There’s no shortage of top-class games on offer through July, as the cream of the world’s elite has been sweating it out over the board in what’s turning into a long, hot summer of chess. The latest elite-status event is the 51st Biel Chess Festival in Switzerland, where not only does the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, head the strong field in the marquee event of the six-player grandmaster double round-robin, but the Norwegian also got off to one of his best-ever tournament starts.
Yet despite this, as the tournament now enters the second half, Carlsen finds himself trailing in second place…just because he was the only player not to beat-up (so far) on the Swiss tailender Nico Georgiadis, who very cleverly earned a well-deserved draw. But there’s no let up in the misery for Georgiadis in the second half, as he crashed to a fifth loss, beaten in round six once again by Azerbaijan’s world #3, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who now takes the sole lead on 4.5/6, a half point ahead of Carlsen.
While the leaders fight it out at the top of the 2018 edition of the Accentus Biel Masters, spare a thought for the player who holds the record for the most Biel titles to his name, the French world #8, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. There hasn’t been much ‘joie de vivre’ thus far for the five-time winner of Biel – 2009 and 2013-2016 – who had the early misfortune of crashing to a brace of losses to frontrunners Mamedyarov and Carlsen.
And with it, MVL slumped to an unrecognisable score of 0.5/3 – but the multi-time past-winner is once again back in the groove, as he rallied with a brace of back-to-back wins over the hapless Georgiadis and the eight-time reigning Russian champion, Peter Svidler, and some semblance of respectability once more with a 50% score.
1. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 4.5/6; 2. M. Carlsen (Norway) 4; 3-5. P. Svidler (Russia), D. Navara (Czech Rep), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 3; 6. N. Georgiadis (Switzerland) 0.5.
Photo: Back to winning ways for “Mr Biel”, MVL, as he beats Peter Svidler | © Simon Bohnenblust / Biel Chess Festival
GM Peter Svidler – GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Accentus Biel Masters, (6)
1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb4 6.Bc4 Nd3+ This is a fascinating variation first seen in the 1920s and 30s and popularised by Aron Nimzowitsch. However, it gained a whole new following in the 1970s with a couple of key Lev Polugaevsky games, the first coming with the added twist of 6…Be6!? 7.Bxe6 Nd3+ 8.Kf1 fxe6 9.Ng5 Qb6!? which helped Mikhail Tal to beat Polugaevsky in their famous game played in the 1979 Riga Interzonal that quickly became the chatter of all the chess clubs around the world. But it was quickly discovered that after the simple 10.Qf3 c4 11.b3! and Tal’s idea came under a cloud, and the attention returned again to its original 1920s concept of 6…Nd3+. 7.Ke2 Nf4+ 8.Kf1 Ne6 As used by Viktor Korchnoi to win a decisive game in his Candidates match against Polugaevsky in 1980. 9.d3 Also popular is the sharp gambit continuation 9.b4!? with the idea being to sacrifice the pawn to take control of the centre. One example being 9…cxb4 10.Nd5 g6 11.d4 Bg7 12.Be3 Nc6 13.Rc1 Bd7 14.Qd2 Qa5 15.h4! with the initiative, in Aronian-Topalov, London Chess Classic 2015, with the Armenian going on to win a dazzling game in under 30 moves. 9…Nc6 10.h4 This is played with the sole purpose of preventing Black from playing …g6 – but MVL is not scared off by this, and, in fact, it looks like he’s done some deep research into the complexities of the ensuing position. 10…g6!? Not a novelty per say, as there is one previous game played by an obscure 2100-player who did indeed tempt fate with 10…g6 and was duly thumped by a 2450-player. MVL has researched this a bit further, it seems. 11.h5 Bg7 MVL looks to have been burning the midnight oil and discovered that, with careful play, Black is OK – and now Svidler needs to ask questions of what to do now after this provocative move. 12.Be3 Ned4 13.h6 Admittedly, it is the very obvious tempting move to play – but, long-term, the h6 pawn could become vulnerable. 13…Bf6 14.Nd5 Bg4 15.Nxf6+ exf6 16.Bxd4 Ceding the dark-square bishop is not a move Svidler would like to play. But, if Black is given time to castle kingside, then – with an unmovable knight on d4 – there’s no way White is going to get out of the pin on his Nf3 without losing a pawn or his position compromised. 16…Nxd4 17.Qa4+ This solves the problematic pin on the Nf3. On the downside, it does lead to the trade of queens and Black has a comfortable position – and that annexed h-pawn is now something of a more immediate worry going into any potential ending. 17…Qd7 18.Qxd7+ Bxd7 19.Nxd4 cxd4 20.e5?! It looks as if Svidler makes a somewhat rash decision, perhaps over-worrying about the coming endgame and the future of his h-pawn. Simple and good was the obvious continuation 20.Ke2 Rc8 21.Rhc1 Ke7 22.Bd5 and White has nothing to fear. 20…fxe5 21.Re1 Svidler believe’s he’s going to get his rooks active and win back his pawn – but he’s overlooked a crucial point. 21…f6 22.f4 Rf8! 23.Kg1 If 23.fxe5 fxe5+ 24.Kg1 Rf5 25.Rh4 0-0-0! and Black will play …Re8 followed by …Kc7-d6 and keep the pawn. 23…Ke7 24.fxe5 f5! The pawns may be equal, but Svidler now has the handicap of two very vulnerable pawns on e5 and h6 to worry about. 25.Rh4 It is all very suddenly getting rather awkward for White with the weak pawns and misplaced rook – and probably best now was instead trying to tough it out with 25.e6!? Bc6 26.b4 f4! 27.Re5 (No better is 27.b5 f3! and the endgame looks favourable for Black.) 27…a6 28.Rh4 Rac8 29.Rg4 and looking to hold from here. Certainly, if the rooks are traded, Black will have a big endgame advantage with the weak pawns on e6 and h6. 25…f4 26.Re4 g5! [see diagram] This puts the rook totally out of play on the h-file, while Black’s pieces now rapidly mobilise to storm the White king. 27.Rh5 Rf5 28.g4? This further blunder just compounds Svidler’s problems – he had to try 28.Rxd4 Be8 29.Rh1 Rxe5 30.Rd5 Rxd5 31.Bxd5 Bg6 32.g3!? and dig in to attempt to hold this difficult ending. Easier said than done, but it did offer better chances of survival than what now comes on the board. 28…fxg3 29.Rg4 Raf8! White’s king is snared in a lethal attack. 30.Rhxg5 What else is there now anyway? If 30.Rxg3 Rf1+ 31.Kg2 Bc6+ 32.Kh3 Bf3! 33.Rxf3 R8xf3+ 34.Kg4 R3f2 quickly wins. 30…Rf1+ 31.Kg2 Bc6+ 0-1 Svidler resigns, obviously having no desire to play out 32.Re4 Bxe4+ 33.dxe4 R8f2+ 34.Kxg3 Rg1+ 35.Kxf2 Rxg5 easily winning.