And at the end, Caruana wins !

Norway chess 2018

After three draws in the first rounds, another challenge was awaiting me during the first rest day. Indeed, after farm work last year (in french), the Norwegian organizers, who undoubtedly don’t lack imagination, had planned a cooking challenge, worked up with the Clarion Hotel crew !

Cooking teammates Aronian-Mvl
Cooking teammates Aronian-Mvl
Spread over five teams of two, we players had to cook a specific recipe. I thought I got a good draw with Levon Aronian who, like me, has a bit of a cooking experience. But in the end, we messed it up, and it didn’t work as it should have. As I wrote on social networks, I would have done better alone in my kitchen !

Fish, vegetables and a sauce hollandaise on the challenge menu.
Fish, vegetables and a sauce hollandaise on the challenge menu.

Anyway, it was rather fun, the more so as half the players (won’t name them…) were probably for the first time in their life behind the stoves !

Round 4: Karjakin-Mvl
The next day, I was again in some sort of kitchen, but on the board… Facing me was Karjakin, who challenged one of the Grunfeld variations I had analyzed in detail some six or seven years ago. In the first instance, I reacted correctly, and I remembered what was to be done. Unfortunately, I got carried away with the exchange sacrifice 24…f4?!, very tempting from a practical point of view, but probably slightly inaccurate.

Karjakin-Mvl, ronde 4 ; 24…f4?! est trop ambitieux.
Karjakin-Mvl, ronde 4 ; 24…f4?! est trop ambitieux.

Karjakin didn’t miss taking advantage of the breach, and I couldn’t do much afterwards.

Round 5: Mvl-Aronian
I tried 1.d4, but I’ve got to apologize to my helpers for not being able to remember the details of the prep’.

Mvl-Aronian, round 5; 13.Rd1?! was not supposed to be on the agenda !
Mvl-Aronian, round 5; 13.Rd1?! was not supposed to be on the agenda !

After 13…Bxc3! 14.bxc3 Qa5, I land with a misplaced Bishop on b2, and I’m the one who has to fight for equality. Which I did quite adequately, but it was surely not my initial intention !

Round 6: Nakamura-Mvl
Hikaru decided to take over the idea Nc3/Qxd4 followed by b3/Bb2 against the Sicilian, which gave Carlsen a win over Wojtaszek a few weeks ago in Shamkir (Azerbaijan). I thought I could clarify the position with my move 10…e5, but the reality is that I’m slightly worse in the ensuing ending. My life could have been more complicated if, instead of the bad 21.h3?, he had chosen the variation 21.f4 Bg4 22.fxe5 dxe5 23.h3 Rxd3 24.hxg4 Rxd1+ 25.Rxd1 Nc6 26.Rd7 Bb6 27.Rxb7, even if I would have kept good drawing chances after 27…Rd8!. Maybe I could have been greedier afterwards, with a more concrete approach, in order to try getting the advantage. The game finally concluded in a fortress position, erected by both camps !

Analyzing with Magnus Carlsen and the Hungarian commentator Anna Rudolf (photo Altibox Norway Chess).
Analyzing with Magnus Carlsen and the Hungarian commentator Anna Rudolf (photo Altibox Norway Chess).

Ronde 7 : Mvl-Anand
Round 7 : Mvl-Anand

It is no mystery that I was surprised by his choice of the Open Spanish. But I had good recollections of my old analysis in this opening, and I even had two lines to choose from. I opted for the c3/Nbd2/Re1 arrangement, and I thought I was taking a slight edge. Therefore I became a bit too optimistic about my chances, and I didn’t anticipate properly his 21…f5! counterplay. My position went downhill after his nice exchange sacrifice 24…c5!. Even so, I could still have earned a draw, had I found 29.a3!, instead of the terrible 29.Rxb4?. It leads to a drawn Rook endgame after 29.a3! Nc5 (29…dxe3? 30.axb4 exf2+ [30…e2 31.Re3 Nd4 32.bxa5! +-] 31.Kf1 a4 32.Re3 with a clear white advantage) 30.Rxb4 axb4 31.Bxd4 Nb3 32.Rd1 Nxd4 33.Rxd4 bxa3 34.bxa3.

Mvl-Anand, round 7; Maxime misses 29.a3! and uncorks the terrible 29.Rxb4?.
Mvl-Anand, round 7; Maxime misses 29.a3! and uncorks the terrible 29.Rxb4?.

But I completely forgot about 29.a3!, and it was the same for his 30…b3!, which shuts down any further debate in the game.

Out on a walk after the tournament, with a wink at the animated series « Rick & Morty ».
Out on a walk after the tournament, with a wink at the animated series « Rick & Morty ».

Round 8 : So-Mvl
A remake of what is now called the « French Najdorf », an idea of Laurent Fressinet found for Magnus. You play 6.Be2 e5 7.Nf3, then Bg5 and Nd2. A lot of French players have taken up the idea, with pretty good results. I was not unhappy with this choice, as I felt the variation was at the same time balanced and dynamic. Even if I was clearly not in the best shape, I could at least rely on my instincts in this type of position, which I handle fairly well. Then I found myself with an entrenched Knight on d3, and the possibility of playing 27…Qe7 before he could launch any play on the Queenside. I don’t know if the decision to force an endgame by 31…Qc7 was good from a practical point of view, even if it earned me a pawn.

So-Mvl, round 8; 31…Qc7 forces a good endgame after mass exchanges on d3, but it is perhaps not enough to win.
So-Mvl, round 8; 31…Qc7 forces a good endgame after mass exchanges on d3, but it is perhaps not enough to win.

I have not had time to double check, but it looks as if this endgame is a draw, even if it holds by a hair’s breadth. So I cannot even speak of a missed opportunity; it’s just a half-missed one, and it’s the only one I got in the whole tournament…

Round 9: Mvl-Carlsen
I admit that before this game against the World champion, I had the thought that it was time to look towards the next tournament, unless he would try something special, in which case I would have gone and fought. But in a « normal » variation, I didn’t wish to use an idea I had in store, for a rather low-stakes game from a sporting point of view.

I would like to conclude with huge congratulations to Fabiano Caruana, who wins yet another top level tournament, and proves to be the indisputable World #2 and Challenger.

8e avec 3/8, un tournoi à oublier rapidement pour Maxime…
8th with 3/8, a tournament to quickly forget for Maxime…

On my side, a winless 3/8 forces me to admit that this 2018 Norway Chess tournament was no picnic at all. For sure, it is not a glorious result for what was meant to be my first major goal of the year…
Now, I have to quickly move on to something else, and get back into the swing of things. Fortunately, the 2018 Grand Chess Tour starts pretty soon in Leuven (Belgium), with the first rapid games scheduled on Tuesday, June 12

ActivitiesThe Norway Chess tournament has taken the habit of offering the players non-chess activities outside the tournament itself and the other chess commitments (opening blitz, meetings with schools…). The cooking challenge for instance, that Maxime evokes above. But also a yacht journey during the second rest day, or a walk around the town before the closing ceremony. And the evenings in the hotel were not forgotten, as you could see regular players, among them Maxime, contesting fierce Avalon games…

And to avoid unwelcome gossip, Caruana was participating in all of these activities, with the result in the tournament everybody knows !

Official site: http://norwaychess.no/
Maxime’s games (rounds 4-9) :

Hello again, Stavanger !

altibox

With these words, and a picture taken from the plane about to land, Maxime announced on Twitter his arrival at the 2018 Norway Chess. A tournament self-proclaimed the « Strongest in the World » on its website homepage, although organizers of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour, as well as those of the powerful Isle of Man Open in october, could very well have a say on the matter…
Beyond semantics, it is obvious that Norway Chess is in any event the first great rendez-vous of year 2018 for the world elite. Ten of the thirteen best players are there, only #4 Kramnik, #9 Giri and #11 Grischuk, are missing.
As usual, it’s a blitz tournament which served as the drawing of lots ceremony, in order to determine whose players will get five whites and whose will get five blacks. This little game was won by Wesley So with 6/9, while Maxime got the worst place (6th) with 4.5/9, but behind Mamedyarov on tiebreaks.
In the evening preceding the beginning of the tournament itself, uncertainty prevailed about Mamedyarov effectively playing, because he was suffering from an intense toothache. It’s the next morning, only a few hours before the launch of round 1, that Maxime learned his opponent would be present in front of him à 4,30pm !

Round 1: Mamedyarov-MVL
Probably not having completely recovered yet, the Azeri chose to counter the Grunfeld with the modest e3/Bd2 variation, but Maxime opted for a more flexible, though more risky option (6…dxc4 7.Bxc4 Nbd7), rather than going for the principled and logical 6…c5. In order not to become worse, he decided to part with his c5 pawn by 16…Be6!, getting quite a long-term compensation. Without us knowing if it had something to do with his teeth, Shak lowered the temperature, and provoked a draw by repetition.

Maxime in the confession booth… (video Norway Chess).
Maxime in the confession booth… (video Norway Chess).

Round 2: Ding Liren-MVL
Round 2, and second black in a row, against the new strong man of the chess elite, World #4 and unbeaten for 73 games, Ding Liren. The Chinese also opted for a modest variation (e3/Be2), but with the Knight still on b1, so as to discourage the Grunfeld ; 5…d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.e4 forcing 7…Nb6, is indeed not to everyone’s taste. With 6…Bf5 and 7…a5, Maxime immediately took the game to a virgin and theory-free territory. And thanks to a clever arrangement of his heavy pieces afterwards (…Rf7-Qf8-Rd8), he could act in the center and equalize the position with …c6-d5.

Ding-Liren-Mvl, round 2; 30…e4! forces the draw.
Ding-Liren-Mvl, round 2; 30…e4! forces the draw.

The nice 30…e4!, leading to liquidation or a perpetual, sealed a serious and diligent game.

Round 3: MVL-Caruana
Round 3, facing Caruana’s Russian defense, a weapon which significantly contributed to the American winning the Candidates Tournament, Maxime arrived at the board armed to the teeth… With the Bishop pair and despite a slightly damaged pawn structure, white has a tiny advantage. But you still have to prove it !

Mvl-Caruana, round 3; after 21.Bf1, a position Maxime had already seen at home.
Mvl-Caruana, round 3; after 21.Bf1, a position Maxime had already seen at home.

As suggested by Caruana during the analysis, white could have taken the opportunity to play 27.a6 (an option black could have avoided on the previous move by playing himself 26…a6 instead of 26…Rd8, but both players didn’t like it because of 27.Bf4).
But Maxime who, by his own admission, was preparing to press in a long game, chose another way down the road. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t anticipated the manoeuver …Ng8!-e7-f5, which forced the exchange of white’s white-squared Bishop, and a transition to a drawn opposite-coloured Bishops endgame.

Mvl-Caruana, round 3; 28…Ng8! with the idea of rerouting the Knight towards f5, a superb defensive ressource.
Mvl-Caruana, round 3; 28…Ng8! with the idea of rerouting the Knight towards f5, a superb defensive ressource.

For the time being, only Carlsen won games (2), and so he heads the field with a one-point lead after only three rounds. After the first rest day on Thursday 31, round 4 is scheduled at 4,30 pm on Friday, June 1st; Maxime will be black against Karjakin.

AdgesteinFor a long time Norway #1 player, and once #16 in the world rankings, Simen Agdestein, 51, is a chess trainer and commentator, when he’s not involved in the Norwegian version of « Strictly Dancing » tv show, or busy singing with a wacky pop music band ! Indeed he does the official Norway Chess commentary on their website. Maybe the younger ones ignore the fact that he became in 1985 the first Norwegian Grandmaster, while turning professional football player in Oslo ! He also has 8 caps in the national Norway team (1 goal), of which one was against the French squad of Didier Deschamps, Eric Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin, for his last appearance ! (1-1 in the 1990 World Cup Qualifiers).
On this excerpt of archive video footage, you can see Agdestein on the left, congratulating the goalscorer who just equalized against France.
(On this excerpt of archive video footage, you can see Agdestein on the left, congratulating the goalscorer who just equalized against France.)

Unfortunately for him, he had to stop instantly his career at 25, after a knee ligament rupture. Is it a unique case in international annals, in so distinct sport disciplines ?

Official site: http://norwaychess.no/
Maxime’s games:

Maxime’s games in the blitz tournament:

Baden-Baden again!

Bundesliga 2018

The Bundesliga regular season had ended on May 1st with a tie between my team of Baden-Baden and Solingen. The rules required a playoff to be played as soon as possible. Despite the normal difficulties to organize such an encounter where numerous world-class players are involved, the date of Thursday, May 24 prevailed; in particular, it had the advantage of being located just before the Norway Chess super tournament in Stavanger, where a few protagonists of the Germanic duel were expected to land next Saturday.
Thanks to our lead in the game points tiebreaker, we were welcoming the playoff in Baden-Baden, and it took place at 3pm inside the town large cultural complex. Placed on board 2 behind Caruana, who by the way made his season’s first appearance, I thought I would play against Rapport with white, as Harikrishna, my opponent in the regular season’s match, was in China. But finally, it’s the Austrian Markus Ragger who sat in front of me, and who chose to play the same Berlin line that Howell already tried against me on the previous weekend.

On my way to a Berlin against the Austrian Markus Ragger (photo: schachbundesliga.de).
On my way to a Berlin against the Austrian Markus Ragger (photo: schachbundesliga.de).

I was the first to deviate, opting for the 12.b3 variation, against which he reacted a bit weirdly with 12…f6. Black instantly admits that he’s going to play with a bad structure and open lines, although it is true that he keeps the Bishop pair, with a still solid position. Certainly, I allowed him to repair his damaged structure and to switch to « opposite coloured Bishops mode », after the exchange 22.Nxd6+. But I believe he underestimated the blocus of his pawns on dark squares after 26…Nxe5 27.Nxe5 fxe5 28.c3!, leaving me with a potential lever on each side.

After 28.c3!, three white pawns control four.
After 28.c3!, three white pawns control four.

Before the time control, Ragger took the radical decision of sacrificing a pawn with 32…c5!?. I understand his will not to be limited to a passive defense, which would have been difficult and tedious, and his practical choice is not foolish. But I believe in either case, White would have kept very good winning chances anyway. I cannot say if my play was optimal before move 40, but it is certain that the transposition into a pure opposite couloured Bishops endgame looked winning to me
Unfortunately, I took a wrong decision, thinking I was going to win after 49.Kf4? Bxh5 50.Kxe4, which was not to be. Instead, I should have kept my h pawn and played 49.Kh4! which actually wins.

A crucial moment: 49.Kh4! wins, but not 49.Kf4?.
A crucial moment: 49.Kh4! wins, but not 49.Kf4?.

After 49.Kh4! Kg7 (49…Kf6 50.Be3 Kxf5 51.Bxh6 ou 50…Kg7 51.f6+ is also hopeless, Black will not cope with both the c and h pawns at the same time) 50.Be3 Bc4 51.f6+ Kh7 (51…Kxf6 52.Bxh6 and again, the two passers make all the difference) 52.Kg4 Bf7 53.Kf5 Bxh5 54.c4!, the strenght of white pawns prevails.
In the game, I had to keep my pawn on c3 as if I rushed to push it to c5, Black’s King would have blocked it on c6. Thus, even after taking his last pawn on h6, the position wasn’t winning anymore, despite my two c and f pawns remaining. Indeed, the Black Bishop stays on the a2-g8 diagonal, and the Black King navigates between e8 and b5, preventing any advance of the c pawn, while keeping an eye on the f pawn.

With Etienne Bacrot, two frenchies in the world’s strongest chess team… (Video: Baden-Baden).
With Etienne Bacrot, two frenchies in the world’s strongest chess team… (Video: Baden-Baden).

It is always frustrating not to convert a winning endgame, but the important thing was that my modest half-point could contribute to the win of the match.
And so it was, as we won 2-1, although the final score doesn’t reflect the overall match. We had better positions on most boards, and we lost the only one where we were slightly in danger (Giri beat Caruana).
With this victory, Baden-Baden is again German Team champion in 2018, for the twelfth time in thirteen years, matching the absolute record held by… Solingen.
That looks like a ready-made challenge for the next season !

TwitterMaxime flew to Stavanger (Norway) on Saturday 26, where the famous « Norway Chess » tournament will begin on Monday 28. 8 of the Top10 players are announced, alongside with Anand and Aronian (and yes, both are currently out of that list !). When the tournament begins, Maxime will probably have reached the 20.000 followers mark on Twitter. A relatively modest figure, if you compare it to the best chess players active on this network but, to this day, how to fight with a serial twitto (Giri, 40k), a reigning World champion (Carlsen, 189k), and a living legend of a whole subcontinent (Anand, 536k) !
Maxime’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/Vachier_Lagrave

Official site: https://schachbundesliga.de
Maxime’s game:

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”