My World Cup (Part 2)

Ma coupe du Monde (2e partie)

¼ FINAL:

MVL – ARONIAN (2758) 2.5-1.5

In the first game with black, I knew what I was getting into when I entered this line of the 5.Bg5 Grünfeld. A position slightly difficult to defend where I will have to find one or two precise moves to equalize completely; which was the case after 25…f5! (draw, 44 moves).

Aronian-Mvl, ¼ final, first game.
Aronian-Mvl, ¼ final, first game.
¼ final match against Aronian, a classic (Photo : Fide).
¼ final match against Aronian, a classic (Photo : Fide).

In the second game, I improved the variation of the Italian I played a few days earlier against Jakovenko, with 15.Ne4 instead of 15.Qe4.

Mvl-Aronian, ¼ final, return game.
Mvl-Aronian, ¼ final, return game.

But I quickly made the mistake 19.Bg5? which doesn’t make any sense in fact, and that I played much too fast. In my mind 19…h6 20.Bh4 didn’t change anything, but in fact 20…g5 21.Bg3 Kg7 followed by …f5-f4 was clearly unappealing, so I had to resort to the sad 20.Bxe7.

It’s a pity because almost everything was better for White with the Bishop pair, for example 19.a4, or 19.Nd2-c4, or even 19.Bf4 (draw, 31 moves).

In the first Rapid game, I got a good opening position with black.

Aronian-Mvl, ¼ final, tie-break (1).
Aronian-Mvl, ¼ final, tie-break (1).

At one point, while trying to put pressure on the clock, I got a little carried away with 15…Bc6, forgetting 16.Ne4!. I should have played 15…Nc6. I know that Magnus, who was commenting live, rather criticized the next move 16…Bxe4, but at the board, I had the feeling that I had already spoiled the advantage. So Magnus and I come to the same conclusion but with a one-move delay!

After that, in my mind, I was still playing for the initiative. Besides, I’m puzzled that this position is not so good for Black, because when you look at it, it doesn’t seem bad at all! Still, I was a little surprised that he offered me a draw, because I saw a complex endgame coming up, where everything was still up for grabs (draw, 31 moves).

The playing hall has been almost emptied ! (Photo : Fide).
The playing hall has been almost emptied ! (Photo : Fide).

In the second tie-break, I had a good position but I really got tangled up with it.

Mvl-Aronian, ¼ final tie-break (2).
Mvl-Aronian, ¼ final tie-break (2).

Here, I realized that black’s Knight was going to land on c5 and that I would have nothing left to play for. So I decided to go 22.Qc1 Nd7 23.Qa3 Nc5 24.f4. Obviously, I was very wrong because of 24…exf4 25.Nf5 Qf8 26.gxf4 Rf6 followed by the exchange sacrifice 27…Rxf5!, exploiting the absence of white’s Queen around the King. But you had to see the sac from the beginning of the variation, and I missed it throughout the line. Without this sacrifice, what I did would not have been so criticized! So it came as a cold shower to me, because at no point did I realize that there was this 27…Rxf5! looming. A few moves later, Levon missed a direct win, which I hadn’t seen either 🙂 ; but in Rapid games and tactically rich positions, these are inevitable things, you can’t see everything as the machine does.

After that, I felt that he no longer had much of an edge; and instead of taking the draw by perpetual check, he screwed it up horribly by giving a piece. Obviously, he understood right away what he had done and his face kind of crumbled (1-0, 53 moves).

It has to be said though that the World Cup format is very violent; we had the same day the dramatic Armaggedon game between Yu Yangyi and Vitiugov, a true breathtaking highlight of its kind….

Answering questions with the Armenian friend (Photo : Fide).
Answering questions with the Armenian friend (Photo : Fide).

½ Final:

MVL – RADJABOV (2758) 0.5-1.5

In the first game, I played the first move of the tournament I was proud of; it was 11.Re1.

Mvl-Radjabov, 1/2 final, first game.
Mvl-Radjabov, 1/2 final, first game.

Besides, it’s not the move I had in my file 🙂 but at the board, 11.Re1, with the idea to play Be3, I really liked it. I was thinking it was a bit of a Grischuk move! You think about this position for 15 minutes, everybody wonders why as it seems to be useless; then you play this little move that looks harmless!

Fortunately for him, after 11…Nf7 12.Be3, he has 12…Qb7, only move. If 12…Qxb2? 13.Rab1! Qxc3 14.Bd4 Qd3 15.Rbd1 and the Rook protects e4! And if 12…Qa6 13.Qxa6 Bxa6 Fxa6 14.Rad1 followed by 15.c5 is unpleasant for black. After 12…Qb7, the problem for me is that I can no longer play 13.c5 because b2 can now be taken, as black’s Queen comes out of the trap via d3 and a6.

So I played 13.Qb3, and I was pretty happy with myself at the moment! I thought I was a little better, which was indeed the case in the game, but because he missed 13…Rb8! 14.Qxb7 Rxb7 15.b3 f5 16.Bd4 e5! and his dynamic counter-play compensates for what I thought was a static white advantage. On the other hand, after 13…Qxb3?! 14.axb3 Rb8 15.Rxa7 Rxb3 16.Na4 Rb7 17.Rxb7 Bxb7 18.Nb6!, I could claim an edge.

Unfortunately, there was a time when I didn’t quite understand the position. After 18…d6 19.c5 e5, I should have played 20.Ra1! instead of 20.b4?!.

In fact, I rejected it because I didn’t like the position after 20…d5 21.Ra7 Rb8, and 21.exd5 cxd5 22.b4 d4 also seemed very messy to me; I thought it could easily go wrong… But the truth is that it’s just a clear advantage for me, even though the position gets much more tense, and without any guarantees! As I played, I just gave up the advantage straight away (draw, 31 moves).

In the second game, as usual, I failed in the opening. I know I shouldn’t have played so fast…

Radjabov-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game.
Radjabov-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game.

… What happened in my head is that instead of 10…0-0, I was planning 10…Bc6, but I saw the very unpleasant 11.b4!; if 11…cxb4 12.cxb4 Bxb4 13.Qb2!, and if 11…b6 12.b5 Bb7, white will manoeuvre the Knight towards c4. So I came back to 10…0-0, and I just thought that if 11.e5, I had 11…Bc6; I prevent 12.Qe4; I also prevent 12.Bg5, and that’s it.

And just when I put my King on g8, I saw 11.e5 Bc6 12.Ng5! and could contemplate the horror of my position!

Then there was not much to do, white’s attack is terrifying. What I should have played in practice – but I didn’t find the idea – was 12…g6 instead of 12…h6. After 13.Nxh7, certainly 13…Kxh7? loses on the spot to 14.Qh5+ followed by 15.Bxg6, but I had 13…c4!?, which complicates matters and was much less easy for him than in the game.

Later, the commentators felt that I would have had a small chance by exchanging Queens, which I could have done twice. But for me, the resulting endings were technically lost, so it wasn’t really an option either (1-0, 45 moves).

So close, so far… (Photo : Fide).
So close, so far… (Photo : Fide).

As a result, I came out of the World Cup through the back door, missing my direct qualification for the Candidates at the last hurdle once again. That night, I was disgusted and I would have flown back to Paris right away, but no way it could be! There was still a week left to play the match for third place against Yu Yangyi!

MATCH FOR 3rd PLACE:

MVL-YU YANGYI (2763) 4-2

So I tried to think of something else, I did a little bit of everything for the two days off before this last match. I had already been in « power saving mode » for some time, and it was even more so against Yu.

In the first game, he played a new move in the main line of the 5.Qb3 Grünfeld.

Yu Yangyi-Mvl, Match for third place (1).
Yu Yangyi-Mvl, Match for third place (1).

I’ve been waiting for this 15.e5 for so long! It’s been 6 years since I’ve had it in my files, including the endgame position we got after 15…. Ng4 16.e6 fxe6 17.h3 Ne5 18.dxe6 Bxe6 19.Qxd8 Raxd8 20.Bxb5 Bc4 21.Bxe8 Nd3+ 22.Kf1 Bxc3 23.bxc3 Nxc1+ 24.Kg1 Ne2+ 25.Kh2 Rxe8 26.Rhe1 🙂 . I think all the specialists of this line were also aware of this move 15.e5, and knew that it gave positions where black must make 2-3 precise moves to equalize (draw, 36 moves).

In the second game, I didn’t expect him to play a Russian line he had tried a few weeks earlier against Wei Yi, but which seemed a little artificial to me. But the fact is, I didn’t get anything… (draw, 30 moves).

In the third game, I was in trouble in a very rare line of the Exchange Grünfeld, with an early 9.d5 push.

I decided to react in a very concrete way by amplifying the central tension with 12…f5, which was clearly not necessary. He responded very effectively!

Yu Yangyi-Mvl, Match for third place (3).
Yu Yangyi-Mvl, Match for third place (3).

… And it was after 21.Re2! that I realized I was clearly not doing well. Luckily, after 21…Rfc8 22.Qa5 Rc4 23.Nd5 Dd4 24.Re7 Rac8, he didn’t play 25.Qa3! which would have left me in great difficulty after 25…Qc5 26.Qxc5 R4xc5 27.g4! and my position is hanging only by a thread. During the game, it was impossible to measure precisely what was happening, but the fact is that I didn’t feel particularly reassured; I imagined that there were things that could easily go wrong! My belief is that he thought he took a clear advantage with 25.Rd1 Rc1 26.Ree1, but that he overlooked 26…Nc4 27.Qb4 Rxd1 28.Rxd1 Qb2 29.Qe7 Qg7! and the worst is behind me (draw, 32 moves).

The end of a very long tournament… (Photo : Fide).
The end of a very long tournament… (Photo : Fide).

In the last classical game, Yu made a surprising new choice in the Russian Defense. I thought I was a little better in a position that reminded me of the Topalov-Giri game, Wijk aan zee 2012, won by white.

Topalov-Giri, Wijk aan zee 2012.
Topalov-Giri, Wijk aan zee 2012.

It seemed to me that in the long run, as in Topalov’s game, white’s King was safer than his counterpart. It’s true I had forgotten the doubled c pawns of Giri, which were an aggravating factor for black.

Mvl-Yu Yangyi, Match for third place (4).
Mvl-Yu Yangyi, Match for third place (4).

In our game, I may have overestimated my position because in fact, I can’t play g3 and f4 to fix the structure, in which case I could have pounded the e6 pawn and claimed the advantage. Unfortunately, if instead of 19.Td2 in the diagrammed position, I had played 19.f4 – which was indeed my first idea – black completely equalizes with 19…Qf7! 20.g3 e5 and a drawn endgame is coming up. As a result, I couldn’t find any realistic way to play for the win (draw, 30 moves).

In the first tie-break game, Yu gave up defending a third Russian Defense! Overall, I played a good game, even if I missed a quick mate that would have ended his suffering earlier!

Mvl-Yu Yangyi, Match for third place (tie-break 1).
Mvl-Yu Yangyi, Match for third place (tie-break 1).

Here, I opted for a winning heavy pieces ending after 42.Rxa6 Qf5 43.Kg2 Qxh5 44.Rxe6, but of course, 42.Rc8! Rxc8 43.Qxf7+ Kh8 44.Bg6 was more effective! (1-0, 66 moves).

In the second Rapid game, he had to win but he completely screwed up in the opening and I won easily.

Yu Yangyi-Mvl, Match for third place (Tie-Break 2).
YuYu Yangyi-Mvl, Match for third place (Tie-Break 2).

23…Bb5+ 24.Ke1 Bc3+ 0-1 illustrates the power of the Bishop pair!

In spectator mode (Photo : Fide).
In spectator mode (Photo : Fide).

Even if a bronze medal at the World Cup remains an excellent result, I still have mixed feelings about the month of September I spent in Russia 🙂 . However, before the World Cup, I was counting much more on the FIDE Grand Prix series. The World Cup was a ” bonus attempt ” to qualify for the Candidates; I considered that I had a 15-20% chance to succeed.

Of course, it’s frustrating to lose in the semi-finals and to end up being the first unqualified player once again. But on the other hand, there were a lot of very shaky moments, and I could really have been ousted of the tournament earlier! Overall, I didn’t play as well at this World Cup as I did in 2017, when I think I really deserved more.

A month’s work, a bronze medal (Photo : Fide).
A month’s work, a bronze medal (Photo : Fide).

Now, I have the last two FIDE Grand Prix tournaments in Hamburg and Tel-Aviv left; I think I have a good chance of qualifying, over 50%. As for the speculations on the wild card that the Russian organisers will give, I prefer to leave them to the commentators.

That’s not my subject right now… Mine is to be at the top on November 5th in Hamburg!

The French team is currently competing in the European Team Championship in Batumi (Georgia). As he had the opportunity to explain several times, Maxime had decided at the beginning of 2019 that this year’s international calendar would not allow him to participate. It is clear that this problem of flagrant imbalance between the two semesters of the year, one very airy, and the other very congested, will have to be resolved as a priority for the 2020 season.
Let’s take advantage of the European Championship underway to watch a nice video animation that traces many figures on the French chess Elite since the beginning of the century… (thanks to Natacha for the realization) 🙂 .
An opportunity to learn that Maxime has just celebrated another birthday than his 29th one, since with 106 months spent as France’s top player, he has beaten the old record held until now by Joël Lautier (105 months between 1990 and 2004)!

Les parties de Maxime :

My World Cup (Part 1)

The World Cup is a format I like… I’ve played them all since 2009, with two semi-finals and a quarter-final to my credit. First of all, it’s a competition that changes a little bit from our ordinary life; there’s more show and more at stake every game, it’s as well nice for the spectators. But it’s also a very difficult tournament of course, and a very long one; unless you’re eliminated in the first round of course! But when you go through the whole process, it’s almost a month in the same place (in this case Siberia 🙂 ), with the pressure in each of the games, because all are decisive. It has a huge impact on the physical strength of the players; for my part, I think that in Khanty-Mansiysk, I was pretty ok physically until my quarter-final, but then it got worse very quickly. I felt there was nothing I could do anymore in the evening, I was just in autopilot mode to try to get as much rest as I could.

But let’s start at the beginning!

Round 1:

MVL – ANWULI (2284) 2-0

A first round against a much lower rated opponent is always an introduction to the subject where you have to show a minimum of application. Though I did it, I still caused myself some minor problems. I’m mainly referring to the first game, where the Rook endgame was maybe objectively drawn.

Mvl-Anwuli, Round 1, first game.
Mvl-Anwuli, Round 1, first game.

I feel that after 38.g4! (instead of the 38.Kg4? he chose), the best thing for me would have been to get the famous ending with h and f, which remains a theoretical draw, though very difficult to reach.

I did also sputter a bit from a very promising position in the second game. I must say that the Nigerian IM has defended his chances quite well overall. But it’s hard when you don’t have a real opening repertoire, which is his case :-).

Proud to have lost after a creditable performance, Nigerian Daniel Anwuli poses with his winner.
Proud to have lost after a creditable performance, Nigerian Daniel Anwuli poses with his winner.

Round 2:

MVL – KOVALENKO (2674) 2-0

I was surprised by his choice in the opening of the first game (a Sicilian with …e6), and he found himself in very big difficulty. Moreover, it is not at all his style to defend positions of this kind.

Mvl-Kovalenko, Round 2, first game.
Mvl-Kovalenko, Round 2, first game.

Nevertheless, there was a mistake just before move 40, when I forgot …Rc8 in a critical variation… The worst part is that I had thought long before playing 40.b5? in the diagrammed position. But it turns out the breakthrough is too hasty! It had to be better prepared, because after 40…axb5 41.Bxb5 Rc8! I had to admit that my advantage had evaporated; 42.Rb1 Rc2+ 43.Kg1 Nc8 44.Rd7+ Rxd7 45.Bxd7 and fortunately here, he played 45…Nd6? instead of taking on b6, despite a long reflection! After 45…Nxb6!, I could still have tried 46.Bb5!? – with the idea Bd3-e4 – which still poses problems, even if it is certainly not enough objectively. Apart from this poorly controlled breakthrough on b5, it was still a good game, especially in the middlegame phase when I had to conquer the advantage (24.Ra3!).

In the second game, a draw was obviously enough, which is a rather pleasant situation. Against his slightly baroque opening, 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.Nge2 Nf6 4.f3!?,I probably should have played 4…e5, but on the board, 4…d5 didn’t seem so bad. But in fact, the position I obtained was not so trivial….

Kovalenko-Mvl, Round 2, return game.
Kovalenko-Mvl, Round 2, return game.

… and even a bit unpleasant after I played 13…Ke7?! a little too fast. On 14.Bb5 Rd8 (originally, I planned 14…Bd7 15.Rhe1 Rhd8 16.Nf5 Kf8 17.Nd6 Rab8, but I had forgotten 18.Nxb7! Rxb7 19.Bxc6) 15.Bxc6 bxc6 16.Rxd8 Rxd8 17.f4, white has a slightly more pleasant endgame. In the position of the diagram, I had also rejected 13…Bd7 because of 14.Nc4 Ke7 15.Nd6, but it was in fact the equalizing line, because I now have the nice comeback 15…Bc8!, justified by the variation 16.Bb5 Rd8 17.Bxc6 Rxd6 =. After that, I think he had ways to press a little harder than what he did. He brought his King to c3 a little too quickly and in fact, it happens to be useless! By the way, he came back to c1 soon afterwards… Then he tried everything possible to complicate matters, but by doing so, he just deteriorated his position from “equal” to “much worse”. I gave him the chance to settle for a draw for a long time, but he went so far he even lost it!

Interview after the qualification against Kovalenko (Photo: Fide).
Interview after the qualification against Kovalenko (Photo: Fide).

Round of 32:

MVL – JAKOVENKO (2681) 3.5-2.5

A complicated match, against an opponent who is also complicated for me! You have to know that Jakovenko has an excellent score against me and that he therefore has the confidence… And you could see it! He was really there to play his luck to the fullest. Compared to, for example, Svidler in the next round, you clearly feel the difference in state of mind. And it was bad luck for Peter, since apparently he has kind of a monster score against Jakovenko!

The first game didn’t go too well, despite the draw… It was the first of a long series of omissions on my part in the opening! Fortunately, he relieved my position by making two bizarre central exchanges.

The Berlin in the return leg was my first game under control, even if not to the end. I took an edge, but from then on, he defended really well. Maybe I missed some opportunities.

Mvl-Jakovenko, Round of 32, return game.
Mvl-Jakovenko, Round of 32, return game.

I suspect that at this point after 27…Be6, it is objectively winning for white, but I did not find how. And then I thought what I was doing was ok, but strangely enough after move 40, I just couldn’t find the win and in fact, there certainly isn’t one anymore…

So, first tie-break!

In the first rapid game, troubles started as soon as I played 11…b6. In fact, that’s a constant in my Grünfeld, I forget the possibility that d5 can be strong for white! I made exactly the same mistake against Aronian in London last year. And besides, the game was really very similar: same material balance, same difficulties, and same attempt at counter-play. Except Levon had screwed up at one point, and not Jakovenko!

So, after 11…b6 12.d5, I realized that if 12…Ne5 13.Nxe5 Bxe5, I was going to face the central onslaught f4-e4-e5, like against Levon! Quite obvious of course, but it’s like a bug I have on this theme….

Then I had a hesitation on move 19, which was fatal.

Jakovenko-Mvl, 1/16e tie-break (1).
Jakovenko-Mvl, 1/16e tie-break (1).

At first, I wanted to play 19…Qa3 without thinking. And then I thought to myself, “19…Qh5 idea 20…Bg4, I have play on the Kingside”, and it attracted me.

In fact obviously, 19…Qa3! was the correct move, to keep an eye on d6 and have counter-play on the Queenside. But my misjudgment is that I thought the Queen on h5 was going to be closer for the King’s defense; whereas it is the opposite, and it is also too exposed on h5!

Then, he missed a forced win with 25.Rb5!, but it’s a computer move, not a natural one, and we both missed it… After that, I didn’t have much to blame myself for, I found all the defences, but he just played the perfect game, including in the tricky tactical complications with heavy pieces.

Jakovenko-Mvl, 1/16e tie-break (1).
Jakovenko-Mvl, 1/16e tie-break (1).

Here, instead of 35…Qe6, I could have chosen the passive defense with 35…Kg7 of course. I let him play 36.Qe7, and then I throw my Queenside pawns forward… But I was pretty sure that at some point he was going to play h3 to parry the back rank mates; then, Qh4 or Qd8, threatening Re7, and I didn’t see in which world it could hold this.

As a result, he brilliantly concluded after 36.Qd8+ Kf7 37.Rf1+ Rf5 38.Qc7+ Kg8 39.Rd1 Qe2 40.Qc1! Rg5 (40…Rf8 41.d7 Rd8 offers zero chance of survival) 41.Qc8+! Kg7 42.Qb7+ Kf8 43.Rg1! and the passed pawn decides.

The opening of the second tie-break, where Maxime had to win (Photo: Fide).
The opening of the second tie-break, where Maxime had to win (Photo: Fide

With the back against the wall and in view of how the opening went, it is true that the fact that I tied the match with a win on demand was a miracle! First of all, because I played 15.Qe4 instead of 15.Ne4 as I had planned 🙂 ; it turns out that I would have the opportunity to play this 15.Ne4 move a few days later against Aronian…

Take it from Jakovenko’s point of view, and it’s always the same old story; you need a draw, you equalize in the opening and then at some point, you want to simplify matters as much as possible. For example, when he went for the Rook + opposite coloured Bishops ending.

Mvl-Jakovenko, 1/16e tie-break (2).
Mvl-Jakovenko, 1/16e tie-break (2).

Here, 27…Bxe4 28.Bxe4 c6 was in no way mandatory. It wasn’t even necessary, but on the other hand, it simplifies the position and you think you’re never going to lose that; basically, he was sitting on the fence, and it’s never good to be sitting on the fence! Of course, normally this endgame should still give nothing to white objectively, but it can also easily go wrong. And when I got the position after 29.g3 g6 30.b4 Kf7 31.a4 a6 32.Kg2 Rd7 33.Rb2! with the idea of a breakthrough on b5, I knew that I now had at least a 40% chance of winning. And I actually ended up winning and staying alive in the tournament!

The second set of rapid 10′ games was also tense (two draws), and then finally, I won a nice game with white in blitz.

And in the last blitz, I did the opposite of what Dmitry did when a draw was enough for him! I played my normal, dynamic game, and in fact, these positions with asymmetric pawn structures, you get the impression that it’s less drawish but for me, it’s so much easier to play!

During the rest day, Mvl watched a professional hockey game with his unfortunate opponent of the previous day, Dmitry Jakovenko (left), who had just kicked off on the ice! (Photo: FIDE).
During the rest day, Mvl watched a professional hockey game with his unfortunate opponent of the previous day, Dmitry Jakovenko (left), who had just kicked off on the ice! (Photo: FIDE).

Round of 16:

MVL – SVIDLER (2729) 1.5-0.5

Peter doesn’t usually play the Spanish Chigorin. My theory is that he didn’t expect me to accept the Marshall Gambit at all, which is now known to be over analyzed and drawish in most lines. So I think it upset him.

So I got an edge quite convincingly out of the opening, leading to what looked like a good pawn up position.

Mvl-Svidler, Round of 16, first game.
Mvl-Svidler, Round of 16, first game.

During the game, I had no idea that he could completely equalize with 31…Bd6! as the machine shows. The problem is that in this case, I don’t install the Bishop on b4 as in the game, since 32.Bb4? Qc2! would be unpleasant. So after the inaccurate 31…Rc8? 32.Bb4 Qc1+ 33.Qd1 Qc4, I played 34.g3 because I understood that there was a really good chance he would fall into the trap 34…Qxe4? 35.gxf4 Rc6, forgetting the resource 36.f5! Qxf5 37.Bd6!. Besides, I also saw that 36.f3 would probably leave him defenseless too. But anyway, knowing Peter, I felt he was going to take on e4!

After that, I was surprised that he resigned so quickly, even though he’s known for that. Because you can still play a little bit in the final position:

Mvl-Svidler, Round of 16, first game.
Mvl-Svidler, Round of 16, first game.

My pawn is only on a3, my King is not yet completely safe, it could have been worth a few more moves…

Overall, I consider this to be a good game of me.

In the middle of a discussion with Svidler, just after their first game (photo: Fide).
In the middle of a discussion with Svidler, just after their first game (photo: Fide).

In the second game, Peter made a fine opening choice in the sub-variation of the Najdorf 6.Nb3. I got a little carried away with 7…h5, but I wanted to avoid his prep.

I suspected that it was 7…b5 8.a4 b4 9.Nd5 e6 the critical line. And that’s what was in my notes, of course! But I thought to myself, “I don’t remember anything more; that’s necessarily what he looked at first. So, we’re going to get him out of his prep, while playing a move that makes a little bit of sense”. 7…g6 8.g4 could quickly become unpleasant, so I decided to improvise completely with this 7…h5.

 C’est pas facile, mais je vais quand même le jouer, ce 7…h5 ! (photo : Fide).
C’est pas facile, mais je vais quand même le jouer, ce 7…h5 ! (photo : Fide).

After that, I still think white is a little better, and I was very surprised by his choice of 13.Qd4?!. I also understand that in his situation, keeping a little edge with 13. Na5 seemed less promising to him than a variation that leads to the win of the a6 pawn. However, after 13.Na5 with f4-f5 to come, it could quickly become complicated for me – there have to be some small disadvantages to putting the pawn on h5!

Svidler-Mvl, Round of 16, return game.
Svidler-Mvl, Round of 16, return game.

I also think he chose 13.Qd4?! because after 13…Rb8 14.Bxa6 0-0 15.Qd3 Bxa6 16.Rxa6 Nc4, he forgot that he couldn’t play 17.Ra7? because of 17…Nxb2!

As a result, he had to fall back to 17.Bc1, and after 17…e6 18.0-0 Nd7, I got the dream position. His pieces are not coordinated, and he cannot redeploy them without losing his Queenside pawns. In fact, he even went too far and found himself much worse. But I preferred to avoid complex variations, even favourable ones, and forced the draw that qualified me for the 1/4 finals.

(to be continued)

The day after his return from the World Cup, Maxime went to Asnières City Hall, where his club organized the “Trophée des Petits As”, an invitational competition bringing together eight French hopes under 8 years old. The idea was to offer these young players a context worthy of high level chess, with games played in excellent playing conditions, and broadcast live on the Internet. Maxime came to launch the last rounds of Sunday, then gave a number of tips to the players, including to some of his little clubmates 🙂 .

Maxime’s games:

August in the Missouri

Saint-Louis Chess Club (photo : www.grandchesstour.org).

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….

SAINT-LOUIS, RAPID & BLITZ

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 : www.grandchesstour.org).
In the streets of St-Louis (photo :
www.grandchesstour.org).

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 (www.grandchesstour.org).
St-Louis Rapid/Blitz standings (www.grandchesstour.org).

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.

SINQUEFIELD CUP

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 : www.grandchesstour.org).
Between the rounds… (photo : www.grandchesstour.org).

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….

Mvl-Carlsen.
Mvl-Carlsen.

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 (www.grandchesstour.org).
2019 Grand Chess Tour standings after 5 tournaments (www.grandchesstour.org).

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 www.chess.com. 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 chess.com (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 (https://en.wikipedia.org).
GP FIDE standings after 2 tournaments (https://en.wikipedia.org).

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…

Mvl-Grischuk.
Mvl-Grischuk.

… 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!

Mvl-Grischuk.
Mvl-Grischuk.

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  (www.grandchesstour.org).
GCT 2019 standings after 3 tournaments (www.grandchesstour.org).

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

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.