“Vive la France!” is an expression used in French to show patriotism. It’s difficult to translate the term literally into English, but it generally means “Long live France!” or “Hurray for France!” The phrase has its roots in Bastille Day, the French national holiday – much like the Fourth of July in America – that was celebrated on Sunday to commemorate the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789, and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.
This year it looks to have taken on an added meaning, as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – affectionately known to all by his initials “MVL” – gave his country’s chess fans something further to celebrate and wave their tricolour flags, as the Frenchman looks to be in inspired form with a couple of very impressive KO’s in the Riga FIDE Grand Prix in Latvia, the second of four legs that acts as a world championship qualifier.
On the opening day of the 16-player KO, MVL demolished David Navara in just 19-moves and then followed up with a safe draw to be the first player to reach the quarterfinal stage. And once again, with the field now down to eight, in his opening game against Veselin Topalov – who knocked out the five-time reigning US champion, Hikaru Nakamura – MVL turned in yet another epic win for the only decisive game of the day.
There are 21 players in the GP, each of whom plays in 3 of the 4 tournaments in Moscow, Riga, Hamburg and Tel Aviv. The top two overall receive an invitation to next year’s Candidates tournament that will ultimately decide Magnus Carlsen’s next title challenger. The Moscow GP leg was won by Ian Nepomniachtchi, who leads the standings with 9 points, just ahead of his fellow Russian, Alexander Grischuk, whom he beat in the final.
MVL opted to skip the opening leg in Moscow and play in the final three legs – but a strong showing in Riga could set the ever-battling, ever-resourceful Frenchman on course for a three-horse race to the finish with the Russians for the two coveted 2020 Candidates tournament spots.
Round 1 results:
Karjakin 5-4 Giri; So 2½-1½ Harikrishna; Svidler 1½-2½ Duda; Mamedyarov 1½-½ Dubov; Vitugov 1-3 Grischuk; Aronian 4½-4½ Yu* (on Armageddon); Nakamura 1½-2½ Topalov; Vachier-Lagrave 1½-½ Navara
Karjakin ½-½ So; Duda ½-½ Mamedyarov; Grischuk ½-½ Yu; Topalov 0-1 Vachier-Lagrave.
Photo: MVL storms his opponent’s Bastille for yet another impressive win. | © Nadia Panteleeva / World Chess
GM Veselin Topalov – GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Riga FIDE Grand Prix, Q/Final (1)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 This is mainly used as a transpositional tool for the English Attack, in order to avoid the annoying line 6.Be3 Ng4 etc. 6…e6 Another crossroads in this system, as invariably Black transposes from the Najdorf into a Scheveningen – which may have come as a surprise for Topalov, as MVL usually stays in the Najdorf lane. 7.Be3 b5 8.Qd2 Nbd7 9.g4 b4 10.Nce2 h6 11.Nf4!? Topalov is a brave warrior at the chessboard, loves to ‘mix it’, and so he follows an adventurous line played by Emil Sutovsky against Stefan Docx from the 2015 Gibraltar Masters. Sutovsky’s opponent played 11…Ne5 12.0-0-0 Qc7 13.h4 and White quickly got in a vicious attack and won – but MVL comes up with a better follow-up plan. 11…Bb7! 12.Qxb4 If 12.Nd3 e5 13.Nf5 d5! 14.exd5 g6! 15.Ng3 (The alternative is no better. After 15.Nxh6 Nxd5 16.g5 Bxh6 17.gxh6 Nxe3 18.Qxe3 Qh4+ 19.Kd2 Qxh6 20.Qxh6 Rxh6 and Black will stand better in the ending with …Rh4 coming to defend b4 and double rooks on the h-file.) 15…Rc8 16.Bg2 Nxd5 17.Bf2 and Black’s pieces are more active and better-placed as the game opens up. 12…Qc8 13.Qd2 e5 Not the only option MVL had – also interesting was 13…d5!? 14.exd5 and now 14…e5 15.0-0-0 and another wild, double-edged position. 14.Nf5 exf4 15.Bxf4 White has good compensation for his speculative piece sacrifice: he has two pawns and a lot of good attacking chances. 15…Ne5 16.Be2 Qc7 17.0-0-0 0-0-0 18.Kb1 Slightly better may well have been 18.Qd4 g6 19.Ne3 Bg7 20.Bxe5 dxe5 21.Qa7! where, if Black wants to, he can bailout now with 21…Rxd1+ 22.Rxd1 Qb8 23.Qb6 Qc7 24.Qa7 Qb8 and a draw. But then again, this might well have been quickly rejected, as Topalov and MVL are not players scared of a big battle over the chessboard in a double-edged position. 18…g6 19.Ne3 Of course, the most obvious question has to be asked: What happens after 19.Nxh6? – and the answer seems to be MVL was simply going to ignore the knight and play 19…Bg7!? Although White has won another pawn, it seems in return, Black has full compensation with his active pieces, and it is not going to be easy to get the wondering Nh6 back into the game again. 19…Be7 There really isn’t much in the game here, but Topalov makes a couple of minor errors that allows MVL to play a big tactic that swing the game in the Frenchman’s favour. 20.c4 Kb8 Looking to play …Rc8 and pressure down the c-file. 21.Rc1?! It was crucial first to deny Black access to the g5-square for his bishop. Topalov should have played 21.h4! as now the tactic with 21…Nxe4 22.fxe4 Bxe4+ 23.Ka1 Bxh1 24.Rxh1 is more than fine for White, as after Nd5, suddenly the h6 pawn is under attack. We’ll soon see the difference between the two lines. 21…Nxe4! This clever tactic makes things all the clearer for MVL. 22.fxe4 Bxe4+ 23.Ka1 Bxh1 24.Rxh1 Bg5! A crucial follow-up that makes all the difference. 25.Nd5 Bxf4 26.Qxf4 Qa7 27.Rc1 Rhe8 MVL has successfully managed to centralise his rooks – not only that, but he also has his knight on e5 and the queen bossing the dark-squares down the a7-g1 diagonal. 28.a3 Nc6 29.Bf3 g5 30.Qg3 A somewhat meek move from Topalov, who was worried about MVL’s queen getting to f2. 30…Qc5 31.Bh1 Re2 32.Nc3 As ever, the all-seeing engine shows no nerves whatsoever her, and comes up with the logical bailout for White with 32.Nb4! Nxb4 33.Qf3! Nc2+ 34.Rxc2 Re1+ 35.Ka2 Rd7 36.Qa8+ Kc7 37.Be4! which seems to secure a draw. 32…Re3 33.Qg2 Topalov is relying on the threats down the long white diagonal, combined with the Nd5 to save the game for him – but once again, he misses the game-saving continuation. 33…Rc8 34.Nd5 Rb3 35.Ka2 The second time around, Topalov again is blind to the possibility of the saving 35.Nb4! Qd4 36.Ka2! Rxb4 37.axb4 Nxb4+ 38.Ka3 Nc6 39.Qd5 which will soon peter out to a draw with the queens being traded. 35…Rb7 36.b3 a5 37.Nc3 Qe3 38.Rc2 Qd3 39.Qd2 Qxd2 40.Rxd2 Re7 41.Rxd6?! All the little errors soon add up now for Topalov. The d-pawn isn’t going anywhere and can’t be defended. His best chance, therefore, was to try 41.Be4! to stop MVL’s rook infiltrating into his position. Black can try the tactical 41…Nb4+!? and you can’t take the knight as …axb4 attacks the Nc3 that’s protecting the Be4. But after 42.Kb2 Rd8 43.Bg2 Na6 44.Be4 White has a more than defendable position, and it will not be an easy task for Black to attempt to try and win this. 41…Rd8! With the White rook forced into a trade, MVL’s remaining rook will look to infiltrate into the heart of Topalov’s weakened kingside. 42.Rxd8+ Nxd8 43.Be4 h5! [see diagram] MVL clearly likes to find his own ingenious and brave ways to play the endgame! I just thought the safer route to victory was with 43…Re5! and the plan of …Ne6-f4 and then play …h5. 44.gxh5 f5! This is MVL’s cunning plan: use the double pawn sacrifice to clear a path for his rook to infiltrate. 45.Bxf5 Rf7 46.Bg6 Rf2+ 47.Kb1 Rxh2 48.Ne4 g4 49.Kc1 It is not hard to work out that if Black’s g-pawn falls, then the game is just a draw – but with a little care, there’s no way to get to that saving scenario. After 49.Bf5 Rg2! (Black has to be careful, as 49…Rh4? 50.h6! Rxh6 51.Bxg4 and it is a draw.) 50.h6 Nf7 51.h7 g3 the …Nf7 covers the running h-pawn, and to stop the running g-pawn, White will have to lose more material. 49…Nc6 50.Kd1 Now if 50.Bf5 Ne5 The g-pawn is protected, and White will soon lose to 51.Bg6 Rh3! 52.Nd2 g3 and the g-pawn is a winner. 50…Nd4 51.Ke1 The game is basically over – Topalov’s king is stuck on the backrank and his pawns are falling. 51…Nxb3 52.Kf1 Nd4 53.Ng3 Kc7 54.Be4 Nf3! Stopping the king coming to g1. Now, if 55.Bxf3 gxf3 56.Kg1 Rg2+ forces resignation – and if the king can’t cross to g1 to nudge the rook, Black has the simple task of clearing up with …Kc6-c5xc4-b3xa3. 55.c5 Nd2+ 56.Kg1 Rh3 57.Kg2 Nxe4 0-1