with three rounds to go), and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, Ding Liren, Peter Svidler, Pentala Harikrishna, and Dmitry Jakovenko are all still tied for second with three and a half points...and so too are Evgeny Tomashevsky and Richard Rapport.

    Tomashevsky's win was especially noteworthy, as it came at the expense of Teimour Radjabov. Radjabov entered the event hoping to qualify for the Candidates with a sufficiently strong result here, but now he's at -1, tied for 11th place. He hasn't yet been mathematically eliminated from contention, because if, say, he wins his last three games while all the other games are drawn he'd qualify, that isn't a particularly likely scenario. At least he can take comfort knowing that if he doesn't make it, his countryman (and, I think, friend) Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is guaranteed to qualify for the Candidates.

    As for Vachier-Lagrave, the good news is that he's in second; the bad news that it's a tie for second-ninth. If the tournament ended now, he'd be out of luck. He had Black in round 6, so at least he'll (probably) get the white pieces twice in the last three rounds. If he does qualify, it will come at Alexander Grischuk's expense, which would make for a double misfortune for him. Not only would he not qualify this way, but he's missing out at the chance to get in by the wildcard: the organizers already gave the spot to his fellow Russian Vladimir Kramnik.

    Tuesday
    Nov212017

    Palma Grand Prix, Rounds 3-5: Aronian Leading; MVL in a Six-Way Tie for Second

    After five rounds of nine Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is close to the lead and still has a good chance of qualifying for the Candidates, but if the event finished right now he'd be out: the tie for second place is too large. Levon Aronian has 3.5/5, while Vachier-Lagrave has 3, tied with Hikaru Nakamura, Ding Liren, Peter Svidler, Pentala Harikrishna, and Dmitry Jakovenko.

    The round 5 action was incredibly lame, with all nine games drawn, eight of them quickly. (Mostly very quickly, and MVL didn't exactly cover himself in glory with a 13-move draw, with White, against Nakamura.)

    But the flip side is that round 4 was a thriller, with six decisive games and a lot of spectacular chess. Aronian seized the lead after bludgeoning Anish Giri on the white side of an English. Nakamura outplayed Teimour Radjabov in an important game, as Radjabov, like Vachier-Lagrave, is hoping to qualify for the Candidates with a sufficiently strong result here. Ding Liren beat Ernesto Inarkiev with the black pieces; this would have been an important victory had Ding not already qualified via the World Cup. Harikrishna crushed Francisco Vallejo Pons, Jakovenko ground down Pavel Eljanov with Black, and Richard Rapport won speedily with a kingside attack against Jon Ludwig Hammer. It was really a great round.

    Round 3 was quieter, with only two victories: Hammer lost with White to Svidler, and Vallejo beat Boris Gelfand, who with Hammer is presently at the bottom of the tournament table with 1.5/5.

    The games and full standings are here. Today (=Tuesday) is a rest day; they'll resume on Wednesday.

    Thursday
    Nov162017

    Palma Grand Prix, Round 1: Three Winners, Including MVL. UPDATED

    Teimour Radjabov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the two players who are in the running for the Candidates, given a sufficiently successful performance in this, the final leg of the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix, drew and won (respectively) in round 1. Radjabov drew with Alexander Riazantsev in just 12 moves - with White - which is hardly an auspicious start. Possible reply: He offered the draw because he was worse, not because he was unambitious. Rejoinder: It's true that he was a little worse (but only a tiny bit - "equal" is more accurate than "Black is slightly better"), but that just shifts the mystery around a little. He chose the opening - Jobava's/Prie's London/Veresov hybrid - he introduced the first new move of the game, 8.Ne5, and nothing after that was earth-shattering from either player. Anyway, it's early; no doubt he'll push more as the event goes on.

    Vachier-Lagrave played more ambitiously, defeating Boris Gelfand on the white side of an Accelerated Dragon. Gelfand sacrificed a pawn on move 8, and never got it back. Or rather, he did on move 30, but it was a different and entirely meaningless pawn he managed to pocket. Meanwhile, the extra pawn MVL collected and kept was on its way to promotion, and Gelfand resigned just four moves later. It was an impressive start to the tournament for Vachier-Lagrave.

    The day's other two winners were Anish Giri, who won a very nice ending against Richard Rapport, and Ernesto Inarkiev, who obtained a fantastic position out of the opening against Li Chao and easily converted his advantage.

    Could someone remind me in the comments why no outside entities are covering the event live? I thought Agon/World Chess lost their lawsuit when they tried to frighten others off from covering the last Candidates and the World Championship. At least they lost in the U.S., and I don't recall their winning anywhere else. Did everyone capitulate just to avoid legal fees from nuisance lawsuits?

    UPDATE: Ah, here's the reason, courtesy of one of the many affected parties. FIDE will blacklist people who follow the law in a way they don't like for a period of up to ten years. Charming. They lost in court, in the court of public opinion, and in the realm of argumentation, so they'll simply use their monopoly powers to thuggishly cow parties into submission. There really needs to be change at FIDE (not solely because of this; this is reason 12,754), or a viable rival not fronted by a slash-and-burn personality like Kasparov. (In an assisting role, maybe, but definitely not its head.)

    Monday
    Oct302017

    Kramnik Receives Organizer's Wildcard for Candidates

    More about this here: apparently Vladimir Kramnik wasn't lobbying for it, but he was given the organizer's wildcard for the 2018 Candidates, to be held next March in Berlin. He joins Sergey Karjakin (who qualified by virtue of losing the last world championship match), Levon Aronian and Ding Liren (World Cup finalists), and Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana (mortal locks to qualify by rating).

    Anyone who has read this blog regularly knows that I'm a big Kramnik fan, but this is just wrong. He's a great player who could contend for victory in the Candidates next March, and he should be in the conversation about who deserves the organizer's wildcard. For most of the year he looked set to qualify by rating, until faltering in events beginning with the World Cup. But there are still two slots to be determined based on the results of the final Grand Prix tournament starting next month.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Alexander Grischuk lead in the overall standings, but they've already played their full complement of Grand Prix events. They could be overtaken by Teimour Radjabov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and while one might be able to make a case for Kramnik against Mamedyarov, Grischuk, and Radjabov there's nothing to be said in his favor compared to MVL when it comes to their 2017 campaigns.

    Vachier-Lagrave is nine points higher-rated than Kramnik at the moment, won the Sinquefield Cup (and had excellent-to-great results in Gibraltar, Sharjah, Paris [blitz], Leuven [rapid], and Dortmund), came within an Armaggedon game of qualifying through the World Cup, and will have come very close to qualifying by the Grand Prix as well. Thus MVL ultimately outshone Kramnik this year by rating, World Cup performance, Grand Prix performance (Kramnik didn't play, but that's also more to Vachier-Lagrave's credit: he's in the arena and Kramnik's not), and won a more prestigious non-qualifying event than Kramnik did.

    It would be fine to give Kramnik the wildcard after the Grand Prix finishes, assuming Vachier-Lagrave qualified. But before? This is terrible. Agon, which has the financial rights to the world championship and the qualifying cycle, is owned by a Russian, so it's less than shocking that they'd pick a Russian with the wildcard. There really need to be objective criteria for the wildcard, aside from the minimal requirement of a player's having achieved a 2725 rating at any point during the qualifying year. Obviously Kramnik's qualifications are much greater than that, but his qualifications, this year, don't hold a candle to MVL's.

    Sunday
    Oct292017

    A Beautiful and Theoretically Important Miniature from the Grischuk-MVL Match

    Alexander Grischuk won his blitz and bullet match over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave last week in good style, and that was especially true of this game (given with my light annotations). If you play either side of the Grand Prix Attack, you'll want to check it out.

    Monday
    Oct232017

    Speed Chess Championship: Grischuk vs. Vachier-Lagrave, Karjakin vs. Nepomniachtchi

    The first quarter-final match of Chess.com's Speed Chess Championship was between Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and the replay can be watched here. (To avoid spoilers, I'll give the result in the comments.) Tuesday (i.e. today for most of the world, tomorrow for a few time zone stragglers), another match: Sergey Karjakin takes on Ian Nepomniachtchi starting at 1 p.m. ET.

    Sunday
    Sep172017

    World Cup, Round 5, Day 3: Vachier-Lagrave Defeats Svidler in Tiebreaks

    Four is the number of the remaining players, but not the number of consecutive Candidates events for Peter Svidler. Instead, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is in the final four, one match away from his first Candidates tournament. (Not that it will be easy, as his next opponent is Levon Aronian.) He defeated Svidler after a pair of tiebreak games, both of which continued the theoretical duels of their classical games.

    In the first, Vachier-Lagrave was White in a Giuoco, with Svidler repeating the 10...a5 idea that he and Grischuk have now played a combined five times against MVL in the past week. White enjoyed a very mild plus through most of the game, but the eventual draw was no surprise.

    In game 2, Svidler again played the English, and MVL repeated the Symmetrical line with 5...Nb4 and 6...Nd3+. Svidler again played the curious 9.h4, and after the same six consecutive moves with the same knight, Black varied from their classical game. In that game, Black chose 10...Nbc6, while time MVL played 10...e6, as played in the only other game to have reached that position. Svidler already started to think here, which wasn't a particularly good sign for his fans. (But maybe I should say something like "fans of his play". Fans of his commentary may be thrilled; one may hope that he'll appear before the microphone somewhere for the semi-finals or at least the finals.) After 11.Bf4 a6 12.Nxd4 cxd4 13.Ne2 Nc6 Black had no problems to speak of. My suspicion is that if 9.h4 survives, it is 10.d3 that will go the way of the dodo. Black was soon better, and after 23.Qxd6+? Svidler was just about lost. Short on time as well, he was unable to put up much resistance, and Vachier-Lagrave won quickly and smoothly. (The games, with my notes, are here.)

    Tomorrow is a day off for everyone, and on Tuesday we get Aronian vs. MVL in one semi-final, and Wesley So against Ding Liren in the other.

    Thursday
    Sep142017

    World Cup, Round 4, Day 3 Tiebreaks: MVL, So, Svidler, Fedoseev, and Rapport Advance

    It was an exciting day of tiebreaks, though it was disappointing that only one match made it past the two 25-minute games, and it was settled in the 10' + 10" round. We need to see at least one Armageddon game before the tournament ends!

    Anyway, to the round. Peter Svidler had the easiest time of it, beating Bu Xiangzhi 2-0. In the first game, Svidler won with Black after Bu got tangled up in the center. White tried to bail out with an exchange sacrifice, and it almost worked. Bu was about to esacape until he played 40.Ra5??, walking into a lethal self-pin. Walking into mate in one on the next move didn't help, but the damage had already been done - even 41...Rb4 would have done the job. In the second game, Bu tried the Dutch, hoping for a complicated position, but when he met the Improved Lisitsyn Gambit by turning the game into a Philidor Counter-Gambit he got in trouble - fast. He was already clearly worse by move 7 (maybe by move 5, but let's be generous), and after a huge error on move 9 he was completely lost. Svidler may not have played in the most incisive way, but he didn't have to, and he coasted to victory.

    Wesley So was also a smooth winner, outplaying Baadur Jobava in their first game with the white pieces, demonstrating the power of the bishop pair (and later of bishop vs. knight) to grind out a victory. Game two was an "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse" draw: So was better from early on, and could have played for a win had he needed to. Instead, he allowed Jobava to draw by repetition in a position where he was still better, but the problem for Jobava was that varying from the repetition would lose on the spot.

    In one of the matches featuring underdogs, Evgeniy Najer held an edge in his white game with Richard Rapport until his ill-advised 23.Bxh6, which should have been met by 23...Rxf3. For a while after that Najer had good chances to win, but Rapport gradually clawed his way back to equality and a draw. The second game was completely crazy, and Rapport handled the complications much better than Najer to win deservedly. There was one big hiccup near the end, however. 45.Rb7+ followed by 46.Re2 won comfortably, but after his 45.Rb6? Najer had 45...Re1+ first, and only after 46.Kg2 was 46...Nb4 correct. In this case he would have equalized. Now White can't play Re2, and if he takes on a5 Black has an immediate perpetual with his rook going to e2, e1 and/or e3, as needed.

    In the other battle of the underdogs, Vladimir Fedoseev defeated Maxim Rodshtein 2-0, though unlike Svidler's 2-0 victory it wasn't easy. First of all, it's a mystery why Rodshtein didn't play 37...Qxc3 in the first game, leading to a dead draw after 38.Rxc3 Bxf2 39.Nxe6 Rxc3 40.Bxc3 fxe6. Even after 37...Bxc7 39.Bxc7, trading queens would have given him excellent drawing chances in the opposite-colored bishop ending. The draw wouldn't be guaranteed on account of the rooks, but keeping queens on as well made it harder, not easier, for him to defend. Eventually the queens came off, but under more favorable circumstances for Fedoseev. It still wasn't easy for White to win until Rodshtein's 69...Kf7, allowing White to play 70.Rf8+ and 71.Rf6. After that, the conversion was routine. Rodshtein did a great job of creating a complicated mess in game two, and he had good chances to win as soon as the early middlegame. The game went back and forth, and Rodshtein missed a very good chance on move 33, when taking on b5 followed by d6 would give him a winning advantage. From there on, he played too passively, and Fedoseev took over the initiative. White had to play 41.Bg2 to stay alive, and after missing that chance he resigned three moves later.

    Finally, in a match that would have been better as a semi-final or even a final, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk had a heavyweight battle in keeping with their ratings. They drew the 25-minute games, and saved the best for last. In the first 10-minute game, Grischuk's attempt to solve his strategic problems with tactics failed. In particular, 28...Rg6, going for counterplay, was strongly met by a great pawn sacrifice from MVL. From 30 to the end of the game, Vachier-Lagrave blew his opponent off the board with one threat after another in a great display of the power of the initiative. The second game was a battle between the initiative - again, on MVL's side - and static goods. Grischuk's 10.Bxc6 wrecked Black's queenside structure, but at the cost of the bishop pair, weak light squares, and a few moves later, a badly sidelined queen. Vachier-Lagrave found a great exchange sac, but misplayed it a few moves later and wound up in an inferior ending. After two further inaccuracies, he wound up in a lost ending with bishop and pawn against Grischuk's rook and pawn. Grischuk made a very serious practical error when he didn't play 44.h3, after which proving a win with hardly any time on his clock was as good as impossible, and MVL advanced to the fifth round.

    The games are here, but I've only annotated the second Svidler-Bu Xiangzhi game, along with the two MVL-Grischuk 10-minute games.

    Tomorrow the quarter-finals begin, with these pairings (in bracket order): Svidler - Vachier-Lagrave, Ivanchuk - Aronian, So - Fedoseev, Rapport - Ding Liren.

    Will Svidler continue his question to reach his fourth consecutive Candidates event? (Admittedly, once he was the organizer's wildcard pick, but the other two times he qualifed through the World Cup.) Or will Vachier-Lagrave stay alive as he hopes to reach the Candidates for the first time in his career? Can Ivanchuk survive the top remaining seed, Aronian, and show that his glory days are still going? And will the young upstarts Fedoseev and Rapport (22 and 21 years old, respectively) be put in their place by their elderly opponents (So and Ding Liren; 23 and 24 years old, respectively)?

    Saturday
    Sep022017

    Vachier-Lagrave vs. Xiong

    This past Wednesday, Chess.com's Speed Chess Championship marched on with its penultimate first round match, between world #2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and the young Jeffery Xiong. The video is here, and I'll give the result in the comments section, to avoid providing a spoiler to anyone who wants to enjoy the match as if live.

    Friday
    Aug112017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 9: Vachier-Lagrave Defeats Nepomniachtchi and Wins the Tournament Outright

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the best chances of anyone coming into the round to emerge as the sole tournament winner, and he came through with a smooth positional win over Ian Nepomniachtchi. It was a little cheeky of Nepo to play the Najdorf against the world's top specialist in that variation, and it was interesting to see MVL avoid the most theoretical lines in reply. Vachier-Lagrave went for one of the stock positional plans, aiming to swap all the minor pieces except for a white knight (to plant on d5) and a black bishop (destined to suffer either from restriction or irrelevance on the dark squares). Having achieved the plan, he had little trouble converting his advantage, and by the time Nepomniachtchi resigned only Levon Aronian could catch him.

    And that was only in theory. Aronian played very sharply with Black against Magnus Carlsen, but Carlsen defended well while accumulating positional advantages elsewhere. By the time MVL won, Aronian was struggling for a draw, but couldn't achieve it. That left Magnus Carlsen half a point behind Vachier-Lagrave, and with mixed feelings at the end of the tournament. Overall he played well and finished strongly, but he could very easily have finished the clear winner with a +5 score, had he not blundered away a winning position against Vachier-Lagrave in round 4 on his way to a loss, and had he converted a winning rook ending against Hikaru Nakamura in round 6.

    Carlsen shared second place with Viswanathan Anand. The good news for Anand was that his opponent was Wesley So (this wouldn't normally be good news, but So had a very bad tournament by his standards), but the bad news is that he was playing Black. The game was a fairly short draw, and if anything So could have pushed a little harder than he did. Overall, though, it was a fine tournament for the former world champion.

    Sergey Karjakin could have joined the tie for second with a win over Nakamura, but with Black that wasn't going to be easy. The game was pretty balanced throughout, with Nakamura enjoying the initiative until almost all the pieces were hoovered off the board.

    Finally, Peter Svidler's quest to win a game finally bore fruit. After losing in round 1 and drawing his next seven games, Svidler reached 50% with a win over Fabiano Caruana.

    Final Standings:

    1. Vachier-Lagrave 6 (of 9)
    2-3. Carlsen, Anand 5.5
    4-5. Aronian, Karjakin 5
    6. Svidler 4.5
    7. Caruana 4
    8. Nakamura 3.5
    9-10. So, Nepomniachtchi 3