August in the Missouri

Saint-Louis Chess Club (photo :

The sequence of tournaments in recent months has been really difficult to handle. They said here and there that I had played too much; it’s true, but I didn’t really have a choice! The FIDE Grand Prix and the Grand Chess Tour are unavoidable, but they decided on dates much too late. Otherwise, I could have thought about sacrificing the Norway Chess in June, but I had already signed the contract a long time ago. That being said, it was mainly the Zagreb-Riga-Paris series that was hard, but I’m not going to blame myself for going all the way to the final in Riga!

As usual in recent years, August = Missouri! I arrived in the U.S. a little early… Obviously, I didn’t have much time between the end of the Grand Chess Tour in Paris and this long trip; barely four days. The tournament started on August 10th and I arrived on the evening of the 7th, just to have two full days to digest the jet lag and rest.

Anyway, I knew when I arrived in Saint-Louis that I couldn’t play 100% throughout the three weeks, it was strictly impossible. Nevertheless, I was still hoping to have a rather acceptable state of form at first. In Rapid and Blitz, it is more important to be in good physical shape, to calculate well, than for long games. In Classical, if you’re a little diminished, it’s not that bad; you still have time to be careful, and the opening prep will be important, so you can limit the damage in any case. In fact, that’s a bit what happened because in the end, I actually saved the day with 5/11 in the Classical part! The way I played, I didn’t deserve -1 in terms of chess. But we will come back to this later….


In the Rapid, it’s true that the first game hurt me a lot. I’m much better against Aronian and I lose because of tactical mistakes in the endgame.

Fortunately, there was this spectacular game against Rapport in the third round, which was a good game in the Romantic spirit, but which could also have gone very badly wrong.

Mvl-Rapport, Rapid Round 2.
Mvl-Rapport, Rapid Round 2.

28. Qxd7!?! a speculative Queen sacrifice that will finally bear fruit! (1-0, 50 moves).

Which means I could limit the damage to 50% on the first day. Then I had a very good second day, a little by miracle.

Of course, I play a very good game against Ding. And a rather good one against Mamedyarov, even if at one point I am lost and under no circumstances should I win that one! And then, against Karjakin, the dull and symetric position from which I manage to win is also amazing. 🙂

Mvl-Karjakin, Rapid Round 4.
Mvl-Karjakin, Rapid Round 4.

In the Bishop ending, there are now practical chances for white, even though few who would have bet on a white victory ! (1-0, 66 moves).

In the streets of St-Louis (photo :
In the streets of St-Louis (photo :

The third day, I lost against Magnus but on the other hand, I didn’t demobilize and won the last two, rather good games by the way; against Dominguez first, then against Caruana, out of the loop and who was a bit in tilt.

Mvl-Dominguez, Rapid Round 8.
Mvl-Dominguez, Rapid Round 8.

In this Berlin position, which has turned out well for white (you deserve it sometimes ), the thematic 22.e6! fxe6 23.Bf4 puts blacks under considerable pressure (1-0, 44 moves).

In the first day of blitz, I didn’t play so badly and I really didn’t have luck on my side (4.5/9). I should have scored at least 1.5 points more; against Rapport, I am clearly better and I let myself be swayed by a stupid calculation error. Of course there is also the game against Ding, where I am winning, before playing a wrong combination instead of taking a perpetual check.

But above all, this game against Dominguez where I have a four-minute lead on the clock!

Dominguez-Mvl, Blitz Round 8.
Dominguez-Mvl, Blitz Round 8.

Here, white has just played 20.Bxf4 and I automatically took back on f4, before I noticed that 20…Rfc8! intermediate was much stronger; 21.Bd3 (otherwise 21…Qc2+) 21…exf4, with a much better version than in the game (1-0, 49 moves).

On the second day of the blitz, however, I was completely out of the loop; it’s a bit of a miracle that I won the last two, to finally share the overall 2nd place, only half a point behind the winner Aronian. There are some amazing games that day, against Ding for example; against Caruana, I don’t even talk about it…

Mvl-Caruana, Blitz Round 15.
Mvl-Caruana, Blitz Round 15.

In in my opinion, this game shows well that it is not at all the nerves that are an issue; this kind of endgame, clear pawn up, I win them 99 times out of 100, nerves or no nerves. It was just pure fatigue, a true Way of the Cross (0-1, 67 moves).

Besides, I win the last one against Aronian with black because a draw was enough for him to win the tournament, and he was in a panic, my friend!

All in all, 2nd ex-aequo, it was not so bad as far as points are concerned…

St-Louis Rapid/Blitz standings (
St-Louis Rapid/Blitz standings (

But I was so sure that I would win the tournament… Indeed, after having scored -2 in the blitz in Paris (8/18), I could not imagine a similar performance in Saint-Louis (8.5/18).

Anyway, the calendar this year is a crazy calendar, and it’s true that I finished the run of tournaments completely exhausted. And when you’re tired, you can see it in Rapid chess, and even more so in blitz. You think at the wrong moments, sometimes you don’t think at all, and in the end, you miss simple tactics.

Besides, when you’re away like I was for almost 4 months, you can’t prepare yourself properly physically. I also had some minor physical problems, especially in Zagreb and Riga, with also a lumbar pain that prevented me from running for a long time.


A tournament that brings together precisely the top 10 players in the world, not easy when you’re running on empty, at the end of the road! I started by making seven draws i a row. But psychologically, I had a sharp blow to my morale as soon as in the first game against Aronian.

Aronian-Mvl, Classic Round 1.
Aronian-Mvl, Classic Round 1.

Instead of 25…Bd3?!, repeating the position a third time, I could play 25…Bg6 followed by the manoeuver …Ra7-c7, with a dominant position. In fact, I repeated moves because I didn’t think I was especially better. However, it’s just a butchery as soon as I double on the c-file! Normally, I would have continued the game, but I didn’t feel fit, so I didn’t feel especially better; which shows that I wasn’t fit by the way!

After that, I gradually settled into the tournament; I played some good games, for example against Ding.

Against So and Anand with white, I didn’t shine in the opening. Generally speaking, in this tournament, I remembered my preparations very badly, with a lot of surprising omissions; once again it is always linked to the same thing, the general state of fitness…

Round 6 game against Caruana was very correct, a real theoretical debate at high intensity on the Najdorf.

But the bad mistakes began the next day, against Mamedyarov…

Mvl-Mamedyarov, Classique Ronde 7.
Mvl-Mamedyarov, Classique Ronde 7.

Well, there ! The position I’m getting! I came out of the opening with a nice advantage; a pair of Bishops, space, and an off-side Bh5.

And then how I managed to sabotage it! In fact, I immediately regretted playing 20.Bb2. The Bishop had to stay on c1, and 20.g4 Bg6 21.h4 was the right way. I’m going to play g5 and not him; I’ll put the Bishop on b2; then f4, and it’s just a terrible position to defend for black (1/2, 33 moves).

Between the rounds (photo :
Between the rounds… (photo :

And in round 8, the first decisive game. But I’m on the wrong side of it! Frankly, when I think about this game, it’s crazy…

Karjakin-Mvl, Classic Round 8.
Karjakin-Mvl, Classic Round 8.

In this theoretical position of the Grünfeld exchange, which I have in my notes, I played 17…bxc5? without thinking; by reflex, thinking mechanically that it was forced. And it leads to a nightmarish endgame to defend. And then I remembered – but too late of course  – that 21…Bh3! was the move of the position! (1-0, 51 moves).

The next day against Nakamura, the ordeal continued, despite a good prep this time.

Mvl-Nakamura, Classic Round 9.
Mvl-Nakamura, Classic Round 9.

In this position, it’s amazing but 20.Qh4!, I didn’t even think about this move for a second! However, the Qh5-g6 threat is so powerful that black’s position should not be able to resist it. It’s a move I would normally play instantly in a blitz. Besides, it’s not even a question of playing too fast or not too fast, since I unleashed the insipid 20.Qe3?! in more than 4 minutes. And 20.Qh4!, I just didn’t think about it…. Of course, even after 20. Qe3?! I’m still better. Then I decided to go into the endgame because I thought it was better than keeping the pawn. Probably not stupid, but then I got into a muddle anyway (1/2, 59 moves).

The next day, to prove that I wasn’t the only one doing stupid things, Nepo gave me a great gift by landing his Knight on the wrong square! My conversion phase was not ideal, but fortunately, there was a huge margin!

Finally, against Carlsen, I didn’t want to just force a draw with white. So I chose the Rossolimo against his Sicilian, and I think the opening didn’t go so badly, even if the normal plan was obviously to play Nh4 followed by f4.

Mvl-Carlsen, Classic Round 11.
Mvl-Carlsen, Classic Round 11.

But on 14.Nh4, I didn’t like 14…Ne5 15.Qg3 Nc6, with the idea 16.f4 f5! ; even 14…e6 15.f4 g5!? also seemed interesting for him. So, I made the decision to play 14.h4!?, a move that Magnus criticized; but I still believe it wasn’t a bad move. After 14…Rb7 15.h5 g5, I hesitated between 16.Nh2 and 16.Ne2. I don’t know why, but I chose the first one, which is much worse. After 16.Ne2-g3, I would have more or less forced…e6, and that’s where I sinned. I thought that …e6 allowed him to justify his move 14…Rb7, but in this case f6 is actually much weaker, the Bc8 is no longer in play, and he will never have …f5 anymore. For all these reasons, this Knight’s maneuver to g3 was much better than my choice of the game 16.Nh2.

After that, I started to be surprised by his moves….


And when 21…f5 arrived, I wasn’t really enjoying my position anymore. If 22.exf5, I wasn’t afraid to give the exchange in case of 22…Bd4, but the simple 22…Bxf5 dissuaded me, whereas there is 23.Rg3!, that I didn’t see. Well, it’s true that I didn’t give myself time to see it either! So I went back to 22.exf5 and saw 22.Nf3? instead. I said to myself, “It’s okay, there’s no 22…Bd4, and 22…fxe4 23.Nxe4 suits me. Lastly, there’s no 22…e5 either because of 23.Bg5! “. So I played 22.Nf3?, I got up, and when I came back to the board and saw he had replied 22…Bxc3!, I immediately understood that I had already reached the point of no return. I still found 23.Rd3!? to fish in muddy waters, but it was not enough (0-1, 44 moves).

Congratulations to Carlsen, who finished tied for first place thanks to his final sprint. And huge congratulations to Ding Liren, who managed the feat of beating the world champion in a tiebreak!

I am therefore the first player to have completed the 2019 Grand Chess Tour, as all the others will play at least one of the last two tournaments (Bucharest and Kolkata in November). As a result, my chances of taking one of the 4 qualifying places for the final in London are now very hypothetical.

2019 Grand Chess Tour standings after 5 tournaments (
2019 Grand Chess Tour standings after 5 tournaments (

But everything in due course, another important milestone awaits me very soon; the start of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansyisk (Russia) on Tuesday, September 10. The objective is stated: reaching the final to earn a spot for the Candidates’ Tournament in March 2020…

On his return from Saint-Louis, Maxime had an evening of rapid games online, as part of the 1/8th finals of the Speed Chess Championship organized by The format of the 2019 edition is unchanged, with 90 minutes of 5|1, 60 minutes of 3|1, and 30 minutes of 1|1. Paired against the world’s number one junior, Wei Yi (2727), Maxime had a very tough start, conceding five straight losses to be led 1.5-5.5 after 7 games! But he didn’t demobilize, and he overpowered the rest of the match, notably posting a series of 7 consecutive wins, then another of 5, to finally win the match on the final score of 21-10. In the semi-final – in October – he will face the winner of the match Mamedyarov-So.

Maxime’s games at the Sinquefield Cup (Official site) :
Maxime’s games in Saint Louis (Official site) :
Maxime’s games on (Official site) :

3 tournaments in a row!

MVL, le Boss à Paris ! (Photo : Justin Kollar, GCT).

I just finished a few days ago a 6-week marathon. Indeed, I left home on June 24 and flew to Zagreb, Croatia, in order to play the first Classical tournament of the Grand Chess Tour (GCT). On July 9, I flew directly from Zagreb to Riga, Latvia, where I began my Grand Prix FIDE campaign. Then I came back to Paris for the second GCT Rapid & Blitz, and only went back home on August 2!

I’m tired, that’s for sure… Though I knew this year’s calendar would set a breathtaking pace. But I couldn’t get the level of physical preparation required beforehand, which would maybe have allowed me to stay fit during the whole period.

Fortunately, I arrived in Zagreb in quite good shape, but paradoxically, my chess was bad throughout in Croatia. Certainly, the playing conditions didn’t help. The air conditioning – a past-time one – was in full swing on the scene, causing annoying noise. Frankly speaking, it was a real issue for me, especially as other organization details were also suboptimal. It(s a pity though, as Zagreb is an enjoyable town and I very much liked its ambiance, restaurants… the town, the organization…

Then, around half-tournament, I more or less gave up, and decided to save energy. I benefited from these few days, as well as those from the transit to Riga, to forget this unfortunate chess moment in Croatia, and recover energy.

Last round; Carlsen isn’t at the board, but he’s just played 31.a3! and black’s position collapses. Zagreb, a tournament to forget… (Photo: Leenart Ootes, GCT).
Last round; Carlsen isn’t at the board, but he’s just played 31.a3! and black’s position collapses. Zagreb, a tournament to forget… (Photo: Leenart Ootes, GCT).

In Latvia, I must admit everything went really smoothly. I was pretty surprised to avoid all tie-breaks before the final, and also that for once, I could benefit from such favourable circumstances!

Mvl-Navara, Riga, 1/8 finals, first game.
Mvl-Navara, Riga, 1/8 finals, first game.

Thanks to a good prep, I quickly gained a clear advantage, which I would probably have converted with the simple 13.Qxg7 Rg8 14.Qh6. Instead, I played the imprecise 13.Ne2?, which allowed black to come back into the game with 13…Bb6, as now 14.Qxg7 Rg8 15.Qh6 would allow 15…e4!, breaking the coordination between white’s pieces. Fortunately, the Czech chose 13…0-0?, and after 14.Bf5!, I resumed the normal course of my advantage! (1-0, 19 moves).

In the ¼ finals against Topalov, the first game was indeed double-edged, but it worked out very well in the end. However, it was still far from perfect as, like I did against Navara, I happened to miscalculate a critical variation…

Topalov-Mvl, Riga, ¼ final, first game.
Topalov-Mvl, Riga, ¼ final, first game.

Black’s position would be a technical win after normal moves like 43…Re5 or 43…Nb7, but I spotted a tactical solution with 43…h5 44.gxh5 f5 45.Bxf5 Rf7 46.Bg6 Rf2+ 47.Kb1 Rxh2 48.Ne4 g4, forgetting that after 49.Bf5 (Topalov played the inferior 49.Kc1?), only 49…Rg2! kept the win. All the same, I ended up winning that game (0-1, 57 moves).

Strangely enough, I played my best game during the ½ final return match against Grischuk, even though I had a minor health concern, and felt really without energy. I quickly offered a draw, but he declined, and I was able to gather my last resources in order to ultimately win that game. Being qualified for the Riga final without tie-break meant that I would have two free full days ahead of me, which I fully used to rest and relax.

So I could approach the match against Mamedyarov in better shape, but it was so full of twists that I’m not yet able to analyze it clearly.

Of course, it’s a pity I ended up losing the match because of a final Armageddon game, but I’d rather remember that Riga was a prolific tournament in terms of result, as I gathered 8 points, thanks to the 3 bonus points I earned from winning my first three matches without tie-breaks.

GP FIDE standings after 2 tournaments (
GP FIDE standings after 2 tournaments (

Admittedly, a win would have given me 11 points instead of 8. Even if I wouldn’t have booked my ticket for the Candidates yet, I think in this case my qualification chances would have raised to 95%. With 8 points, I rate my chances in the Grand Prix around 50-60%. Of course, I will have to arrive fresh in Hamburg and Tel-Aviv, as I’m well aware of the fact that nobody’s immune against a first round elimination and a big zero! (Giri and Aronian have both scored 0 in the first two tournaments…).

But in my mind, if I reach one final or two semi-finals, I will be qualified; and maybe even less, with one or two bonus points gleaned here or there…

Then, we must also take into account the possibility to qualify from the World Cup, which raises probabilities. 🙂

Finalist in Riga, a good result! (Photo: Niki Riga, World Chess).
Finalist in Riga, a good result! (Photo: Niki Riga, World Chess).

Thus, I only came back from Riga on July 25, and as soon as the next day, Paris GCT Rapid & Blitz was beginning, with an afternoon devoted to press and technical meetings. The chain of events was beginning to weigh heavily…

The first day of Rapid games, I played badly and was very lucky, mainly against Dubov in the first round. The second day was by far the most accomplished one, with a very nice win against Caruana in particular.

Mvl-Caruana, Paris Rapid, round 5.
Mvl-Caruana, Paris Rapid, round 5.

Here, instead of 9.Qxe5, I had the novelty 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Bg2! prepared; a pawn sacrifice which allows white to quickly exert strong pressure on the Queenside (1-0, 53 moves).

Being in pole-position, I played the third day smooth sailing; two quick draws with white against Nakamura and Anand, having on the way mixed up my prep in the Indian’s pet Open Spanish. As Duda also gave me an easy win with black, I ended up the Rapid part with 6.5/9, an almost perfect result. I thought I would be able to finish off the job quite early in the Blitz. I didn’t see what could happen and then… there was this game against Grischuk!

Mvl-Grischuk, Paris Blitz, round 2.
Mvl-Grischuk, Paris Blitz, round 2.

I found myself in a completely winning position, moreover with 3 minutes on the clock vs my opponent’s 10 seconds! I wanted to apply myself not to spoil the win. I began beating around the bush, lost time, and in the following position…


… I relinquished the idea of a simple exchange counter-sacrifice on e6 with 28…Rf6, which leaded to a very easy ending two pawns up. Instead, I went into the sophisticated Bishop manoeuver 28…Bc3 29.Rh3 Bb4 30.Bd4 Bc5, which is still winning, but complicates matters after 31.Bg7 Rf2+ 32.Kd3. And here, I uncorked the terrible 32…Re7??, but Sacha didn’t see 33.Bg8+! Kxg8 34.h7+ which would have forced resignation!


Quelques coups plus tard, non seulement mon avantage avait déjà fondu comme neige au soleil, mais en plus j’ai à nouveau raté sa menace Fg8+! avec 41…Ff4??. Cette fois, Sacha n’a pas laissé passer l’occasion… (1-0, 49 cps). Le paradoxe, c’est que je suis sûr que j’aurais gagné cette partie si j’avais eu 20 secondes à la pendule au lieu de 3 minutes !

A few moves later, not only my advantage had already melt like snow in the sun, but also I overlooked the threat Bg8+! again with the move 41…Bf4??.
This time, Sacha didn’t miss the chance… (1-0, 49 moves). Paradoxically, I’m sure I would have won this game, had I got 20 seconds on my clock instead of 3 minutes!
Very hard to swallow, and even if I bounced back immediately against Caruana, I followed up with a couple of erratic games. Not the one against Nakamura, fairly won by him, but both my losses against Giri and Duda that day come to my mind.

In short, after a shaky first Blitz day with 4.5/9, I was somehow still leading, and I thought I would be able to turn the situation around on the last day.
How wrong I was, as it went from bad to worse! I crossed that day like a zombie, I couldn’t calculate a single variation properly. I found it out during my third round game against Caruana…

Caruana-Mvl, Paris Blitz, round 12.
Caruana-Mvl, Paris Blitz, round 12.

Here, I wanted to play the normal 31…Qa8, and the game goes on. But on second thoughts, I wondered; what is the issue with 31…Fc7? Fabiano replied 32.Qc2! and I understood I had a real problem, but too late!

Duda-Mvl, Paris Blitz, round 17.
Duda-Mvl, Paris Blitz, round 17.

Another example of my shape at the end of Paris tournament; in this equal position, Duda blundered with 24.Nfe5??. And I didn’t play the refutation 24…b5! because after 25.Bxb7, I completely overlooked 25…bxc4 and white loses a piece! No comment… (1-0, 56 moves).

I don’t think I ever played so badly in a Blitz tournament, and with this 8/18 result, it is a miracle I could retain my lead in the combined rankings and win the tournament. Results on the other boards all turned out in my favour in the last rounds!

Talking about figures, it was a very good result though, and I guess I’m well on my way to finish on one of the four qualifying spots for the Finals, scheduled in London early December.

GCT 2019 standings after 3 tournaments  (
GCT 2019 standings after 3 tournaments (

Next step for me, Grand Chess Tour again, with the Saint-Louis Rapid & Blitz (USA), which begins on August 10, immediately followed by the Sinquefield Cup.

Return to France, August 31!

Skip it!

Maxime took the decision a few weeks ago to skip the brand new “Grand Swiss” tournament cooked up by FIDE, which will take place on the Isle of Man in October. Although offering a Candidates spot to the winner, Maxime regarded such a tournament as too difficult and too random to devote two weeks to it – without counting preparation.
Assessing his chances of him winnning the tournament at a mere 5%, he decided to skip it and to devote his October time to the preparation of the decisive FIDE Grand Prix tournaments in Hamburg (November) and Tel-Aviv (December).
Sometimes, decisions have to be taken!

Maxime’s games in Zagreb (Official site):

Maxime’s games in Riga (Official site):

Maxime’s games in Paris (Official site):

2020 World Championship qualifiers


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.


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.


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.


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.

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


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.
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

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

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…


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 (
Final rankings Norway Chess 2019 (

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 :

Top 12: promoted Asnières vice champion


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:


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).


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).


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).


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.


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).


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…


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:

Maxime’s games :