Mamedyarov Wins Riga FIDE Grand Prix In Armageddon
The two finalists on stage with officials after their thrilling tiebreak match. | Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

Mamedyarov Wins Riga FIDE Grand Prix In Armageddon

| 27 | Chess Event Coverage

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov won the FIDE Grand Prix in Riga, Latvia, after beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the Armageddon game of their tiebreak. He leads the overall Grand Prix after two legs together with Alexander Grischuk.

"These players seem to be unable to play boring," said commentator Evgeny Miroshnichenko on the last day of the Riga Grand Prix. That sums the play nicely.

By trading wins, the players had provided maximum entertainment in the classical games. They didn’t disappoint either in Wednesday’s tiebreak, which was a thrilling affair that went all the way to Armageddon—something that had never happened before in a final of a knockout tournament part of the world championship cycle.

In the first 25+10 minute game, Mamedyarov repeated his 7.Qa4+ in the Gruenfeld that had given him such a quick win two days ago. This time Vachier-Lagrave equalized easily, and just when he seemed to be gaining the advantage the players agreed to a draw. (It's included in the annotations of the first 10+10 game).

MVL and Mamedyarov in Riga
MVL and Mamedyarov start another game. | Photo: Niki Riga/WorldChess.

MVL's opening with white didn't go so smoothly. If anyone was better after the opening and early in the endgame, it was Black. He nonetheless managed to get some initiative and got serious winning chances when Mamedyarov blundered trying to defend. The Azerbaijani was fortunate to escape later.

Vachier-Lagrave vs. Mamedyarov Riga
This exciting draw is a good result for Mamedyarov. | Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

The Gruenfeld was still OK in the first 10+10 game as MVL sacrificed a pawn for enough compensation in the form of the bishop pair. That compensation became less and less as Mamedyarov's pieces got more and more active. With little time on the clock, defending as Black was quite an achievement.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov Riga Grqnd Prix
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. | Photo: Niki Riga/World Chess.

While being so comfortable as Black, MVL got into trouble yet again with the white pieces. After a serious misjudgment with 16.g4? Mamedyarov quickly built up a very strong attack with his queen and minor pieces towards the white king. By having Harry the h-pawn join the party, he could have decided the match once again. Instead he went for a move repetition.

After both missed chances, the players moved on to the five-minute portion—plus three-second increments, to be exact. Again, Mamedyarov was quite comfortable out of the opening, and this time he managed to finish:

For the second time in the match, MVL found himself in a must-win situation. However, unlike the classical portion, he was having the black pieces.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. As a rare exception, Vachier-Lagrave stepped away from his Gruenfeld and played 1...e6 and 2...b6 instead. After trading the queens early, Mamedyarov dropped a pawn, but a draw still seemed quite close.

MVL skillfully avoided the most drawish rook endgames and eventually got the best possible version: rook behind the pawn. Just like for Alexander Alekhine in the 34th and final game with Jose Capablanca in their 1927 world championship match, this advantage turned out decisive—although in this case Mamedyarov had a tablebase draw at some point.

As a result, the Riga Grand Prix was going to be decided in an Armageddon game. It was a 10K game because the winner of a GP earns 24,000 euros versus 14,000 for the runner-up. More importantly, it was a game with two extra Grand Prix points at stake.

Things got very messy at the end. "What happened?" was the first comment from the official commentators right after the game finished.

It was Mamedyarov who, while continuously spinning a piece in his hand when it was not his move, stayed in control and eventually had the strongest nerves. Because he was never in danger in this Armageddon and could have decided the match earlier twice, he was definitely not an undeserved winner, but as MVL later said, it could have gone either way.

It is hard not to feel at least a little bit sad for MVL, who also lost tiebreaks against Levon Aronian at the 2017 World Cup (also in Armageddon), thereby narrowly missing qualification for the Candidates' Tournament. This time he still has all the chances if he plays well in the remaining two GP events.

Mamedyarov is doing even better because he is tied for first with Grischuk now, but he only has one GP tournament left to play. 

"It was very interesting, It was a very good match," said Mamedyarov. "Maxime came back two times, with white, with black. What was very important to me: I play very bad these Italian lines in classical chess but in rapid, blitz, I play very good. I think Maxime played a very good tournament here."

According to Mamedyarov, it’s never easy to play a tournament’s first tiebreaks. He compared his opponent’s tournament with Veselin Topalov’s great performance at the 2004 World Cup in Tripoli when he was eliminated in his first tiebreak, in the semifinals, to later winner Rustam Kasimdzhanov.

MVL then pointed out that the same happened to Mamedyarov himself in 2009, although the Azerbaijani, who had started strongly at that World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, lost in the classical part of the quarterfinals to Sergey Karjakin.

The interview with the players.

Riga FIDE Grand Prix 2019 final standings
The 2019 Riga FIDE Grand Prix final standings. | Image: WorldChess.

The 2019 FIDE Grand Prix series consists of four knockout tournaments, each with 16 players who play two classical games per round and, if needed, a tiebreak on the third day. Ian Nepomniachtchi won the first Grand Prix tournament in Moscow. The remaining two are in Hamburg, Germany (November 4–18) and Tel Aviv, Israel (December 10–24).

The FIDE Grand Prix 2019 standings. | Image: WorldChess
The 2019 FIDE Grand Prix standing halfway in the series. | Image: WorldChess.

Each of the four tournaments has a prize fund of 130,000 euros ($145,510). Prizes for the overall standings in the series total 280,000 euros ($313,405), making the total prize fund of the series 800,000 euros ($895,444).

You can find all games here as part of our live portal. The official site is here.

The official World Chess broadcast with GMs Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Arturs Neiksans.

Chess and life) after the game

Een bericht gedeeld door Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (@shakh_mamedyarov) op

A picture on Mamedyarov's Instagram account with MVL and his second Etienne Bacrot.

The life of a chess professional is hectic, especially in 2019. Both finalists came to Riga straight from the Zagreb Grand Chess Tour tournament, and both will play in the Paris Grand Chess Tour that starts in three days! You can find all upcoming major events in our tournament calendar.

Previous reports:

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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