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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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