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    Entries in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (46)

    Tuesday
    Sep112018

    Champions Showdown (Chess960), Day 1

    The random-number generator outputted an interesting position for the first day of the big-league Chess960 event in St. Louis, with lively play resulting from ideas like Qxh7/...Qxh2 and b2-b4/...b7-b5, hitting the opponent's c-pawn. Four games were played in each match, and all 20 of the day's games featured the same starting position. First the players tried a pair of rapid games from the starting position (g/30 with a normal 10-second delay, i.e. not Bronstein delay), then a pair of blitz games (g/5 with a normal 5-second delay), with the rapid games counting double.

    Here are the scores in each match after day 1:

    • Topalov 3.5 - Kasparov 2.5
    • Svidler 2.5 - Nakamura 3.5
    • So 4.5 - Giri 1.5
    • Vachier-Lagrave 4 - Shankland 2
    • Dominguez 2.5 - Aronian 3.5

    Wednesday and Thursday they'll follow the same format, and on Friday they'll skip the rapids and play eight blitz games instead. Every four games a new Chess960 position is randomly chosen, which means something new tomorrow, something new on Thursday, and then something new both at the start and in the middle of Friday's blitz rounds.

    I tried to post the games, but although ChessBase can handle Chess960 games in the program itself, the web app for replaying games can't handle Chess960 castling and so the game scores get messed up. They're not on TWIC (yet?) either, probably for a similar reason, nor on the event site. So I'll send you to Chess24, and especially commend to you the third-round game between Shankland and MVL. Here's the end of it with my annotations, starting with a position after any castling worries can mess up the software.

    Friday
    Aug242018

    More St. Louis Action Coming Up: Chess960 Matches Starring Kasparov

    Here's the quick summary: five 20-game matches, with six rapid and 14 blitz games taking place from September 11-14 of this year. All the games are Chess960 (aka Fischerrandom), and the positions will be unknown to the players until the start of the round. Here are the pairings:

    • Garry Kasparov - Veselin Topalov
    • Hikaru Nakamura - Peter Svidler
    • Wesley So - Anish Giri
    • Sam Shankland - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
    • Levon Aronian - Leinier Dominguez

    Thursday
    Aug162018

    A Swindle of Sorts from the Vachier-Lagrave vs. Dominguez Match

    This is going back a couple of weeks to their Chess.com match. Slowly but surely I've been going through all the matches of the Speed Chess Championship, picking out the occasional gem or otherwise eye-catching game for your entertainment and instruction. Here's a nice swindle by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who managed to befuddle Leinier Dominguez early in the match. There were zwischenzugs and a king walk that reminded the commentators of the famous Short-Timman game from Tilburg 1991. Good entertainment all the way around, and a useful reminder that we should not automatically assume that our opponents will recapture the pieces we've just captured with.

    Wednesday
    Aug152018

    St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: Nakamura Wins, Mamedyarov Trips, Vachier-Lagrave Comes up Just Short

    The last day of the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz was a thriller, almost coming down to the wire. As yesterday - in fact, as it was all tournament long - Hikaru Nakamura and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov went back and forth, neck and neck all day long. Only today, almost at the very end, did one player emerge as the clear leader.

    Nakamura and Mamedyarov started the day tied for first, with Fabiano Caruana a point and a half behind and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave two points back. MVL was the star yesterday, halving his deficit with a stellar 7-2 score. Caruana also had his moments yesterday, starting well and finishing with two wins after a rough middle patch. He started strong today, and when both Nakamura and Mamedyarov each went -1 in their first two rounds it looked like anyone's race. Both Caruana and MVL went +1 in those rounds, closing the gap to half a point and a full point, respectively.

    The key game for Caruana - at least the first key game - took place in today's third round. Caruana had White against Nakamura and started well, but 34.Rxc2 brought him from better to precariously equal. A difficult draw was still available on move 46 with 46.Qc3!!, but without much time it wasn't surprising that he failed to find it, and lost. Mamedyarov and Vachier-Lagrave both won, leaving Nakamura and Mamedyarov a point ahead of MVL and a point and a half in front of Caruana.

    Mamedyarov beat Caruana in the next round, essentially putting an end to Caruana's hopes for first; Nakamura drew with Viswanathan Anand and, in a shocker, Vachier-Lagrave suffered his first (and only) blitz loss of the tournament, misplaying an attack against Levon Aronian on the black side of a Byrne Attack Najdorf. Mamedyarov took the clear lead, Nakamura was half a point back, MVL went two points down and Caruana down two and a half points.

    The race immediately tightened, however, as Mamedyarov lost in round 5 to none other than Vachier-Lagrave. Meanwhile, Nakamura leapfrogged into first by defeating Alexander Grischuk and Caruana kept his very slim chances alive by defeating Anand. Now Nakamura was in first, half a point ahead of Mamedyarov, a point and a half in front of Vachier-Lagrave and two points ahead of Caruana.

    In round 6 MVL kept in striking range by defeating Caruana, while Mamedyarov caught up to Nakamura by defeating Sergey Karjakin while Nakamura only drew against Leinier Dominguez. Mamedyarov and Nakamura shared the lead, with MVL a point back and Caruana out of the picture two and a half points behind.

    In round 7 Nakamura took a full point lead by defeating Aronian, while Mamedyarov shockingly lost to Wesley So, a tailender throughout the event. Vachier-Lagrave fell off the pace after a draw with Karjakin, leaving him a point and a half behind Nakamura. But things were not as grim for the chase pack as it might seem, because Nakamura would have to face Mamedyarov in round 8 and MVL in the final round, round 9.

    In round 8 MVL drew again, with So again playing the spoiler role. Still, not all would be lost in the race for first if Mamedyarov could defeat Nakamura, and he enjoyed an advantage at various times in what was a crazy and very hard-fought game. With 42.Be5 Mamedyarov would have had Nakamura under serious pressure, and a few moves later 45.Kc3 would have maintained equal chances in a sharp ending. Instead, he played 46.Kd3, a fatal error that gave Black's rook the b3 square. Nakamura won a few moves later, taking advantage of (and winning) White's stuck bishop on c1. With a two point lead over both Mamedyarov and MVL with only one round to go, Nakamura clinched clear first.

    Nevertheless, Vachier-Lagrave kept fighting and played a very good game, outplaying Nakamura with Black in the last round to close the gap to a single point. Mamedyarov only managed a draw with Anand, which meant that he took a disappointing third place a point and a half behind Nakamura and half a point behind MVL.

    The games (without notes) are here, and these are the final overall standings:

    1. Nakamura 22.5/36
    2. Vachier-Lagrave 21.5
    3. Mamedyarov 21
    4. Caruana 20
    5. Aronian 18
    6. Karjakin 17
    7. Dominguez 16
    8. Grischuk 15.5
    9. So 15
    10. Anand 13.5

    Had the blitz portion been a tournament in its own right, Vachier-Lagrave would have been the clear winner. He scored a very impressive 13.5/18, gained 59 rating points, and is only two points behind Magnus Carlsen in the blitz ratings. And speaking of Magnus Carlsen, he will replace Leinier Dominguez as the wildcard in the next Grand Chess Tour event, happening in the same place and starting on Saturday. That is of course the Sinquefield Cup, a classical event that will mark the close of two different things: the qualification stage of the Grand Chess Tour (the top four overall in the Tour will fight it out in London in December) and the pre-world championship match battles between Carlsen and Caruana. (They will play in round 7, on Saturday, August 25; Carlsen has the white pieces. Full pairings here.)

    Incidentally, tomorrow (Thursday) there will be the informal "Ultimate Moves" "competition" at the St. Louis club, a series of fun chess events featuring the Tour participants along with the founder of the club, Rex Sinquefield, and his son Randy Sinquefield. The fun and games will start tomorrow at the usual hour: 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis/2 p.m. ET.

    Finally, you can see the Grand Chess Tour's overall standings here (remember, the top four overall qualify for London, and do so on an equal footing - their qualifying scores play no role once they're there) and the Tour points available in the Sinquefield Cup (which are greater than those given for all the previous GCT events) can be found in this PDF.

    Friday
    Mar092018

    Candidates Odds & Ends

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who very, very nearly qualified for the Candidates (by several different means) has written up his own preview of the event, singling out Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian as his favorites. (He's not alone in this, as he acknowledges; many others - and I'd include myself here - are of the same opinion.) He also offers some very high praise of Vladimir Kramnik:

    In my opinion, Vlad is probably the player in the world who best understands chess. You can show him whatever position, his instincts will seldom let him down. He will always find what the evaluation of the position is and which plan to adopt.

    A well-known Norwegian didn't care for this very much, expressing his disapproval on Twitter, and in Kramnik's and MVL's defense came Anish Giri. Giri has two dogs in the fight: first, he and Magnus Carlsen have been exchanging barbed tweets for years now; second, Giri is one of Kramnik's helpers for the Candidates. You can read more about how their little feud progressed at the preceding link; perhaps it has continued on their Twitter feeds in the meantime.

    Returning to more buttoned-up preview material, Jan Gustafsson has a preview series of videos on Chess24, and Chess24 also has a series of articles on the Candidates. In order from the most to the least recent:

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk, Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Wesley So, and Sergei Karjakin.

    Happy reading and viewing!

    Sunday
    Dec102017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 7: Lots of Blood

    In round 7 three of the five games saw a winner, doubling the total of wins through the entire tournament.

    One of the players whose game finished in a draw was Fabiano Caruana's. He started the round in clear first with a +2 score and the white pieces against Wesley So. So was better prepared in a 5.d3 Bc5 Ruy and equalized easily, drawing in just 30 moves. (If anything, So was a little better near the end.)

    Caruana maintained the lead, but thanks to Ian Nepomniachtchi's win over Viswanathan Anand it's a shared lead. Nepo played an experimental opening hoping for a chance to fight, and he got it. His play wasn't perfect, but he handled the unusual situation much better than Anand did, and won an impressive game.

    While Caruana and Nepomniachtchi are the front-runners in this tournament, Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are the leaders in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings. Both drew their first six games, and both won in round 7. For Carlsen this required some luck early on, as Michael Adams was winning in the opening (with Black against the Bird) and was better in the ending as well. But while Carlsen's initial salvation in the game was a matter of luck, he simply outplayed Adams in the ending. First he stabilized the situation, then he equalized, and then he managed to obtain some counterplay that wound up winning the game.

    As for MVL, he won a nice game with Black in the Najdorf against Sergey Karjakin. He had suffered some defeats in the Delayed Poisoned Pawn in the last year or two, but this time he was well-prepared, neutralized White's attacking ideas, and eventually exploited the weaknesses left behind in the wake of White's aggression. He, like Carlsen, is half a point behind the leaders.

    Finally, good preparation helped Levon Aronian gain the upper hand against Hikaru Nakamura, but he was unable to convert it into a win. (Or even to cause Nakamura as many problems as Aronian felt his early advantage merited.)

    The games, with my comments, are here; the pairings for the penultimate round follow:

    • Carlsen (4) - Nepomniachtchi (4.5)
    • Adams (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Nakamura (3.5) - Caruana (4.5)
    • So (3.5) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Anand (2.5)

    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.