Norway Chess 2016: Round 2, Vachier-Lagrave Stuns Giri.

Frenchman wins only decisive game of the day to join the leaders.

Altibox Norway Chess logo | ©
Altibox Norway Chess logo | ©

Having got his campaign in this year’s Norway Chess Tournament off to a good start with a win in round-1, Anish Giri suffered a setback in this round. The Dutchman would have his +1 wiped out by his French rival, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. They debated the Sicilian Najdorf, in which Vachier-Lagrave’s 15…Rg8 seems to be a new invention.

The move calls into question White’s pawn thrust on the Kingside, and as it turns out, compells his g-pawn forward. This is not a bad thing in itself, after 16.g5 hxg5 17.hxg5 Ne5 (17…Rxg5 18.Rh1+ Rg8 19.Rxg8+ Nxg8 sees Black doing all right here) 18.Qxf4 Nh7 19.Kb1 Nxg5 there are equal chances. White will most likely focus on the Kingside with Rdg1, while Black looks towards the Queenside with …Rb8. His King looks quite all right in the centre also.

Giri obviously did not want to commit so early, looking to maintain the tension and prepare the ground before advancing — hence his 16.Rdg1. This actually looks a good move in itself, (though perhaps a little ‘laid back’), but the position did not allow for it, as demonstrated by Vachier-Lagrave’s 16…d5! (See diagram, below.)

This is a seriously good move by Black, played with huge initiative and White has to be very careful. The whole point is that …Ne5 is now looming, and this is no small thing. From the diagram position, Giri had few choices of how to continue if he wanted to avoid catastrophe and luckily chose wisely with 17.exd5. Other moves seem utterly inadequate, further evidence of what trouble he is in here. Vachier-Lagrave continued with the inevitable 17…Ne5 and now this is White’s problem, finding a good square for the Queen.

Giri chose 18.Qh3, (Qb2 was another option, but this would be nicely met with …Bb7), which is definitely the safest choice. However, whether it is a particularly ‘good’ square for the Queen remains to be seen. This is especially so after his opponent’s 18…exd5, which sees the light-squared bishop firing along the diagonal from c8 to h3, where only the g4-pawn stands between it and the White queen. To add to the headache, the g4-pawn itself is looking extremely dicey, frozen to its spot, with Black’s pieces piling on it. h6-h5 is coming, when Black is threatening to win it and obtain two beautiful connected passed pawns.

To be totally fair, White’s position is already extremely difficult, but Giri’s 19.Re1 did not help him very much. Alarmingly, the defensive 19.h5 was probably the best that White had at his disposal, here, pro-actively preventing Black from playing …h5. I am not actually sure what Giri’s move aimed to do, to be honest, it just seemed to me a bit ‘ok have it then’. But Vachier-Lagrave was in no hurry, choosing the patient-yet-potent 19…Kf8 — Black wants to play …Bc5 and it is very prudent to first take the King out of the line of fire from White’s rook. This led to an extremely commanding situation for Black, and White was soon being swamped.

The above diagram shows the situation after 23…Ne4, and White’s position is virtually collapsed. From here, Giri folded quickly, there came: 24.Bf3 Nxf2 25.Bxa8 Ned3+! 26.Kd2 Nxe1 27.Qxf2 (Kxe1 changes little) d3! 28.Qxe1 Be3+ and White resigned. A very nice game from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

That being said, I think that it is also fair to say that this is a game in which Anish Giri received some comeuppance for his current way of playing. He played the Candidates Tournament in a rather blasé fashion, where he seemed to me to be quite content just to hold things together and sit on the fence. And power to his elbow, there is nothing wrong with this approach and it may pay off here and there. However, to do it too much, or as a consistent style of play, and bring it to this event also, is extremely risky.

In chess, one must play what the position dictates, as observed by Steinitz in his laws of chess — “the side with the advantage must attack or risk losing the advantage”. This is a clear case of what happened in this game, in refusing to undertake action with 16.g5, in favour of 16.Rdg1, Giri handed the initiative to his opponent, who never looked back. I feel that if he continues to employ this attitude in his games, then his opponents will find ways of using it to their advantage. Especially at this level. They will bank on it and prepare for it, just as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave did in this game. And Giri will have yet more painful losses like this to come.

The other games were drawn. Carsen-Topalov and Grandelius-Aronian were rather uneventful. Eljanov-Harikrishna resulted in an endgame that was much too simplified for either player to do very much. Li Chao got into a Vienna Game with Vladimir Kramnik, which saw White let his queen go for two rooks. Once the remaining minor pieces were exchanged, however, Black actually had the worst of things and it was lucky that he had perpetual check or he would most likely have lost.

Standings after 2 rounds:

Vachier-Lagrave, Carlsen, Kramnik — 1½
Li Chao, Topalov, Giri, Aronian — 1
Grandelius, Harikrishna, Eljanov — ½

Round 3: Thursday 21st April

Aronian-Li Chao

Play begins at 16:00 local time. If you need to, you can check your time, here.

More Information: Altibox Norway Chess 2016 Website

Round 2 Games:

About John Lee Shaw 291 Articles
Total chess nut! I enjoy following the chess world and giving my two-penneth. I don't pretend to be an expert, I'm more a knowledgeable enthusiast. My chess writing can also be seen at