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    Entries in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (28)

    Sunday
    Jun252017

    Carlsen Wins the Paris leg of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour

    The 2017 Grand Chess Tour (GCT) kicked off this past week with a rapid & blitz event in Paris. (The second leg kicks off this Wednesday in Leuven, Belgium, with the same format but a slightly different cast of characters.) On Wednesday (the 21st) the ten players began three days of rapid play (three rounds per day), and on Saturday they played a blitz round robin, followed by another blitz round robin (with colors reversed) on Sunday. Rapid games were counted double, so a maximum of 18 points was available from each format, and the totals were combined to determine players' overall placement and the number of GCT points they received.

    The winners were Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who both finished with 24 points. Carlsen went undefeated in the rapid stage, scoring 14/18, while MVL dominated the blitz with 13/18. A two-game rapid playoff ensued, won by Carlsen 1.5-.5 (he won the first game with White and gave a charity draw in game two in a near-winning position to clinch the match). He thus received 12 tour points, while MVL got 10. (Tour standings can be found here.)

    Back to the event. Magnus Carlsen started out in beast mode, going undefeated through the rapid portion and winning his first four blitz games as well. It wasn't just his results that were good - he wasn't just fortunate or opportunistic - he played the kind of excellent chess that led him to be a triple world champion in 2014, winning everything in sight and enjoying a huge gap between his closest challengers on the classical rating list.

    In the rest of the field, someone else would star too - but it generally wasn't the same person two days in a row. For instance, on day 1 both Carlsen and Wesley So finished with 2.5/3, but So's fine score wasn't achieved so impressively, and indeed he quickly fell back. He lost to Carlsen in round 4, drew his next four games, and lost to Karjakin in the last round. On day 2 Nakamura impressed with 2.5/3, drawing in round 6 with Carlsen, and having gone 2/3 on day 1 his total was good enough to leave him...half a point behind Carlsen, who also went 2.5/3 on day 2. (Technically a point behind, on the 2-1-0 scoring, but let's bracket that for now.) Like So the previous day, however, Nakamura started day three with a loss and was out of the race for first in the rapid section. The hero of day 3 was Alexander Grischuk, who went 3-0. Carlsen only went 2-1, so Grischuk even managed to gain some ground. It was a fine result, but not quite enough to catch up. The final standings of the rapid competition look like this (here the doubling will be included):

    1. Carlsen 14
    2. Grischuk 13
    3. Nakamura 12
    4-5. Vachier-Lagrave, Mamedyarov 11
    6. So 9
    7. Karjakin 8
    8. Topalov 5
    9. Bacrot 4
    10. Caruana 3

    That's correct: Caruana scored three points, or 1.5/9. He lost his first three games - from two winning positions and one that was vastly superior - drew in round 4, and then lost his next three games as well. (Almost an Inverse-Sinquefield Cup.) He drew the last two games but still finished the rapid in last place - but this sad state of affairs would not carry over to the blitz.

    Caruana was one of the heroes of the blitz, except for the first game, which he lost to Carlsen. Carlsen started off on fire, as noted above, winning his first four games. But then things started going a bit screwy. He lost on time in round 5 to Grischuk from a position that was just about impossible to lose, but he spent a second or two too long trying to figure out how to maintain some small practical winning chances. After this he failed to convert a serious advantage against Sergey Karjakin, and then lost very unnecessarily to Vachier-Lagrave. Carlsen drew his next two games, and only a win over his new customer So in round 9 let him finish the day still in the overall lead.

    Carlsen scored 6/9 in the blitz for 20 points overall; Nakamura was in second with 19 after scoring 7/9 in the blitz. Grischuk had slipped to third after a poor first day; the three-time world blitz champion only scored 4.5 points to wind up with 17.5 overall. But two other players had a strong first day, both scoring 6/9. One was Vachier-Lagrave, who was now up to fourth with 17 points overall, and the other was Caruana. After the loss to Carlsen he went 6/8 to reach a more respectable total, though he remained in the bottom half of the table. Etienne Bacrot continued to struggle, which wasn't surprising for the lowest-rated player in the field (by far), but he didn't have the worst score. That unfortunate distinction went to So, who duplicated Caruana's result in the rapid: three draws and six losses. It's a tough field.

    On day two of the blitz, the pattern noted above recurred: Nakamura faltered. He went =2, -3 in the first five games, losing to MVL, but then also to So and Bacrot. While Carlsen too started out with a loss (to the resurgent Caruana), he then righted the ship with two wins. After a further two draws the event seemed to be over, but then things got interesting. First and foremost, Carlsen fell apart, losing in consecutive rounds to Karjakin, MVL, and Nakamura. Nakamura finished strongly with wins in rounds 15, 17, and 18 (the last round), but his loss to Mamedyarov in round 16 put him out of the running for first. Nevertheless, while Carlsen entered the last round a point ahead of Nakamura, he had not only been caught, but even surpassed, by Vachier-Lagrave.

    Vachier-Lagrave beat Nakamura in round 10, So in round 11, Bacrot in round 13, Mamedyarov in round 15, and Carlsen in round 16. When he drew in round 17 with Karjakin, he entered the last round half a point ahead of Carlsen. MVL had Black against Grischuk, and played well enough to draw; he never came within sniffing distance of a win. To force a tiebreak, Carlsen had to win with White; fortunately, his opponent was Wesley So. That's a crazy thing to say, given So's results in pretty much every event the past year prior to this one, but So had a terrible time in Paris, and this year it seems like Nakamura has transferred his old curse against Carlsen to his countryman. So was badly outplayed from the beginning, and then blundered a piece on move 24 and resigned immediately.

    Thus Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave finished tied for first overall, and as noted above, Carlsen won the playoff. Here are the final standings in the blitz:

    1. Vachier-Lagrave 13
    2-3. Nakamura, Caruana 11
    4-5. Karjakin, Carlsen 10
    6-7. Grischuk, Mamedyarov 9
    8. Topalov 6.5
    9. So 6
    10. Bacrot 4.5

    Overall:

     

    1-2. Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave 24 (of 36)
    3. Nakamura 23
    4. Grischuk 22
    5. Mamedyarov 20
    6. Karjakin 18
    7. So 15
    8. Caruana 14
    9. Topalov 11.5
    10. Bacrot 8.5

     

    Thursday
    Jun152017

    Norway Chess 2017, Round 8: Draws on Top and a Spiky Tail

    It looks like Magnus Carlsen's reign at the top of the rating list will continue for at least another tournament, as his risky play against Sergey Karjakin paid off. Worse for much of the leadup to the first time control, Carlsen's luck finally started to change when Karjakin erred on move 40. That error wasn't fatal, but Karjakin's 41st move - played after a 27-minute think(!) - was. Very strange.

    That took Carlsen out of last place, which he shared with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but it didn't get him out of the tie with MVL. Vachier-Lagrave defeated one of yesterday's heroes, Vladimir Kramnik, and Kramnik's loss was reminiscent of his previous loss to Levon Aronian (in round 6). In both cases he had superb preparation with Black, rattling out 20 moves and achieving a fine position. But as in the earlier game, it wasn't even close to being good enough to achieve a draw (or more). Vachier-Lagrave outplayed Kramnik to reach a superior but not yet winning double rook ending, and then Kramnik, like Karjakin, made his fatal error after the time control.

    So the new tailender is Karjakin, with three points out of eight. Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave are tied with Viswanathan Anand with three and a half points apiece; out of the race for first but also out of the cellar. Anand drew quickly and comfortably with Black against Levon Aronian, who was and remains the tournament leader. Hikaru Nakamura is still in clear second after his short draw, with White, against Wesley So.

    Nakamura could have been caught in second by Anish Giri, had the latter won with White against Fabiano Caruana. He was better throughout, but despite the bloated numbers your engine might display he was never winning the bishop vs. knight ending. Giri played on a long time, hoping for a miracle or for his 24-year-old opponent to die of old age, but once it was clear that neither was going to happen he reconciled himself to the draw.

    There's one round to go, and here's how the final round pairings shake out:

    • Karjakin (3) - Vachier-Lagrave (3.5)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Nakamura (5)
    • So (4) - Aronian (5.5)
    • Kramnik (4) - Giri (4.5)
    • Anand (3.5) - Carlsen (3.5)

    Wednesday
    May242017

    Three Interesting Recent Games

    I'm not going to analyze any of the three, mainly to avoid domesticating them. Each impressed and amazed me in its own way. The first, Najer-Mamedyarov, is a tactical tour de force by the hottest player in chess. (Don't peek, students!) The second, Ding Liren vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, featured a surprising sacrifice of a full exchange in the opening. The entire game was a mess, and the only thing that was clear is that Black was very fortunate to come away with half a point. The third game, between Hou Yifan and Jon Ludwig Hammer, was another matter. I watched a few moves early on in the rook vs. knight ending that arose after Black's 49th move, and was sure that it was a draw. A few hours later, I saw that Hou had won it (on her way to an excellent +1 result in the Grand Prix) and could hardly believe my eyes. Brilliancy by Hou or insanity by Hammer? I'll let you figure it out by yourself; I'll offer my own guess in the comments if anyone else offers one first.

    Games here.

    Monday
    Nov072016

    Last Week's World Chess Column

    In my most recent World Chess column, I take a look at the recently completed Corsica Masters, a rapid event won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. MVL defeated Viswanathan Anand in the final knockout match, and I present several of their games from that event.

    Wednesday
    Aug242016

    The Grandmaster Blitz Battle Continues: Carlsen-Grischuk Yesterday; Nakamura-MVL Coming Up

    No spoilers here for those of you who missed yesterday's action, fear not. You can watch the semi-final match between Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk here (the report is here, for those who don't care about spoilers); while the second semi-final in Chess.com's Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship, between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura, will start at 1 p.m. ET. (Viewing instructions here.)

    Monday
    Aug152016

    Catching Up: MVL Wins Biel Blitz (and Gives a Master Class); Adams Dominant in British Championship

    I'd already mentioned Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's dominance over Peter Svidler in their classical and rapid match in Biel, but it turned out that there was a larger blitz event that followed their match. As it turned out, ironically, MVL and Svidler tied for first and then played a 2-game match to decide the winner. Naturally, Vachier-Lagrave won this one too, 2-0.

    A better reason to harken back to Biel is that Vachier-Lagrave gave a "Master Class" on a free day, which you can watch below.

    More recently, Michael Adams won the British Championship in style, scoring an undefeated 10/11 to finish a point and a half ahead of his closest challenger. Along the way he defeated the next two seeds, David Howell (recently a 2700) and Gawain Jones, so it was in every sense a dominant performance by the strongest chess player in British history. Congratulations to GM Adams, who was at least once upon a time a reader of this blog, and someone whose success I appreciate as a player of my generation (more or less).

    Saturday
    Jul302016

    Various Events: MVL-Svidler Finishes; British Championship and Poikovsky Well Underway

    As already reported, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had already clinched match victory over Peter Svidler with one classical game yet to play; that game has been played and was drawn.

    Meanwhile, the British Championship is underway. Nigel Short and Luke McShane aren't playing, but Michael Adams, David Howell, and Gawain Jones are and make for a strong set of headliners. Round 6 of 11 is underway, and entering the round Howell led with 4.5 points. Six players, including Adams and Jones - who has White against Howell - are half a point behind.

    The Karpov Poikovsky tournament is even stronger, a 10-player round robin whose field includes three players rated over 2700 and most of the rest (maybe even all of the rest) have been over 2700 as well. Round 7 (of 9) is almost finished, and Anton Korobov leads with 4.5 points. Dmitry Andreikin, Maxim Matlakov, and Dmitry Jakovenko have 4 points apiece, while Radoslaw Wojtaszek has 3.5 points but is still playing. He has been pressing against Igor Kovalenko, but the game looks overwhelmingly likely to finish in a draw.

    Friday
    Jul292016

    Vachier-Lagrave Wins Match With Svidler

    There's still a round to go, but Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has clinched match victory against Peter Svidler. He won the rapid portion 2.5-1.5, and with a game to go leads the classical stage 2.5-.5. The classical games count double, but of course it wouldn't matter at this point if they counted 100 times more than the rapid games.

    There's a nice report on the match here, and it also notes that MVL's rating is (rounded up) 2820! The '90s generation has taken over, led by those actually born in the year 1990.

    Friday
    Jul152016

    Vachier-Lagrave Leads Dortmund With (You Guessed It) Two Rounds Remaining (Updated)

    And not only that, but he has moved into #2 in the world on the live rating list. This is mainly due to his fine play in Dortmund, but he has received a sort of assist from Vladimir Kramnik, who has drawn all his games so far. Kramnik had very good winning chances against Fabiano Caruana in today's round - round 5 - while in round 3 Kramnik failed to convert a significant but not decisive advantage in what would have been a brilliant win over Rainer Buhmann. Even if he had won both games he'd still be half a point behind MVL, but he would have maintained his lead in the ratings.

    Vachier-Lagrave has 4/5; most closely pursued by Leinier Dominguez and Ruslan Ponomariov, both of whom have 3 points. As they are his opponents in the last two rounds, first place is still very much up for grabs.

    Meanwhile, let's have a look at that remarkable Kramnik-Buhmann game.

    UPDATE: It shouldn't have gone without saying that Buhmann's play in that game, while not quite perfect, was still extraordinarily good. Both he and Kramnik deserve major kudos for their play, and while Kramnik's play was flashier he at least had a headstart from his home prep. Buhmann had to try to work everything out at the board, and then to play more than a dozen moves at the end of the first time control with only a minute or two left on the clock.

    Saturday
    Jul092016

    Dortmund, Round 1: MVL, Najer Win

    In round 1 of Dortmund Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got off to a great start by defeating one of his main rivals, Fabiano Caruana, and did it with the black pieces. There was a period 2-3 years ago when Caruana lost practically every game with white against the Najdorf Sicilian, but while his score against this variation isn't very good today's loss can't be attributed to the opening. His position entering the middlegame was fine, and when he went wrong it wasn't due to any typical Najdorf motifs. If anything, his position was rather pleasant, and it's possible that he overestimated his chances. It appears that Caruana missed 39...Rxg5, but even with a different 39th move he would still have been in trouble, while even if Vachier-Lagrave missed that little tactic he would still have had a much better position. Perhaps time trouble was to blame? At any rate, it was a painful and fundamentally unnecessary loss for Caruana, while for Vachier-Lagrave it was a great start and a welcome to the 2800 club (at least on the live list).

    The other 2800 player (aside from MVL and Caruana) in the tournament, Vladimir Kramnik, drew comfortably with Black in a boring 5.Re1 Anti-Berlin (but I repeat myself) against Leinier Dominguez. Occasionally White finds a way to get a little nibble in that variation, and Kramnik has lost to it at least twice. Not today; if anything, it was Kramnik who was playing with house money for most of the game as he tried to squeeze blood from a stone for teh last 30 moves of the game.

    The draw between Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu and Ruslan Ponomariov had much more life to it. White did most of the running, but despite that there was a period where the engine at least thinks that Black was better, believing more in his extra pawn than in White's better development, space advantage and attacking chances. Once the queens came off Ponomariov's winning chances looked more realistic, but 34...b5 (rather than te patient if somewhat passive 34...b6 35.Bf1 Ra8) allowed White to liquidate the queenside and escape with a draw.

    Finally, in the game between the tournament's biggest underdogs, Evgeniy Najer and Rainer Buhmann, a very interesting and mostly level battle was spoiled when Buhmann missed a simple tactic (time trouble?). 26...b6?? missed the point of White's previous move, and after 27.Nxe6 Black was completely lost and resigned a few moves later. In fact Black's 25th move could also have been a decisive error, but its refutation was more subtle. Instead of 26.Rh2 Najer had 26.Kd1!, forcing Black to either allow White's rook to use the c-file (winning), or if Black retreats his attacked rook on the c-file White plays 27.Kd2 and then Rah1. This forces a quick mate; the mechanism is this: Rh8+, R1h7+, Rh6+, R8h7+, and then either Rg6+ followed by Rf7+ or the reverse, depending on which way Black's king goes. Either way, White will give mate next move.

    Here's what round 2 looks like:

    • Vachier-Lagrave (1) - Kramnik (.5)
    • Buhmann (0) - Dominguez (.5)
    • Ponomariov (.5) - Najer (1)
    • Caruana (0) - Nisipeanu (.5)

    If Vachier-Lagrave wins this next game too it's an exaggeration to say he's clinched first place, but not much of an exaggeration to say he'll be the prohibitive favorite to take the title. There's also a pretty good chance he'll spring to #2 on the live rating list, though Caruana might retain a tiny lead if he beats Nisipeanu.