GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Full name
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Born
Oct 21, 1990 (age 29)‎
Place of birth
Nogent-sur-Marne, France
Federation
France
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Bio

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (also known as “MVL”) is a French super grandmaster who, since 2016, has spent plenty of time rated among the top five chess players in the world. His rating peaked at 2819 in August 2016, making him the seventh-highest rated player in history.

Vachier-Lagrave is a three-time French Chess Champion, five-time winner of the Biel Grandmaster Tournament and a two-time European Blitz Champion. As one of the world’s top chess players, Vachier-Lagrave belongs on the small list of competitors who have a realistic shot at the world title.

Early Chess Career (1994 To 2004)

Vachier-Lagrave’s experience with chess began when he was four years old. For a Christmas gift, he received a chessboard, and it didn’t take long for the future chess prodigy to become passionate about the game.

In 1997 Vachier-Lagrave began his chess career by winning a flurry of four French youth championships. According to his website, it started with a U8 title in Montlucon and ended with a U20 title in Reims (2004) when he was 13 years old. During that span, he placed second in the World Youth Chess Championship (U14) at the age of 12, and he also added three third-place finishes in the U10, U14 and U16 divisions of the event.

In 2004 when he was 13 years old, Vachier-Lagrave earned his IM title.

A Teenage Grandmaster And French Champion (2004 To 2009)

Vachier-Lagrave began his journey toward the grandmaster title in 2004. He finished third in the Paris Championship 2004 with a performance rating of 2703, which represented his first GM norm. He got his second norm by winning the NAO GM Tournament 2004 with a performance rating of 2605. Finally, a second-place result at the 2005 Evry GM tournament—with a performance rating of 2712—was his third and final norm.

In late February 2005 Vachier-Lagrave officially became a GM. He was 14 years, four months and six days old when he received the title, making him one of the youngest GMs in history at the time. The same year marked when Vachier-Lagrave began playing in the French Chess Championships.

In 2005 he placed third with 7/11 points. Next he finished with 6/11 points in the 2006 French Championship, which was good for fifth place. Then in the 2007 French Championship, 16-year-old Vachier-Lagrave scored 7.5/11 points, tying him with top-seeded Vladislav Tkachiev. They played two rapid chess games in the tiebreak, resulting in two draws. Two blitz games ensued, and Vachier-Lagrave won both of them, taking the national title.

Vachier-Lagrave had several other impressive performances during this early part of his chess career. Before becoming French champion, he placed sixth in the 2006 Aeroflot Open, finishing with 6/9 points—half a point behind the leaders—and a performance rating of 2775. Vachier-Lagrave also won the Young Masters tournament in Lausanne that year. He was the youngest player in a field that included Vugar Gashimov, Wang Yue and Radoslaw Wojtaszek.

In 2008 Vachier-Lagrave won the Gyorgy Marx VI tournament with an undefeated 7/10 score, one point ahead of Alexander Beliavsky. Then he finished second in the 2008 French Chess Championship, a result he would repeat in 2009.

Vachier-Lagrave’s most impressive performance since winning the 2007 French Chess Championship came in 2009, when he had a breakout event in the 2009 Biel Grandmaster Tournament.  He scored an undefeated 6/10 score, giving him a half-point-victory over second-place finishers Alexander Morozevich and Vassily Ivanchuk. Other top-level players in the tournament included Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand, who tied for last place.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in 2008 at the Chess Bundesliga league
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in 2008 at the Chess Bundesliga league. Photo: Stefan64/CC 3.0.

Later that year Vachier-Lagrave played in the World Junior Chess Championships. He tied Sergei Zhigalko with 10.5/13 points in the tournament, and then the top-seeded French prodigy beat Zhigalko to take the championship. The win qualified Vachier-Lagrave for the Chess World Cup 2011 (he lost in the second round).

Professional Chess Player And European Blitz Champion (2010 To 2015)

Vachier-Lagrave had only been a part-time chess player up to 2010. In the summer of that year, after earning his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, the 19-year-old French champion became a full-time professional chess player.

He had two impressive performances after formally becoming a pro. In October Vachier-Lagrave played in the 14th Unive Tournament 2010. It was a double round-robin tournament between him, Alexei Shirov, Anish Giri and Sergei Tiviakov. Vachier-Lagrave beat top-seeded Shirov once, Tiviakov twice and drew both games against the 16-year-old phenom Giri, winning the tournament by a full point ahead of the field. Then at the end of December, Vachier-Lagrave took part in the European Blitz Championship, winning the event with 22/26 points. His closest competitors were Ivanchuk at 20/26 and Ruslan Ponomariov at 19.5/26.

The next few years served as sort of a highlight reel for Vachier-Lagrave’s chess career. It started at the beginning of 2011 when he took part in his first Tata Steel Chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, finishing fifth and earning a draw against Carlsen, the world’s No. 1.

In August Vachier-Lagrave returned to the 2011 French Chess Championship after two consecutive second-place finishes (in 2008 and 2009) and sitting out the 2010 event. This time, in the 2011 event, top-seeded Vachier-Lagrave went undefeated with 7/11 points, topping a field that included six-time winner Etienne Bacrot. That win gave Vachier-Lagrave a second French chess title.

In 2012, he participated again in the French championship, and joined three other players—Bacrot, Romain Edouard and Christian Bauer—with 7/10 points heading into the final round. Tragically, Bauer’s four-month-old child died, and the players decided to cancel the last round. Initially, Vachier-Lagrave, Edouard and Bacrot were going to have a three-way playoff for the title, but that was also cancelled so that all four players could share the 2012 French Chess Championship title.

In another event that year, the three-time French champion won the 2012 SPICE Cup Festival with 6/10 points. The event was billed as featuring six of the top chess players in the world: Vachier-Lagrave, Le Quang Liem, Ding Liren, Csaba Balogh, Wesley So and Georg Meier. Vachier-Lagrave finished 2012 by scoring 18.5/22 points in the European Blitz Chess Championship, capturing his second title of the competition. The silver medalist, Gabriel Sargissian, was a full point behind him, at 17.5 points, and Vladislav Tkachiev took bronze with 17 points.

In 2013 Vachier-Lagrave picked up his second win in the prestigious Biel Grandmaster Tournament. Four players tied for first place, and Vachier-Lagrave won the playoff after beating Ding in the seminal 2-0 and Alexander Moiseenko (who beat Bacrot in the semifinal) 1.5-0.5 in the final.

Later in August, Vachier-Lagrave was impressive in the Chess World Cup 2013 event, a 128-player single-elimination tournament. As the 23rd seed, he won his section after beating Alexander Shabalov (No. 106), Isan Reynaldo Ortiz Suarez (No. 87), Leinier Dominguez Perez (No. 10) and Gelfand (No. 7). In the quarterfinals, he beat Caruana (No. 2) and lost to Vladimir Kramnik (No. 3), and Kramnik won the event.

The next two years Vachier-Lagrave added to his wins in Biel. He won the 2014 Biel Grandmaster Tournament and 2015 Biel Grandmaster Tournament (both finishes were a half-point over Wojtaszek) to make three consecutive and four total wins in the event.

In other events that year, Vachier-Lagrave shared second place at 2015 Tata Steel behind Magnus Carlsen, shared second place at the 2015 World Blitz Championship behind Alexander Grischuk and shared first place with Carlsen and Giri at the end of regulation play at the 2015 London Chess Classic. (Vachier-Lagrave finished third in the standings after beating Giri and losing to Carlsen in the playoffs. The standings, which received heavy criticism, were based on the Sonneborn-Berger scoring system.)

The Seventh-Highest Rated Player In History (2016 To 2019)

What Vachier-Lagrave accomplished in July 2016 led to perhaps his most impressive accomplishment in chess to date. With one round to go at the 2016 Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting, he clinched first place and finished with 5.5/7 points. That was good for a 1.5-point finish over Leinier Dominguez and two 2800-rated players, Kramnik and Caruana.

Later in July, Vachier-Lagrave returned to the 2016 Biel Chess Festival in search of his fourth consecutive (and fifth overall) win. However, instead of the normal round-robin event, it was a match between him and Peter Svidler. Vachier-Lagrave won 5.5-2.5—granting him yet another victory in Biel—and the 3-1 margin in the standard portion of the match pushed Vachier-Lagrave’s rating to 2819.

Peter Svidler and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave begin their first classical game
Peter Svidler and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave begin their first standard game. Photo: Biel Chess Festival.

The number became official in the August FIDE rating list. When that happened, Vachier-Lagrave became the seventh-highest rated chess player of all time.

Next for Vachier-Lagrave was a big win in the 2017 Sinquefield Cup. He went undefeated in the event, notching a defeat against second-place Carlsen and finishing a half point ahead of him and third-place Viswanathan Anand. Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin shared fourth place in the elite tournament. The win helped Vachier-Lagrave climb the standings of the Grand Chess Tour, but he narrowly missed winning the annual circuit by a margin of three points behind Carlsen (third place was nine points behind Vachier-Lagrave).

A slew of second-place performances followed throughout 2018. Vachier-Lagrave finished second at Gibraltar Chess (after losing the playoff against Aronian), second at St. Louis Rapid and Blitz and second at both the London Chess Classic and the 2018 Grand Chess Tour. In November, however, Vachier-Lagrave earned a tournament victory at the Shenzen Masters 2018. He edged out Giri and Ding on tiebreak after all three finished with 5.5/10 points.

Vachier-Lagrave had more near-wins in 2019. He shared second place with Hikaru Nakamura in May at the Côte d’Ivoire Grand Chess Tour Rapid & Blitz tournament. At the Riga FIDE Grand Prix in July, Vachier-Lagrave lost to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the armageddon game of their tiebreak to finish the single-elimination tournament. In September and October, he won five matches on his way to the semifinals of Chess World Cup 2019, where he lost to the winner of the event, Teimour Radjabov. Vachier-Lagrave won the third-place match against Yu Yangyi.

In July Vachier-Lagrave secured a notable win. He finished ahead of a strong field in the Paris Grand Chess Tour that included second-place finisher Anand and third-place finishers Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

One of the most important accomplishments for Vachier-Lagrave occurred just prior to the time of publishing on Nov. 20, 2019, when he became a father by “adopting” Danny Rensch in bullet. The special Adopt-A-Danny event was based on the popular term “adoption,” which is chess slang for beating someone 10 games in a row. The event raised $1,700 for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Present And Future

Vachier-Lagrave was a late addition to the 2020 Candidates tournament, replacing GM Teimour Radjabov who withdrew due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 26, 2020, the Candidates tournament was postponed. At the halfway point, Vachier-Lagrave is currently leading the tournament with a +2 score.

Vachier-Lagrave belongs on the short list of players who have a realistic shot at upsetting Magnus Carlsen for the world title. Vachier-Lagrave is a regular fixture at the leaderboards of elite chess tournaments, and, as his three French championships and seventh-highest rating of all-time demonstrate, he’s one of the strongest players in the world.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Maria Emelianova / Chess.com.

Vachier-Lagrave should remain at the highest level of chess for many years to come. He still hasn’t turned 30 years old and seems poised to add to his impressive chess resume.

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