Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made a big step toward reaching the semifinals of the FIDE Grand Prix in Hamburg. On Friday the French GM defeated Veselin Topalov with the black pieces, while the other three games ended in draws.
History is repeating itself in Hamburg. After Topalov knocked out Hikaru Nakamura, just like at the Riga Grand Prix, he faced (and lost the first game to) MVL—just like at the Riga Grand Prix.
The game went into a Benoni/King’s Indian structure after Topalov avoided the Gruenfeld with the 4.e3 system, often played by Mamedyarov but also by other top GMs.
In an equal middlegame, Topalov suddenly sacrificed an exchange, something he often did in his best days. In this game it gave him equal play, but when MVL’s rook became active, things got too complicated for the Bulgarian player, who was also low on time.
Winning as Black against Topalov was obviously a very welcome development for Vachier-Lagrave in his strive to qualifiy for the Candidates’ via this Grand Prix series. Reaching the semifinals would mean that MVL would overtake Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the overall Grand Prix standings, although both will also play in the final leg, in December in Jerusalem.
Alexander Grischuk, virtually the GP leader as we speak, will need to do well in Hamburg as for him it’s his final tournament in the series. In his first game with David Navara he couldn’t keep his opening advantage in an Open Catalan. The Czech GM played a good and solid game:
For the first time in four years Peter Svidler faced the 7.Bc4 Gruenfeld, played by his 20 years younger opponent Daniil Dubov. In an attempt to avoid his opponent’s preparation, Svidler played the old mainline 10…Qc7, which he hadn’t done in nine years.
“I was trying to figure out during the game if this file is actually older than my opponent. Probably it is, and also less trustworthy,” Svidler said, before elaborating more about his (non-)preparation while praising his opponent:
“The thing is, Daniil is one of my favorite types of opponents both as a spectator and also as a player, to play against. As a spectator he is a brilliant, creative player and as an opponent I can just completely ignore preparing because he plays everything and I can just tell myself: I will never guess what the first move will be, and just read a book. It’s very pleasant.￼”
As it went, Svidler chose an odd-looking setup which, he admitted, is probably not very good but Dubov didn’t manage to demonstrate White’s advantage.
Yu Yangyi will be kicking himself for not getting more out of a promising endgame with heavy pieces, as he had a passer all the way on e6. It seems that the Chinese player got quite a promising position thanks to deep preparation, in what was a Petroff, played by Jan-Krzysztof Duda. One slip of the finger, and all the advantage was gone:
The return games of these matches will be played on Saturday, with Topalov as the only player in a must-win situation.
The Hamburg Grand Prix games start each day at 15:00 CET, which is 9 a.m. Eastern and 6 a.m. Pacific. You can follow them here as part of our live portal.