Vachier-Lagrave Wins Again, Clinches 1st In Dortmund

Vachier-Lagrave Wins Again, Clinches 1st In Dortmund

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave continued to look nigh untouchable in round six of Dortmund's Sparkassen Chess Meeting. Victory against Ruslan Ponomariov puts him at 5.0/6 and secures first place with a round to go. Clinching first is a remarkable achievement in any tournament, but it is especially impressive in a seven-round tournament like Dortmund.

Vachier-Lagrave avoided Ponomariov's main-line Berlin with the super-solid 5.Re1. This variation has led to some extremely uninspired draws, but Vachier-Lagrave seemed to have little interest in banging his head against the normal lines, as he did in round two against Vladimir Kramnik.

Despite the "safe" line, Vachier-Lagrave was not ready to give up the game so easily. He unbalanced the position with 13.Bf4! followed by 14.Bxd6. His choice ceded the bishop pair but gave Ponomariov a hideous structure. With strong play, Vachier-Lagrave built a pawn chain on b3-c4-d5, which relegated Ponomariov's light-squared bishop to a role as a mere observer.

They say your game is only as strong as your worst-placed piece. That certainly seemed true here.

Nursing a sick bishop is just no fun   | All photos courtesy Georgios Souleidis.

The game is strongly reminiscent of the classic game, Short vs. Kramnik, in which Short's bishop on a2 could find nothing to do.

Ponomariov's bishop was eventually released with 42.c5! but such freedom came with great danger. 43...Rc7! could have kept the game close, and such chances persisted later. As played, Vachier-Lagrave achieved a winning advantage, and he even had the rare honor of playing the mate on the board.

The other decisive game of the day was Fabiano Caruana's win over Rainer Buhmann. Although Kramnik's exhilarating play against Buhmann in round three was crowd-pleasing, it came short of a win.

This round, Caruana instead approached Buhmann more calmly in a sort of reversed Benoni structure. Soon, Buhmann's bad bishop and out-of-play knight made a poor impression.

Out-of-play knights are no fun either.

Amusingly, Buhmann's bad bishop and knight on the rim after 18...Na5 resembled those of Vachier-Lagrave's after 28.b3 in that game this round. Of course, one must evaluate each position on its own merits, and Buhmann had none of Vachier-Lagrave's advantages.

Although bad bishops defend good pawns, today the bishop could not defend e5, which fell on move 23. Buhmann's resignation seemed a bit early to some, but he was losing the f7-pawn as well.

Evgeniy Najer looked to possess some advantage against Leinier Dominguez with a nice center and a nicely placed knight on d5, but Dominguez flipped the script and dropped his own knight onto d4.

The ensuing tactics favored Dominguez, but they ultimately only earned him equality  and arguably the more satisfying side of a draw.

For the second round in a row, Kramnik was the bane of reporters looking to file reports, as he persisted until move 146(!) in an attempt to defeat Liviu Dieter Nisipeanu. Kramnik won two minor pieces for a rook, but it proved insufficient to win.

Kramnik could have played with the bishop pair against a rook at one point, though Magnus Carlsen failed to establish a winning advantage in a similar position against Hikaru Nakamura in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup.

Kramnik's strong and creative play has really deserved more in Dortmund, but his pressure just hasn't brought in wins.

As we look ahead to the final round, Vachier-Lagrave has guaranteed himself sole first place. Caruana and Dominguez currently share second with 3.5/6. Ponomariov, Kramnik, and Nisipeanu are a half-point back on an even score of 3.0/6.

Vachier-Lagrave plays Black against Dominguez, while Caruana has Black against Ponomariov. Kramnik holds the white pieces against Najer, and lastly Nisipeanu is playing Black against Buhmann. Consequently, while Vachier-Lagrave has guaranteed himself first place, second place is entirely up in the air.

  • Dominguez can at least split second place with a win against Vachier-Lagrave (which is a tall order, given Vachier-Lagrave's form so far).
  • Caruana also guarantees to split second with a win, and he further claims clear second in the seemingly likely event that Dominguez does not defeat Vachier-Lagrave.
  • Ponomariov, Kramnik, and Nisipeanu can all reach a shared second with a win. Only Ponomariov can claim clear second if he should defeat Caruana, while Dominguez loses, and Kramnik and Nisipeanu draw one another.

Dortmund 2016 | Round 6 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts SB
1 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2798 3003 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 5.0/6
2 Dominguez Perez,Leinier 2713 2782 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 3.5/6 9.25
3 Caruana,Fabiano 2810 2782 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 3.5/6 7.75
4 Nisipeanu,Liviu-Dieter 2674 2754 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.0/6 10.00
5 Kramnik,Vladimir 2812 2726 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.0/6 9.50
6 Ponomariov,Ruslan 2706 2722 0 0 ½ ½ 1 1 3.0/6 6.00
7 Najer,Evgeniy 2687 2606 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 2.0/6
8 Buhmann,Rainer 2653 2475 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1.0/6

Please note that tomorrow's final round begins two hours earlier than prior rounds, at 13:00 CET.


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