Mamedyarov wins in Riga

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Riga FIDE Grand Prix 2019
Riga, Latvia
July 12-25, 2019

(all participants are GMs)

Round 1

Anish Giri vs. Sergey Karjakin 4.0-5.0

Pentala Harikrishna vs. Wesley So 1.5-2.5

Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Peter Svidler 2.5-1.5

Daniil Dubov vs. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 0.5-1.5

Alexander Grischuk vs. Nikita Vitiugov 3.0-1.0

Yu Yangyi vs. Levon Aronian 4.5-4.5*

Veselin Topalov vs. Hikaru Nakamura 2.5-1.5

David Navara vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.5-1.5

*match reached the final Armageddon which was drawn, so Yu Yangyi who was Black advanced to the next round (see explanation of tie-break rules below)

Round 2

Sergey Karjakin vs. Wesley So 3.5-4.5

Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 1.5-2.5

Alexander Grischuk vs. Yu Yangyi 2.5-1.5

Veselin Topalov vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.5-1.5

Round 3

Wesley So vs. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 0.5-1.5

Alexander Grischuk vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0.5-1.5

Round 4

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 5.0-4.0

2019 FIDE Grand Prix series consists of four knockout tournaments, each with 16 players who are paired into 8 mini-matches. The mini-matches consist of two games of classical chess, with a time control of 90 minutes for the 1st 40 moves then 30 minutes to the end of the game, with a 30-second increment from move 1. If the match is tied two 25+10 rapid games are played. If still tied, there are two slow rapid (10+10) games, then two 5-minute blitz games with 3 seconds increment. Finally, if the two players are still tied, a single Armageddon game is played, where White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4 (with a 2-second increment from move 61) but Black wins the match with a draw.

The first leg of the 2019 Grand Prix was held in Moscow last May and won by Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Riga was the second leg and the final match to determine its winner went all the way to the Armageddon finals.

GM (Grandmaster)Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA 2775) has made no secret of his intention to qualify for the FIDE Candidates’ tournament which will take place in the first half of 2020. Finishing in the top 2 of the FIDE Grand Prix will achieve that, so he made a determined effort to win this leg. He beat David Navara in the 1st round 1.5-0.5, former world champion Veselin Topalov in the Quarterfinals 1.5-0.5, and Alexander Grischuk in the Semifinals 1.5-0.5, all without the need of tie-breaks, earning 3 extra grand prix points (this will be explained later).

Mamedyarov has been having a below-par year and is currently down to world no. 8 with an ELO rating of 2765. To us ordinary folks this may seem very high, but consider that last February 2018 his rating was 2820, no. 2 in the world and incidentally making him the 6th highest rated player of all time. He also wanted very badly to win in Riga. In the 1st round he eliminated Daniil Dubov 1.5-0.5 (also no tie-breaks), then in the Quarterfinals he was severely tested by Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda but managed to win 2.5-1.5. In the Semifinals a deadly opening novelty did Wesley So in and Shakh drew the other game, winning without need of tie-breaks and lining himself up for the Finals match.

The Finals match Mamedyarov vs. Vachier-Lagrave to determine the winner of the Riga Grand Prix went all the way. They exchanged wins in the classical games, drew both games in the first rapid (25+10), drew another two in the slow rapid (10+10) and then exchanged wins again in the blitz (5+3) games. In both the classical and blitz portions Mamedyarov took first game but Vachier-Lagrave won on demand in the second to bring the match to the next stage. In the final match, the Armageddon game, Mamedyarov played Black and only needed a draw to take the title, but he anyway won to remove all doubt that he was the worthy champion.

Mamedyarov had a deadly novelty for Wesley So in the Semifinals and also against MVL he had something prepared.

Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar (2765) — Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime (2775) [D85]
Riga Grand Prix (4.1)
July 22, 2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6

MVL has a rather narrow opening repertoire. With Black, against 1.e4 he plays the Sicilian Najdorf and versus 1.d4 it will usually be a Gruenfeld. That makes it easier to prepare against him. When asked about this in the post-game conference MVL replied that “Well, it’s the case for most people. You can be a target in the Berlin, in the Marshall, but of course maybe in the Gruenfeld it’s more concrete and of course there’s a lot of stuff to remember. Today I didn’t remember how to play, but I should have done better anyway.”

3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5

In the Croatian leg of the Grand Chess Tour played just a few weeks before world champion Magnus Carlsen had won quickly against MVL’s Gruenfeld with 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3 Qa5 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.Rb1 cxd4 11.cxd4 0–0 12.Qxa5 Nxa5 13.Bd3 (White wants to castle quickly, here is an example of what might happen to him if he does not do so: 13.d5 e6 14.Bd2 b6 15.Bxa5 bxa5 16.Bc4 exd5 17.Bxd5 Ba6!? 18.Bxa8 Rxa8 19.e5 Bf8 20.Rc1 Rd8 21.Rc2 Bb4+ 22.Nd2 a4 23.Kd1 Bd3 24.Nf3 Be4+ 0–1. Bellahcene, B. (2475)-Vachier Lagrave, M. (2811) Bastia FRA 2016) 13…Bg4 14.0–0 Bxf3 15.gxf3 e6 16.Rfd1 Rfd8 17.Bf1 b6 18.Ba6 Rd6 19.Rbc1 Rad8 20.Bg5 f6 (Forced. 20…R8d7? 21.Rc8+ Bf8 22.Bb5 and Black has to give up the exchange) 21.Be3 h6 22.Bb5 f5 23.d5! White had a big advantage. Take note that 23…exd5? 24.Bf4 Rf6 25.Bc7 wins material for him. Carlsen, M. (2875)-Vachier-Lagrave, M. (2779) Zagreb CRO 2019 1–0 37.

4…Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Qa4+ Qd7 8.Qa3 b6 9.Nf3 Bb7 10.Bd3 0–0 11.0–0 c5 <D>



Mamedyarov’s idea. The main move here is 12.Bg5 and the bishop often continues later with Bg5–h4–g3, where it is very strong on the g2–b8 diagonal and makes it difficult for Black to follow through with e7(or e6)-e5. So Mamedyarov’s line of thought is, why can’t he bring his bishop to the g2–b8 diagonal immediately?

Objectively though 12.Bg5 also attacks e7, and since 12.Bf4 does not target anything right away White has to calculate what would happen if Black takes the d4 pawn.

12…cxd4 13.cxd4 Nc6?!

Both players criticized this move because it allows the knight to be forced to the edge of the board where it remains inactive for the rest of the game. Shakh suggested 13…e6 as better.

During the game both players calculated 13…Bxd4 14.Nxd4 Qxd4 15.Qxe7 Qxd3 16.Qxb7 Na6 17.Rad1 and assessed the position as better for White.

14.d5 Na5?

MVL did not like the position after 14…Nd4 15.Nxd4 Bxd4 16.Rac1 Rfc8 17.Qb4 Mamedyarov: “White is better as Bd3–b5 is coming.” But I am not so sure, because 17…Rxc1 18.Rxc1 Bc5 19.Qb2 Rc8 20.Bb5 Qg4 Black seems to be ok.

15.Rac1 Rfc8 16.h3!

Mamedyarov: “A very good move.” This prevents …Qg4 without which Black seems to have a shortage of ideas on how to continue.

16…e6 17.d6 f6 18.e5! Bxf3

The move that MVL was counting on.


What MVL missed. After the game he said that at this point he realized that Black was lost.


The zwischenzug 19…Bxg2 does not work because of 20.Kxg2 Bxf6 21.Ba6! and now after 21…Rxc1 22.Rxc1 the move Rc7 cannot be prevented.

20.gxf3 e5 21.Bd2 Rxc1

[21…Nc6 22.Ba6; Attacking the d6 pawn with 21…Rd8 does not work: 22.Rfd1 Qxd6 23.Qxd6 Rxd6 24.Bxa5 bxa5 25.Bc4+]

22.Rxc1 Rc8 23.Rxc8+ Qxc8 24.Kg2 Bd8 25.Be4 Qe6 26.Qd3 Kg7 27.Bc3 Qf6 28.Kf1 1–0

After 28.Kf1 White’s Qd5 would be devastating, and if Black tries to prevent it with 28…Qe6 29.f4 Bf6 30.fxe5 Bxe5 31.d7! queens the pawn.

Grand Prix scoring gives 8 points to the winner of any leg, 5 points to the runner-up, 3 points to the semifinalists and 1 point each for the quarterfinalists. There is an additional point given for winning a match without need of tie-breaks. Taking these rules into consideration the front-runners for the two qualifying slots to the candidates are:

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov — 10 points

Alexander Grischuk — 10 points

Ian Nepomniachtchi — 9 points

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave — 8 points

Radoslaw Wojtaszek — 5 points

Wesley So — 4 points

Mamedyarov and Grischuk have already participated in two Grand Prix events while Nepomniachtchi and Vachier-Lagrave have only participated in 1 (remember each participant plays in three of Grand Prix events), so I’d say Ian and Maxime have very good chances to qualify despite currently being in 3rd and 4th spots only.

Next Grand Prix tournament will be held in Hamburg from November 4-18, 2019 and the last one will be on December 10-24 this year in Tel Aviv, Israel. Let’s see what happens!

In case you are wondering, Wesley So will not be participating in the Germany event (each participant only plays in three of the four events) but will suit up for Israel.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.