Chess Notes

Weekly chess column

Gibraltar is famous for many things: the monkeys, the British naval base, and its rock but since 2003 it has become known for one of the world’s best open tournaments: the Tradewise Chess Congress. Tradewise is a Gibraltar-based insurance company. This week’s game comes from the recently concluded masters section and is between two of the world’s best young players: France’s No. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (or just MVL for short), 23, and Argentina’s No. 2, Sandro Mareco, 26. In this game, Vachier-Lagrave comes up with a new approach in a variation of the Sicilian defense and sweeps Mareco off the board with his mass of king-side pawns and better pieces.


2014 Tradewise Chess Congress, Gibraltar

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2745)
vs. Sandro Mareco



1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 This starts out as a Taimanov variation of the Sicilian but transposes into a standard Scheveningen. “Taimanov’’ is Mark Taimanov, a Russian grandmaster and classical pianist who once, sadly, lost a Candidate's match to Bobby Fischer by the score of 6–0. This is a flexible system, which can be very tricky for White to deal with. 5.Nc3 Or 5. c4 leading to a Maroczy bind/hedgehog type of position. 5...Qc7 6.Be2 Nf6 7.Be3 Be7 8.f4 d6 9.Ndb5 Seems to be a new move that indicates a new approach for White. 9...Qb8 10.g4 Nothing too out of the ordinary. Pawn storms like this are common in the Sicilian. 10...Nd7 11.h4!? Now this is out of the ordinary. Fearlessly, White throws all his pawns at Black. He probably thinks that since not much is going on in the center or on queenside he can get away with it. We will see. 11...a6 12.Nd4 Qc7 An example of what happens if Black castle is this: 12...0–0 13.g5 Nc5 14.Qd2 Bd7 15.h5 b5 16.h6 b4 17.hxg7 Kxg7 18.Nd5! exN 19.Nf5+ BxN 20.exB and the lights grow dim for Black. 13. g5 Na5?! A dubious move as it wastes time and gives up control over d4. Better is just the simple 13...b5 just trying to finish his development. 14.h5 b5 15.Nf5! A positional piece sacrifice somewhat common in these types of positions. White hopes to use his lead in development, Black’s very insecure king, the wonderful d5 square and his mass of kingside pawns to his advantage. 15...exf5 16.Nd5 Qc6 17. exf5 Nc4 18.Bf3!  Not slowing down at all. Now, White's initiative becomes difficult for Black to deal with. 18...Nxe3 19.Nxe3 Qc5 20.Qd2 Rb8 21.b4 Qa7 22.0–0–0 Bb7 Or22...0–0 23.h6 g6 24.Nd5 Bd8 25.Qc3 Ne5 26.fxe5 Bxg5+ 27.Kb2 Bxf5 28.exd6 f6 29.Ne7+ Kh8 30.Qc7 and White is winning. 23.Bxb7 Rxb7 24.h6 g6 Now Black will have to worry about his rook on h8. 25.Nd5 With the threat of Qc3. 25...Nb6 26.Nxe7 26.Nxb6 also wins: 26…Qxb6 27.Qc3 Rg8 28.Qc8+ 26...Rxe7 27.Qc3 Rg8 28.Qc6+ Kd8 Not 28…Nd7 as 30.Qc8 is mate 29.Rxd6+ Nd7 30.f6 Re6 31.Rxe6 fxe6 32.Rd1 Black is lost now and it is easy to see why with his king stuck in the middle, his rook out of play, and his pawns falling like leaves in autumn. 32...Qc7 33.Qxa6 Qxf4+ Not really helping but at least he gets a check. Another try is 33...Rf8 but that fails to 34.Rd4 Qc3 35.Qa8+ Qc8 36.Qa5+ Ke8 37.Qxb5 Rf7 38.Rc4 Qa8 39.Rc6 Kd8 40.Rxe6 34.Rd2 Not 34.Kb2 or b1 due to 34…Qxb4+ 34...Qf1+ 35.Kb2 Qc4 36.Qd6 Qc7 37.f7 Winning lots of material as 37…Rf8 is answered by just 38.QxR mate and 37…Rh8 by just 38.f8Q. So, Black gave up; 1–0

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