More than a year later, the Candidates’ Tournament will resume on 19 April, in Ekaterinburg (Russia) again. After a last minute ticket, I had done rather well in the first half of the tournament, as at the time of the break, I was leading ex-aequo with Ian Nepomniachtchi (but ahead of him in the tie-break). Remember that the winner of this tournament will face Magnus Carlsen for the World title, from 26 November to 15 December in Dubai (United Arab Emirates).
In one year, the world has changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The practice of chess has adapted, with a multiplication of online tournaments, in which I have had mixed fortunes 🙂 . In the only face-to-face tournament I played during this period (Tata Steel, January 2021), my results were clearly bad. I took this reminder as an incentive to better approach the resumption of the Candidates Tournament, which is the most important event of my career to date.
For weeks I have been concentrating on these seven upcoming games. Because of the circumstances, I have had time to prepare myself well, both physically and mentally. On the chess side, I have spent a lot of time with my coach Etienne Bacrot, who runs my seconds team.
A new start
After the first half of the tournament, I’m going into a seven-game mini-tournament as the leader. With so few rounds and only a small point difference between the top six, every half point will be crucial, and I’m obviously expecting some hard-fought games.
I arrived in Ekaterinburg on Wednesday 14 April with GM Sébastien Mazé, not without a few administrative problems due to the difficulty of travelling at the moment. I now have four days to acclimatise and get used to the time difference (+3 hours compared to Paris). Of course, this will also be the opportunity to make the final adjustments.
My pairing at the beginning of this second half is not the easiest one, as I will successively face Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren with the black pieces. But in any case, I will have to perform well in every game to hope to win this tournament.
|Caruana, Fabiano||–||Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime|
|Wang, Hao||–||Ding, Liren|
|Nepomniachtchi, Ian||–||Giri, Anish|
|Alekseenko, Kirill||–||Grischuk, Alexander|
|Ding, Liren||–||Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime|
|Giri, Anish||–||Wang, Hao|
|Grischuk, Alexander||–||Nepomniachtchi, Ian|
|Alekseenko, Kirill||–||Caruana, Fabiano|
|Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime||–||Giri, Anish|
|Caruana, Fabiano||–||Ding, Liren|
|Wang, Hao||–||Grischuk, Alexander|
|Nepomniachtchi, Ian||–||Alekseenko, Kirill|
|Grischuk, Alexander||–||Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime|
|Giri, Anish||–||Ding, Liren|
|Alekseenko, Kirill||–||Wang, Hao|
|Nepomniachtchi, Ian||–||Caruana, Fabiano|
|Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime||–||Alekseenko, Kirill|
|Ding, Liren||–||Grischuk, Alexander|
|Caruana, Fabiano||–||Giri, Anish|
|Wang, Hao||–||Nepomniachtchi, Ian|
|Nepomniachtchi, Ian||–||Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime|
|Alekseenko, Kirill||–||Ding, Liren|
|Grischuk, Alexander||–||Giri, Anish|
|Wang, Hao||–||Caruana, Fabiano|
|Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime||–||Wang, Hao|
|Ding, Liren||–||Nepomniachtchi, Ian|
|Giri, Anish||–||Alekseenko, Kirill|
|Caruana, Fabiano||–||Grischuk, Alexander|
See you on Monday 19th at 4pm (local) for my first game against Caruana…
Yes, the Candidates’ Tournament is a great sporting event, and one of the last in the world to be suspended on 26 March 2020. But in the current context of tougher international travel conditions, it was probably not easy for anyone to prepare their trip to Ekaterinburg, where the competition will resume on 19 April. For Maxime and Sébastien Mazé, the travel permit issued by the Ministry of Sports was not easy to obtain. Maxime’s manager, Laurent Vérat, and the President of the FFE, Yves Marek, had to intervene several times and take their time before finally receiving the precious sesame. On the Russian side, things were easier for the visa, thanks to the efficient intervention of the FIDE lawyer at the Russian embassy in Paris.
Despite a very long passport control at the Moscow stopover, Maxime and Sébastien were finally able to cross the last hurdle and board the SU1414 flight to Ekaterinburg…