Knocking on heaven’s door

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

1Vachier-Lagrave M.1½½½½1½
2Nepomniachtchi I.0½11½1½
3Caruana F.½½½½½01
4 Giri A.½0½½½½1
5Wang Hao½0½½½1½
6Grischuk A.½½½½½½½
7Ding Liren001½0½½
8Alekseenko K.½½00½½½
Candidates standings after round 7

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.

Sous le soleil avec Sébastien Mazé : footing, études d'échecs et dîner avec le consul sont au programme de la journée
Under the sun with Sébastien Mazé : running, chess studies and diner with the french consul are on the agenda of this Thursday

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.

White Black
Caruana, FabianoVachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Wang, HaoDing, Liren
Nepomniachtchi, IanGiri, Anish
Alekseenko, KirillGrischuk, Alexander
Round 8 pairings
White Black
Ding, LirenVachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Giri, AnishWang, Hao
Grischuk, AlexanderNepomniachtchi, Ian
Alekseenko, KirillCaruana, Fabiano
Round 9 pairings
White Black
Vachier-Lagrave, MaximeGiri, Anish
Caruana, FabianoDing, Liren
Wang, HaoGrischuk, Alexander
Nepomniachtchi, IanAlekseenko, Kirill
Round 10 pairings
White Black
Grischuk, AlexanderVachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Giri, AnishDing, Liren
Alekseenko, KirillWang, Hao
Nepomniachtchi, IanCaruana, Fabiano
Round 11 pairings
White Black
Vachier-Lagrave, MaximeAlekseenko, Kirill
Ding, LirenGrischuk, Alexander
Caruana, FabianoGiri, Anish
Wang, HaoNepomniachtchi, Ian
Round 12 pairings
White Black
Nepomniachtchi, IanVachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Alekseenko, KirillDing, Liren
Grischuk, AlexanderGiri, Anish
Wang, HaoCaruana, Fabiano
Round 13 pairings
White Black
Vachier-Lagrave, MaximeWang, Hao
Ding, LirenNepomniachtchi, Ian
Giri, AnishAlekseenko, Kirill
Caruana, FabianoGrischuk, Alexander
Round 14 pairings

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…
Let’s play!