Round two of the FIDE Grand Prix 2017, in Sharjah, was played on February 19th. It saw Maxime Vachier-Lagrave win his second game on the spin and take the lead of the tournament with a 100% score.
Vachier-Lagrave would have Black against Richard Rapport, who is fast making a name for himself with his refreshing style of play and refusal to become bogged down in opening theory. In this year’s Tata Steel Chess Tournament, he of course beat Magnus Carlsen.
True to form, Rapport opened 1.b3 in his game against Vachier-Lagrave and wasted no time in expanding on the Kingside, developing both bishops in a fianchetto. He did ok with it, too, but unfortunately broke the golden rule of not bringing the Queen out too early. The lady was rather exposed and ended up being chased a bit by Black, before returning to d2. This had given Vachier-Lagrave some rather useful tempi.
It was another golden rule that really proved to be Rapport’s downfall, however, namely that pawns can’t move backwards. The thrusting of White’s Kingside pawns meant that a lot of air was around his King and Vachier-Lagrave slipped behind them without difficulty. He was soon a couple of pawns to the good and the White King was looking very bare. Black was vastly superior in the endgame and though the advantage took some converting, White was never going to hold it.
Queens came off early in the Queen’s Indian of Mamedyarov-Tomashevsky, leaving a position in which White had a slight pull. There was nothing immediate, but Shakh clearly had the more organised pieces. Black’s 22…cxb4, was a bit too complicit towards White and should have given way to …d4, the textbook central counter-thrust to flank play. White would still have been a bit better, but after 22…cxb4 23.axb4 he was much better.
A strong passed pawn on the c-file was the decisive factor, compelling Black to defend and become rather passive. White’s own pieces came into their own and Black was in virtual zugzwang in the end. The diagram, below, shows Black’s predicament, with Rd7 completely unanswerable if he is to hold White’s pawn.
The other winner of the round, was Liren Ding, who recovered the point he’d lost at the hands of Richard Rapport in the previous round. His victim was home player, Saleh Salem, who will be rather disappointed with the result as he was having a very good game out of the Giuoco Piano opening.
Unfortunately, with a good position, Salem decided to concentrate on the Kingside and this made things rather concrete for Black to organise his defence and from here he got back into the game. A tactical misjudgement later on, culminating in the loss of a rook put paid to White’s chances and Black was winning. Resignation came swiftly.
Full Results: Rapport 0-1 Vachier-Lagrave; Aronian ½-½ Adams; Hammer ½-½ Nakamura; Mamedyarov 1-0 Tomashevsky; Eljanov ½-½ Vallejo Pons; Nepomniachtchi ½-½ Riazantsev; Jakovenko ½-½ Grischuk; Li ½-½ Hou; Salem 0-1 Ding.
Standings after round 2:
- Vachier-Lagrave — 2.0
- Mamedyarov, Adams — 1.5
- Rapport, Vallejo Pons, Eljanov, Nakamura, Grischuk, Jakovenko, Riazantsev, Hammer, Aronian, Nepomniachtchi, Hou, Ding — 1.0
- Li, Tomashevsky — 0.5
- Salem — 0.0