He easily captured first place in the annual elite Sparkassen Chess Meeting tournament.

The Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany, finished Sunday, and it was convincingly won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. Vachier-Lagrave tore through the elite field, winning four games and drawing three, and that despite playing Black four times.

Three players — Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, and Fabiano Caruana of the United States — tied for second, each with 4 points, 1.5 points behind Vachier-Lagrave.

Vachier-Lagrave clinched first in Round 6 with a nice win against Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine, showcasing the uselessness of a bishop trapped behind its own pawns.

Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime vs. Ponomariov, Ruslan
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund, Germany | Round 6 | 17 Jul 2016 | 1-0
13. Bf4! Bb7 14. Bxd6! White compromises Black's pawn structure.
14... cxd6 15. Qe3 Qe7 16. Qxe7 Bxe7 17. g3 Kf8 18. a4! Trying to weaken Black's queenside.
18. Bg2 This also looks good because it tries to trade off one of Black's bishops thereby ridding him of the bishop pair, but after
18... Bc6! Black should not be doing badly.  )
18... Bc6 19. a5 bxa5 20. d5 Bb7 21. Rxa5 a6 22. Ra3! White prepares Na4
22. Na4? Would be too early because of
22... Bd8 And the rook is trapped  )
22... Bf6 23. Na4! Ke7 24. c4! The computer calls this position equal, but in reality Black is probably jst busted. The bishop on b7 is buried forever and White has free rein to play on the kingside
24... Kd8 25. Re3 a5 26. Be2 Ba6 27. Kf1 Rb8 28. b3 g5 29. Ke1 Bd4 30. Rf3 Ke7 31. Bd1 h6 32. Kd2 Rb4 33. Kd3 Ba7 34. Rf5 f6 35. Nc3 Bc5 36. f4 Rb8 37. fxg5 fxg5 Lines are opening on the other side and Black is really starting to miss the light-squared bishop.
38. Kc2 Bg1 39. Bh5 Bxh2 40. Rf7+ Kd8 41. Bg4 Rb7 42. c5!? It takes a lot to be willing to free the bishop, but Black is facing real difficulties. He must lose a piece.
42... Bxg3
42... dxc5? 43. d6 With mate to follow
43... Ke8 44. Bh5  )
43. Ne4! dxc5?
43... Rc7! This would have been much more resilient.  )
44. Nxg3 Whites extra piece gives him too much of an advantage.
44... d6 45. Rf8+ Ke7 46. Ra8 Rb6 47. Kc3 Bb7 48. Nf5+ Kf6 49. Rf8+ Ke5 50. Ne3 Ke4 51. Nc4 Ra6 52. Bf3# Mate on the board!

With the tournament already decided, it was unsurprising that the players’ fighting spirit was not at its highest in the last round. Still, there were a couple of interesting games. Vachier-Lagrave found himself in a worse position for the first time in the entire event (against Dominguez) but he managed to remain unscathed:

Dominguez Perez, Leinier vs. Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund, Germany | Round 7 | 17 Jul 2016 | 1/2-1/2
N2c3 White is up an exchange for a pawn but his rooks are pretty passive. Still, I believe he should be better if he finds the right idea:
23. Rhc1? This fails to carry out White's best plan
23. Ne5! The knight is rerouting to d3 and b4 after which Black will have to fight for a draw.  )
23... Nxe2! 24. Kxe2 f6! And now White can no longer play Ne5. Indeed, Black will achieve e5 and have a reasonable amount of counterplay
25. Kd2 Bf5 26. Ra2 Be4 27. Rca1 e5 Black is fine. The game soon petered out to a draw as White had to give back the exchange.
28. Bg3 Ra8 29. Ra3 Kf7 30. Ne1 exd4 31. exd4 Bh6+ 32. Ke2 Re8 33. Kf1 Bd2 34. Nd3 Bxd3+ 35. Rxd3 Bc3 36. Rc1 b4 37. f3 Nb2 38. Rdxc3 bxc3 39. Rxc3 The rest was unnecessary.
39... Nc4 40. Kg1 Re2 41. Rb3 Ne3 42. Bf2 Nd1 43. Bg3 Ne3 44. Bf2 Nd1 45. Bg3 Ne3

The only decisive game of the final round came from Kramnik, who beat Evgeny Najer of Russia. Kramnik had drawn all his games before the last round, despite having a lot of good positions. He notched his first victory, but not by playing 1. e4, as he had earlier in the event. I hope this does not mean that he is done with experimenting with the king’s pawn opeing because I really enjoyed the inspired chess he played. His game in the last round  ended quickly after Najer blundered in a more-or-less equal position:

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Najer, Evgeny
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund, Germany | Round 7 | 17 Jul 2016 | 1/2-1/2
35. Kh2 This looks like an innocent move, but White has a threat that comes with it. Najer either missed the threat or didn't respect it enough:
35... Kh7?
35... Bf8! This was the only move, lending added support to Black's pieces on the queenside and indirectly attacking the White queen on c5. Black would have been fine.
36. h4 Nxd5 And since the rook on d6 is protected, Back has this resource available. He is only slightly worse
37. exd5 Qe7 38. Ra8  )
36. h4! Black is unable to stop Bh3, destroying his coordination and winning a lot of material
36... Kg8 37. Bh3 Rxd5 38. exd5 Qxd5 39. Qc6 Qd2+ 40. Bg2

Vachier-Lagrave’s victory moves him to No. 2 on the Live Rating list — a career best and the highest rank ever by a Frenchman! 


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.