Wesley So has been impressing me during his post-game analysis with Yasser Seirawan. He is currently tied for second place with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ding Liren in the 2015 Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee with 5.5/8. Today's match-up between So and Vachier-Lagrave has important implications for the race to catch Magnus carlsen, if that is even possible. If not, the battle for second place has importance too.
I was awake and looking at the website on my iPad when the games started. Usually, the games have been underway for 90 minutes when I rise. I started trying to guess the move.
The first moves came fast and with the 30-second increment, So had built up his time from the initial 1:40 to 1:49 by the time he played 20.Qc1. Vachier-Lagrave was moving slightly slower, but still managed to add three minutes to his clock. I am using the Ches24 iPad app to watch the game, and find no reason to expect that the clock in the app is particularly reliable.
So,Wesley (2762) -- Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime (2757) [D87]
Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, 20.01.2015
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0–0 10.0–0
I've been in this position often enough both as White and Black that this game stimulates additional interest.
Black to move
I have played 10...Na5 in recent games. I had White in the only game in my personal database with 10...b6. I won.
10...Qc7 is the most popular move, and is one that I have both played and played against.
Vachier-Lagrave has had both sides of this position in recent years. So has played the Black side.
12.Nd4 Ne5 13.Nb5 Qb8 14.Be2 bxc5 15.f4
I thought about this move but did not have time to think about its merits before it was played. So's moves seem to come instantly while Vachier-Lagrave thinks for almost half a minute.
So has won a pawn.
But, now, perhaps his knight is misplaced.
17...Qc7 18.Bd4 e5 19.fxe5 Nxe5
White to move
Three games in my Grandmaster database have reached this position.
So moved instantly. Clearly he prepared to reach this position.
Bacrot,E (2720) -- Vachier Lagrave,M (2762) [D86]
FIDE World Rapid 2014 Dubai UAE (4.5), 16.06.2014
20.Qd2 Rb8 21.Nc2 Rb2 22.Kh1 Rd8 23.Bd1 Be6 24.Qc1 Qb8 25.Be2 Bxa2 26.c4 Nf3 27.Rxf3 Bxd4 28.Ra3 Rxc2 29.Qxc2 Bxa1 30.Qxa2 Be5 31.Rxa6 Qb4 32.Bf1 0–1
Here So thought for a few minutes. I had the time to contemplate two alternatives: 21.Qe3 and the line So played.
21.Bxg4 Nxg4 22.Qf4 Qxf4 23.Rxf4 Ne5 24.Rb1
Black to move
Seizing the open file seems obvious, but can White secure it?
If 24...Rab8, 25.Rxb8 concedes the file. Two other possibilities suggest themselves:
25.Rff1 and 25.Rb3.
Vachier-Lagrave avoids trades. He is down a pawn after all.
25.Rff1 was played in Estremera Panos -- Rambaldi, Chambery 2014.
So has used nearly an hour since move 21 and is thinking still. Vachier-Lagrave has used 35 minutes.
And now Vachier-Lagrave is thinking.
Seeing that Black can exchange bishops and win back the pawn, I started to consider Rb7 when So played it.
Vachier-Lagrave moved instantly.
White to move
28.Rfxf7 Nxb7 is hope chess because of the zwischenzug 28...Bxd4+.
28.Bxc5 sets up 29.Rfxf7, but after 29...Bxc3, White's rooks are not even blind swine with g7 defended. Black would be better.
28.Rbxf7 doubles the rooks on the f-file when the sseventh rank is the goal. It will take time for White to get his pieces better coordinated.
White's position seems a little more difficult than Black's. While I was looking at an open file, Vachier-Lagrave simply brought his rooks to the center. Then, he repositioned his knight, which was already better than So's misplaced stallion.
As White, I would like to get both rooks on the seventh rank, but not at the cost of letting the center collapse.
29.Re5 does not retain the extra pawn. 29...Nxe4 30.Rxe4 Bxa3, but it might be nice to trade knights.
29.Rexf7 is not particularly attractive. 29...Nxe4 30.Nb1. 30.Nc2 looks as though it would lose a piece.
I was looking at this move, but wary.
I expected 29...Bxc5.
30.Rexf7 Rxc3 31.Nb1
The king's knight has found himself on the queen's knight's starting square.
Black to move
31...Rc2 32.Kh1 Bg7
So has 22 minutes for the next eight moves. Vachier-Lagrave has 50.
While I was putting out the garbage, Levon Aronian offered some analysis of this game. He thinks that Black is better. I need to rewind the video to see his analysis as I caught only the last few seconds.
Aronian showed a variation in which White goes after the a-pawn and gets mated. So will find something better, but he should be playing for a draw, it seems to me.
33.Na3 Rxa2 34.Nc4 Rf8 35.Rxf8+ Bxf8 36.e5
Black to move
36...Bc5 37.g4 Rc2 38.Nd6 Re2 39.Ra1 Rxe5 40.Nb7
I expected 40.Rxa6 Bxd6 41.Rxd6 and a draw, which would be convenient as I have essays to grade for the college history course that I am teaching.
Both players get another 50 minutes on the clock.
41.Rxa6 Kg7 42.Nd6 Bxd6 43.Rxd6 1/2-1/2
I was rooting for So, but also found Vachier-Lagrave's resilience impressive. He got the better position and was ahead on the clock. So, however, did not lose his head and go for Aronian's fantasy line that spelled disaster.
As a devotee of the Grunfeld on the Black side, I sense that studying some of Vachier-Lagrave's games are in my immediate future.
The host is interviewing So. I'll watch that and then see if I can get some papers graded before this afternoon's chess club.