2022 ended with several competitions that I had not yet returned to. This year which begins offers me the opportunity to make up for it!
World Team Championship,
Jerusalem, November 20-23
On the occasion of my return to the French team, I had a rather encouraging tournament in Jerusalem, while also taking a lot of pleasure in spending time with my teammates, in a very friendly atmosphere. The games were played at the original time control of 45mn +10s./move, which offers a good compromise between using the time pressure opportunities and keeping the option of spending time in critical positions. I really appreciated this rhythm of play.
Since the tournament was held in a place where it was not recommended to go out in the evening, there was not much else to do but to stay at the hotel and enjoy a good time of relaxation, between card games and ping-pong challenges.
During the group stage, we managed to qualify by a narrow margin. We won against the Netherlands, but we could have easily lost on Laurent’s (Fressinet) board. Here is my win in this match:
Here I provoked White with 18…Kh7, with the idea of playing …Qd7 without the move …Re8. In case of 19.Rxc6, I was ready to play the position after 19…bxc6 20.Bxe7 (but not 20.Nxe7? f6 21.Nxc8 fxg5 22.Nxa7 Db6) 20…Qd7 21.Bxf8 Rxf8 and black will win the pawn back. But Jorden opted for 19.Rc4, and after 19…Qd7 20.Re1 Rfd8 followed by …f5, I gradually gained the upper hand (0-1, 59 moves).
In the end, we still qualified for the KO phase without trying too hard. We drew against the Chinese, which is not so bad considering the final ranking 😊.
After a long theoretical debate in a razor-sharp Najdorf line, we got this position in which the Chinese player made the dubious choice of 29.Qf4? instead of the more natural 29.Nc4. Of course, the Na5 is immune because of the mating attack along the g-file, but my decision to liquidate with 29…Bg7? 30.Qxf7 Rxf7 31.Nc4 c2+ 32.Kxc2 Rc5 led to a quick draw. Yet I had an attractive alternative, the strength of which I did not measure, 29…Rh5! with a very powerful …Nd5 threat; in fact, White would have been in great danger here because this position poses enormous practical problems.
I also liked my victory against the Spanish GM Santos Latasa.
However, my blunder against Vidit in the France-India quarter-final match, which we finally lost, tarnished the general impression a little. Indeed, it happened to be very detrimental to the team.
Here, I committed the irreparable with 17.f4? Obviously, the idea of pushing the central majority is self-evident in this position, but it was necessary to prepare it with 17.Rae1 or 17.Kh2. The problem is that I completely missed 17…Bf5! which gives a clear advantage to Black after 18.Qc1 (18.Qxf5 Bxc3 19.Bxc3 Qxe3+ 20.Kh2 Qxc3) 18…Bxc3 19.Qxc3 Be4! (0-1, 70 moves).
After that, there was no doubt that we were going to lose the first leg. We made up for it in the second one, especially after Vidit made a big mistake against me by blundering a pawn.
During the blitz tie-breaker, I struggled with black, and I could only make a draw. So it all came down to the last moments of Jules’ (Moussard) game. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for him at the end and we left the competition at that point, which is a shame. It was still a good time, with a time control that I think should be tested in the future.
Speed Chess 2022
Online, November 28 & December 15-16
The usual end of year competition on chess.com, in a final bracket with 16 players always particularly tough. Let’s remember that it is a direct elimination matches played over 3 hours, in 5+1, 3+1 and 1+1…
Against Nepo in the 1/8th, it was a competitive match at the beginning, with some very good games, especially from him. There were a few critical moments where we were returning blow for blow, with some good defensive sequences. The match seemed quite uncertain, even though I was slightly ahead (one or two points). In the end, it all came down to the Bullet, although it could have gone less well when I lost the last game of the 3+1 by giving away a piece in one move 🙂 .
And in Bullet, it was the first game that determined everything. After this rather painful loss, Nepo was no longer able to compete (final score 19.5-11.5 in my favor).
Against Wesley So in the ¼ finals, it was very odd because I didn’t expect him to do so well in his situation. Indeed, the snowstorm in Minnesota where he lives had forced him to go out in the extreme cold to connect from a public library! I didn’t think he’d put up much of a fight in that environment, but he did, at least at the beginning of the match. We were able to show some interesting ideas, especially in the Najdorf. Wesley didn’t start so badly in Bullet, but at one point I flew off and it was over (final score 16.5-12.5 in my favor).
Then the semi-final against Magnus; there is nothing to say about the final score (17-9 in his favor). What’s a shame is that overall, Magnus didn’t play that well in this match. However, he was extremely resourceful in defense, especially in completely lost positions, which created a lot of differences.
First, at 2-3, there is that game I lost with a healthy pawn up. Then, there are quite a few other games where I had extra material, and didn’t manage to convert; this clearly generated frustration. Even though I managed to keep up the score afterwards, I was still at -4 at the beginning of the Bullet, which forced me to take maximum risks, and Magnus came out on top in the end.
Online, December 12-14
The Hainan Regional Chess Association (China) organized a hybrid format Rapid tournament, with 3 Chinese players gathered in a hotel in Danzhou, and 5 other players participating from their home. I shared first place with Giri and Bu (4.5/7 undefeated), ahead of Ding Liren, Erigaisi and Rapport (3.5), Andreikin (3) and Ju Wenjun (1).
Here is the decisive game for the first place:
We were both short of time, and I chose here to repeat the position again with 38…Re2 39.Kf1 Ra2 40.Kg1 Re2? Draw. But instead I had the devastating move 40…Qe2! 41.Qe3 Ra1+ (in the rush, I had completely forgotten about this check 😊) 42.Kg2 Qf1+ 43.Kf3 and all that was left was to find 43…Re1! to complete the mating net.
World Rapid & Blitz Championship,
Almaty (Kazakhstan), December 26-30
It was the first time that I came to Kazakhstan… I counted, it is the 40th country that I visit! We arrived 48 hours in advance with Jules Moussard, in order to acclimatize ourselves and to avoid that the 5 hours of time difference would be too prejudicial. The other Frenchman of the adventure, Sébastien Mazé, landed at the last moment, but he remained in good shape throughout the tournament, which is quite a performance.
The first day was a bit difficult in terms of missed opportunities. There was clearly more to be achieved. I still ended the day with two wins and 3.5/5.
This was the very first round, and I had a clear advantage here with black. I could have consolidated it with 34…Ng3+! 35.Kg1 Qc5 36.Qh6 (36.Qb2 f6!) 36…Ne2+ and 37…Nc3. But I made a calculation mistake with 34…Kh7? forgetting that after 35.Qb2, my planned answer 35…Qe8? was met by 36.Ne4! Be7 37.g4, and I’m the one in trouble. So I backed off with 35…f6, but soon had to take the draw after 36.Qxf6 Ng3+ 37.Ke1 Qe8+ 38.Kd1 Qe2+ 39.Kc1 Qe1+ and perpetual.
On the second day, I started slowly with two draws:
Here, I decided to temporarily sacrifice a pawn with 23.Nd5!? Nxd5 24.cxd5 exd4 25.Qd2 Rc4 26.Qd3 Rc3 27.Qxd4, and to allow the dangerous looking exchange sacrifice 27…Rxf3!? 28.gxf3 Nh4 (28…Qh4 29.Kh1 Nf4 30.Rg1! is not conclusive) because after 29.Qe3 Qf6 30.f4 Qg6+ 31.Qg3 Nf3+ 32.Kh1, the upcoming Rook endgame seemed playable to me. But the young Uzbek did not choose this way, preferring 27…Rc5 28.g3 c6! 29.dxc6 Rxc6 and the position is equal (Draw, 40 moves).
Randomness of the pairings, I played the next round against my friend Sébastien Mazé, who more than comfortably neutralized my Petroff… (Draw, 37 moves).
Despite a win against Paravyan just after, I hadn’t had many chances since the beginning of the day. Although I managed to focus well against the new Indian star Erigaisi in the last game, things went astray.
After suffering in my opponent’s Veresov opening, I made up for it well in the middle game, even getting this very interesting position to play. Unfortunately, I missed 27…a4! because I thought that after 28.Qd3 Qb7 (idea …b3), white was faster: 29.Nf6+ Kh8 30.Qe4 Bh6 and I was under the impression that I was going to be mated after 31.Rxg6, but apparently this is not the case! So I stepped back with 27…c5? but that’s clearly a mistake because this time, after 28.Qd3 Qc7 (28…Qb7 29.Nxc5) 29.Nf6+ Kh8 30.Qe4 Bh6, white has 31.dxc5 (31.d5 was perhaps even stronger) 31…Rad8 (31…Qxc5 was refuted, not by 32.Nd7? – I dream to give up this exchange! – but by 32.Rxg6! fxg6 33.Qxg6 Rxf6 34.exf6 Qe3 35.f4! Qxf4 36.Rg1! followed by 37.f7) 32.c6 and white wins, even if the conversion was slow (1-0, 62 moves).
On the third day, I finally started to play better chess. Especially in the second game of the day against Indjic, where I opted for a hyper speculative sacrifice, but felt it offered huge practical chances.
After sacrificing the a7 pawn, I quickly decided to keep the momentum with 23…Bxh3!? 24.gxh3 Qxh3. Here the Serbian #1 played the logical 25.Qd1, bringing the Queen back to the King’s defense, and perfectly held on until 25…Nh4 26.Qf1 Qf5 27.Kh2 h5 28.Nc3 Ng4+ 29.Kh1? (as usual, the machine gives the usual 0.00 after 29.Kg1 Nf3+ 30.Bxf3 exf3…) 29…Nf3 30.Qg2? Nxf2+! 0-1. 30.Bxf3 still resisted, even if after 30…exf3 31.Kg1 (31.Qg1 Qc2! is an elegant conclusion which illustrates black’s domination) 31…Qg6! 32.Qh3 (32.Kh1 Qg5 and it’ll be mate soon) 32…Nf6+ 33.Kh2 Qc2! (again!) 34.Qxf3 Qxc3 35.Qd1 Ne4, white won’t survive this ending.
In the penultimate game against Amin Bassem, I was completely lost but still ended up winning by chance. Then I concluded the Rapid tournament with an even more difficult game against Keymer, who, if he had beaten me, would have had a tie-break for the world title against Carlsen!
Unfortunately for him, after a performance close to perfection, he let me escape by pushing his passed pawn a little too quickly; 52…f2? (52…Nf7! and white will either have to give c4 for free, or allow the passage of the King to the support of the f-pawn via e4-f4-g3) 53.Bf1! and Black cannot prevent 54.Ke2; 53…Nxc4+ (53…Ne4+ 54.Ke2 Kxc4 55.d6 =) 54.Ke2 Kxd5 55.Kxf2 (Draw, 65 moves).
Two salvations with white to finish the tournament at 8.5/13 was not very glorious, but I felt I was starting to take advantage of the opportunities offered a little better, which made me feel more confident about the blitz tournament.
So I had a world title to defend against a terrible opposition led by Magnus Carlsen… At the beginning, it went pretty well. I started with 6/8, with some games played quite well and others a little less. I was still in contention, but I went through a terrible « blackout period » during the last four games of the day, where I couldn’t see anything. In particular, the sequence of games against Bluebaum and Paravayan caused me a lot of difficulties: I lost against Bluebaum a pawn up while trying to win at all costs. Then, against Paravayan, I got an endgame that was probably winnable, but I didn’t manage to convert it and that hurt me a lot. I lost two more games stupidly at the end of the day and found myself in a very, very bad position.
On the second day, I lost in the second game. I already knew that I had no chance for the title. However, I tried to get back into the pack. I succeeded in doing so, but the content was not convincing; even the games I won were still too shaky. I made a series of 5/5, so I was supposed to be confident again, and yet I felt that I was still « not into it »; the moves didn’t come out the way I wanted…
In spite of all this, and in spite of a very insufficient level of play, I was still in the running for a place in the top 8 or 10 with two rounds to go. Against Harikrishna with black in the penultimate round, I finally played a good game; unfortunately I didn’t manage to conclude, even though it wasn’t easy.
Against Fedoseev in the last round, I played all-in, with the idea of snagging a 12 or 13th place which would have been less catastrophic than my final ranking (31st ). So I declined my opponent’s offer of a draw and of course, I ended up losing 😊.
Anyway, a 10th or 12th place wouldn’t have changed anything to the fact that I went through the second part of the tournament like a ghost…
Despite my disappointing result, the atmosphere in Almaty was pleasant, which was also felt by Sébastien and Jules. The latter was able to understand how difficult the tournament is, particularly intense and tiring, also requiring to manage one’s emotions well. He concluded the first day of blitz at a very high level, and finally finished the tournament with the same number of points as me (12.5). He played some very good games at the beginning of the second day, just trying to get into the leaders. It didn’t go so well at that point, but he was up against the super elite on the first boards and had an experience that will be very useful for him anyway. Sebastien fought really well throughout the two tournaments. He had one or two tough days, but still got a very good overall result in such a tough environment.
We went out in Almaty at the end of the tournament on December 30; even if obviously it was a bit complicated for me at the beginning, because I was not necessarily in the mood. We came back to France on January 1st and so we spent the New Year’s Eve in Kazakhstan, in a cocktail bar which is, I hear, in the world’s Top 10 of its kind 😊. Quite improbable, but a very good experience!
For me, the firdt months of 2023 will be very quiet in terms of competitions. There will certainly be some small things in the meantime, but I don’t think I’ll be playing a major tournament until at least May. This is the perfect opportunity to really evaluate what went wrong throughout 2022. Of course, I’ve already started, in a new structure that requires a different set-up, approach and working methods.
Not everything has worked lately. There are things that do, but others that clearly need to be re-evaluated.
This will be my mission for the next few months…
Maxime’s games at the World Team Championship:
Maxime’s games at the Speed Chess tournament:
Maxime’s games in Danzhou online tournament:
Maxime’s games at the World Rapid Championship:
Maxime’s games at the World Blitz Championship:
When he arrived for the second day of the blitz tournament in Almaty, Maxime made a mistake that could have cost him dearly… Indeed, he forgot to remove his connected watch before passing the controls, and played the first round against Petrossian with this accessory. During the game, while raising his shirt sleeves, he realized his mistake but nobody noticed it, neither his opponent, nor the arbiters who were around the boards! The game finally ended in a draw but Maxime was highly unfocused because of this incident, constantly wondering how he could have been stupid enough not to realize it before 😊.
If he had been spotted by the arbiter, he would have obviously lost the game by forfeit…