French number one GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is having his way at the Biel International Chess Festival. He sits on an undefeated 5/7 and leads by 1.5 points with three rounds to play.
Though he is more likely to call the bilingual Swiss town "Bienne," its French name, chess fans are seeing that his recent play is more than just "bien."
According to his FIDE profile, he has not lost a game in all of 2014, and in fact his unbeaten streak has just hit 50 games!
The best French player of all time won again today, surviving a scary assault on his pawnless king against the current European Champion.
GM Alexander Motylev's piece sacrifice was justified, but he missed the paradoxical queen trade 28. Qe4! Black is compelled to accept (otherwise 29. Nc4, heading for e5, is mighty scary). After 28...Qxe4 29. Nxe4 Rh6 is punished by g2-g4-g5.
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while he still had pawns near his king (all photos courtesy official site)
The successful defense netted Vachier-Lagrave a few more rating points, which was enough to eclipse GM Veselin Topalov for world number 8. His last loss was in October, 2013, and he is thus far unscathed in this Category 19 event (although he just committed to play a Category 23 event next month!).
The win today was unlike his two previous wins, which were slow grinds.
In round five, he chose not to climb the Berlin Wall, and instead got the bishop pair for himself. It was just barely enough to win against GM Anish Giri.
11. Re2 and 31. Qa1 were certainly unusual places for the heavy pieces, but "MVL" looked in control the entire time.
The 7. Bf1 move inspired at least one top-level player. Two days after this game, GM Ruslan Ponomariov used the same system to beat the struggling GM Vladimir Kramnik in Dortmund.
When asked after round 5 if he had refuted the Berlin Defense, Vachier-Lagrave said, "I hope so...but I don't think I was really better. I had some kind of little pressure." He then allowed that his bishop pair required Black to play precisely. "Qa1 was really delicate, then I don't know if it was possible to hold," he said.
The leader's third win came earlier against the bottom seed, GM Hou Yifan, who is acquitting herself nicely in Biel, aside from that game. She sits on an even 3.5/7, and is tied for second. (This is her only loss so far.)
GM Hou Yifan, now only 20 points from GM Judit Polgar
Although nominally a Sicilian, the game had all the trademarks of a closed Ruy Lopez. Hou closed the center early, and after making some advances on the kingside, Vachier-Lagrave once again placed his queen in the corner (this time a8) for a successful invasion.
Every player has at least one win, and Hou nearly had her second today, but her extra d-pawn proved too weak to even move. (To see her first win, see this previous report.) Had she won in this reverse Benoni, she would have been in clear second and still controlled her own fate in the double round robin.
Like Hou, GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek has not followed up his first-round win with anything. He is also on 3.5/7, where he is joined by GM Pentala Harikrishna. Giri's five decisive games have only netted him 3/7, while Motylev (2.5/7) rounds out the field.
The matchups for round 7
There are no more rest days remaining, so rounds 8-10 will be played the next three days (Tuesday-Thursday), with all rounds beginning at 14:00 CET (GMT +1), which is 08 am in New York and 05:00 in Los Angeles.
To hear more interviews with the players, watch the excellent video reports being filed by GM Daniel King, or see the festival's own analysis of the games.