Interview with GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

2007 French Champion looking forward to ETCC

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was born on 21st October, 1990 in Nogent-sur-Marne (France). He became one of the youngest Grandmasters in the history of the game, obtaining his GM title at the age of 14 years and 4 months. Maxime had incredible results over the past few years, skyrocketing his FIDE rating to 2634. A full (and very long) list of his accomplishments can be found in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave profile. We are thankful to Vachier-Lagrave family and Frederic Sellier for arranging this interview.

Chessdom: Hello Maxime, you had a fantastic year, winning both Paris and French national championship and almost winning Corus “B” Group. What are your main impressions from these tournaments?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I was really well prepared for the Corus, but after five wins in a row(!), I suffered much in the end of the tournament, mainly because of my failing physical condition (I still don’t know how I managed to lose that almost winning game I had against Jakovenko !!). Even if I had played very well in the tournament, I was disappointed by this end. So I began working more carefully on my physical condition, and even if I was less prepared in the tournaments I played after, from June, I only performed 2700+ TPR, always with some good games, and at least without blunders, and that’s why I managed to win these important tournaments in the summer. I showed especially good play in the French championship, (It’s the first time I managed to comment no less than 5 games from my tournament without being ashamed of my play in any of those games) and that’s what I’m really proud of, because apart from the final result (being French champion was a fantastic achievement), what I want even more in chess is to play well, and my play in Paris was not such an impressive play (still it was not bad at all, but maybe I am hunting too much for perfection in my games).

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Photo by Patrick Vachier-Lagrave

Chessdom: In the era when there are many discussions on how to reduce the number of draws, you seem to be very effective, winning large number of games against strong opposition. Are you playing sharper than others or what is the secret?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I think I’m playing sharper than the others, but that’s only because I don’t see the point of playing a tournament and then to play “boring” games. What is the most funny is that when I perform a draw, it is generally a quick draw (no more than 30 moves), but these are generally the games I am not really proud of, but with the opening preparation that has become so important, sometimes you cannot prevent them.

Chessdom: How would you best define your chess style?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I would describe myself as a pure calculator: I almost exclusively calculate lots of variations during my games. However, I have improved my strategical and technical play, but I am still stronger in very complicated positions, and when I need to calculate in endgames. One of my strength (or weakness, I still don’t know) is that I may take great risks, but they are very carefully calculated, meaning I can hardly bluff: if I am sure a sac is wrong, even if the refutation is far from being obvious. On the other side, I am more confident when I take risks.

Chessdom: How many hours daily you devote to chess study? Do you work with a trainer or on your own? How important is opening preparation?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I study chess about 2 hours a day, mainly on my own, but I also have some trainers who I see during tournaments and some training sessions with Arnaud Hauchard and Pavel Tregubov. I don’t study chess more, as I also go to the university, where I study mathematics and IT.

Nowadays, to my deepest regret, opening preparation is more and more important, and so I am forced to work on it too. But I really don’t see the point of preparing some thirty moves with the computer, especially if it is just to find some forced draws, as it so often happens…

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Photo by Patrick Vachier-Lagrave

Chessdom: We have to ask about the brilliant win against GM Fontaine at the French Championship. Game was published the same day on Chessdom and it also achieved cult status on other forums. How deep was your calculation? Did you really foresee 30…e3 and beautiful mate after the Queen sacrifice?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: This game was very important, as I really had to play for a win to try to catch Vlad Tkachiev, and so I took many risks from the beginning. At some points, my calculation was fairly deep, but in fact there was no real point to calculate so much further in such a complicated position. I simply sacrificed my queen because I thought there was no other moves (I merely oversaw that after 23…Qf8 24.Bxe4 Nf6 I won an exchange), and so I calculated that I had at least the perpetual, and that I could have some points with …e3, but no more (and it was quite pointless to think about that in fact, even if it is exactly what happened!). There are so many ways for white to make a draw (the obvious 27.e3, 30.Qc6 (but that is already far from obvious)) that if I had thought about it for some more time, I would probably have begun thinking what would go next after 23…Qf8. I will complain no more, because such optimism gave me the occasion to play my best game ever (for the time being at least), as I took great risks, but at the same time I did not play that badly (I still don’t see how white could have got a great advantage during the game) and all the game produced a very aesthetic impression (from the exchange sac to the final combination).

Chessdom: You will represent France at the European Team Chess Championship starting later this month. Two years ago France took a bronze medal, what are the expectations this time? Who are your biggest rivals?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: We will go in Creta with a great team, so I think we will be potential winners, but still I believe Russia, Ukraine… are stronger than us. But who knows what can happen? I mean, we’ve managed to beat the Russians twice in the past few years.

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Photo by Frederic Sellier, pokemonchess.blogspot.com

Chessdom: What are your plans after the ETCC?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I still don’t have many plans after the ETCC, at least until the end of the year, because at that time I will be quite busy (but not too much!) with my exams. I will play some tournaments after, but I still have not decided which ones. What is sure is that I will play team competitions in France for Evry, and in Germany for Muelheim, and that I am 99,9% sure I will play the French championship in August.

Chessdom: There are many young GMs and IMs in France. Can you tell us more about the chess development in your country?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: There is clearly a partial renewal of GMs and IMs in France, but I hope it will not stop here, because the new GMs and IMs still need improving (Sébastien Mazé, Sébastien Feller, Romain Edouard, Thal Abergel…). Nevertheless, I think most of them will be able to break through, at least enough so that our team will remain very strong when the former French Olympic team will stop playing (so we still have time before us). There is still a lot to do, but at least, we have the capacity to maintain our strength at the best level, and maybe even to improve!

Chessdom: What is your most memorable game?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I guess I’ve already answered that question !! Now some other memorable games:

• Naiditsch – Vachier-Lagrave, Moscow Aeroflot 2006, where I played one of the best tournaments of my life, during which I showed really sharp play, and that game is quite symbolic of that.

• Vachier-Lagrave – Renet, Paris Championship 2007. I was not satisfied with my level of play in the tournament, and then I play really great chess in the final round in the morning, when I usually play my worst chess…

• Werle – Vachier-Lagrave, Corus B 2007, when I took great risks to win, but I managed to take my opponent by surprise.

• Goldsztejn – Vachier-Lagrave, Paris 2003, where I sac a queen (quite uselessly in fact, but I still won in the end, and so it was beautiful!)

• and some others, but I am too lazy to put them all…

Chessdom: Thank you for your time. We wish you to continue with fantastic results.