Vachier-Lagrave On 2/2 At Sharjah Grand Prix

Vachier-Lagrave On 2/2 At Sharjah Grand Prix

| 4 | Chess Event Coverage

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the only player with a 100 percent score after two rounds at the Sharjah Grand Prix. The French grandmaster beat Richard Rapport today, who started the game with 1.b3.

In this second round again some games ended in draws rather quickly; something we kind of have to get used to again after seeing so many top tournaments with anti-draw rules.

The first to split the point were Dmitry Jakovenko and Alexander Grischuk, after about an hour in fact. The latter came up with some excellent analysis in the Anti-Grünfeld to equalize quickly.

"Now I’m in time to watch the women’s tiebreaks!” said Grischuk. He also commented on this anti-draw rule: "If you have this rule it should be Sofia Rule. All this move 30 or move 40 is stupid, especially move 30. Both can be in time trouble and the game becomes an abortion if the game is agreed to a draw."

Aronian-Adams was a draw in a Giuoco Piano. From this game we can mainly conclude that Levon Aronian seems to be playing 1.e4 more and more these days—like Pavel Eljanov (see below).

The third quick draw was between Jon Ludvig Hammer and Hikaru Nakamura. The Norwegian faced his second (and only) other opponent he has a minus score against and so, he admitted, his strategy was "safety first." Almost out of the opening the game saw lots of trades and there's nothing else to mention.

Hammer even briefly joined commentator Tyler Schwarz for a moment to talk about the
other games, as "compensation" for his insignificant game. | Photo Maria Emelianova.

Around the time control suddenly three decisive games appeared, one after another. First, Salem Saleh suffered his second loss, against Ding Liren

The players followed a recent game between Veselin Topalov and Wesley So in the Giuoco Piano. White was doing OK out of the opening in that game, but lost quickly.

Nonetheless it was Ding who deviated from the black side, and Salem's initial reaction was fine. However, with growing pressure on the kingside the local hero started to make mistakes.

Around this time there was a short interruption of the round. Part of the light in the playing hall went off, and it took the organizers about five minutes to fix the problem.

An empty stage in the middle of the round... the players, obviously slightly annoyed, decided to just stroll around a bit.

The next winner was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who played what was according to commentator Viktor Bologan a "model game" against Evgeny Tomashevsky's hanging pawns.

"The main problem was that I played too slowly in this game," said Tomashevsky. "It's hard to hold against a strong player in time trouble."

A textbook win for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov today: How to Play vs Hanging Pawns

Richard Rapport is one of those players who come up with off-beat lines on a regular basis. Today it was 1.b3.

"I did consider it an option but I still was a bit unsure which [line] I should choose," said Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. He went for the line 1...d5 and 2...Bg4, which was played by the likes of Vishy Anand, Peter Svidler and Mikhail Tal.

The Frenchman was more than fine out of the opening  but in the middlegame things seemed unclear, until he found the 23...Qc8! idea. Suddenly White couldn't really solve his problems in a satisfactory way.

A great start for MVL, who was the first to point out that it doesn't say much yet. "The problem is that I also started with 2/2 in the last Grand Prix but then I won one game out of the last 31!"

Again 2/2 for MVL, and surely he'll do better in this series!?

The second all-Russian encounter, between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Riazantsev, ended in a draw, but only after a battle of more than five hours.

Things really seemed to be going Nepomniachtchi's way, who had more time and a better position in the middlegame. "I had a very comfortable advantage; I was pressing," he said. "But then, OK, I made some questionable decisions."

He was referring to 23.a3 and 24.b4, after which Black gained some counterplay and White's coordination was broken. "By the time control I was already dead lost," said the white player. "I don't thing it was a deserved escape for me."

"Nepo" had some reason to hope for a miracle though. "I was following this Women's World Championship in Tehran, and especially the tiebreaks. A lot of wonders are happening there!"

A miracle escape for Nepomniachtchi today.

There was also an all-Chinese encounter, and this turned out to be the longest game of the round. Out of an Exchange Queen's Gambit Declined the position was about equal after the opening. Then, Li's plan of pushing his g-pawn was not good, but this went unnoticed.

After White got into a pin, Hou could have gained the advantage with the aggressive 22...g5! when 23.Kg1 is forced, and after 23...Qg4! followed by ...Kg7 and ...Rh8 she would have had a similar attacking position as Ding today.

As it went, the players reached a double rook ending with only a tiny edge for White, but Li did manage to get a winning position, only to spoil it at the end.

The start of what would be a very long game.

Pairings for round 3:

Bo. No. Fed Name Rtg Pts. vs Pts. Fed Name Rtg No.
1 1 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2796 2 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 2766 4
2 7 Adams Michael 2751 1 Eljanov Pavel 2759 6
3 9 Grischuk Alexander 2742 1 1 Aronian Levon 2785 2
4 3 Nakamura Hikaru 2785 1 1 Rapport Richard 2692 14
5 5 Ding Liren 2760 1 1 Hammer Jon Ludvig 2628 18
6 13 Vallejo Pons Francisco 2709 1 1 Nepomniachtchi Ian 2749 8
7 17 Hou Yifan 2651 1 1 Jakovenko Dmitry 2709 12
8 15 Riazantsev Alexander 2671 1 ½ Li Chao B 2720 10
9 11 Tomashevsky Evgeny 2711 ½ 0 Salem A.R. Saleh 2656 16

This new Grand Prix series consists of four legs. The other three tournaments will be in Moscow (in May this year), Geneva (in July) and in Palma de Mallorca (in November).

A total of 24 players are competing, with each tournament having 18 participants. The two best performing players will qualify for next year's Candidates' Tournament.

Games from TWIC.

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.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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