Vachier Lagrave with Positional Masterpiece

Tata Steel ended as nicely as it started. Traditionally, more than half of the last round game proved decisive and one of them was an excellent effort by the second player, Maxime Vachier Lagrave of France:
A game that I liked (ChessBase 13)

[Event "Tata Steel Masters"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2015.01.25"]
[Round "13.2"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2820"]
[BlackElo "2757"]
[Annotator "Bojkov, Dejan"]
[PlyCount "70"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[WhiteClock "0:01:08"]
[BlackClock "0:34:33"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 {Maxime is one of the
greatest speacialist in the Najdorf.} 6. h3 {Fabiano deviates from the
discussion they both had a couple of months ago after} (6. f3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8.
Be3 Be7 9. Qd2 O-O 10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. g4 b5 12. Rg1 {Caruana,F (2844)-Vachier
Lagrave,M (2757) Tashkent 2014}) 6... e5 7. Nde2 h5 {Since White wants to
fianchettoe the bishop with g2-g4 this restricting move makes a lot of Black
actually wnats to lay on the kingside in most of the cases in this line and
the h5-h4 resourse is useful for both attacking and strategical aims (to
weaken the dark squares for example).} 8. g3 ({A very original idea was
introduced recently} 8. Ng1 $5 b5 9. Nf3 Bb7 10. Ng5 {[%csl Gg5] and White was
trying to prove that h7-h5 had somewhat weakened the kingside in
Nepomniachtchi,I (2714)-Vachier Lagrave,M (2758) Beijing 2014 Still, the loss
of so many tempos in the opening can hardly be great.}) 8... Be6 9. Bg2 Nbd7
10. a4 Be7 11. O-O Rc8 12. Be3 Nb6 $146 {A novelty! Maxime came well prepared
for the game and uncorked a nice positional sacrifice of a pawn.} ({All of
this have been seen already and Black was always reacting with} 12... O-O {for
example} 13. a5 Re8 14. Qd2 Rc7 15. f4 Bc4 16. Rfd1 Qc8 {with long maneuvering
game, Riccio,E (2477)-Kotlyanskiy,E (2565) FICGS email 2010}) 13. b3 {Blocks
the Nb6-c4 maneuver.} (13. a5 Nc4 {which would be very good for Black.}) {But
allows the main idea} 13... d5 $1 {Diagram [#] The d6-d5 break is the key
theme in all the Sicilians. In this case Maxime's sacrifice is justified for
two reasons: 1) He removes the strong e4 pawn which gives him pawn majority
on the kingside and great attacking chances. 2) Domination on the dark
squares.} 14. Bxb6 {Practically forced.} ({Both} 14. a5 d4 $1) ({and} 14. exd5
Nbxd5 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. Bd2 O-O {are excellent for Black.}) 14... Qxb6 15. Nxd5
{Perhaps the other capture} (15. exd5 {is a better version for White as Black
now have more difficulties when attacking on the kingside (too many pieces on
the f file). Still, Vachier will have rich compensation after} Bf5 16. a5 Qd6)
15... Nxd5 16. exd5 Bd7 $1 {The optimal square for the bishop.} (16... Bf5 {
looks more active but the bishop will stay on the road of his own f pawn.} 17.
c4) 17. c4 Qd6 ({Black does not show his intentions yet. Another perspective
option is} 17... h4 18. g4 f5 19. gxf5 Bxf5 20. Nc3 Bc5 21. Ne4) 18. a5 {The
fire cannot be stopped with fuel. After} (18. h4 {Black can start the attack
with} g5 $1 19. hxg5 Bxg5 20. Nc3 f5 21. Re1 Kf7) 18... f5 19. Qd3 ({Once again
} 19. h4 {is dangerous for White only} g5 20. hxg5 Bxg5 21. f4 Bf6 22. fxe5
Bxe5) 19... h4 $1 {[%csl Ga3,Yb3,Gb4,Yc4,Gc5,Yd5,Rf2,Rg3][%cal Rd6c5,Rc5g1,
Rh4g3,Rh8h1] Diagram [#] This softens the black squares. Black's play is very
easy and natural, he simply advances the pawns on the kingside and creates
weaknesses along the dark squares. Fabiano will be happy to play b3-b4
followed by c4-c5 but this is impossible due to the blockade.} 20. g4 {This
looks like the best defense. White can also stay still with} (20. Rab1 {but
then Black might consider even entering an endgame sometimes} e4 21. Qd2 hxg3
22. fxg3 O-O {Even} (22... Qb4 {is good for Black} 23. Qxb4 Bxb4 24. Ra1 Bc5+
25. Kh2 Ke7 {foolowed by g7-g5.}) 23. Rfc1 Qb4 24. Qxb4 Bxb4 25. Ra1 g5) 20...
O-O ({Maxime dismisses the pawn regain} 20... fxg4 21. Nc3 $1 gxh3 22. Bxh3 {
Indeed the blockade on the lihgt squares will be favourable for White.}) 21.
Nc3 $6 {But this is wrong. Allowing e5-e4 leads to further problems along the
b8-h2 diagonal. Corerct was} (21. gxf5 {to fight for the e4 square} Bxf5 22.
Qd2 Qg6 (22... e4 {can be now answered} 23. Nd4 $1 Bd8 24. Nxf5 Rxf5 25. Bxe4
Bc7 26. f4) 23. Kh1 {Black still has plenty of compensation but nothing
decisive yet} Be4 24. f3 ({But not} 24. Bxe4 $6 Qxe4+ 25. Kh2 Rf3)) 21... e4 $1
22. Qe3 {Diagram [#]} Bd8 $1 {[%csl Rh2][%cal Gd8c7,Rc7h2] Nice regrouping.
Black hits where it hurts.} 23. Bxe4 {Desperation Fabiano figured that the
alternatives are even worse} (23. Rfe1 Bc7 24. gxf5 Qh2+ 25. Kf1 Bf4 26. Qxe4
Bxf5 27. Qe7 Bxh3 {already wins the white queen.}) (23. f4 exf3 24. Rxf3 Bc7
25. g5 (25. gxf5 Qh2+ 26. Kf1 Bxf5 {is decisive attack on the open files and
diagonals.}) 25... Rfe8 26. Qf2 Qh2+ 27. Kf1 Bd6 {[%cal Gd6c5] followd by
Bd6-c5 is also grim for White.}) 23... fxe4 24. Nxe4 Qf4 25. Qxf4 Rxf4 26. f3
Be7 {In the endgame the value of the pawns increases and normally 3 pawns
should be good enough to fight the bishop. However, in this particular
situation the bishop pair and the many useful half open files speak of the
undisputable advantage for Black.} 27. Kf2 Rcf8 28. Ke3 $6 {Caruana's desire
to activate the king is understandable but the rooks and bishops can now
create tactical headache.} ({Correct was to stay still with} 28. Kg2) 28... Be8
{Another nice regroupment. The threat is Be8-g6.} 29. c5 {It is hard to
critice White for his decisions as the position is most likely lost anyway} (
29. Rad1 {does not help neither} Bb4 (29... Bg6 30. d6) 30. Ng5 Bd7 31. Ne6
Bxe6 32. dxe6 R4f6) ({After} 29. d6 Bd8 {the light-squared bishop will pop up
on c6.}) 29... Bb5 30. b4 $1 {The last chance. In the line} (30. Rf2 {Diagram
[#]} Rxe4+ $1 {Black wins by force} 31. Kxe4 Bxc5 32. Rd2 Re8+ 33. Kf5 (33. Kf4
Be3+ 34. Kf5 Bd7+ 35. Kg6 Re5 36. f4 Be8#) 33... Bd7+ 34. Kg5 Be3+ (34... Be7+)
) 30... Rxe4+ $1 {Maxime is alert!} ({Things are not clear in the line} 30...
Bxf1 31. Rxf1 Bd8 32. Rf2 {due to the blocked character of the position.}) 31.
Kxe4 Re8 $1 {A nice ambush which wraps up the game.} 32. Kf4 ({Or} 32. Rfe1
Bxc5+ 33. Kf4 Rf8+ 34. Kg5 Bxb4 35. Re4 Bc3 36. Ra3 Bf6+ 37. Kg6 Be8+) 32...
g5+ 33. Kf5 Kf7 $1 {Once again ignores the bishop and concentrates on the king.
Checkmate is near.} 34. Rfe1 {Now it is proper mate, or else it would be a
prosaic win} (34. Rad1 Bd7+ 35. Ke4 Bxc5+ 36. Kd3 Bb5+) 34... Bd3+ 35. Re4 Bf6
{Diagram [#] A beautiful finish of a nice positional game. Mate is inevitable.
This was not Fabiano's best tournament, but Maxime had fantastic performance
with shared second place, just half point away from the winner. This game in
particular was a potional masterpiece!} (35... Bf6 36. Rae1 Re5#) 0-1

It is not big news that Magnus Carlsen won the event outright but the fact that no less than four players finished just half a point away from him speaks about the intensive battles we witnessed. The presence of the Chinese prodigy Wei Yi in the next edition of the tournament will certainly add favour to the event. Full report.

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