American tour

As I already explained, I arrived in the US very early – on August 1st – directly from Russia. From my hotel room in St. Louis, I had all the time I needed to deal with the jet lag, but also to work well in advance on my series of three tournaments, obviously giving priority to the first and most important of them, the Sinquefield Cup, which started on August 17.

Of course, I also kept an eye on the other events that were taking place during that time, including the World Cup semi-finals and finals, as well as the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, in which I did not play – despite being a five-minute walk from the club 🙂 . Until the last day, there were uncertainties about the presence of some players, and several of them unfortunately could not make the trip, mainly because of the pandemic.

In St. Louis, wearing a mask was compulsory, but I had anticipated this by training for this new way of playing in the Bundesliga last year, even though it wasn’t compulsory! I don’t really have a problem with it. Other players have come to terms with it too, like Caruana, who used to find it very uncomfortable.

I enjoyed the fact that I had a rather favourable pairing, including five whites, and often against the lower ranked players, which is the best configuration to try to score points.

SINQUEFIELD CUP

In fact, everything worked beyond my expectations in this tournament, especially the 4.5/5 with white. Because even though I played well in those games with white, and managed to put a lot of pressure on my opponents, there are certainly other circumstances in which the opponents would have found all the best moves until the end, which was not the case here! Svidler cracked. Shankland cracked. In a way, Swiercz also cracked, since after a meticulous preparation, with an hour’s advance on the clock, he went immediately wrong. I would say that I had a certain form of success, but it was provoked 🙂 . Another point of satisfaction is that I made very few miscalculations in the tournament: I made one against Xiong, but without any damage.

Compulsory mask in Saint-Louis (photo: GCT).

Anyway, I was very happy to get back to winning and I hope this is the start of a new cycle. Now that I’m back in the top 10, I hope to get a little closer to the first place in the next few classic events.

Here are some highlights from my tournament:

MVL-SVIDLER

A very interesting game, with quite a lot of opening preparation on both sides, in the new hype 3.h4 against the King’s Indian / Grunfeld complex. It all came down to a bad retreat move by the Knight, which gave me the opportunity to show a very elegant zugzwang!

Mvl-Svidler, Ronde 1.
Mvl-Svidler, Round 1.

28.Qa8! Qd7 (if 28…f6 29.Qc8! ; in the game, Peter preferred 28…c4 29.Qd8 Qa4 30.Kg2 Qb5 31.Bb2! 1-0; note that 31.Qxe7 was more spectacular, but much less simple; 31…Nxg7 32.hxg7 Kxg7 33.d6 Qc5 34.e5 c3 35.Qf6+ Kh6 36.d7 c2 37.Qf4+! Kg7 38.d8=Q c1=Q 39.Qdf6+ followed by mate) 29.e5! and I had calculated the following line: 29…c4 (29…e6 30.d6 c4 31.Bf6! followed by 32.Qd8) 30.e6 fxe6 31.dxe6 Qb5 32.f4 g5 33.f5 g4 34.Kg2 and black has no move left!

After an unspectacular but very complex draw against Rapport, I had to deal with another very targeted opening work from Shankland, who spilled his prep at full speed.

Unfortunately for him, he made a huge mistake further on in the game, by accepting a transposition into a losing pawn endgame!

MVL-SHANKLAND

Mvl-Shankland, Ronde 3.
Mvl-Shankland, Ronud 3.

Instead of 31…Ne8, the American allowed the exchange of Knights by 31…Ke7? 32.Nxd6 cxd6 (32…Kxd6 would not have changed the verdict: 33.b3 Kc5 34.Ke4 Kb4 35.Kf5 Kxb3 36.c5 e4 37.Kxe4 a4 38.d6 cxd6 39.cxb6 a3 40.b7 a2 41.b8=Q a1=Q 42.Qxd6 and the b-pawn will decide) 33.Ke4 Kf6 34.b3 Kg6 35.c5! dxc5 36.d6 Kf7 37.Kd5 e4 (37…Ke8 38.Kc6 Kd8 39.Kxb6 and white is faster, e.g. 39…a4 40.bxa4 c4 41.a5 c3 42.a6 c2 43.a7 c1=Q 44.a8=Q+ Kd7 45.Qc6+) 38.Kc6 e3 39.d7 e2 40.d8=Q e1=Q 41.Kxb6 and the advanced b-pawn forced black to give up a few moves later.

I then lost to Dominguez, mainly because I forgot the correct Queen retreat on the 23rd move of an ultra sharp Najdorf line, though I had it in my notes 🙂 . Nevertheless, his brilliant refutation of my mistake must be noted, as it earned him the beauty prize of the tournament.

Discours du vainqueur (photo : GCT).
Victory speech (photo: GCT).

MVL-SWIERCZ

In one of the Italian’s fashionable lines, Swiercz also spouted his home preparation until the novelty 17…Qh4.

Mvl-Swiercz, Round 5.

I quickly understood that if I played the natural 18.Nc5, he was going to throw out ten more moves of prep, which was confirmed to me thereafter:-) .

So I found an alternative with the Nd2-c4 manoeuvre, which has the double merit of changing the character of the position, and of taking him out of his book, which his very long reflection showed. After 18.Nd2 exd4 19.Nc4, he made the mistake 19…Rad8?, underestimating the strength of 20.Bxc6 bxc6 21.Bd2! ; in his defense, it was not easy to anticipate that black was already worse in this position. Instead of 19…Rad8?, he should have exchanged Queens by 19…dxc3 20.bxc3 Qg3! and the bishop pair will give white some compensation for the pawn, but probably no more.

CARUANA-MVL

As in the Candidates, Fabiano and I had a real theoretical fight on one of the big lines of the Najdorf. And after more than thirty moves of preparation 🙂 , we got the following position:

Caruana-MVL, round 6
Caruana-MVL, round 6

Here I hesitated for a long time between exchanging Queens by 37…Qb5 or supporting the h-pawn by 37…Kh8 followed by …Rh7. I made the latter choice and Stockfish claims that white would have been winning after 38.Rh2 (Caruana played 38.Rd2) 38…Rh7 39.Qc4!. Which is probably true objectively, but far from being clear in practice. So I should have opted for 37…Qb5! anyway, which I discarded because of a calculation mistake at the end of a long variation. This is the randomness that also exists in chess: I could have lost this game for having forgotten a hidden resource at the end of a long 12-move variation… After 37…Qb5 38.Rh2 (38.Qe6 Qd7) 38…Qxd5+ 39.exd5 Rh7 40.Bd2 Rh4 (threatening 41…Rd4) 41.Be3 Kf7 42.Kb1 Rh5 43.Kc2 Bh6! (otherwise, white’s King quietly goes up the board) 44.gxh6 Kxf6 45.Kd3 g5 46.Ke2 Rxh6 (46…g4 47.Kf2 Rf5+ 48.Kg1! followed by 49.Rf2) 47.Kf3 Kf5 48.Kg3 and here, you’re supposed to have seen from far away 48…Rh7! 49.Rxh3 Rb7 with enough counterplay to draw.

In the game, after 38.Rd2 Rh7 39.Bxd6, I decided to force the draw by 39…Qxd6 40.Qxd6 Bxd6 41.Rxd6 Kg8. I still hesitated to try 39…h2, to encourage him into a difficult choice at move 40! I saw that 40.Bxf8 Qxd5+ 41.Rxd5 h1=Q 42.Rd8 Kg8 43.Bh6+ Kf7 44.Rd7+ forced a draw, but I thought he might have been tempted by 40.Qa8? which loses to 40…Qf7+ 41.Rd5 h1=Q 42.Bxf8 Qg8!, or by 40.Bxe5? Qxd5+ 41.Rxd5 h1=Q 42.f7+ Rg7, or also 40.Qxe5? Qf7+! (but not 40…h1=Q? 41.f7+ Rg7 42.Rh2+ Qxh2 43.Qxh2+ Rh7 44.Be5+Bg7 45.f8=R#). But I considered that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze, and that if I missed something in one of these variations, I would look ridiculous!

I was then able to score another win against the main line of the Berlin – which always makes me happy 🙂 – even if my young opponent Xiong made it a bit easier for me, not being a specialist of the opening.

MVL-SO

In this game of the penultimate round, I wanted to play for the win because it was a good opportunity to put pressure on my opponent and challenge him for the top spot, not in the tournament, but in the Grand Chess Tour itself. But I also didn’t want to burn out my ships because I was also alone in the lead of the tournament. So with my team, we decided to opt for a very specific sub-variation against the Berlin, the one that the Russian Paravyan had played against me in the World Cup a few weeks ago, during one of my rare forays in this opening with black 🙂 .

Mvl-So, Ronde 8.
Mvl-So, Ronde 8.

Here, So played 12…c6 while against Paravyan in the tie-breaks, I had preferred 12…Be6. I remember that during this game, I didn’t like 12…c6 because of 13.Ba3 Nd6 14.Qd2, threatening 15.Qf4, forgetting that 14…Bg5 was then completely ok for black.

So, after So’s 12…c6, I unrolled my prepared line 13.Ba3 Nd6 14.Qf3. He replied with the ultra-solid 14…Be6 15.Qf4 Be7, but I think white got a slight edge after 16.Bd3. Unfortunately, I was not able to to make this edge grow, and we quickly exchanged everything towards the draw. The game would have taken a completely different turn if he had chosen the tempting exchange sacrifice 14…Nf5 15.Bxf8 Nxd4: after a Queen move, 16…Qxf8 and the compensation is obvious. But I had cooked the spectacular 16.Qxf6! gxf6 (16…Qxf6? 17.Re8) 17.Be7, and the complications begin!

A quick draw in the last round against Mamedyarov allowed me to win the Sinquefield Cup alone, but also to finish second in the Grand Chess Tour, for the fourth consecutive year! A funny statistic.

Final standings of the Sinquefield Cup :


PlayerElo12345678910Points
1Maxime Vachier-Lagrave2751
½0½½11½116
2Fabiano Caruana2806½
½½½101½1
3Leinier Domínguez27581½
½½½½½½1
4Wesley So2772½½½
½½½½11
5Richard Rapport2763½½½½
½½01½
6Sam Shankland270900½½½
½1½½4
7Jeffery Xiong271001½½½½
½½04
8Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2782½0½½10½
½½4
9Peter Svidler27140½½00½½½
1
10Dariusz Świercz26550000½½1½0

Final standings of the Grand Chess Tour

PlayerSuperbet Chess Classic Romania
Paris GCT Rapid & Blitz
Croatia GCT Rapid & Blitz
Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz
Sinquefield Cup
Total points
Wesley So8.31378.336.6
 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1.57.5131335
 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov1354.5426.5
 Fabiano Caruana3.53108.324.8
 Richárd Rapport5.58619.5
 Levon Aronian 8.35.513.8
 Anish Giri 5.5813.5
 Alexander Grischuk 8.3412.3
 Teimour Radjabov 5.516.5
 Ian Nepomniachtchi 106.516.5
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Chess_Tour#Grand_Chess_Tour_2021

CHAMPIONS CHESS TOUR / AIM US RAPID

New tournament, new format, new schedule 🙂 .

Beginning the last Champions Chess Tour tournament the day after the Sinquefield Cup was over didn’t feel easy to me. However, the St. Louis club had kindly taken care of the logistical setup, cameras etc… so that I could play in peace from one of their rooms, rather than from my hotel.

Obviously, I didn’t want to sabotage my tournament, but it’s just that I couldn’t really think during the games, and as a consequence, played much, much too quickly. I also couldn’t adapt to the time change, going from a 5pm start to a 10am start overnight, and even 9:30am given the set up needed for online chess..

I could only play correctly in sequences, and my final score of 50% (7.5/15) was not enough to qualify for the ko phase. As a result, the Russian Artemiev took the opportunity to steal the 8th place from me in the Tour rankings, qualifying for the final which will start at the end of September. I’ll probably get one of the two wild-cards anyway 🙂 .

Final standings:

Rk.PlayerELO12345678910111213141516PTS
1Artemiev Vladislav2704X½1½1½½½½1½½½11110.5
2Carlsen Magnus2847½X½01½½½½1½11½1110.0
3Aronian Levon27820½X½½½½1½10½11119.5
4Firouzja Alireza2759½1½X½½½1½10½1½1½9.5
5So Wesley277200½½X½11½½10½1119.0
6Mamedyarov Shakhriyar2782½½½½½X½1½½½101½19.0
7Duda Jan-Krzysztof2738½½½½0½X0½1½111½19.0
8Dominguez Perez Leinier2758½½00001X½½1110118.0
9Giri Anish2776½½½½½½½½X½½½½1½½8.0
10Vachier-Lagrave Maxime27510000½½0½½X½111117.5
11Vidit Santosh Gujrathi2726½½110½½0½½X½01½½7.5
12Naroditsky Daniel2623½0½½1000½0½X11½06.0
13Le Quang Liem2709½000½100½010X½116.0
14Van Foreest Jorden26980½0½00010000½X114.5
15Hansen Eric260600000½½0½0½½00X13.5
16Liang Awonder2587000½0000½0½1000X2.5

SHOWDOWN CHESS 960

Having been eliminated before the ko phase of the AIM US Rapid, I had a week to recharge my batteries before the Chess 960 tournament that would close my long American tour. So I decided to make a small infidelity to Missouri and spend three days in New-York, before coming back to my room at the Chase Park Hotel in St. Louis!

On analyse ensemble la position tirée au sort (photo : Crystal Fuller).

We were given 15 minutes before the rounds to analyze the new starting position between players. I often looked at variations with Levon (Aronian) and Fabiano (Caruana). To be honest, it’s often a bit of a blind guess, but sometimes you’re surprised to see one or two ideas that work.

MVL-MAMEDYAROV

Mvl-Mamedyarov, Ronde 2.
Mvl-Mamedyarov, Round 2.

In this new position, Fabiano and I had understood through our pre-game analysis the importance of the b4 square (and symmetrically, b5 for black). On b4, my Bishop prevents castling, controls the black squares and above all, is completely unattackable! The funny thing is that after the fourth move, I was already almost winning: 1.d4 d5 2.g3 e6 3.Cb3 Cb6 4.Fb4!.

CARUANA-MVL

Here is one of those games where during the brief preparation, I had found a good idea on the second move (yes, it’s 960 🙂 ), allowing me to equalize and even take the advantage with black in the opening.

Caruana-Mvl, Ronde 5.
Caruana-Mvl, Ronde 5.

Here I tried to provoke Fabiano because I wanted to play for the win. I knew that I could draw as I wanted, for example by playing 32…f5. But I preferred 32…f6, to encourage him to continue 33.f5 Kf7 34.Rc6 because after 34…Re7 I could imagine scenarios that would turn out well for me. Unfortunately, I underestimated 35.exf6 gxf6 36.Bd4! which was a bit unpleasant. After 36…e5 37.Bc3, I decided to force a Bishop endgame with 37…Rc7 38.Rxc7+ Bxc7, because I had only considered 39.g4 hxg4+ 40.Kg3, which was not enough for white. But Fabiano played 39.Ke3 e4 40.Be1! (the move I had forgotten). And then it became difficult to defend because after 40…Be5 41.Kxe4 Bxb2 42.Bf2 Ke7 43.Kf3, it was compulsory to find the unique sequence 43…Be5! 44.g4 hxg4+ 45.Kxg4 Bc7! followed by …a5, mobilizing the Queen side majority. Whereas in the game, after the faulty 43…Ba3? 44.g4 hxg4+ 45.Kxg4, the lost tempo was fatal to me, for instance 45…Bd6 46.Kf3 Bc7 47.Ke4 a5 48.Kd5! and white wins because black’s pawn is not yet on b5, or 45…Kf7 (my choice in the game) 46.Kf4 Kg7 47.Ke4 Kh6 48.Bd4! and I had to resign soon.

Another example of successful preparation, but this time without the good result at the end!

NAKAMURA-MVL

Finally, let’s look at a rather spectacular sequence in my game against Nakamura:

Nakamura-Mvl, Ronde 7.
Nakamura-Mvl, Round 7.

Here I saw the forced winning line, namely 18…Bd4 19.Qxb7 Kf8! (frees the e8 square for the Rook) 20.Nc6 Re8 21.Nxd4 Qxd4, but I didn’t understand at all how winning it was for black! It must be said that it’s not obvious at first glance, but when you look closer, you realize that the d3-pawn is en prise, the Nb1 is offside, white’s King doesn’t flee to g2 because of …Re2+, my Bishop can sometimes come into play in d5 after a timely …d4 and finally, my King is in relative safety in spite of appearances!

So I played 18…Qxb4 which is less radical, but still should have been enough after 19.Nxb7 Rc8! keeping the terrible attack rolling. But I missed this last move and opted for 19…Bd4? which allowed a salutary exchange of Queens for white after 20.Qa5 Qxa5 21.Nxa5. The bishop pair still gives me an advantage in this position, but it becomes much more difficult, and I could not convert. As an anecdote about this funny game, Fabiano had taken a brief look at it live, and told me afterwards that he thought I was losing with my king on e8 ! In his defense, the positions of 960 after 8-10 moves are often extremely complicated to decipher!

Final standings:

RankNameScoreFed.Elo123456789
1Dominguez Perez, Leinier6.0USA2758½011110½1
2So, Wesley5.5USA27721½010½11½
3Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime5.5FRA2751011½01½½1
4Shankland, Sam5.5USA270911001½1½½
5Kasparov, Garry5.0RUS2812½½011½1½0
6Caruana, Fabiano4.5USA2806½1101½00½
7Aronian, Levon4.0ARM2782½01½0½1½0
8Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar3.5AZE278210100½010
9Nakamura, Hikaru3.0USA27360001½0½½½
10Svidler, Peter2.5RUS27140100½0001
https://uschesschamps.com

So my long American tour ended on September 12 when my plane landed in Paris Charles de Gaulle. I had left France on July 3, so I was not unhappy at all to be going home 🙂 .

Maxime’s games at the Sinquefield Cup :

Maxime’s games at the Champions Chess Tour :

Maxime’s games at the Chess9LX :

Barely arrived on the French soil, Maxime had just the time to put his bags at home before going directly to Asnières, where the Rapid Trophy of his adopted club took place.
A last minute improvisation which was a nice surprise for the participants, as well as for the elected officials of the city and the partners present. Maxime was also able to meet and encourage his coach Etienne Bacrot, who by the way won the tournament!