2020 World Championship qualifiers

Couverture

As shown in his agenda, Maxime will play intensively until the end of the year. The reason is an unbalanced international events calendar.

The next World championship is scheduled November 2020, but the qualifications have already begun. In the second half of 2019, World top players will play tournaments one after another, to get a chance to qualify for the Candidates Tournament, whose winner will face Carlsen for the World title.

A double round-robin will be held March 2020, the Candidates tournament;

Fabiano Caruana, as vice World champion, is automatically qualified. So there are 7 spots remaining.

Three tournaments will allow 5 players to qualify, the 2 remaining spots being based on other criteria.

1/ World Cup: 2 qualifying places

2/ FIDE Grand Swiss: 1 qualifying place

3/ FIDE Grand Prix: 2 qualifying places

4/ Average Elo 2019 : 1 qualifying place

5/ Wild-card : 1 qualifying place

At each step of the process, if a qualifying player is already qualified, then the next player takes his spot. For example, if Player X wins the FIDE Grand Swiss while having finished 2nd in the World Cup, then the player ranked #2 in the FIDE Grand Swiss will be qualified.

Presentation of the tournaments, thanks to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia

1/ World Cup 2019

The Chess World Cup 2019 is a 128-player single-elimination chess tournament to be held in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia from 9 September to 4 October 2019. The finalists of the tournament will qualify for the Candidates Tournament for the World Chess Championship 2020.

The tournament is a 7-round knock-out event. The matches from round 1 to round 6 consist of two classical games with time control of 90 minutes per 40 moves plus 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move. The finals and the match for the third place consist of four classical games.
If the score is tied after the classical games, rapid and, if necessary, blitz tie breaks are played the next day. Two games are played with time control of 25 minutes per game plus 10 seconds increment. In the case of a tie, they are followed by two games with time control of 10 minutes per game plus 10 seconds increment. If the score is still tied, two blitz games follow (5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment). Finally, a sudden death game is played. The player who wins the drawing of lots may choose the colour. White has 5 minutes per game and Black has 4 minutes, with an increment of 2 seconds per move starting from move 61. White needs a win to advance to the next round.
The two top finishers who have not secured a qualification for the Candidates Tournament get a spot in that tournament.

Format

The tournament is a 7-round knock-out event. The matches from round 1 to round 6 consist of two classical games with time control of 90 minutes per 40 moves plus 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move. The finals and the match for the third place consist of four classical games.

If the score is tied after the classical games, rapid and, if necessary, blitz tie breaks are played the next day. Two games are played with time control of 25 minutes per game plus 10 seconds increment. In the case of a tie, they are followed by two games with time control of 10 minutes per game plus 10 seconds increment. If the score is still tied, two blitz games follow (5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment). Finally, a sudden death game is played. The player who wins the drawing of lots may choose the colour. White has 5 minutes per game and Black has 4 minutes, with an increment of 2 seconds per move starting from move 61. White needs a win to advance to the next round.

The two top finishers who have not secured a qualification for the Candidates Tournament get a spot in that tournament.

Participants

Players qualify for World Cup by the following paths:

  • Reigning World Champion.
  • Winner, runner-up and two (2) other semi-finalists of the FIDE World Cup 2017 – four (4) players.
  • Reigning Women’s World Champion.
  • World Junior Champions U-20 of 2017 & 2018 – two (2) players.
  • Qualifiers from the Continental Championships and Zonals – ninety-two (92) players: Europe: 46 Americas: 20 Asia: 20 Africa: 6. a)Continental Championships and Zonals 2018. b)Continental Championships and Zonals 2019.
  • Highest rated players from the average of the twelve (12) standard FIDE rating lists – eighteen (18) players, who have not qualified by path from I to V. For the purpose of deciding the eighteen (18) qualifiers by rating, the average ELO from the twelve (12) standard FIDE rating lists from August 2018 to July 2019 is used. In case of equality, two decimals are taken into consideration. If the numbers are still equal then the total number of rated games in all 12 standard rating periods is decisive: the player with the bigger number of games qualifies. A player who appears inactive at least once in the twelve standard FIDE rating lists from August 2018 to July 2019 is not eligible.
  • Highest placed player of the ACP Tour 2018, who have not qualified by path from I to VI.
  • VIII.Nominees of the FIDE President – five (5) players.
  • IX.Nominees of the Organizer – four (4) players.
PrIZE MONEY

The total prize fund is US$ 1,600,000, with the first prize of US$ 110,000.

Round (US$) Prize received (US$)Total
Round 1 64 × 6,000 384,000
Round 2 32 × 10,000 320,000
Round 3 16 × 16,000 256,000
Round 4 8 × 25,000 200,000
Round 5 4 × 35,000 140,000
4-th place 50,000 50,000
3-rd place 60,000 60,000
Runner-up 80,000 80,000
Winner 110,000 110,000
Total (US$) 1,600,000
Fédération Internationale Des Echecs

2/ FIDE Grand Swiss 2019

The tournament will be held in Isle of Man, October 10-21. 160 players will participate, and the winner will qualify for the Candidates tournament.

A total of 105 players will be invited by FIDE based on the following criteria:

The top 100 players by average FIDE Rating of the 12 monthly lists starting from July 1, 2018 to June 1, 2019.
The Women’s World Champion as of June 1, 2019.
Junior U20 World Champion as of June 1, 2019.
The World Senior 50+ Champion as of June 1, 2019.
The World Senior 65+ Champion as of June 1, 2019.
One qualifier from the ACP Tour based on standings as of June 1, 2019.

  1. Twelve (12) places are allocated to the qualifiers from the respective Continental Championships held in 2019: Europe – 5 Asia – 3 Americas – 3 Africa – 1
  2. Three (3) players nominated by the FIDE President.
  3. The tournament organizers will then invite 40 more players (wild cards) as it was their wish to have a tournament of 160 players. They will focus on female players, juniors and local players, as well as online qualifiers.
The FIDE Grand Swiss will be held in Isle of Man.

3/ FIDE Grand Prix 2019

Participants

The FIDE Grand Prix 2019 is a series of four chess tournaments that forms part of the qualification cycle for the World Chess Championship 2020. The top two finishers will qualify to the 2020 Candidates Tournament.
Players
The Grand Prix consists of 21 players. 20 qualify by rating, and 1 player was nominated by World Chess. The rating used was the average of the 12 monthly lists from February 2018 to January 2019.
Since that leaves one place in the final tournament, one player is nominated by Tel Aviv organizer to play in the Tel Aviv tournament only, and their result will be not counted to the Grand Prix.
The list of rating qualifiers was released on 25 January 2019. Five players qualified but declined their invitations: Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand. Carlsen and Caruana had no need to play in the tournament (Carlsen as World Champion, and Caruana had already qualified for the Candidates Tournament); while Kramnik had recently announced his retirement. This resulted in the first five reserves being invited.
The final list of Grand Prix players, including Daniil Dubov as the organizer’s nominee, and their schedule, was released on 19 February.

Invitee Country Qualifying method
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov  Azerbaijan rating (3)
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave  France rating (6)
Anish Giri  Netherlands rating (7)
Wesley So  United States rating (8)
Levon Aronian  Armenia rating (9)
Alexander Grischuk  Russia rating (11)
Hikaru Nakamura  United States rating (12)
Sergey Karjakin  Russia rating (13)
Yu Yangyi  China rating (14)
Ian Nepomniachtchi  Russiarating (15)
Peter Svidler  Russia rating (16)
Teimour Radjabov  Azerbaijan rating (17)
Veselin Topalov  Bulgaria rating (18)
Dmitry Jakovenko  Russia rating (19)
David Navara  Czech Republic rating (20)
Radoslaw Wojtaszek  Poland rating (1st reserve)
Wei Yi  China rating (2nd reserve)
Jan-Krzysztof Duda  Poland rating (3rd reserve)
Pentala Harikrishna  India rating (4th reserve)
Nikita Vitiugov  Russia rating (5th reserve)
Daniil Dubov  Russia Organizer nominee
Format

There are four tournaments in the cycle; each consisting of 16 players. There are 21 contestants, who each play in 3 of the 4 tournaments.

The tournaments are knock-out tournaments, in the same style as the Chess World Cup. At each round of the tournament, players play a best-of-2 game knock-out match. The regular games are:

  • best-of-2 games at a time limit of 90 minutes, + 30 minutes added after move 40, + 30 second per move increment from move 1.

If the match is tied 1-1, up to four tie breaks are played, at progressively faster time limits, with the match ending when a player wins any tie break. The tie breaks are, in order:

  • best-of-2 games at a time limit of 25 minutes, + 10 second per move increment from move 1.
  • best-of-2 games at a time limit of 10 minutes, + 10 second per move increment from move 1.
  • best-of-2 games at a time limit of 5 minutes, + 3 second per move increment from move 1.
  • a single armageddon chess game: white receives 5 minutes + 2 second per move increment from move 61; black receives 4 minutes + 2 second per move increment from move 61; black wins the match in the case of a draw.
Players receive Grand Prix points as follows:
Round Grand Prix points
Winner 8
Runner-Up 5
Semi-final loser 3
Round 2 loser 1
Round 1 loser 0
Each match won without a tie-break +1

The two players with most Grand Prix points qualify for the 2020 Candidates tournament. In the event of a tie on Grand Prix points, the following tie breaks are applied, in order:

  • most tournament wins;
  • most tournament second places;
  • most points won in standard time control games;
  • head-to-head score, in terms of matches, between players tied;
  • drawing of lots.

The tournament dates and locations are as follows:

  • Moscow, Russia, 16–30 May 2019
  • Jurmala/Riga, Latvia, 11–25 July 2019
  • Hamburg, Germany, 4–18 November 2019
  • Tel Aviv, Israel, 10–24 December 2019

Prize money

The prize money is €130,000 per single Grand Prix with an additional €280,000 for the overall Grand Prix standings for a total prize fund of €800,000.

For each individual tournament, the prize money is: €24,000 for the winner, €14,000 for the runner-up, €10,000 for the semi-final losers, €8,000 for the Round 2 losers, and €5,000 for the Round 1 losers.

For the final standings, the prize money is €50,000 for 1st, €45,000 for 2nd, and so on down in steps of €5,000 to €10,000 for 9th, and also €10,000 for 10th. Prize money for players on equal Grand Prix points is shared.

Logo Grand Prix FIDE
Grand Prix FIDE logo

In January 2020, the last two spots for the Candidates will be given as follows:

4/ Average Elo rating

One spot in the Candidates Tournament is to be taken by the player with the highest average FIDE rating. For the purpose of deciding the qualifier, the average ELO rating from the twelve (12) FIDE Standard Rating Lists from February 2019 to January 2020 is used.

It will be hard to overtake Ding Liren, who’s currently leading the race with a wide margin. If the chinese player qualifies in another way, the fight will be hard between Giri and Mamedyarov. Mvl is next on the list, but he’s far away.

The Organizer of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2020 has the right to nominate a player. Unlike the previous Candidates tournament, he will have to pick a player in a limited pool. Here are the rules :

– The player must have played at least 2 of the 3 qualifying tournaments. He also must be :

  • either the best non-qualifying player of the FIDE World Cup, Fide Grand Swiss or FIDE Grand Prix
  • or a player from the top 10 players by average FIDE rating.

Dull Norway Chess, but World Blitz #1!

Norway Chess

I always loved the Norway Chess atmosphere. So I was delighted to be once again invited to spend two weeks in Stavanger. As usual, the tournament itself was preceded by a blitz showdown, aimed at determining the number of whites and blacks.

This year, the challenge was double for me, as I knew that ending up ahead of Carlsen would mean I’d rob him of the World #1 spot in the Blitz rankings! Though not an end in itself, it remains a pleasant feeling, doesn’t it? 🙂

And at the end of the day, I played rather well and won the Blitz tournament, 1.5 point ahead of the duo Aronian / Carlsen!

Blitz standings

Here are two nice positions from this Blitz tournament:

Mvl-Grischuk, Blitz round 3.
Mvl-Grischuk, Blitz round 3.

Here, I could play the normal 20.Rad1 with an edge because of the Bishop pair. But I opted for 20.Bxh6?!, which is not objectively best. I thought I was winning after 20…gxh6 21.Qg6+ Kh8 22.Qxh6+ Kg8 23.Bc2. But Black had 23…Re6! at his disposal, forcing me to take perpetual check. I don’t know why, but Grischuk inserted 20…Rxe1+? 21.Rxe1 gxh6 22.Qg6+ Kf8 23.Qxh6+ Kg8 and now 24.Bc2! is lethal. 1-0.

Ding Liren-Mvl, Blitz round 8.
Ding Liren-Mvl, Blitz round 8.

It had already been a long and complicated battle. Essential was 48.g5! to gain access to the long diagonal after both 48…Bxh2 49.Bf6 and 48…b2 49.Bf6!, with the show going on. But it’s a tall order with only a few seconds left, and Ding chose the « human » 48.Ba3? b2 49.Bxb2 Bxb2 50.h4. Unfortunately, after 50…Kc5 51.g5 Be5, black’s bishops and King easily cope with the pawns.

Thanks to this very good performance, I actually took the leadership in the Blitz rankings, whose Top 10 nows looks like this…

This year, I was also very curious about the new format cooked by the organizers. First of all, a rather quick classical rhythm, 2 hours for the whole game, with only 10 seconds a move increment after move 40. And then, the main novelty in case of a draw, an Armageddon tiebreaker; 10 minutes for white, 7 for black, white must win. This format was chosen by Norwegian TV, as they wanted to control better the duration of play. This is the reason why the games began later. It’s true that a start at 5pm is no big deal in itself, but the issue is that you don’t have much time left to relax in the evening. Certainly, you have time in the morning, but it is not the ideal moment for decompression. 🙂

About the Armageddon itself, which has been commented a lot, it is true that we all had trouble adapting ourselves; for instance, I completely mismanaged my first Armageddon game against Yu Yangyi… But on the whole, I believe the format is quite balanced, and I don’t think it is favourable to one colour or the other. However, the scoring system needs to be reassessed, because it gives too much weight to the Armageddon. Ding Liren ending up 6th with +2 in the classical games, this is not fair! I would advise a 4 – 2 – 1 – 0 instead of 2 – 1.5 – 0.5 – 0.

Before to deal with the games, let me briefly present my second important victory, after the one in the Blitz tournament… The organizers had planned a cooking challenge during the first rest day. Teamed up with Anand, I was relieved – the other pairs probably also were! – to be helped by a Chef, and quite happy to win the contest in the end! This was a nice experience, which enabled us to see from inside the making of a gastronomic meal… For the anecdote, we cooked a « salmon filet with buttered fennel and its vegetables ».

The winning duo! (photo Altibox / Leenart Ootes).
The winning duo! (photo Altibox / Leenart Ootes).

In the Classical tournament, I had 8 draws and 1 loss, and above all, I’m not satisfied with the overall level of my play. I must confess that having to wait for Round 7 Armageddon before to actually win a game on the board, irked me a bit. 🙂

I’ll have a word on all 9 games of mine, beginning with the white ones (5 draws). One indisputable fact is that I didn’t get much with white, except on round 1 with Yu Yangyi, where I was clearly better.

Against Anand, I chose a sub-variation to counter the Möller Defense, and the ex-World Champion reacted incorrectly with 12…Nxe4? in the following position (instead of 12…0-0):

Mvl-Anand, round 3.
Mvl-Anand, round 3.

Unfortunately, I chose the line 13.Nxb5?! 0-0 14.Qe2 Nf6 15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Nxe5 because I hadn’t foreseen 16…Qe8! and black has no problem at all. Instead, I should have played 13.Qe2! immediately. I didn’t though, as I thought it might be dangerous for me after 13…0-0 14.Qxe4 Nxd4 15.Bd5 Bxd5 16.Qxd5 c6 17.Qe4 f5 18.Qe3 f4, but the truth is that black probably doesn’t have enough for the piece. So had white played 13.Qe2!, black should have replied 13…Nf6 14.dxe5 or 13…d5 14.dxe5, but white keeps an edge anyway, eg. 14…b4 15.cxb4 0-0 16.Nc2 Re8 17.Ba4. A missed opportunity…

Facing Carlsen’s Svechnikov, once again I couldn’t recall all my analyses even though this time, I had looked at the whole variation that very morning! At the critical moment, I remembered a pattern which reminded me of one of the lines I had gone through; and it was « almost » it, but not quite « exactly » it! It must be said that in a variation like this one, there are really lots of stuff to analyze! Then you come back to your room in the evening, you go through your files, and when you see the good moves that are just there, you say to yourself: « Damn it, how come I didn’t recall that detail? ».

Against Grischuk, it was still worse, as I happened to be grossly misled in the move order of the Rossolimo! With 5.h3 instead of 5.d3, I was just playing a harmless variation. Though unimpressive, I ended up slightly better after black suffered a blackout in the following position:

Mvl-Grischuk, round 7.
Mvl-Grischuk, round 7.

After 16…b4?!, Grischuk had just forgotten that 17.Bxb4 was possible! Off form, the Russian will do worse later on, putting a Bishop directly en prise in the opening against Caruana…

That being said, he defended very precisely after his mistake, and I proved unable to increase the advantage.

I also misplayed the opening against Ding Liren, this time because it was a line I hadn’t seen for a while, and I couldn’t remember all relevant details.

Usual suspects!  (photo Altibox / Leenart Ootes).
Usual suspects! (photo Altibox / Leenart Ootes).

Let’s now look at my 4 black games:

About the one against Caruana, I suggest you watch the detailed analysis, which was recorded during a recent stream on my Twitch channel www.twitch.tv/mvlchess.

Against Aronian, I do have a few regrets, as I managed to get an advantageous position with black, after a very original English opening from both sides.

Here is the critical position:

Aronian-Mvl, ronde 4.
Aronian-Mvl, ronde 4.

I offered the exchange of Queens by 23…Qg5?, and it was not a good idea. With his pawn center and pieces able to come together towards my King, I felt unsure and got a bit scared. I thought that without Queens on the board, I might be able to attack his then vulnerable center pawns. And that’s what happened indeed, but only because Levon helped! Unfortunately, I missed the target again a few moves later, because of a miscalculation…

Aronian-Mvl.
Aronian-Mvl.

I played 32…Nd5?, but after 33.Ke1! Kc7 34.Rhf2 Rxh5, I had forgotten 35.Ng3! Rxf2 36.Rxf2 which equalizes on the spot. Had I found the stronger 32…Rg4!, my position would have been probably winning, as a central pawn is about to fall.

Mamedyarov tried absolutely nothing against me; he didn’t look in his best shape that day… Against So in the last round, I got a very nice position from the English Opening once again. But I was unable to increase the edge, mostly because of a flawless defense by the American.

Final rankings Norway Chess 2019 (www.theweekinchess.com).
Final rankings Norway Chess 2019 (www.theweekinchess.com).

I won four and lost four of the eight Armageddon new look I had to play; here are two interesting positions from theses games.

Mvl-Grischuk, Armaggedon.
Mvl-Grischuk, Armaggedon.

I could unleash the nice 26.Rxc4! dxc4 27.Bxc6 followed by 28.Qxc4 and the pawns make all the difference.

Mvl-Ding Liren, Armaggedon.
Mvl-Ding Liren, Armaggedon.

In a very complex endgame, black cracked first. Instead of keeping on harassing the Bishop with 34…Rd7 – when the outcome remains unclear – Ding faltered with 34…Ra2?, allowing the white Bishops to stand together against the a pawn with 35.Bc4!. After 35…Ra1+ 36.Kf2 a3 37.Kf3! a2 38.Ke4, the Chinese had no other choice than switching to a lost ending by 38…Rg1 39.Bxa2 Rxg2 40.Bd5 Rxh2 41.Kf5!. The e pawn, supported by the Bishop pair and the King, wins the day.

I still have to congratulate World Champion Magnus Carlsen for his seventh win in a row among the Elite circuit! There are numbers that speak for themselves…

Most of all will meet very soon in Zagreb (Croatia), for the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour, June 26-July 8. From there, I will fly directly to Riga (Latvia), where the FIDE Grand Prix will begin for me, from July 12 onwards.

En blitz

Ok, it’s only blitz! But winning three games in a row against World Champion Magnus Carlsen, while he dominates the World Elite like never before… It for sure is a very impressive accomplishment from Maxime, which deserved a replay.
Here is the footage of the third win in Norway, with the kind permission from Norway Chess organizers, not at all resentful of their champion’s defeat! 🙂

Maxime’s games:

Les parties de Maxime en armageddon:

Maxime’s blitz games:

Site officiel : https://norwaychess.no

Top 12: promoted Asnières vice champion

Brest

For the second year Brest, France’s most western city – at the tip of Brittany – was hosting the Top 12, Elite division of the French Team Championships. So twelve squads of eight players each fought in an 11-round robin tournament, May 18-28. For the first time, I was playing for Asnières, newly promoted from Nationale 1 division, but who offered solid guarantees though, with the arrivals of Matthieu Cornette, Jules Moussard, Pentala Harikrishna and myself…

It’s been a while since I last stayed during the whole Top 12, and I have to say it was pretty cool and refreshing, compared to the usual Top tournaments; indeed, I came across a lot of old acquaintances, that I rarely get the chance to see elsewhere!

Most Asnières players were accomodated in a big house at the seaside, just a 30-minute drive away from the playing hall. The place was nice, which is quite important for such a long stay. Besides chess preparations for the games, we could easily entertain ourselves; billard, card games, board games (Time’s Up!® and especially Bluffer® have prevailed!). We sometimes had small getaways outside on the coast, including a few aborted climbing tries with buddy Jules (Moussard), which I will not elaborate on!

View from the garden… (Photo: P.Harikrishna).
View from the garden… (Photo: P.Harikrishna).

Let’s have a look at the 5 games I played in Brest:

METZ-ASNIERES (Round 1)

Malakhov (2660) – MVL 1/2

A very average start, as I messed up badly in the opening!

Malakhov-Mvl, round 1.
Malakhov-Mvl, round 1.

Here, I played 13…Qa5 against Nakamura, in the decisive game of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour final, and I quickly lost.

So I changed with 13…e6?!, which is not really better and above all, was not the intended improvement! After 14.Nd2 Nd7 15.Bf3, I understood that my position was becoming troublesome, and I decided to give a pawn. The ensuing ending was still a tough one to defend, but I ultimately succeeded, in spite of a few scares (1/2, 56 moves).

ASNIERES-CLICHY (Round 4)

Mvl-Amin (2704) 1-0

This time, the opening went very well, against the Spanish Breyer of Africa #1. I was able to rely on an old prep, according to which black is in serious trouble if he can’t prevent white to play f4 under good circumstances.

Mvl-Amin, round 4.
Mvl-Amin, round 4.

After 25…exf4 26.Bxf4 Nf6 27.Qf1 Nfd7?! (he had to look for counterplay with 27…b4) 28.Nhf3, white has a huge advantage (1-0, 42 moves).

GRASSE-ASNIERES (Round 5)

Santos Ruiz (2549)-Mvl 1/2

I was very surprised by the young Spanish GM’s choice of 1.e4. Therefore, I decided to deviate from my usual repertoire in the Najdorf 6.h3, with 6…e5 7.Nde2 b5 (instead of 7…h5), which was probably not a great idea. On move 28, I felt that I should avoid to go crazy, that I would never win this game anyway, and thus I offered a draw.

Après 25…exf4 26.Fxf4 Cf6 27.Df1 Cfd7?! (il fallait tenter le contre-jeu par 27…b4) 28.Chf3, les blancs ont un net avantage (1-0, 42 cps).


Selfie with Harikrishna and Almira Skripchenko (Photo: Club d’Asnières).
Selfie with Harikrishna and Almira Skripchenko (Photo: Club d’Asnières).

NICE-ASNIERES (Round 8)

Mvl-Lagarde (2600) 1-0

Against a dangerous team, it had been decided that I would go down on board 2 with white. I liked what I got from the opening, but Maxime reacted very, very well, especially when he sacrificed a pawn…

Mvl-Lagarde, round 8.
Mvl-Lagarde, round 8.

15.dxc5 Na6!. Until then, I thought my position was fine, but I have to admit I missed this move. By the way, I never felt worse in the whole game, which probably helped me! However, I probably face a few problems objectively after 15…Na6!, even though the position remains highly complicated. If 16.cxb6 Nb4 17.Bf1 (I rejected on principle 17.cxd5 Nd3 18.dxe6, a line the machine serenely considers though!) 17…d4! didn’t appeal to me, and so I chose to give back the pawn with 16.c6. With Maxime taking a lot of time thereafter, I tried to take benefit from his zeitnot, and we probably both missed things. I won the exchange, but thanks to a very strong pawn on f3, it is likely that black had enough compensation.

Mvl-Lagarde.
Mvl-Lagarde.

Here, with very little time left, and complicated choices to make for his last three moves before the time control, I did suspect that Maxime’s task would be tough. And he actually collapsed on move 40 🙂 ; after 38…g4 39.Re3 Qd7 40.Ne4 h5? (40…Qf5!) 41.Nxc5 Qf5 42.Ne6!, black’s position is in ruins (1-0, 46 moves).

It is rather incredible that, despite Hari and me winning on the first two boards, we still lost the match!

The whole Asnières team is in the house… (Photo: Club d’Asnières).
The whole Asnières team is in the house… (Photo: Club d’Asnières).

BISCHWILLER-ASNIERES (Round 10)

Mvl-Fressinet (2640) 1/2

Once again, I played on board 2 with white, in a match that would be decisive for the title. I think we chose a good team composition, which I had been making the previous evening. For the sake of efficiency, I didn’t take into acount any colour data from the previous nine rounds…

I didn’t really expect to play against Laurent (Fressinet) on board 2, so I hadn’t focused on him during the preparation. Still, the Spanish Moeller was one of the options I had vaguely considered. I must admit I didn’t get a lot from the opening, but anyway, I managed to put a little bit of pressure progressively.

Mvl-Fressinet, round 10.
Mvl-Fressinet, round 10.

Here, I didn’t play 36.axb5 axb5 37.Ne4 because of 37…b4, and I preferred 36.Ce4 immediately. Though I had totally forgotten 36…bxa4!? played by Laurent, it doesn’t change the whole evaluation that white remains slightly better. Unfortunately, I took a wrong decision at a critical juncture a few moves later…

Mvl-Fressinet.
Mvl-Fressinet.

Should white’s King go to e4, or to g4? I had foreseen 45.Kg4 Re2 46.Nxh6 Re4+ 47.Kh3 (47.Kf3 Re3+ 48.Kf4 Be5+ 49.Kxe3 Bxc7 should be a draw) 47…Re5 48.g4 Re3+ and black escapes. That’s the reason why I finally chose 45.Ke4?, but after 45…Re2+ 46.Kd3 Rg2 47.g4 Be5 48.Rxc5 Ff4, black sets a fortress much easier to defend than I thought it would be. I can never implement the winning plan of bringing my King to g6. In view of the match situation, I still tried for a long time, all the more so since it is never easy for black to defend on the board, but Laurent was up to the task…

Decisive endgame against Laurent Fressinet.
Decisive endgame against Laurent Fressinet.

It’s only after the game was over that I was told about the sequence 45.Kg4 Re2 46.Rc8+! Re8 47.Rc6! followed by 48.Nxh6, which is certainly winning, because c5 is under control, the King will activate through the white squares, and the h pawn is a terror. This little Rook manoeuver is not so difficult to understand, the only thing is to be able to consider it!

All that remains is to congratulate Bischwiller’s team, who kept his national title in an indisputable way, if you look at their 11 wins for as many matches! For our part, the team had a very fine first half, with victories without any scare, if not brillant. Unfortunately, we cracked in the last third, against Nice and Bischwiller…

That being said, to be vice champion when the team has just been promoted in the Top 12, remains a very fine result for Asnières. I hope that the town, as well as our partners, will continue supporting us in 2020, when we will again fight for the French champion title.

Eurosport has broadcast on May 19 « 24h with MVL », a documentary that had been filmed in Paris a few weeks before. Lasting 3’30’’, it briefly describes a world-class chess player’s life. The doc was released in several languages (english, german, spanish, italian), and is available in replay in a slightly shortened version. You will find above the english doc, kindly provided by Eurosport channel.

TOP 12 official site: https://brest2019.ffechecs.org

Maxime’s games :

Africa!

Abidjan

2019 Grand Chess Tour has begun in Africa, a premiere for a world class tournament. By the way, it was also a first for me… The tournament itself took place in the Pullman Hotel, where we were also accomodated. From this point of view, nothing new under the sun, as everything was on par with western standards, with the addition of a local flavor in the food that was welcome. Of course, our luxurious surroundings were sort of clashing with Abidjan’s reality. And yes, I had the opportunity to visit the town during the tournament, which doesn’t happen very often! Indeed, organized in collaboration with Vivendi and Canal+ teams – as will be the Parisan leg – this tournament has given place to another premiere; the filming of a 26-minute, two-part documentary for French-speaking audiences, with large highlights on my own tournament course. The second part will be filmed during Paris Grand Chess Tour leg, at the end of July. Thus, I had the opportunity to visit Abidjan during the first days, helped by the fact that games were scheduled at 5pm. I had a lot of good moments with Ivorian people; we played blitz sessions in the middle of nowhere, memorable though improvised football games with kids 🙂 , or simply had a drink somewhere.

Impromptu blitz games with Ivorian champion, MF Simplice Degondo (Photo Almira Skripchenko).
Impromptu blitz games with Ivorian champion, MF Simplice Degondo (Photo Almira Skripchenko).

Beyond the Grand Chess Tour itself, organizers really tried to popularize chess in this part of the world, with the participation of Africa top player, Amin Bassem, but also by planning a side team event for players of Western Africa.

Coming back to the tournament itself, it was my first Rapid since Saint-Louis last August.

After the first two days, I said that despite a very average result (2.5/6), I felt the content of my games was correct anyway. At the end of the day, I’ll be proven right 🙂 .

Let’s now have a look at some important moments in my games;

It is never plesant to begin with a loss…

Nakamura-Mvl, Rapid round 1.
Nakamura-Mvl, Rapid round 1.

In this position, I had planned 18…d4 19. Ne2 d3 with easy equality. Except that actually, 20.Ng3! controls f5 and wins a pawn for white. So I had to content myself with 18…Rhe8 and I never fully equalize, even if I certainly could have put up a stiffer resistance afterwards (1-0, 52 moves).

L’accès à la salle de jeu (Photo Grand Chess Tour).
L’accès à la salle de jeu (Photo Grand Chess Tour).

The second day began on better grounds, with a smooth technical win on the Bishop pair theme:

Mvl-Wei Yi, Rapid round 4.
Mvl-Wei Yi, Rapid round 4.

After 27.Kc2, with the idea to bring the King up to a6 to take a7, I knew that his only chance was 27…Nh5 in order to generate counterplay on the Kingside. But he tried to bring his King back to the Queenside, and this plan doesn’t work at all; I had already calculated that after 27…Kg8 28.Kb3 Kf8 29.Ka4 Ke7 30.Kb5 Kd8 31.Ka6 Kc7 32.Bd5!, it’s curtains (1-0, 43 moves).

Against Carlsen, I created difficulties for myself, as I didn’t remember at all the theory – let alone the correct lines! – of this specific 6.Be3 Ng4 Najdorf variation. By the way, on more general terms, almost everybody in Abidjan tried to catch me in the Najdorf, each one of my opponents having prepared his specific line, and I must confess that it’s never easy for me to remember eveything. This being said, despite a few precarious positions, I don’t think I should blame the opening itself in all these games 🙂 .

Carlsen-Mvl, Rapid round 5.
Carlsen-Mvl, Rapid round 5.

At the end of a very complex middlegame, I had the feeling I got out unscathed, until we reached this critical position where Magnus had just played 33.g4. My answer 33…Rxa4? has been criticized a lot, and quite rightly so, as I’m totally lost after the opening up on my King 34.g5!. This being said, what seems obvious when looking at the comp is much less clear on the board where, despite the blatant danger looming, you can easily imagine that defensive ressources will show up.
But there’s also another explanation for this mistake. First of all, I realized that the move I planned – 33…Qc4 – didn’t work because of 34.Qa7+ Kf8 35.Qa8+ Kg7 36.Qd5!. I also briefly saw that 33…Ke8 didn’t fix anything. And then, I didn’t evaluate properly plan B 34…Qc5 35.Qxc5 dxc5 36.Rd5, assuming I would suffer in this Rook ending, whereas it gives good drawing chances after 35…Rc3. Hence my default choice 33…Rxa4?, to try fishing in murky waters (1-0, 42 moves).

A last draw against So closed a not so brillant two-day run in accounting terms. But I remedied the situation the next day, by winning my last three games!

Topalov-Mvl, Rapid round 7.
Topalov-Mvl, Rapid round 7.

After a rather well played opening, in which I quite liked the consolidating manoeuver …Rc8-c6, I got this position, certainly winning, but assuming you find the correct path! 27…Rxc3! 28.bxc3 Rxc3 29.Rd2? Qb5+ 0-1. I still had to make sure that 29.Rdh1 wouldn’t have been enough: 29…Qb5+ 30.Kd2 Nf3+ 31.Kxc3 Nxd4 32.Rh7+ Kf8 33.Rh8+ Ke7 34.R1h7+ Ke6 (black’s Queen covers e8!) 35.Kxd4 and as white has too many weaknesses, the Queen will dominate white’s Rooks.

Filming in Abidjan (Photo: Leenart Ootes).
Filming in Abidjan (Photo: Leenart Ootes).

This nice day was concluded by a victory against the African leg’s local, Amin Bassem. But not without a few scares, in particular in the following position!

Amin-Mvl, Rapid round 9.
Amin-Mvl, Rapid round 9.

Here, Amin played the terrible 32.R1e2? and black wins after 32…dxe5, the pawn being immune because of …Qf1 mate after the exchanges. However, had he played 32.Rf4, I assume I would have lost that game! Not because my position would have suddenly become terrible, but simply because I had already planned, against an opponent down on time, to unfold the pretty variation 32…Bh6 33.exd6 Bxf4 34.gxf4 Rxf4 35.Re7 Qxe7 36.dxe7 Rg4+ followed by 37…Rf1 mate or 37…Rf3 mate; and after 33.Rxf5 (instead of 33.exd6), I thought I had the clearance check 33…Qb7+ 34.Kg1 Bxd2; unfortunately, this latest variation is mined! 35.Rxf8 Bxe1 36.e6!, and the double threat 37.Rh8 mate and 37.Rf7+ is decisive. Would have I found it out in time? Nothing could be less sure!

There’ll be trouble! (Photo Grand Chess Tour).
There’ll be trouble! (Photo Grand Chess Tour).

With 5,5/9 in the Rapid, I was able to approach the Blitz part more smoothly, and I began it with 5 straight wins, bringing to 8 the number of my consecutive wins. I know it remains anecdotal, but it is rare enough to be worth mentionning! Series like this one are also based on details which go in the right direction, as I was completely lost in the first blitz against So, and clearly worse in the second against Carlsen!

Carlsen-Mvl, Blitz round 2.
Carlsen-Mvl, Blitz round 2.

Here, the world champion lost track with 43.a6? (43.Nd5!) 43…Bh4! 44.Qd2 Nf4 0-1, as the mating attack is unstoppable.

The following round against Nakamura, I was able to uncork a long home-cooked prep in the Berlin Wall, that I had in store for previous tournaments!

Mvl-Nakamura, Blitz round 3.
Mvl-Nakamura, Blitz round 3.

I knew 24…fxg6 was correct, because the King will need square f7, but Naka played 24…Bxg6?, which loses after 25.Nc5 b6 (25…Nc3 26.Rh1! is the point, black’s King has no square!) 26.Na6, targeting simultaneously c7 and the Nd1. But I misplayed the conversion phase, and almost failed to win, which would have been quite embarassing though… Because I don’t think I will ever again have 4 minutes left when Naka only has 15 seconds! (1-0, 88 moves).

It’s Ding Liren who put an end to my 8-game winning streak by earning a draw in round 6. This is a fair return though, as I was the one to end his unbelievable 100-game series without losing in classical games!

Then, tiredness took over, and I threw in the towel against Topalov.

Topalov-Mvl, Blitz round 7.
Topalov-Mvl, Blitz round 7.

I am unable to recall why I was attracted to 20…Qxb6? instead of the normal 20…axb6. And after 21.Rfe1?! (21.b5! is better), I forgot that 21…Qxb4 was possible, because of 22.Ba3 Qb7!. Though the position wasn’t that bad yet, I continued this poor course and lost without real resistance. (1-0, 36 moves).

Two erratic draws against Russians Karjakin and Nepo concluded this first day of blitz, though I was leading it with 6.5/9.

Ivorian Sports Minister, Paulin Claude Dahno, neglected his development! (Photo: Leenart Ootes).
Ivorian Sports Minister, Paulin Claude Dahno, neglected his development! (Photo: Leenart Ootes).

The next day, I lost from the outset against So, pushing a bit too boldly my Kingside pawns, before succombing to a nice tactic. Not a very good way to begin the day, especially when you have to play Carlsen and Nakamura next!

Surely, the world champion wanted to take revenge from the previous day, and even if I probably didn’t make all the good choices in the middlegame, the position remained approximately even.

Mvl-Carlsen, Blitz round 11.
Mvl-Carlsen, Blitz round 11.

With his last move 33…Ne5, threatening to penetrate on d3, Magnus probably believed he would put me under pressure. But after 34.f4 Nd3 35.Kf1!, I had anticipated that his Knight would be trapped on d3. Magnus blitzed out 35…Ra1+ 36.Ke2 Rd7, and then seemed to panick after 37.Nf3. He took time to ultimately play 37…Rb1 38.Rd2 Rb2? which loses by force, while 38…Rxb3 39.Ne1 Nxf4+ 40.gxf4 Rxd2+ 41.Rxd2 Rh3! would have given him very good drawing chances, as there are not lots of pawns left. In the game, after 39.Rxb2 Nxb2 40.Ne5, I quietly went on to win (1-0, 55 moves).

The topsy-turvy course of this last day continued afterwards. First a loss against Nakamura, then a terrible game with Amin Bassem, despite the win. Against Wei Yi, I won again, but with energy rather than technique. Then came an uneventful draw against Ding Liren, and it’s again not cleanly at all that I beat Topalov, in a game full of mistakes on both parts. In the second to last round, I had an ultimate standstill against Karjakin.

Karjakin-Mvl, Blitz round 17.
Karjakin-Mvl, Blitz round 17.

Here, I played the pseudo-freeing move 24…d5?, and after 25.exd5 Rxd5 26.Rxd5 Nxd5 27.Qe4, I found myself with too many weaknesses to defend. I really don’t know why I played this move. I was head to head with Naka for the second place, I just said to myself that I had to win this game, and thus play 24…d5. But the follow-up was that I lost my pawns one after another, and I resigned very lately, through sheer inertia.

End of the very last game against Nepo, under the watchful eyes of Carlsen and Wesley So (Photo: Leenart Ootes).
End of the very last game against Nepo, under the watchful eyes of Carlsen and Wesley So (Photo: Leenart Ootes).

Fortunately, all ended well, with a best-case scenario in the last round. Naka lost with white against Carlsen, though the position looked symetrical and completely equal. On my side, I concluded the Abidjan leg with a fine win against Nepo, which allowed me to catch in extremis the American for second place!

Mvl-Nepomniachtchi, Blitz round 18.
Mvl-Nepomniachtchi, Blitz round 18.

Focused on my game, I hadn’t seen that Carlsen had beaten Nakamura. But I knew that anyway, I had to win to entertain hope, all the more as a loss would have cost me nothing. To prevent threats of a Rook infiltration on e7 or e8, black should have opted for 50…Qd6!. Then I would have had to find 51.Re4! in order to keep the advantage. In the game, Nepo tried to figure out a perpetual, but it doesn’t exist if white’s King demonstrates his fancy footwork! 50…Rd2? 51.Re8! Rxg2+ 52.Kxg2 Qd2+ 53.Kg3 Qd3+ 54.Kh4 g5+ 55.Kg4 Qd1+ 56.Kf5 Qd3+ 57.Kxf6 Qd4+ 58.Kxg5 Qg1+ 59.Kf5 Qc5+ 60.Nd5 Qc2+ 61.Re4 Qc8+ 62.Kg5 h6+ 63.Kh4 Ng6+ 64.Qxg6 1-0, as there will never be any stalemate because of the pawn on h6!

The tournament in Abidjan has obviously been marked by Carlsen’s dominant performance, 3.5 points ahead of the field. With 23 points, Nakamura and Maxime share second place, although this score is often enough to win! For sure, Maxime will have drawn a lot of attention with the two blitz games he won against the world champion (see a video excerpt below). But chess lovers have probably also been entertained by the continuous crossover for first place in the blitz live ratings. Carlsen ultimately kept his leadership, but extremely narrowly, as he gets 2922, and Maxime end up only one point short (2921)! Nakamura is third with 2902, while you have to go down to 2827 to keep track of world #4, Aronian!

Grenke: Carlsen far ahead

Grenke 2019

Three months after I played in my last tournament (Gibraltar), the Elite season really took off on April 20, when the traditional Grenke Chess Classic organized by my German team Baden-Baden began.

As usual, the first rounds took place in Karlsrühe, alongside the gigantic Grenke Open, which gathered more than 2.000 players this year! Among them, a lot of french friends, with my trainer Etienne Bacrot and my Asnières teammate Jules Moussard as leaders. Although both unbeaten, they could never play a key role in the tournament, because of the too many draws they conceded.

The Grenke Classic offered this year a very strong line-up, leaded by Magnus Carlsen, in a state of grace those last months. With vice-world champion Caruana, as well as Anand, Aronian and myself, it is half the World Top 10 which was gathered in Germany. Three members of the Baden-Baden team also made the trip (Svidler, Naiditsch and Vallejo), and the field was completed with German players Meier and Keymer. The latter, only 14 years old, was making a noteworthy entrance in a tournament of this caliber, thanks to his victory in last year’s Open.

Round 1: Mvl – Anand (2774) 1/2

Quite a difficult introduction, as I didn’t expect Vishy to enter this heavy tactical line of the Advance Caro-Kann. So I found myself falling between two chairs – so to speak – hesitating between taking a draw already known by theory, or trying to remember all the subtleties of a line I had previously analyzed. When I fully understood that I would never remember all details, I chose the path of wisdom!

Les noirs contre Caruana (photo George Souleidis)
Black against Caruana (photo George Souleidis)

Round 2: Caruana (2819) – Mvl 1/2

I was expecting with delight a Najdorf debate, but Fabiano shied away from it, and had me wrong-footed with 2.Nc3 followed by 4.Qxd4! I had the feeling I equalized though, but the reality is that a few good moves gave him the edge, in particular 19.Kd1! in the following position.

Caruana-Mvl, round 2.
Caruana-Mvl, round 2.

After 19…f6 20.Nxc6 Bxc6 21.Nd4 Bd7?!, he could have won a pawn with 22.c4! (instead of 22.f3), as what I had in mind 22…Bf8 23.cxd5 Nc3+? doesn’t work: 24.Bxc3 Rxc3 25.Bc4! and the trapped Rook will cost the exchange. Once the fright was gone, I could defend the position without much difficulty.

Round 3: Mvl – Naiditsch (2695) 1/2

It is known that I remain one of the few Elite players to keep on fighting the Berlin Wall! The fact is that the opening went well, and I got an edge. My problem was that I had a lot of options, and I probably didn’t choose the best one, at least from a practical point of view.

Mvl-Naiditsch, round 3.
Mvl-Naiditsch, round 3.

24.f4 Rf8 (otherwise 25.f5!) 25.Nf6+!? is spectacular, but the main drawback of the line is that it gives black a series of forced moves. Probably more efficient was 24.Re3!, which I rejected because of the counterplay on c4 with …Nd7-b6. But actually, after 24…Nd7, the manoeuver 25.Rg3! Rh7 26.Rgd3 Nb6 27.Bc1! gives an overwhelming advantage. The threat is 28.Bg5, and if 27…Nxc4 28.Rd7!. In the game, after 25…gxf6 26.exf6 Bd6 (26…Rxf6? 27.Bxf6 Bxf6 28.Rxe6+ Kf7 29.Rxf6+! Kxf6 30.Rd8 is decisive), I still had the option 27.Rd5! to keep an advantage. But I didn’t see this move and I chose 27.Rxe6+?!, after which I have no more than a draw: 27…Kf7 28.Rde1 (28.Rdxd6 cxd6 29.Re7+ Kg6 30.Kf2 Rd8 31.Rg7+ Kf5 32.Kf3 Nd7 33.Rg5+ Ke6 34.f5+ Kf7 35.Rg7+ Kf8 remains very messy) 28…Rd8 29.g4!? hxg4 30.h5 Nd7 31.Re7+ Bxe7 32.Rxe7+ Kg8 and I will have to content myself with a perpetual.

The beginning of a spectacular tactical fight with Naiditsch (Photo George Souleidis). .
The beginning of a spectacular tactical fight with Naiditsch (Photo George Souleidis). .

Round 4 : Meier (2628) – Mvl 0-1

I equalized easily against the try 5.h3 in the Grunfeld. After a few midllegame inaccuracies from both of us, in particular when Meier was heavily low on time, we landed after move 40 in an endgame which is probably a draw, but remains unpleasant to defend for white.

However, he did it rather well, and got a clearly drawn position afew moves later. By inertia, I kept on trying, with the vague hope of testing him in the R+N vs R endame if I had an opportunity. That’s precisely when he began to make some rather strange decisions, until the culminating point in the following position:

Meier-Mvl, round 4.
Meier-Mvl, round 4.

Here, I had seen that he had to play 71.Rd1!, in order to keep the King on the second rank, for instance 71…g3+ 72.Ke2 Rb2+ 73.Rd2!. But he played 71.Ra1?, and after 71…g3+ 72.Kg1 Nf3+ 73.Kh1 Rb2, I felt that I should be winning. But I couldn’t find exactly how, so I groped for an idea, before to find the nice zugzwang of the game.

Meier-Mvl, round 4.
Meier-Mvl, round 4.

I travelled with my King from the Kingside to b3. Here, Meier had to find the only move 82.Kh1!, in order to get the same position than in the game, but with black on the move! For instance 82…Kb2 83.Re1 Nf3 84.Rd1. In this nice position of mutual zugzwang, I would have had to admit that the King’s journey was useless, and tried to find the winning plan with the King on the Kingside. Meier made things much easier for me with 82.Rd1? Nf3+ 83.Kh1 Kb2! and being on the move, white has nothing else than 84.Rg1, giving the exchange. But beware! It is not yet so trivial after 84…Nxg1 85.Kxg1,because black’s King is far away. But I I had foreseen a clinical line, which gives the g pawn away, but isolates the white’s Knight from the King. 85…Kc3 86.Ne3 Rd3 87.Nf1 Ke2! 88.Nxg3+ Kf3 89.Nf5 Rd2 90.Nh4+ Kg3 91.Nf5+ Kg4 92.Ne3+ Kf3 93.Nf5 Rd5 94.Ne7 Rc5 0-1.

Round 5: Mvl – Aronian (2763) 1/2

Levon uncorked a new idea of closing the center in an Anti-Marschall position we had already discussed a number of times. Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to a draw so quickly, but all the possible plans to play for the advantage involved a Kingside expansion, which on the board, looked quite risky to me.

After this game, we had a rest day which was used to make the (short) trip between the tumultuous playing hall in Karlsrühe, and the intimacy of the one in Baden-Baden!

After this game, we had a rest day which was used to make the (short) trip between the tumultuous playing hall in Karlsrühe, and the intimacy of the one in Baden-Baden!

Carlsen over the moon in Grenke. (Photo George Souleidis).
Carlsen over the moon in Grenke. (Photo George Souleidis).

Round 6: Svidler (2735) – Mvl 1/2

I fairly easily equalized against the English, and Peter took a risk when he declined to exchange Queens on move 12. So I tried to play against his offside Queen on h3.

Svidler-Mvl, round 6.
Svidler-Mvl, round 6.

Unfortunately, here I made the wrong decision of exchanging black squared Bishops by 18…Bh6?!, as I didn’t see any follow-up for the attack. I was not sure to be quicker in case of mutual attacks on opposite sides, a4-a5 being very fast for him, while his Queen might reenter the game if the position opens up. But the computer refutes me , and argues that the simple 18…Be7, as well as the sharp 18…f5!? 19.exf5 Nd5, would both have given me a clear edge! In the game, after 19.Bxh6 Rxh6 20.Qe3 Rh7 21.Rfd1 Rhd7 22.Nf1 and the exchange of all four Rooks, the position quickly simplified towards a draw.

Round 7: Mvl – Vallejo (2693) 1/2

A long game full of manoeuvers, typical of the Advance French. The problem with this kind of position is that you always feel fine, with a space advantage, but it’s in fact never that simple. I tried to organize my pieces so as to be able to sac a piece on the Kingside, but I never found a way to do so in a convincing manner.

Round 8: Mvl – Keymer (2516) 1-0

The young German is a Sicilian Najdorf fan, but I chose to transpose the fight right into the middlegame with 2.c3. In a rather simple and equal position, he opted for the radical 17…b5?!, whose idea is to get control of d5, even though at the cost of time. He had no obligation to do so though.

Mvl-Keymer, round 8.
Mvl-Keymer, round 8.

After 18.cxb5 Nb4 19.Ne5 Qxb5 20.Rh3, I was able to play my Rook all along the third rank, alternating threats on both wings. I ultimately forced the weakening …f5. Maybe the position was still within equalizing margin for him, but it’s really tough to defend in a practical game! He had a last chance in the following position, however with very few time left for his remaining 4 moves.

Mvl-Keymer, round 8.
Mvl-Keymer, round 8.

Here, objectively best was probably 37.gxf5 exf5 and white keeps an edge, but I still played 37.Qe3, as I felt that his idea was to bring the Rook to g8 via c8, and I had anticipated that it was wrong! Indeed, after 37…Rc8? 38.gxf5 Rg8+ 39.Kh2 Nxf5 40.Nxf5 exf5, I could display a nice and winning stairway manoeuver; 41.Qb3+ Kf8 42.Qb4+ Kf7 43.Qc4+ Kf8 44.Qc5+ Kf7, and now 45.Ra1! Ra8 46.Ra6! is lethal as black can’t move anymore (1-0, 49 moves). However, after 37.Qe3, he still had the loophole 37…fxg4 38.Qxh6 g3!, and the position remains very unclear after 39.Qh7+ Ke8 40.Nf3.

Last game… (Photo George Souleidis).
Last game… (Photo George Souleidis).

Round 9: Carlsen (2845) – Mvl 1-0

A very difficult game against an amazing Carlsen, who was almost assured of the tournament victory before the last round. On the board, I decided not to play my usual systems against the English, opting for the flexible variation with …d6 and …Ff5, while avoiding his prep on the way.

Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised by his move 9.Be3, with the clear intention of playing d4 in good circumstances.


Carlsen-Mvl, round 9.
Carlsen-Mvl, round 9.

But there was no reason to overreact with …a6-…b5 as I did. I had various other « normal » options at this moment; for example 9…a6 10.Qd2 Rb8, with the idea …b5, but without sacrificing the pawn! But having said A, I went on with my idea and said B, pushing 10…b5? immediately. I thought I had compensation after 11.cxb5 axb5 12.Nxb5 Qa5, but I quickly realized the truth, ie. that it was not to be! Nevertheless, I could ask Magnus tactical questions, and he had to find a transposition in a Queen’s endgame with a pawn up.

Carlsen-Mvl, round 9.
Carlsen-Mvl, round 9.

Here, I could have offered a much tougher reistance, had I played 34…Kg8 35.Qxd5 Qa3, and white still has to demonstrate how he wins this. Instead, I wanted to be active with 34…f6? 35.Qxd5 h5, only facilitating white’s task after 36.gxh5 gxh5 37.Qd7+ Kg6 38.a4 Qe2 39.Qd5! and everything is under control (1-0, 44 moves).

Thanks to this final win, Carlsen won the tournament with the staggering score of 7.5/9. There’s nothing to add; just applaud…

Grenke Chess Classic 2019 final crosstable.
Grenke Chess Classic 2019 final crosstable.

As for me, I felt I was not really in great shape in this tournament, and I didn’t play any particularly inspiring game. The result is more or less ok, not the quality of the games.

From now on, the calendar is speeding up, as I will fly on Monday, May 6 to Abidjan (Ivory Cost), where the first tournament of the Grand Chess Tour 2019 will take place, May 8-12.

It is not so frequent that Maxime is approached in Paris streets, in particular in the Jardin du Luxembourg near his flat, where you can often see him walking or jogging. Well, this is not so frequent :), but it gives chess amateurs who recognize him the opportunity to exchange a few words, and to encourage him for his forthcoming competitions.
 In Paris streets with an amateur, a few days before Grenke Classic…
In Paris streets with an amateur, a few days before Grenke Classic…

Maxime’s games :