Alexander Grischuk is through to the finals of the FIDE Grand Prix in Hamburg. The Russian Grandmaster won the second game of the semi-final against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France to advanced into the final. The win also saw him collecting valuable points for the overall standings of the Grand Prix Series and a place in the Candidates tournament.
The second semi-finals ended in a draw. Daniil Dubov was pressing throughout the whole game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda but had to share the point after the Polish grandmaster defended well in a slightly inferior endgame. They will meet again in the tiebreak of the semi-final to determine the second finalist.
Grischuk opened his game against Vachier-Lagrave with the non-committal 1.Nf3, but after just five moves, the players reached a position of the English Opening which the French grandmaster has played 18 times in the past two years.
In his first game, played in 2017, he had beaten none other than Magnus Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup. Afterwards, however, he had experienced several problems. The last time he played it, he suffered a loss at the hands of Teimour Radjabov at the World Cup in Khanty Mansiysk about a month and a half ago.
This time around, ‘MVL’ clearly had some improvements prepared. Grischuk, however, was not surprised and continued quickly until move twelve. He created a strong centre and pushed the h-pawn attempting to provoke some weaknesses on the kingside. The game sharpened soon, as Vachier-Lagrave started an attack of his own by advancing his b-pawn on the other side of the board. This lead to a liquidation of the pawn centre but the French grandmaster committed an error by allowing White to continue the fight with a strong bishop pair in an open position. Additionally, he had to deal with a knight stranded at the rim.
Grischuk developed a dangerous initiative following this, and after finding a convincing sequence of moves, reached a winning position. His rook had entered the seventh rank, and he could have placed his queen in the middle of the board, dominating his opponent. With time running short, he chose to threaten a mate in one instead, which Vachier-Lagrave defended easily and was back in the game. Although, he was still on the defending side as Grischuk kept the better minor piece and a passed pawn on the a-file.
As the technical part of the game began, Vachier-Lagrave had a passive sidelined knight blocking the white passed pawn. Grischuk now had to find a way to break black’s defense. He did so by exchanging queens and penetrating with his king into black’s camp. By this time, Grischuk’s time trouble was the last straw Vachier-Lagrave was grasping on, but the experienced Russian grandmaster managed to navigate through the remaining obstacles with fantastic precision.
In the other semi-final, Duda chose the solid Slav Defense against Dubov’s 1.d4. The players followed theory until move thirteen and reached an endgame after an early queen exchange. Over the next few moves, the Polish grandmaster stabilized his position and remained with a sound pawn structure. Dubov, on the other hand, had an active dark-squared bishop and slightly better control of the centre.
Duda handled the position a bit carelessly and permitted White to gain better control of important squares and lines. Both sides had only a rook and two minor pieces left, but the young Russian was the one exerting some pressure. He attacked a weak pawn on f6, but Duda activated a knight and counterattacked one of white’s weak pawns as well. This counterplay turned out to be enough for Duda to save the half point after three hours of play.
Semi-final, game 2 results:
Alexander Grischuk – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1-0
Daniil Dubov – Jan-Krzysztof Duda 1/2-1/2