Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beat Viswanathan Anand in the final of the Corsica Circuit knockout tournament to secure the title.

The Corsica Circuit just finished in Bastia, France, and it was a resounding success for France’s top player: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

The tournament was a strong knockout rapid competition (time controls of 15 minutes per player with three seconds added to their times after each move). In the final, Vachier-Lagrave, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the world in standard time controls and No. 7 at rapid rates, defeated Viswanathan Anand, the former World Champion, who is No. 7 and No. 6, respectively, 1½ - ½. Altogether, there were 16 players, 10 of whom qualified through a classical open event immediately preceding the rapid, and six invited grandmasters.

Both Vachier-Lagrave and Anand won their first round matches, 2-0, and continued smoothly in the quarter-finals with 2-0 and 1½ - ½ victories, respectively. The semi-finals included many of the top players in the field. Vachier-Lagrave faced Anton Korobov of Ukraine, whose rating often hovers around 2700 – the level of the world’s elite. Vachier-Lagrave jumped out to the lead by winning Game 1 of their match:

Vachier Lagrave, Maxime vs. Korobov, Anton
Corsican Circuit Final | Bastia FRA | Round 3.1 | 28 Oct 2016 | ECO: C11 | 1-0
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 Be7 8. Qd2 a6
8... O-O is the big alternative.  )
9. Be2
9. dxc5 is a major alternative, while  )
9. a3 has received some attention lately, most notably in an impressive win by Kramnik. Even more recently, Korobov himself faced this move.
9... O-O 10. dxc5 Nxc5 11. Qf2 Qa5 12. O-O-O Bd7 13. f5 d4 14. Bxd4 exf5 15. Bc4 Be6 Black is doing well, despite the eventual result. 1-0 (78) Sethuraman,S (2633)-Korobov,A (2687) Czech Republic 2016  )
9... b5
9... O-O is again possible. Often the choice here amounts to little more than a transposition of moves.  )
10. O-O
10. a3!?  )
10... b4 Rare.
10... O-O is usual, and constitutes a transposition to 9...0-0 lines, as mentioned above.  )
11. Nd1
11. Na4!?  )
11... O-O The game has returned to a reasonably well-trodden path.
12. c3
12. Nf2  )
12... a5 13. Bf2 a4 Black has tried several moves here; this one is new. The idea is to play ...a3, forcing the collapse of White's queenside.
13... f6  )
13... Ba6  )
13... cxd4  )
13... bxc3 and  )
13... f5 have all been tried before.  )
14. cxb4 Nxb4
14... cxb4 is also possible, when both sides have less mobility on the queenside. The problem is that this would harm Black more, as White retains the normal plan of building on the kingside, say, with Bd3 followed by f5.  )
15. Ne3
15. dxc5 is playable (arguably even better). It looks at first as if it might win a pawn, but Black can recoup his material and equalize after
15... Qa5! 16. a3 Nc6 17. Qxa5 Rxa5  )
15... Qa5
15... Qb6! 16. dxc5 Nxc5 17. Nc2 Nxc2 18. Qxc2 Ba6 Surprisingly, White cannot make anything of the pin. Black will play ...Rfc8 followed by ...Qb7, after which his queenside prospects are more promising than White's counterchances on the kingside.  )
16. Rfc1 Nc6
16... Ba6  )
17. Qxa5 Rxa5 18. dxc5 Nxc5
18... Ba6!  )
19. Nd1 A small victory for White: Black can no longer swap off the bad bishop with ...Ba6.
19... Bd7 After
19... Ba6?? 20. Bxa6 Black will lose one of his knights if he recaptures the bishop.  )
20. Nd4 Rc8 21. Nc3
21. Nxc6 Rxc6 22. Bd4 is better, intending to improve the knight's position on f2 and to double rooks on the c-file.
22... g5! 23. g3 gxf4 24. gxf4 Ne4 25. Rxc6 Bxc6 26. Rc1 Bc5 27. Bxc5 Rxc5 28. Rxc5 Nxc5 29. Nf2 d4 30. Nd3 Nd7 31. Bd1 Bb5 32. Nb4 White is pressing, but a draw is very likely. For instance, if Black can trade off the f- and e-pawns (very likely) and White swaps a-pawns to create a passed pawn (e.g. after b3 axb3 axb3) all Black needs to do to draw is trade knights and give up his bishop for White's b-pawn. White can win Black's d- and h-pawns and it's still a draw with just king, bishop and h-pawn against king.  )
21... g5 Another good plan is
21... Nxd4 22. Bxd4 Raa8 followed by ...Rab8.  )
22. g3 Nb4 The right way to reach the position in the game was
22... gxf4 23. gxf4 and only now
23... Nb4 24. Ncb5 etc.  )
23. Ncb5 gxf4?
23... Raa8  )
24. gxf4? A missed opportunity.
24. Be1! Bxb5 25. Nxb5 Rxb5 26. Bxb5 Rb8 27. Bxb4 Rxb5 28. Ba3  )
24... Rb8?!
24... Raa8  )
25. Nd6 a3
25... Bd8 was best, followed soon by ...Bb6.  )
26. bxa3! Nbd3 27. Bxd3 Nxd3 28. Rc7 Nxf2 29. Kxf2 Rb2+
29... Bxd6 30. exd6 Rd8 31. Nb3 Rxa3 32. Nc5 Bb5 33. Nb7 Rda8 34. f5! exf5 35. d7 Bxd7 36. Rxd7 Rxa2+ 37. Rxa2 Rxa2+ 38. Kg3 If Black can eliminate White's h-pawn, even at the cost of all of his own pawns, he'll draw; unfortunately for him, however, it's not clear that he can achieve this.  )
30. Kg1?
30. Kg3! Rxa3+ 31. Nf3 Bxd6 32. exd6 Bb5 33. d7 Bxd7 34. Rxd7 Kg7 35. Rc1  )
30... Bh4? If he had gone for
30... Bd8! 31. Rxd7 Bb6 straight away he would have saved the game. White's extra tempo makes a huge difference.  )
31. Rf1 Bd8 Too late!
32. Rxd7 Bb6 33. Kh1 Bxd4 34. f5? Almost crushing.
34. Rf3! was best, protecting a3 and going after the lonely Black king. White threatens mate in two.
34... Rb1+ 35. Kg2 Rg1+ 36. Kh3 Ra7 Black has avoided mate, but after
37. Rxa7 Bxa7 38. Rg3+ Rxg3+ 39. Kxg3 the resulting ending is completely hopeless for Black.  )
34... Rxa3? Now White's attack succeeds.
34... Ra7 This is the problem. Despite appearances, Black's king will not be mated.
35. Rd8+ Kg7 36. fxe6 fxe6 37. Re8 Bxe5 38. Rg1+ Kf6 39. Rf1+ Kg7 40. Rg1+  )
35. f6 h5
35... Ra8 36. Nxf7  )
36. Rd8+ Kh7 37. Nxf7 Raxa2 Threatening mate. The burden of proof is on White, and he meets it.
38. Ng5+ Kh6
38... Kg6? 39. Rg8+ Kh6 40. Nf7+ Kh7 41. Rg7#  )
39. Nf3 Bc5 40. Rh8+ Kg6 41. Rg8+?!
41. Nh4+! Kg5 42. Rg8+! Kh6 43. Nf3  )
41... Kf7?
41... Kf5! makes it difficult.
42. f7 Ke4 43. f8=Q Bxf8 44. Rxf8 d4 45. Ng5+! Kxe5 46. Nf3+ Ke4 47. Re8 Rf2 48. Rxf2 Rxf2 49. Ng5+ Kd5 50. Rxe6 is probably winning.  )
42. Rg7+ Kf8 43. Rh7
43. Rc1!  )
43... Rf2
43... Rg2  )
44. Rg1 There are no more chances for Black, who is threatened by mate in two (Rh8+ followed by Rg7#).
44... Rxh2+ 45. Nxh2 Bxg1 46. Kxg1

Korobov had chances in the second game, and Vachier-Lagrave had to defend an inferior endgame for a long time. But he eventually escaped with a draw, clinching the match victory.

In the other semi, Anand had an even more difficult opponent, Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan, who was at one time within a whisker of 2800. Like Vachier-Lagrave, Anand also opened the match with a win in a game in which he had White:

Anand, Viswanathan vs. Radjabov, Teimour
Corsican Circuit Final | Bastia FRA | Round 3.1 | 28 Oct 2016 | ECO: C63 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 Not many elite grandmasters - or grandmasters, period - use the Schliemann (a.k.a. Jaenisch) against the Ruy Lopez, but Radjabov has used it as an occasional weapon since 2007.
4. d3
4. Nc3 is the other main move, used against Radjabov earlier in the tournament.
4... fxe4 5. Nxe4 Nf6 6. Qe2 d5 7. Nxf6+ gxf6 8. d4 e4 9. Nh4 Be6 10. c3 Qd7 11. Qh5+ Bf7 12. Qf5 Be6 13. Qh5+ Bf7 14. Qf5 Be6 1/2-1/2 (14) Deac,B (2543) -Radjabov,T (2710) Bastia FRA 2016  )
4... fxe4 5. dxe4 Nf6 6. O-O Bc5 7. Bxc6
7. Nc3 is the traditional move here, while  )
7. Qd3 has been the top choice for most of the last decade.  )
7... bxc6 8. Nxe5 This greedy approach has been an effective one for White.
8... O-O 9. Nd3
9. Bg5 was used successfully against Radjabov by Macieja in the 2007 World Cup, but a year later Radjabov held in the variation against Anand.  )
9. Nc3 is the hotter move at the moment.  )
9... Nxe4 10. Nxc5 Nxc5 White's position is as safe as can be, and he can hope for a very slight edge thanks to his better pawn structure.
11. Be3 Ne6 12. Nd2 d6
12... Qf6  )
12... d5  )
13. b4 Aimed against ...c5.
13... Qf6
13... Qh4 14. c3 a5  )
14. a4
14. Nb3  )
14... Nf4
14... Qc3  )
14... a5  )
14... Rb8  )
15. c4 Qg6
15... Rb8  )
15... Be6  )
16. Bxf4 Rxf4 17. Ra3 Bg4 18. f3 Bh3 19. Rf2 Re8 20. Re2 Rff8 21. Nf1 a6
21... h5  )
21... Rxe2 22. Qxe2 Re8 23. Re3 Rxe3 24. Nxe3 Be6  )
22. b5 axb5 23. axb5 cxb5 24. cxb5 Re5
24... Rxe2 25. Qxe2 Be6  )
25. Ng3 Rxb5? The first mistake in a very well-played game by both sides.
26. Rc3?
26. Rb3! Rfb8 27. Rxb5 Rxb5 28. Qa4 Rb1+ 29. Kf2 Be6 30. Qa8+ Kf7 31. Qc6  )
26... Bf5 27. Rxc7 Rb1 28. Rc1 Rxc1 29. Qxc1 Qf6
29... Bd3 30. Re7 Re8  )
30. Qc4+ Kh8 White has a very slight advantage on account of Black's d-pawn. In classical chess it wouldn't be enough to win, but in a 15-minute game White has decent practical chances.
31. Rd2 Bg6 32. Qd4 Qxd4+ 33. Rxd4 Rd8 34. Ne2 Kg8 35. g4 Bf7 36. Kf2 Kf8 37. Ra4 Rc8 38. Nd4 g6 39. Ke3 Re8+ 40. Kf4 Re7
40... Re5 41. Ra6 Rd5 is a better way to maintain the position.  )
41. Ra6 d5?! White will benefit from the freshly weakened e5 square.
42. h4 h6 43. Nc6 Re6 44. Ra8+ Kg7 45. Ne5 Re7 46. Rd8 Ra7
46... g5+ 47. hxg5 hxg5+ 48. Kf5 Bg8 49. Nc6 Rf7+ 50. Kxg5 Rxf3 is the surest path to a draw.  )
47. Rd6 Ra4+ 48. Kg3 Ra7 49. g5 hxg5 50. hxg5 Re7 51. Kf4 Ra7 52. Ke3 Ra3+ 53. Kd4 Ra4+ 54. Kc5 Ra7 55. Rf6 Be8 56. Kxd5 Progress! Black's drawing chances aren't very good, especially from a practical standpoint.
56... Ra5+ 57. Ke4 Ra4+ 58. Ke3 Ra3+ 59. Kd4 Ra4+ 60. Kc3 Ra7 61. f4 Rb7 62. Kc4 Ra7 63. Kc5 Rb7 64. Re6 Bf7 65. Rb6 Ra7 66. Nc6 Rd7 67. Ne5 Rd5+? The rook needed to remain on the 7th rank. Now Black loses by force.
68. Kc6 Rd4 69. Rb7 Rxf4 70. Rxf7+
70. Rxf7+ Very simple. The king and pawn ending is an elementary win for White:
70... Rxf7 71. Nxf7 Kxf7 72. Kd7 Kf8 73. Ke6 Kg7 74. Ke7 Kg8 75. Kf6 Kh7 76. Kf7 Kh8 77. Kxg6 Kg8 The opposition doesn't save Black when White's king is on the 6th rank in front of his pawn (provided the pawn isn't an a- or h-pawn). White wins here no matter whose move it is.
78. Kh6 Kh8 79. g6 Kg8 80. g7 Kf7 81. Kh7  )

Also like Vachier-Lagrave, Anand held a draw in Game 2, though in his case there were times when he had the upper hand against his opponent.

The two pre-tournament favorites thus met in the final, and in the first game Anand drew comfortably with the Black pieces with a nice new theoretical idea:

Vachier Lagrave, Maxime vs. Anand, Viswanathan
Corsican Circuit Final | Bastia FRA | Round 4.1 | 30 Oct 2016 | ECO: A08 | 1/2-1/2
1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c5 3. Bg2 Nc6 4. d4 Nf6 5. O-O cxd4 6. Nxd4 e5 7. Nxc6 bxc6 8. c4 Be6 9. Qa4
9. Bg5 Rc8 10. Qa4 Qd7 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. e3 d4 13. exd4 exd4 14. c5 Bxc5 15. Rc1 Qe7 16. Bxc6+ Kf8 17. Nd2 Kg7 18. Qb5 Bb6 19. Qd3 Rc7 20. Be4 Rhc8 21. Rxc7 Rxc7 22. Rd1 Qc5 23. Nb3 Qe5 24. Nd2 f5 25. Bg2 Qc5 26. b3 Qc2 27. Nc4 Qxd3 28. Rxd3 Bxc4 29. bxc4 Rxc4 30. Bd5 Rc3 - (30) Nakamura,H (2787)-Anand,V (2784) Zuerich 2016 (rapid)  )
9... Qd7 10. Rd1 Rc8 11. Nc3 The players tested this same variation in a blitz game earlier this year.
11. Nd2 Bd6 12. e4 d4 13. Qc2 c5 14. Nf3 h6 15. Ne1 O-O 16. Nd3 Nh7 17. f4 exf4 18. gxf4 f5 19. e5 Be7 20. b3 Kh8 21. Qe2 Qe8 22. Bd2 g5 23. Bd5 Qf7 24. Bxe6 Qxe6 25. Qh5 Rg8 26. Qf3 Rcd8 27. Kh1 g4 28. Qg2 h5 29. Be1 h4 30. Kg1 Nf8 31. Rd2 Qh6 32. Re2 Ne6 33. Bg3 hxg3 34. hxg3 Rg7 35. Kf2 Rh7 36. Rg1 Kg8 37. Ke1 Kf7 38. Kd2 Rdh8 39. Qd5 Rd8 40. Qb7 Qf8 41. Kc2 Qe8 42. Rh1 Qh8 43. Ree1 Rh3 44. Qg2 Qh5 45. Nf2 Rh8 46. Nxh3 gxh3 47. Qe2 Qg4 48. Qd3 h2 49. Re2 Nxf4 50. gxf4 Rh3 51. e6+ Ke8 0-1 (51) Vachier Lagrave,M (2789)-Anand,V (2770) Leuven 2016 (blitz)  )
11... d4 12. e3 Be7 A nice idea presumably prepared at home, intending the coming queen sacrifice.
13. exd4 exd4 14. c5! Else Black himself plays ...c5, with nary a worry in the world.
14... Bxc5 15. Be3 dxe3! 16. Rxd7 exf2+ 17. Kh1 Kxd7 The forced sequence has finished, and now White has a lot of options. If there is anything to be had for White against Anand's plan, this is the place to look.
18. Rd1+ Ke7 19. Qa5 Bb6 20. Qa3+ c5 21. Rf1 Rhd8 22. Rxf2 Kf8 White's plan does not pose any real danger to Black. Material is approximately equal, and Black's pieces coordinate better than White's. (White's pieces are strewn about and lack targets.) If anything, Anand has a slight advantage here.
23. Na4 Kg8
23... Ng4 24. Rf1 Rd2  )
24. Nxb6 axb6 25. h3 h6 26. Qa6 Rd6 27. a3 Rcd8 28. Qe2 c4
28... Rd3 or  )
28... Nd7 followed by ...c4 and ...Nc5 or ...f6 and ...Ne5 looks promising.  )
29. Kh2 Rd3 30. Qe1 b5 31. Qe5 Bd5 32. Bxd5 R8xd5 33. Qf4 c3 34. bxc3 Rxc3 35. a4 bxa4 36. Qxa4 With pawns remaining only on the kingside, a draw is by far the likeliest result.
36... Rdd3 37. Rg2
37. Rc2! Rxg3 38. Rxc3 Rxc3 39. Qa8+ Kh7 40. Qb7  )
37... g6
37... Rf3! would have given Anand an advantage. He instead heads for a draw in a slightly funny way.  )
38. Qf4 Rf3 39. Qxh6 Nh5 40. Rd2 Rc8 41. Rg2 Rxg3 42. Rxg3 Nxg3 43. Kxg3 Rc5 44. Qe3 Rf5 The position is a dead draw. Black has a fortress, and will shuttle the rook from f5 to h5 and back again.
45. h4 Rh5 46. Qf4 Rf5 47. Qe3 Rh5 48. Qf4 Rf5 49. Qe3

With White in Game 2, Anand was a slight favorite. But allowing Vachier-Lagrave to play the Najdorf Sicilian, at which Vachier-Lagrave is an expert, perhaps wasn’t the best idea in a game with a short time control. Had the game gone into forcing lines where Anand had something special prepared it might not have been a problem for him, but he instead played a system that allowed both players to improvise. On this occasion the Frenchman’s improvisational skills were superior, and he won what was probably his best game in the whole event.

Anand, Viswanathan vs. Vachier Lagrave, Maxime
Corsican Circuit Final | Bastia FRA | Round 4.2 | 30 Oct 2016 | ECO: B90 | 0-1
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 The evergreen Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian. At the moment Vachier-Lagrave is its greatest champion.
6. Nb3 This is a trendy option, whose most loyal and successful proponent to date is Polish grandmaster Mateusz Bartel.
6... Nc6 Varying from 6... g6, which he played twice against Nakamura back this past June.
6... g6 7. Be2 Bg7 8. Be3 O-O 9. g4 b5 10. g5 Nfd7 11. h4 Bb7 12. Bd4 Nc6 13. Bxg7 Kxg7 14. Qd2 b4 15. Nd5 a5 16. h5 a4 17. Nc1 a3 18. b3 e6 19. Nxb4 Nxb4 20. Qxb4 Nc5 21. f3 Qxg5 22. Nd3 Nxd3+ 23. cxd3 Rac8 24. Kf2 Rc2 25. Qd4+ e5 26. Qxd6 Rfc8 27. Rae1 Rxa2 28. hxg6 hxg6 29. Qd7 Rh8 30. Rxh8 Kxh8 31. Qxf7 Qh4+ 32. Kf1 Qh1+ 33. Kf2 Qh4+ 34. Kf1 Qh1+ 35. Kf2 - (35) Nakamura,H (2787)-Vachier Lagrave,M (2789) Leuven 2016 (rapid)  )
7. Be3 g6 Very rare here.
7... e6 8. g4 b5 9. Bg2 Bb7 10. g5 Nd7 11. f4 Nb6 12. Qe2 Nc4 13. O-O-O Nxe3 14. Qxe3 Na5 15. f5 Nc4 16. Qg3 b4 17. Na4 e5 18. Nac5 Bc6 19. Bf1 Nb6 20. Nxa6 Be7 21. f6 gxf6 22. Nxb4 Bxe4 23. Bg2 Bg6 24. Bxa8 Qxa8 25. Qf2 Nd7 26. Nd5 Qxa2 27. gxf6 Bf8 28. Qd2 h5 29. Nc3 Qa6 30. Qf2 Bh6+ 31. Kb1 O-O 32. Qe2 Qxe2 33. Nxe2 Nxf6 34. Rxd6 Ng4 35. Nc3 Ne3 36. Rg1 Kh7 37. Rgxg6 fxg6 38. Nd2 Bf4 39. h3 g5 40. Nde4 Kg7 41. b4 g4 42. hxg4 Nxg4 43. b5 h4 44. Rd3 Ne3 45. Nf2 Rb8 46. Kb2 Kg6 47. Kb3 Kf5 48. Rd7 Ke6 49. Rh7 Nf5 50. Nfe4 Nh6 51. Ne2 Be3 52. Kc4 h3 53. Kd3 h2 54. N2g3 Bf4 55. c4 Rd8+ 56. Ke2 Rd4 57. Kf3 Rxc4 58. b6 Rb4 59. b7 Kd5 60. Kg2 Rb2+ 61. Kh1 Ng4 62. Rg7 Rb1+ 63. Kg2 h1=Q+ 64. Nxh1 Kxe4 65. Rxg4 Rb2+ 66. Nf2+ Ke3 67. b8=Q Rxb8 68. Rh4 Ke2 69. Rg4 Rb2 70. Rh4 Rc2 71. Rh3 Rc8 72. Rh4 Be3 73. Re4 Rg8+ 74. Ng4 Kd2 75. Kh3 Bf4 76. Nxe5 Bxe5 77. Rxe5 1/2-1/2 (77) Bartel,M (2625)-Gelfand,B (2735) Moscow 2016  )
8. Nd5 Nxd5 9. exd5 Ne5 10. Bd4 Bh6 11. Be2 O-O 12. O-O Threatening f4.
12... b5
12... Qc7  )
13. a4 b4 14. c3
14. f4 Nd7 15. Qe1  )
14... Bb7 15. cxb4
15. f4 Nd7 16. c4 e6! leads to sharp play in which Black seems to hold his own. For example:
17. Qe1 exd5 18. Qxb4 Re8! 19. Qxb7 Rxe2 20. Qxd5 Rb8 21. Qf3 Qe8 22. Rad1 Qe4  )
15... Bxd5 16. Na5 e6 17. Ra3?! A good idea, but first White should have chased away Black's knight and seized the f4 square.
17. f4 Nc6 18. Nxc6 Bxc6 19. Ra3 is equal and very sharp.  )
17... Rb8! 18. Bc3 Qh4 19. Be1 Bf4 Neither of Black's last two moves would have been possible had White played 17.f4.
20. Rh3?
20. h3 had to be played.  )
20... Qg5 21. Rg3
21. g3? Qf5 22. Rh4 g5 23. Rh5 Qe4 24. f3 Qg6 25. Rh3 Be3+ 26. Bf2 Bxf2+ 27. Rxf2 g4 28. Rh4 Rxb4  )
21... Qf5! 22. Bxa6?
22. Ra3 Rfc8 /-+  )
22... Bxg3 23. fxg3 Qe4 24. Rf2 Rxb4 25. Re2 Rd4! Beautiful centralization.
26. Qc1 Nf3+! 27. gxf3
27. Kh1 Qg4  )
27... Qxf3 28. Qc3 Qh1+ 29. Kf2 e5! Threatening ...Qg2+ followed by ...Qf3#. White cannot avoid the mate without incurring severe material losses, so he resigned the game and thus the match.
29... e5! 30. Bd2 Qg2+ 31. Ke3 Qf3#  )

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Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.