MVL inspires them !

L'express

L’Express is one of the biggest french magazines. Incidentally, it celebrates its birthday this very week.

As soon as november of its first year (1953), the weekly already published a « list of 100 », which offered a review of the hundred french people « who map out roads for the future ». In 2018, L’Express does it again to mark its 65 years of existence : only differences with 1953, parity is respected, and the political field has been excluded. As Guillaume Dubois, L’Express Director, states, the main purpose is to « bring to the fore French men and women who […] believe in their own future and in their country’s future. Coming from a broad range of areas, « reflecting a diversity of careers, of jobs, of sensitivities, and of origins, […] [the 100] are acting », he adds.
And among them, in the section of « Those who act to surpass themselves », you will find Maxime ! Do we have to see a symbol in the fact that he’s just next to Thomas Pesquet, the famous astronaut ?

Still, this recognition constitutes a huge incentive, for Maxime will jump back on the campaign trail in 2019, trying to move through the qualifying stages leading to the world championship match.

Find out Maxime’s presentation below, with the kind permission of L’Express management  (see translation below):

Article L'Express
Article L’Express

Caption: 27 y.o, chess player. He wants to become world champion.
Text: For the best french chess player in history, #1 at home, and World #5, 2017 was a terrible year. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave narrowly missed a spot in the Candidates, the tournament which selected the challenger of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, for the forthcoming title match in November. Thus, Maxime decided to treat 2018 as a transition year. Among other things, he hired a mental coach, in order to master this touch of impulsiveness which sometimes puts him at a disadvantage, despite his extraterrestrial skills (he belongs to the small circle of those who have reached 2800 Elo points, the method for calculating relative levels of chess players). Our International Grandmaster knows that his creative and sharp play can disarm Carlsen, less at ease than him in complex positions where anything can happen. Maxime has already beaten him, last time the previous year. At only 27, « MVL » has plenty of time ahead of him. But it is out of the question to miss the next opportunities of reaching the « title of titles », in 2020.

Titled tuesdayThere’s no way we would miss on this website games played by Maxime ! Thus, let’s have a slight month-long flash back, to revisit the « Titled Tuesday » tournament organized by www.chess.com. As its name indicates, this online blitz tournament takes place once a month on Tuesdays, and is restricted to titled players. Maxime played in the April 17 Titled Tuesday, probably the strongest one so far, with tens of GM’s around. The fact that an Argentinian FM prevailed, before to be banned from the website soon afterwards, contributes to global suspicions over the fairness of online chess…On his part, Maxime first crushed the competition, with 7/7 against 6 GM’s (!), before to give up two draws, and ultimately lose the decisive last-round game because of a huge blunder, even if not without finding ways to fight back (see Viewer below).

Official site: Chess.com
Maxime’s games:

Giant meeting in Berlin

Vue d’ensemble de la salle (Photo : ©Theo Heinze).

It’s the second time the Bundesliga gathers in the main room of the Berlin Maritim Hotel, very close to the center town. With sixteen teams around playing the last three rounds of the year’s championship, it can be said that this long weekend was the culmination of the year, a kind of huge chess party. In sporting terms, we (Baden-Baden) began the final weekend head to head with Solingen, with the hope of winning this long_distance affair in one of the three rounds.
Continue reading “Giant meeting in Berlin”

Mixed record in Grenke Classic

After a quick taxi transfer beetween Karlsrühe and Baden-Baden during the rest day, I took residence in a town and an hotel that I get to know pretty well ! The next day, I approached my game against Carlsen half a point ahead of him, but with black.

4th round: Carlsen (2843)-Mvl ½-½
I didn’t really expect him to enter this variation of the English opening ; especially since after the game, he said he had something special in mind, which he finally didn’t play. I don’t know what happened exactly, because he looked rather well prepared in this variation, which requires to remember very specific moves. I had already analyzed the exchange of Queens, a new try for white, and his later choice of sacrificing a pawn by 17.d6+ Kxd6 18.Rad1+ Ke7 19.Be5 wasn’t an easy follow-up to find, but it was certainly the best practical chance.

17.d6+, the best practical chance for the world champion.
17.d6+, the best practical chance for the world champion.

Thanks to this good prep, I never left my comfort zone, though it was not so trivial to keep things even. Observers might have expected more suffering from me against Magnus, who loves that kind of endgame, but I feel I found the precise moves to neutralize him rather quickly !

Facing Magnus… (photo Grenke chess).
Facing Magnus… (photo Grenke chess).

5th round: Mvl-Aronian (2794) ½-½

I arrived at the board with a fresh idea in the anti-Marshall (12.h3), but unfortunately, I reacted badly to his manoeuver …Qb8-b5, which I hadn’t anticipated. Instead of 14.c4, I should have played 14.Be3, a move I rejected because of 14…d5, but 15.c4! would then give white an advantage, because the compensation for the pawn is huge after 15…dxc4 16.dxc4 Qxc4 17.Nbd2. Later, I was happy to find this little tactic 19.Nxe6!, though in the end, it doesn’t bring a lot !

17.Nxe6!, spectacular but not as strong as it looks.
17.Nxe6!, spectacular but not as strong as it looks.

At the end of the tactical sequence, he uncorked the excellent 25…g5!, which looks anti-positional but locks down the position. I should have tried 26.Kh2 (idea 27.Rg1) 26…h6 27.h4! in response, as Levon mentioned after the game ; white can still continue to press, but it probably wouldn’t have been enough against an accurate defense.
Then, I didn’t play well the ending that followed, notably when I foolishly decided to trade rooks. In fact, after 28.Rd1?, I was the one at risk in this Bishop endgame where my pawn on a5 falls, even though it holds by a hair’s breadth ! And yet, instead of 28.Rd1?, almost any move keeping the Rooks on the board would have guaranteed an immediate draw…

6th round : Vitiugov (2735)-Mvl ½-½
Once again, I could deliver a new idea, this time in the Neo-Grünfeld with 5.Qa4. An early and very interesting pawn sacrifice (6…0-0!?), regrettably spoiled by an idiotic move, played too impulsively, 14…Rfd8?.

6…0-0!?, the proof that you can still find novelties as soon as move 6 !
6…0-0!?, the proof that you can still find novelties as soon as move 6 !

I completely forgot that after 15.Rf1 Nd3, white was not forced to play 16.h3 Be6 17.Nd4 which leads to a draw, but had the strong 16.Nb3! at his disposal, after which I had to suffer for five hours before to salvage the draw.
Instead of 14…Rfd8?, 14…Nbc4! would have prevented white to establish a Knight on d4, and after 15.Nxe5 (15.Nxc4? Nxf3+) 15…Nxe5, black has adequate compensation for the pawn. Afterwards, I think I defended rather well the difficult position, but I could have spared myself sixty additional moves !

Against Vitiugov, just before the novelty 6…0-0!?.
Against Vitiugov, just before the novelty 6…0-0!?. (photo Grenke chess).

7th round : Mvl-Caruana (2784) 0-1
Against Fabiano, I decided not to face his new weapon, the Russian defense.
But I didn’t expect him to play the …Bb4 variation of the 4 Knights English. I took time to decide how to react and how to handle the position, the more so as my theoretical memories were a bit distant ! After hesitating quite a lot, I finally chose one of the safest lines, 9.Qc2, which is obviously also one of the less ambitious ones. By the way, I had forgotten during the game that the theoretical reference after 11…Bf5 was a game of mine ! (against Van Wely in 2008, draw in 37 moves -Ed.).
Anyway, I quite liked my position after the opening, and that’s why I tried 14.Qb2, followed by the unorthodox 17.Bf1!?, to try keeping the Bishop pair in the long run.

17.Ff1!?, an unorthodox try to keep the Bishop pair.
17.Ff1!?, an unorthodox try to keep the Bishop pair.

But I lost too much time immediately afterwards, with two moves in a row which didn’t fit together, 18.a4 and 19.Rac1 ; I could have played 18.a4 and 19.Qb5, or 18.Rac1 and 19.c4, perhaps even 18.a4 and 19.c4, but not the combination of moves I chose !
Actually, in the course of the game, I underestimated the strength of 20…Qf5! because I hadn’t anticipated 21…Qc5+ at the end of the variation. Thus I was adequately punished, as Fabiano could even choose beetween the actual 22…Bd5, which does the job, and 22…Bxf3+ 23.exf3 Qf2!, which also wins.
Of course, this game remains a disappointment, and that day was clearly not mine, but it is no disaster either ; I just tried something different in the opening, and it backfired.

 The young german player Bluebaum is about to take on d5 in the opening (photo Grenke chess).
The young german player Bluebaum is about to take on d5 in the opening (photo Grenke chess).

8th round: Bluebaum (2631)-Mvl ½-½
I didn’t really anticipate to face this brand new fashion line in the symetrical English, with 5.e3 and 6.dxc3, which is no great danger to my mind. I even thought he was going to exchange all four rooks at move 18, leading us back home very promptly ! With his move 18.g4!?, he gave me new hopes of creating something, but it wasn’t to be enough. At the end, I must say I’m not that far, but he still holds an impregnable fortress, because not enough lines are open in the position.

42.Rc3! completes the fortress ; the exchange will be worthless in this blocked position.
42.Rc3! completes the fortress ; the exchange will be worthless in this blocked position.

9th round : Mvl-Meier (2648) ½-½
There again, with white, I wanted to change. I was rather pleased with the position which came out from this atypical Reti opening, with my rare 6.Qd3 opposed at his early …b5 ; indeed, there was room for creating imbalances, against a black setup which looked a bit passive.

6.Qd3!?, once again an original position on move 6 !
6.Qd3!?, once again an original position on move 6 !

I must confess that Georg reacted pretty well, proving that he knew that kind of setup and its ressources. He succeeded in playing the freeing 21…c5, even though I thought I could reduce his pieces to extreme passivity with my pawn sacrifice 22.Rec1 cxd4 23.Qd3, in particular with the Nb8 which could hardly move.
But in this kind of dynamic equilibrium, I was the one who ultimately found himself in bad shape, because of my try to force events with h4-h5… At the end, I had to be precise to earn my half point.

The Grenke Classic scene in Baden-Baden (photo Grenke chess).
The Grenke Classic scene in Baden-Baden (photo Grenke chess).

All in all, I would define this tournament as a sort of dress rehearsal one, with an average result at the end, but very interesting games, which is rather good news in view of the season’s follow-up.
Even if I messed up a bit with white at the end, my opening prep was satisfactory on the whole. Especially after a few months break from the highest level, since I probably had less fresh ideas in store than other players…
However, I was suprised to lack energy at the end ; I was rather expecting to struggle at the beginning of the tournament to find my form.

Kudos to Fabiano for the impressive achievement of scoring twice, Candidates and Grenke !
Next rendez-vous, the Norway Chess in Stavanger, with the opening blitz on May 27, and the tournament from May 28 to June 7.

Official site: http://www.grenkechessclassic.de/en/
Maxime’s games

Take me homeThe rail strikes in France didn’t interfere with Maxime’s travel for the Grenke tournament in Germany. Indeed, he took the train for his outward trip just before the strikes began ; and as for the return path, it was scheduled on Tuesday, April 10, a right timing as this day was spared by the union calendar… But others in Baden-Baden weren’t that lucky, although they were not heading towards France ! It turns out that the ground staff of four huge german airports, including the nearby Frankfurt hub, were on strike that day, forcing Lufthansa to cancel more than 800 flights ; among them were numerous long haul ones that some of the players were supposed to catch in order to fly back home. About star chess24.com commentator, IGM Jan Gustafsson, who had planned to fly directly to Thailand in order to play in the Bangkok Open, he lamented himself during the last round show, unable to know if he would be able to make it to Asia the next day !

Grenke Classic : rounds 1-3

Juste une partie de la salle des Opens, avec le Classic en arrière-plan (photo George Souleidis).

Established in Baden-Baden since its birth in 1978, the Grenke group is a giant of bank, factoring and leasing services. Grenke began sponsoring German chess in the mid-nineties, but has since then focused on the Baden-Baden club itself and, from 2013 onwards, on the support of a great Easter Festival, with more than 1500 players ! Since 2017, the Grenke Classic opens its doors in Karlsrühe, in the same playing hall than the gigantic opens, before to continue in a cosier atmosphere, within the Kulturhaus of Baden-Baden. Grenke is the first top level tournament of the year for Maxime, and it began rather well for him, with 2.5 out of the first three rounds. Thus, it is as coleader that he approached the short transportation (about 40 kms/25 miles) towards Baden-Baden on Tuesday, April 3, which happened to be the one and only rest day.

With 1500 joueurs around, selfies and autographs are unavoidable (photo Grenke Chess).
With 1500 joueurs around, selfies and autographs are unavoidable (photo Grenke Chess).

Flash back on those first three rounds :

Round 1: Naiditsch (2701)-Mvl ½-½
The Azeri IGM and teammate of Maxime has never been an easy opponent for him. Last year, also in the first round, Maxime had been caught off guard and lost with white. Again this year, Arkadij succeeded in creating problems, using the Torre Attack, though he was helped by the frenchman being too optimistic on the Kingside and overextending with …g5 and ..f5. Thanks to a very interesting piece sacrifice (14.Nxd5!?), Arkadij introduced massive tactical complications, culminating with an exchange counter-sacrifice by Maxime (22…Rxe4+!).

22…Rxe4+! compulsory at the end of the variation, as otherwise it’s just a mere pawn down for black.
22…Rxe4+! compulsory at the end of the variation, as otherwise it’s just a mere pawn down for black.

As so often in such circumstances, some sort of dynamic equilibrium was found after the chaos, even if white still stood objectively better, but with fair practical chances for black, enhanced by Arkadij’s time trouble. And so the game concluded with a perpetual check just after the time control !

Round 2: Mvl-Anand (2776) 1-0
The former world champion took Maxime by surprise with a Taimanov Sicilian, an opening which doesn’t belong at all to his opening repertoire ! But Maxime had made his homework with the very rare 10.a3. Both players got out from theory on the next move, but not from their preparation, even if Maxime seemed to have things better anticipated with the clever 12.Ba4!?, which sets a lot of pratical problems. After a long 33-minute think, Anand entered the critical line with 12…Nxe4, which seems to maintain white’s pressure within acceptable bounds. But imperceptibly, Maxime moved forward, first by exchanging queens in good conditions, then by gaining space on both sides of the board (26.g4, 27.a4). Under such pressure, the Indian player commited a mistake which allowed white to infiltrate a rook on d6.

27…Rc5?, a mistake with far-reaching consequences.
27…Rc5?, a mistake with far-reaching consequences.

From now on in an awkward situation, Anand quickly deteriorated his position, and finally resigned ten moves later. As he explained in the post-game interview, « when things start to go downhill, you completely lose the plot. You don’t like this, you don’t like that, and finally you just make the worse move ! ».

Round 3: Yifan Hou (2654)-Mvl 0-1
A funny opening for this last game in Karlsrühe, with a double fianchetto by both sides leading to some sort of Hedgehog where black touches none of both his central pawns ! After a subsequent exchange of white’s c for black’s d pawn, the position became symetrical, but still fluid an open, with only a pair of rooks exchanged. But the young Chinese player commited two unconspicuous inaccuracies in a row (25.Qe3 and 26.Nd3), after which Maxime could launch a pawn expansion on the queenside, winning an outpost for his Knight on c3. So black was then the one who fought for the initiative, and instead of resigning himself to the prospect of an equal ending by 32…Bxe4, Maxime invented the impressive pawn sacrifice 32…Ba6!.

After 32…Ba6! instead of 32…Bxe4, Hou will not understand that 33.Bf3 is an absolute forced move in reply.
After 32…Ba6! instead of 32…Bxe4, Hou will not understand that 33.Bf3 is an absolute forced move in reply.

Overwhelmed, the female world #1 didn’t find the only defence, and was quickly punished.

Analysing with commentators Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko (photo Grenke Chess).
Analysing with commentators Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko (photo Grenke Chess).

With two wins and a draw to his credit, Maxime shares first place with Nikita Vitiugov after the Karlsrühe leg. Half a point below, you’ll find a group of three pursuers, and not insignificant ones, as they are none others than Carlsen, Caruana and Aronian !
Round 4 will take place on Wednesday, April 4, at 3pm and Maxime, with black, will precisely have to ward off the attack of World Champion Magnus Carlsen !

Maxime, busy talking with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Caruana’s coach (photo Grenke Chess).
Maxime, busy talking with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Caruana’s coach (photo Grenke Chess).

Official site: http://www.grenkechessclassic.de/en/
Maxime’s games

Party timePart of the night before the transfer to Baden-Baden turned out to be an outlet for compulsive players ! First and foremost were the unavoidable bughouse games where, apart from Maxime, Fabiano Caruana, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Levon Aronian and Jules Moussard illustrated themselves. For the most motivated ones, a few sessions of Time’s up and Tarot followed, where you could find worthy representatives of the Festival’s francophone participants, among them both Maxime (Mvl and Lagarde), Jules Moussard, Etienne Bacrot, Adrien Demuth, Quentin Loiseau, Pierre Barbot, as well as Fiona Steil-Antoni.