Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: Master Of Trapped Rooks
Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: Master Of Trapped Rooks

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In the end of October 2000, I played a traditional chess tournament: Cap d'Agde. It was a memorable event for me. First, it is not every day you mingle with such legends as Anatoly Karpov.

Also, the way we entered the stage was quite remarkable. Right before the start of my semifinal match vs. GM Mikhail Gurevich the master of ceremonies announced his name and the crowd started chanting "Misha, Misha!"  That was expected since by some reason GM Gurevich was the local favorite and this is exactly how the audience cheered for him before every round.

What really surprised me is that when the MC announced my name, the crowd started chanting "Grisha, Grisha." Granted, this cheer was way less enthusiastic than the one for my opponent and yet I am grateful to GM Joel Benjamin, who I believe started this chant. For a moment it felt like we were at a stadium during a big sports event. 

Besides the main tournament that we played, there was also a big open as well as a match of two young prodigies. David Howell from England and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave from France, both 10 years old, were demonstrating their chess skills. If I remember correctly, Vachier-Lagrave won the match, but I wasn't really impressed by the games.

In my previous article I mentioned the fact that the games of the 11-year-old Caruana reminded me of the classical games of Capablanca. And here is what I saw there:

The horrible Ra3 is a total opposite of the aesthetically pleasing Capablanca play and yet somehow Vachier-Lagrave managed to win! 

maxime vachier-lagrave

Photo: Maria Emelianova/

I quickly forgot about this game till MVL became a super-GM. His games are full of truly remarkable, unorthodox concepts. Trapping his own rooks is one of them!

Look at the next diagram. GM Igor Nataf sacrificed everything he possibly could and now is very close to checkmating the entombed black king. Yet Black has a defense. Can you find it?

In the game, MVL settled for a draw (possible time trouble?), but his defensive maneuver was quite remarkable even if absolutely forced. 

Now I want to show you one of the most unusual games I have ever seen. The analysis of this game deserves a separate book! Notice how MVL solves the problem of his entombed king:

Yes, the Rh7 was trapped there for the most part of the game, yet it is precisely this rook that decided the game! Please don't make a mistake thinking that the trapped Rh7 is some mysterious creature that miraculously saves a bad position. The trapped Rh7 is as bad as it looks!

chess rook

It is just that MVL is a winner whenever this trapped Rh7 appears in his games, regardless if it is his rook or his opponent's!

It looks like Maxime's opponents are well aware of this phenomenon: if your rook gets trapped against the Frenchman, you are doomed:

However, if it is MVL's rook that is trapped, you better not mess with it!

As you can see, Vishy Anand correctly figured out that it was too dangerous to trap MVL's rook!
Many great chess players are associated with particular chess pieces. Philidor will be forever remembered for his penchant for pawns. Tal was famous for his queen's play (there was even a joke that a regular queen is worth nine pawns and Tal's queen is worth 12 pawns!).

To me, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the master of trapped rooks!

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