“Behind every great man there’s a great woman” was a phrase that originated in the 1940s but only received true recognition after it was adopted as a campaign slogan during the rise of the feminist movement through the 1960s/70s. And for the context of the semifinal phase of the FIDE Grand Prix in Belgrade, the slogan rang true for Richard Rapport, as he went out of his way to thank his wife for proving to be the inspiration behind beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to go through to the final.
Fittingly, given the feminist connection to the phrase, Rapport’s crucial game 1 win over MVL came just after International Women’s Day with a sideline recommended by his wife, the Serbian WGM Jovana Vojinović. As Rapport explained in his presser: “Maxime played the Grünfeld, which he pretty much always does. 10.Rc1 I think is completely harmless and actually, I was not in the best spirit before the game, so I’d like to apologise to my wife because she insisted that I try this line, that it is playable…”
And that recommendation and the resounding win were to prove the deciding factor in this thrilling match. The second game turned into an epic dogfight between these two dynamic and exciting players, that MVL always looked to be on the verge of winning to take the match into a deciding tiebreak, yet somehow, despite the odds of the high +3 and more engine assessment at times, Rapport dug deep to hang on to secure the draw for a 1½-½ victory to go forward to the final.
And in the final over the weekend, Rapport will play Dmitry Andreikin – playing under the neutral flag of FIDE, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – surprisingly beat top seed Anish Giri to all but deny the Dutchman a place in the Candidates Tournament in June. The closely fought match went to a tiebreak-decider after two classical draws, as Andreikin went on to win the fourth tiebreak rollercoaster game for a 2½-1½ victory, leaving Giri to rue his many missed chances in the match.
The Rapport-Andreikin final takes place 12-14 March (with Monday set aside for tiebreaks, if needed). There’s live coverage with top grandmaster commentary both on the official World Chess site and on Chess24. Play starts on Saturday and Sunday at 9AM ET | 6AM PT | 3PM CET |
GM Richard Rapport – GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
FIDE Belgrade Grand Prix | S/Final (1.1)
Grünfeld Defence, Exchange Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 World Champions Boris Spassky and later Anatoly Karpov were the trailblazers for adopting this variation for White – and both with considerable success. 7…c5 The Grünfeld for Black allows White to build a big center, but the plan is to chip away at it, or force it to advance, and then continue to further chip away at it – but the onus is always on Black to find sufficient counter-play. 8.Ne2 0-0 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Rc1 cxd4 11.cxd4 Qa5+ 12.Rc3 Back in the late 1980s, I remember that the Soviet legend Lev Polugaevsky would play 12.Kf1 and follow-up with h2-h4 to attack the kingside. But this is the latest twist in this line that’s come from the young German grandmaster Matthias Bluebaum, and was recommended by Rapport’s wife – otherwise, Black easily equalises after 12.Bd2 Qh5 13.d5 Ne5 14.Qb3 b5! and Black’s position is very active, and with it White has to continue cautiously. 12…e5?! MVL appears to have been truly caught out by Rapport’s wife’s suggestion with this sideline, and gets into a tangle that not even the Frenchman, noted for his Houdini-like exploits, can escape from. The best move by a country mile here, as Rapport explained, is the simple yet all-too-familiar Grünfeld plan of 12…Bg4! that pretty much plays out to a draw after 13.f3 Rad8! 14.Qd2 (The bishop is taboo. After 14.fxg4? Nxd4! Black will regain the piece with a big advantage due to the pin on the d-file and the x-ray hit on the Rc3.) 14…Bc8 And Black has harmonised his pieces with strong pressure on d4 for total equality – a fact confirmed after 15.0-0 Nxd4! and the game will soon peter out to a draw with this timely tactic, i.e. 16.Nxd4 Bxd4 17.Bxd4 e5 18.Bxf7+ Rxf7 19.Qg5 Rxd4 20.Rxc8+ Kg7 21.Rc2 Rfd7 etc. 13.d5 Nd4 Hindsight is always 20/20, but MVL has clearly gone ‘all-in’ with his plan of putting the night into d4 – but it it too premature for this, as the Frenchman soon discovers. However, it might not be too late to try another variation on a theme with another Grünfeld sideline in the Exchange Variation with 13…b5!? 14.Bd2 (The point is that if 14.Bxb5? then now 14…Nd4! does work now and Black is going to win a piece!) 14…bxc4 15.Rxc4 Qxa2 16.Rxc6 Bd7 17.Rc7 Rfd8 18.0-0! Rac8 it’s not terminal, but it is not pretty either, and I would imagine MVL wouldn’t have liked the idea of a long-term grovel having to deal with White’s pawn chain and the big passed d-pawn. 14.Bd2N Played after 30 minutes thought, and an inspired big improvement from Rapport over 14.Qd2 that’s been Bluebaum’s choice here – but the engine immediately goes for the tactical continuation 14…Bh3! Trying to take full advantage of the threat of the …Nf3+ fork, where now 15.0-0! Rfc8! 16.Nxd4 exd4 17.Rc2 Qa4 18.Bb3 dxe3 19.Qxe3 Qa3 20.Qxh3 Rxc2 21.Bxc2 Qxh3 22.gxh3 Rc8 23.Bd3 (Better than 23.Bb3 Re8 24.f3 Be5 and Black is holding the line with no way for White to make any progress.) 23…Rc3 24.Bb1 Kf8! 25.Kg2 Ke7 and Black will follow-up with …Kd6, …Bh6 and …Rc1 to trade the rooks and an easily drawing bishops of opposite colours. 14…Bd7 On reflection, MVL would have been better now punting 14…b5!? 15.Nxd4 exd4 16.Rc1 Qa6 17.Bb3 (If 17.Bd3 f5!? and the Grunfeld “chipping” away process continues for Black.) 17…Re8 18.f3 Bd7 19.0-0 Qb6 20.Kh1 a5 21.Bc2 and I have seen the Frenchman successfully defending Grünfeld positions much worse than this! 15.Nxd4 exd4 16.Rc1 Qa3 17.Qb3! The queens coming off leaves Rapport with a solid endgame advantage that he quickly converts. 17…Qxb3 18.Bxb3 Rae8? More resilient, though by no-way a comfortable ride, is 18…Rfc8. However MVL is betting his shirt on saving the game by breaking down his opponent’s powerful g2-d5 pawn-chain with an …f7-f5 break – but he’s going to be leaving shirt-less. 19.f3 f5 20.Rc7! Bb5 MVL’s travails are such that even the our silicon overlords want to press the panic button with 20…fxe4 21.d6+ Kh8 22.Rxd7 exf3+ 23.Re7 with White well on top. 21.a4 Bd3? Once again, the engine wants to punt the desperate 21…fxe4 22.d6+ Kh8 23.axb5 exf3+ 24.Re7 Bf6 25.Rxe8 Rxe8+ 26.Kd1 and with the tricks all but gone, White is easily winning. 22.d6+ Kh8 23.d7 That’s a big, big pawn! 23…Rb8 24.Bb4 Be5 25.Bxf8 Bxc7 26.Be7! [see diagram] And with the easy-to-miss Bf6 mate, to deal with the threat, Black is now going to face the daunting prospect of two big connected passers running down the board. 26…Kg7 The only move. After 26…Bd8 27.Bd6 either wins the rook or leads to a forced mate after Be5+. 27.e5 b5 28.Bf6+ Kf8 29.e6 The game is effectively over by this stage, though MVL manages to stagger on dazed and confused for a few more moves before bowing to the inevitable. 29…Bd8 30.Be5 Rb6 31.Bxd4 Rc6 32.axb5 Bxb5 33.Kf2 It’s just a matter of time for Rapport to find the correct winning plan. 33…Ke7 34.Be3 Bb6 35.Rd1 Bxe3+ 36.Kxe3 Rc3+ 37.Kf4 1-0 MVL throws the towel in, realising that the endgame after 37…Rd3 38.Rxd3 Bxd3 39.Kg5 is hopelessly lost.