Vachier-Lagrave Beats Topalov In Clash Of Najdorf Specialists

Vachier-Lagrave Beats Topalov In Clash Of Najdorf Specialists

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave joined Anish Giri in the lead as the only winner in round three of the London Chess Classic. MVL defeated Veselin Topalov using Bobby Fischer's 6.h3 against the Najdorf.

It's always interesting when two specialists battle it out in “their” opening variation. For openings like the Berlin or the Najdorf it's hard to call anyone a specialist, since almost all top players play it from time to time. Still, Vachier-Lagrave and Topalov seem to have “more than average” experience in the Najdorf. 

Another specialist, London commentator GM Danny King, was especially enjoying the game and was surprised about Vachier-Lagrave's choice to play 6.h3. The Frenchman dared him to name another variation where White gets an advantage.

“Generally the positions are unbalanced and it's not so easy to play as Black. There are so many subtleties,” said MVL.

MVL going for 6.h3 against Topalov's Najdorf. | Photo Ray Morris-Hill.

Despite playing the line with both colors, the Frenchman felt he might have played the opening inaccurately, and he didn't want to use the word ‘smooth’ to describe his game. It only looked that way! Here it is, annotated by GM Robert Hess:

Analysis by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

That was all the bloodshed in the third round. After three days the drawing percentage is as high as 86.6 percent, but not all of those draws have been quiet, equal affairs. Hikaru Nakamura for example has seen ups and downs: he should have won one, and perhaps lost the other two.

Especially in round three he was looking at a pretty horrible position, against his fellow American Fabiano Caruana. “I played too aggressive perhaps,” said Nakamura. His 9...b5 was based on a miscalculation, and more miscalculations would follow.

Caruana probably wins the position on move 18 nine out of ten times, but not this time. “He probably went on autopilot,” said Nakamura, who was critical about his opponent's decision to trade queens. But White still had winning chances on e.g. move 37.


Showdown in London: Caruana vs Nakamura. | Photo Ray Morris-Hill.

So how on earth did Nakamura hold this one? “I just try to play one good move. That's all you can do,” he said. “When you have a position like I had today that's all you can do. If you think about anything else except you're not gonna be in a good mood anyway.”

Giri managed a similar Houdini act against Grischuk in a Berlin Endgame. The Dutchman was clearly lost, perhaps even more than Nakamura, but he had one ally: Grischuk's clock.

The Russian GM is known for being short on time in so many games, but took it to another level against Giri. Grischuk thought for an hour and three minutes on his 20th move, after he had already spent more than 50 on his first 19 moves.


Grisshuk did a lot of thinking in the early phase of the game. | Photo Ray Morris-Hill.

This saved the day for Giri, who said: “Of course it's completely random that I managed to draw this position but I think it was a little bit exaggerated. OK, of course it knocks me out, [his] long think, but there was also justice at the end.

“I had at least one hour more on the clock. When some cheap tricks appeared they worked. But of course it shouldn't have helped me anyway.”

Our grandmaster-on-site annotated another game: the clash between Anand and Carlsen. It was another great fight between the two matadors who already faced each other in two world championship matches.

The draw was a fair result according to GM Robert Hess, “given that Anand had the upper hand early but failed to make the most of his opportunities and then Carlsen returned the favor.”

Black is always resilient,” said Anand. “You try to find the most exact way and of course I succeeded in... I had no difficulty at all in finding some really stupid continuation. And suddenly I'm just lost. (...) This sort of stuff is just embarrassing.

That wasn't the best game Carlsen and Anand ever played against each other. | Photo Ray Morris-Hill.

At least there was one moment where the ex-World Champion did better than some of his colleagues and the computer. Stockfish, Nakamura, Grischuk and Giri all thought that with 22.Ng5 White gets an overwhelming advantage, but Anand had planned 22...Bxb2 23.Rab1 Rxh1 24.Kxh1 Bd4 25.Rxb7 Bb6 and Black is indeed OK there.

After the press conference Carlsen also briefly spoke with's FM Mike Klein. Don't miss Carlsen's answer to the question whether his many games with Anand is turning into some kind of Rocky vs Apollo Creed rivalry.

Adams and Aronian drew an Anti-Marshall with 8.a4 where the queens left the board early on. Aronian, who has quite a bit of experience in this line, played the opening quickly and only had his first major think on move 21.

The Armenian number one went for active piece play but underestimated Adams's 25th move, after which the game quickly petered out to a draw.


2015 London Chess Classic | Pairings & Results

Round 1 04.12.15 16:00 GMT   Round 2 05.12.15 14:00 GMT
Topalov 0-1 Giri   Giri ½-½ Adams
Grischuk ½-½ Nakamura   Aronian ½-½ Anand
Vachier-Lagrave ½-½ Carlsen   Carlsen ½-½ Caruana
Caruana ½-½ Aronian   Nakamura ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave
Anand ½-½ Adams   Topalov ½-½ Grischuk
Round 3 06.12.15 14:00 GMT   Round 4 07.12.15 16:00 GMT
Grischuk ½-½ Giri   Giri - Aronian
Vachier-Lagrave 1-0 Topalov   Carlsen - Adams
Caruana ½-½ Nakamura   Nakamura - Anand
Anand ½-½ Carlsen   Topalov - Caruana
Adams ½-½ Aronian   Grischuk - Vachier-Lagrave
Round 5 08.12.15 16:00 GMT   Round 6 10.12.15 16:00 GMT
Vachier-Lagrave - Giri   Giri - Carlsen
Caruana - Grischuk   Nakamura - Aronian
Anand - Topalov   Topalov - Adams
Adams - Nakamura   Grischuk - Anand
Aronian Carlsen   Vachier-Lagrave - Caruana
Round 7 11.12.15 16:00 GMT   Round 8 12.12.15 14:00 GMT
Caruana - Giri   Giri - Nakamura
Anand - Vachier-Lagrave   Topalov - Carlsen
Adams - Grischuk   Grischuk - Aronian
Aronian - Topalov   Vachier-Lagrave - Adams
Carlsen - Nakamura   Caruana - Anand
Round 9 13.12.15 14:00 GMT        
Anand - Giri        
Adams - Caruana        
Aronian - Vachier-Lagrave        
Carlsen - Grischuk        
Nakamura - Topalov        


2015 London Chess Classic | Round 3 Standings

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Giri 2778 2886 phpfCo1l0.png       ½       ½ 1 2.0/3 2.00
2 Vachier-Lagrave 2765 2935   phpfCo1l0.png ½ ½           1 2.0/3 2.00
3 Carlsen 2850 2785   ½ phpfCo1l0.png     ½ ½       1.5/3 2.50
4 Nakamura 2793 2768   ½   phpfCo1l0.png     ½   ½   1.5/3 2.50
5 Adams 2744 2787 ½       phpfCo1l0.png ½   ½     1.5/3 2.50
6 Anand 2803 2792     ½   ½ phpfCo1l0.png   ½     1.5/3 2.25
7 Caruana 2787 2808     ½ ½     phpfCo1l0.png ½     1.5/3 2.25
8 Aronian 2781 2778         ½ ½ ½ phpfCo1l0.png     1.5/3 2.25
9 Grischuk 2750 2791 ½     ½         phpfCo1l0.png ½ 1.5/3 2.00
10 Topalov 2803 2485 0 0             ½ phpfCo1l0.png 0.5/3  

The London Chess Classic takes place in Kensington Olympia, London and runs until Monday, December 14. December 9 is a rest day. You can watch live streaming commentary daily at with GMs Jan Gustafsson and Daniel King. phpfCo1l0.png

Image courtesy of Spectrum Studios.

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