Slow Rapid or fast Classical?

Mvl - Grenke Chess

A few weeks ago, the sponsor of my German team in Baden-Baden sent me an invitation to a prestigious tournament that I had no reason to decline!

So I arrived in Karlsrühe the day before the tournament straight from Austria, where I’d played the final games of the Austrian Team Championship with my club Linz (4.5/5 for Maxime and a new championship title 😊).

The Grenke tournament was kind of a « revival », as the last edition had taken place in 2019. The 2020 edition was planned but had to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. The sponsor also skipped the next three years. However, it was all the better to come back this year, with a festival that will go down in history!

I received my invitation rather late, but for a last-minute event, the organizers really pulled out all the stops, with almost 2800 players in the Opens – a real performance! Of course, the 6 Classic players (Carlsen, Ding, Rapport, Keymer, Fridman and myself) were in great demand for autographs and selfies, especially as there were so many youngsters in the Opens. Magnus’ presence, of course, and that of Ding Liren too, added a lot of cachet to the tournament.

Unsurprisingly, this led to delays in every round. But it was understandable and hardly embarrassing in truth. And this gigantic gathering of chess players created quite an atmosphere around the tournament. It’s impressive to have so many players in one place, and a whole city « breathing chess » for a week. I’m not going to be hypocritical, it’s not necessarily very easy to play in these conditions, because inevitably there’s noise; but that’s the other side of the coin, you can’t have conviviality and monastic silence at the same time 😊.

On a personal note, I had quite a few friends and acquaintances who played in the Opens, which was very pleasant in the sense that it provided a bit of a social link that I’m not used to in top-level tournaments.

View (incomplete!) of the playing hall (Photo: Grenke Chess)
View (incomplete!) of the playing hall (Photo: Grenke Chess)

As far as the rhythm of play (45+10) is concerned, this tournament was a kind of test, although some – including myself – had already been able to try it out at the 2022 World Team Championship in Jerusalem. The basic idea is to be able to play two games a day. But the pace is still pretty fast. While I never struggle with the clock in Classical games, here in Karlsrühe I’ve sometimes ended up in zeitnot. All in all, the games were of fairly good quality; except perhaps in the endgames, where it’s often complicated to play precisely, especially at certain critical moments (I’m thinking, for example, of my first game against Magnus, to which I’ll return below).

Personally, I thought it was too bad not to play the double round against the same opponent alternating colors, which would have seemed more logical.

Overall, I’d say that this pace of play is interesting, even if it’s obviously intense, since there’s hardly any break between games. Of course, you can choose to do a light preparation in the morning to compensate, but even so, you’re burning up energy. Another thing I regret a little is that the organizers chose to negotiate a fee with the players (or their representatives), and not to award prizes. No prizes, no points for the Classical rating, there was not much at stake, even if there was obviously still the chance to add a tournament to your track record! But if you don’t win, 3rd or 5th in the tournament is almost the same…

On the final day, mini-matches determined the final places (1 vs 2, 3 vs 4, 5 vs 6). I won my match for third place against Keymer. Of course, I was determined to do well, but in reality, it wasn’t like winning a bronze medal at the Olympic Games 😊.

Here’s a look back at some of my games at the Grenke Classic:

Mvl-Fridman, Round 3 : 0-1

Beginning of the game against Fridman (Photo: Grenke Chess)

The opening didn’t go very well for me; I wasn’t out of prep, but I didn’t expect him to master this variation of the French defense so well. So I wasn’t sure what I was doing. At one point, however, I decided to vary a little from the usual plans for this type of position, notably when I decided to take back the sacrificed pawn in the opening, which is usually left « for life ».

But it wasn’t necessarily a terrible decision, and just afterwards there was the critical moment when he played 16…Be7, a slightly inaccurate move, starting with 16…h6 would have been safer. After 17.Bg5, he could have tried to win the piece with 17…Nb2, but in the end he decided not to because it looked very dangerous after 18.Qe2 Qxc3 19.e6 fxe6 20.Rac1 Qxa3 21.Rxc8+ Bxc8 22.Bxe7 Kxe7 22.Qe5. At least that’s what I’d seen and that’s more or less the computer line; there’s a whole bunch of possibilities and I find it rather frightening for black!

In the end, I gradually took the advantage, but it was never easy, even though I thought it would be in the following position:

After 40.Nd5! Kf8 (40…Bxd5? 41.d7), my mistake was not to play 40.Nf6!; the King comes to f4, the Rook slides to g1 via a1, and black’s King is in dire staits while the c-pawn will have trouble distracting white. Unfortunately, I thought that with 40.Rc3? Re2 41.Ne3, I’d take the c4-pawn, except that after 41…Ra2, if 42.Nxc4? then 42…f4+! 43.Kxf4 Rxa4 or 43.Kh4 Rh2 and I’d be mated.

After that, I had to change my plans, but the situation spiraled out of control. I probably missed another win, and the endgame was a succession of reciprocal errors played out with little time on the clock, before I went completely off the rails and cracked last…

Theoretical novelty in Karlsrühe: on stage just before the start of a round, IM Ilya Schneider proposes to his partner Olga! (Photo: Grenke Chess)

Carlsen-Mvl, Round 4 : ½

Just after this horrible defeat, I followed up with black against Magnus! Admittedly, there’s not much to fear when Magnus plays 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Be2 e5 5.Bc4 😊. You can feel that you’re not necessarily going to be worse if you know roughly how to react, which I did, with a rather well-controlled opening.

Here, I could have simply played 14…Be6, but in fact I was stuck with the idea that I should try to push …f5 as quickly as possible, so I preferred 14…Kh8 15.Ne3 Qg6. He decided to drastically prevent …f5 and pushed 16.g4, on which I had calculated that I was bringing my Knight to f4 starting with 16…Nd8 but it was actually a bit risky; 17.Df3! was well played, at least from a practical point of view, since if I play 17…Ne6 now, he’ll exchange on e6 and I can’t take back the pawn, ending up really badly off on the Kingside: he’ll simply follow up with Ke2, Rag1 and g5, and I didn’t want to let that happen. So I chose to temporize, even at the cost of opening the g-file with 17…Bd7 18.g5 Ne6 19.gxh6 gxh6. From then on, it became highly complicated, with a three-result position on the board.

Instead of the normal 23…fxe4, I got a little cocky and started with 23…c4? which is a mistake; I should have felt that with my Queen on h7, I shouldn’t ask too much of the position! Fortunately, Magnus didn’t find 24.dxc4 fxe4 25.Qe3! Rf3 26.Qd2 Nc5 (not necessarily obvious at first, but black’s position is too disharmonious after 26…Rd3 27.Qe1!) 26.Nf4! followed by 27.Qxd6 and black is on the verge of collapse.

In the game, I had seen the position up to 24.Bc2?! fxe4 25.Qxe4 Qxe4 26.dxe4 Be8 27.f4! (otherwise, I attack f2 and threaten …Rd8 followed by …Nf4 at any time). After 27…Bh5 (I spent a lot of time on this move because I thought he might want to play 28.f5 and checked that it was okay for me, which it is after 28…Bxd1 29.Rxd1 Nf4 or 29.fxe6 Bxc2 30.Kxc2 Rf2+ 31.Kc1 Rg8!) 28.Rd2 exf4? (28…Nxf4 29.Nxf4 Rxf4 30.Rxd6 Kh7 =)

I knew I stopped 29.Ne7 (threatening 30.Ng6+) because of 29…f3, but just as I was taking on f4, I realized I was allowing 29.Nc7!.

What a cold shower! I hesitated to resign at once, but saw that I still had 29…Rg8 (the forced line 29…Nxc7 30.Rxd6 Rf7 [30…Kh7 31.e5+] 31.e5 Rg7 32.Rxh6+ Kg8 33.Rxg7+ Kxg7 34.Rxh5 leaves an easily winning endgame to white) 30.Rxg8+ Kxg8 31.Nxe6 Rg1+ 32.Bd1 Rf1 (but not 32…f3? 33.Rf2) and my f-pawn still leaves me with vague practical chances. And that’s precisely what happened (albeit with a little help😊) 33.Rxd6 f3 34.Nf4

Here, Magnus panicked, and thought for almost his remaining 2 minutes. He believed 34…Bg4 was impossible because of 35.Rxh6+ Kg7 37.Rg6+ Kh7 38.Rxg4, but after 38…f2, none of his pieces can sacrifice themselves on the f-pawn, which queens; the position still remains a draw after 38.Nd5 Rxd1+ 39.Kxd1 f1=Q+ 40.Kc2, thanks to the check on f6. Looking for the win and not finding it, he relied on 35.Ng6+? which happens not to be enough. Yet he had two ways to win. The radical 35.Nh5! f2 (35…Bxh5 36.Rxh6+ Kg7 37.Rxh5 f2 38.Rf5 +-) 36.Rd8+ Kh7 37.Nf6+ and 38.Nxg4. The other, slower way, was to start with 35.Kc2 before giving the check on g6. If 35…f2, now 36.Ng6+ Kg7 37.Bxg4 Rc1+ 38.Kxc1 f1=Q+ 39.Rd1 followed by 40.Bf5!, everything is protected and white will win.

In the game, Magnus was forced to give the piece back and settle for an even Rook endgame after 35…Kg7 36.Kc2 h5 37.Ne5 f2 38.Rg6+ Kh7 39.Rf6 Bxd1+ 40.Kd2 Bg4 41.Ke3 Re1+ 42.Kxf2 Rxe4 43.Nxg4 Rxg4.

Even so, I could very well have lost this endgame, because I made it difficult for myself by not activating my King when it was possible. Even at the very end, he could still cause me problems…

Okay, it’s a draw with the a and c pawns. Everyone knows that, but defending it in practice with only the 10-second increment is another story!

Instead of 68.Rf6, which allows me to draw by force with 68…Ra5 winning one of the two pawns, Magnus could have tried 68.Rd6. At first, I missed that if 68…Ra5 there’s now 69.a7! which wins because 70.Rd8 is unstoppable, and if 69…Rxa7 70.Rd7+. But then I realized when he was thinking (it still took him a minute to play 68.Rf6) that I had the resource 68…Re1+. But after 69.Re6, it would still have been necessary to avoid 69…Ra1? 70.Ke8! and White wins because he vacates the e7 square for the Rook and thus threatens 71.a7. Therefore, the only move would have been 69…Rd1! anticipating 70.a7 Kb7 or 70.Ke8 Rd8+. It was still very, very much borderline!

Maxime is in the colors of his German club (Photo: Grenke Chess)

Mvl-Rapport, Round 5 : 1-0

At first, I thought this French Winawer was going rather well, but I was inaccurate in my piece positioning. I have to say that after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Bd3, I couldn’t remember the sub-variation 8…Qa5!? 9.Bd2 c4 at all. It’s pretty clever, you get positions that Richard likes, of a kind I’ve had against him before and where it hasn’t always gone well for me.

A few days later, Magnus showed against the same opponent what to do: 10.Be2 Rg8 11.a4 Nbc6, as I played is correct, but now 12.Qh3! h6 13.Bh5 Bd7 14.Ne2. I played a bit automatically 12.Nf3 Bd7 13.0-0 h6 14.Rfb1 and thought I was going to be slightly better, but I quickly realized that this wouldn’t be the case because black is very quick to play …f6 or …g5.

That’s why, after 14…0-0-0, I opted for 15.Rb5 Qc7 16.Qf4 and, with the Queen on c7, 16…f6 17.exf6 would allow a Queen’s exchange favorable to me. And if 16…Rdf8 17.h4! I could control what happens on the Kingside. Moreover, in this position, I threaten the Bc1-a3 thematic maneuver at any time.

Except that Richard chose another path by sacrificing a pawn with 16…g5! which I had seen, but perhaps underestimated. Admittedly, he can’t trap my Queen after 17.Qxf7 Ng6 18.Qh7. 17…Rdf8 didn’t seem problematic either after 18.Qh5 g4 19.Nh4 Be8 20.Qxh6 Rh8 as I was considering giving the piece away after 21.Qxe6+ Bd7 22.Qd6 with no doubt a nice compensation. But in fact he simply played 17…Nf5 18.g4 Rdf8 (if 18…Ng7 19.Qf6, my Queen will always come out) 19.Qh5 Be8 20.Qh3. I thought the worst was over, that I was a pawn up and that my position was still pretty solid. The computer is not at all impressed and even prefers black after 20…Qg7, a rather lunar move, with the idea of bringing the Nf5 back to g6 via e7.

Richard played the more human 20…h5, a move for long-term compensation, which I had expected. Thinking I was better off than I actually was, I wanted to solidify my position when I should have been trying to get something going on the Queenside. After a lot of maneuvering, including my hasty transfer of the King to the Queenside, we ended up in the following position:

I thought for a long time before playing 38.Qd2 and set a nice trap, since here 38…Ne3 is very tempting, but loses! 39.Bb4! Nxb4 40.cxb4 Qb6 41.Qxe3 Qxb4 42.Bc2 Qc3 43.Ra2 +-. But 38…b5! came as a bit of a blow. After 39.axb5 I wasn’t afraid of 39…Qxb5 40.Qb2, but I realized that 39…Rb8 was strong (40.bxc6? Qxa3+!); it has to be said, Richard is always quite creative in these murky positions! However, after a few minutes’ thought, I came up with 40.Bb2 Qxb5 41.Ba4 Qb7 (or 41…Qb6, I wasn’t sure) 42.Kd1! (my King goes the other way!). The idea was 42…Na5 43.Ba3 and I seemed to be doing pretty well; 43…Nb3 44.Bxb3 Qxb3+ 45.Ke1 followed by 46.Kf2 and everything seemed under control. After 43…Qa6! which is actually the best move, I was thinking of playing 44.Bc5, because if 44…Nb3? I have 45.Bc6+!, but the machine indicates 44…Rg7! which again threatens 45…Nb3 since a7 is now protected; it also threatens 45…Rgb7 and in any case, white’s position looks extremely perilous.

Phew, he played the spectacular but erroneous 43…Qh7?, which still gave me a shock for about ten seconds! Indeed, my King can no longer take refuge on the Kingside, but there’s an antidote! 44.Bb4! and I’ll be able to take the King back to the queenside again; what a royal zigzag! After 44…Qh5+ 45.Kc1 Rxb4 (forced, black’s Queen is now too far from her own King, and if 45…Nb7? 46.Bd1 or 46.Bc6 followed by 47.Qa2 is terminal) 46.cxb4 Nxd4, I had calculated a completely crazy variation! 47.bxa5 Ne2+ 48.Kb2 c3+ 49.Qxc3 Nxc3 50.Kxc3 Bf5? 51.Rab1! Bxb1 52.Rxb1, black has no check, I threaten mate, and if 52…a6 53.Bc6+ Ka7 54.Rb7+ Ka8 55.Rh7+; but I thought it wouldn’t work and indeed there’s 50…Rxg5! or even 50…Qe2. So I preferred to play 47.Kb2 and in case of 47…Ne2, look at the alternatives to taking on a5 (spoiler, there are quite a few!).

But in the end, Richard played 47…Nab3. I wasn’t extremely precise because 48.Qf2! was lethal, and not my choice of 48.Bxb3? Nxb3 49.Qf2, which allowed 49…Nxa1 and black still resists (whereas after 48.Qf2! Nxa1 49.Qxd4, black would have been a full Rook down). I still managed to win a Rook ending in which I was able to remain precise. It gave the tournament a bit of a boost, because before that game, Richard was alone in the lead with a one-point advantage…

There were a lot of autographs signed that week... (Photo: Grenke Chess)
There were a lot of autographs signed that week… (Photo: Grenke Chess)

Rapport-Mvl, Round 9 : 1/2

Before this penultimate round, the tournament situation was quite simple: Richard was second behind Carlsen, with a one-point lead over me. So, in order to steal this place from him and play the final match against Magnus, it was almost imperative that I should win with black in this game.

Well aware of the situation, Richard played an extremely solid variation against the Ragozin. I still managed to find a line that kept pieces around and some play in the position:

After 13…dxe4, I have to say that he relieved me by preferring 14.Bxe4 to 14.Nxe4; I wasn’t sure what to do because the Knight will land on d6 no matter what, e.g. 14…f5 15.Nd6! Bxd6 16.cxd6 Qxd6 17.Re1 with a nice compensation. And if 14…e5, I was thinking 15.Re1 (there may also be 15.d5 cxd5 16.Nc3, but that’s not certain) 15…exd4 16.Nd6. 14.Fxe4 thus gave me hope of obtaining a more or less playable position. After 14…e5, Richard took a very long time for 15.Re1, because he was checking 15…f5? 16.Bc2 e4 17.Nxe4! fxe4 18.Rxe4, which I had automatically eliminated! As well as wasting time, he didn’t anticipate my a tempo reply 15…Qd8, and that’s when he started to get a bit scared, I think.

Here, I completely missed the possibility of 18…Bf4!, allowing the scary looking 19.Qxg6+, which would lose the exchange though after 19…Kh8 ; still, this position looks totally unclear to me. Originally, I wanted to go for 18…Kg7, but after 19.Qxd4+ Ne5, I would have allowed the possibility of 20.Nd5! and thought it was never going to work for black. That’s why I finally chose 18…Kh7. I also knew I was wasting precious time, but fortunately Richard didn’t use it so well.

He sacrificed a pawn, which didn’t seem absolutely necessary, and a few moves later, I had a position in which I felt I had winning chances.

Here, I played 30…Rad8?!, but it proved insufficient after 31.bxc5 bxc5 32.Rxc5 Rxd6 33.Rcc7 and white was able to save the half-point. At first, however, I wanted to take on b4, but it didn’t seem enough at the time: 30…cxb4 31.axb4 Rad8 32.Rc6 Rd7 33.Rxd7 (33.Rc7! immediately is actually much more tenacious) 33…Rxd7 34.Rc7 Rd8 35.Rxa7 and here I missed 35…Be8! winning the d6-pawn and probably the game.

I waited quietly to find out the identity of my opponent for the next day’s final-place match. In the end, it was Keymer who emerged from a three-way tie-break with Ding Liren and Fridman.

Grenke closed tournament final standings (Image: chess-results.com)

All in all, black were pretty strong in this final match, as they got an advantage in three of the four games!

Keymer-Mvl, match for 3rd place, Tie-beak (4): 0-1

After three draws, this match was decided in the fourth game. Thanks to 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nbd2 d5 4.e3 a5!?, I was able to prevent him from playing 5.b4, more or less circumventing his preparation. It was also a position that seemed quite playable for black.

After a few twists and turns and an inaccuracy on my part, I could easily have found myself in trouble…

Fortunately, Vincent had already spent a lot of time, and here he missed the strong 20.c4! which would have put my center under great pressure. Instead, another neutral move like 20.Qe2 or 20.Nd3 would have been possible, but not 20.Qf3? which allows 20…Bh6! 21.Rc2? (21.Dd3 was a much lesser evil) 21…Ne4! 22.Nxe4 dxe4 23.Rxe4 Bxb3 and black has a clear advantage. Rather than allowing 24.Rb2 Bd5, Vincent went all in with 24.g5 Bxg5 25.c4, which may look attractive, but doesn’t work. I had calculated 24.c4 immediately, and after 24…Bxc2 25.Qxf7+ Rh8 27.d5, the most accurate was 27…Qb6 which prevents 28.Bb2 and there’s no attack (but of course not 27…Bxe4?? 28.Bb2! and it’s mate). In the game, after 25…Bxc2 26.Qxf7+ Kh8, he played 27.Rg4 Rf8 28.d5 Bf6 but resigned soon afterwards.

Congratulations to Magnus on another victory, after an incredible final match against Rapport!

Maxime’s games in Austria:

Maxime’s games at Grenke :

One of France’s most popular TV programs, « Envoyé Spécial » will devote a long report on Thursday evening (April 11) to the chess boom of recent years. Broadcast on France 2, it will look at the phenomenon from two angles. The first is that of a family of chess players, whose day-to-day life we follow; the second is that of a champion, in this case Maxime, whom the France 2 teams accompanied to training, to a visit to the French Youth Championship in Agen, and to a tournament on the professional circuit in Bucharest.

https://www.france.tv/france-2/envoye-special

Maxime under the microscope

Mvl, it’s the others who talk about him best…

Taking advantage of the lacklustre news at the start of the year, we asked five of his compatriots, leading figures on the French chess scene, to give us a slightly personal insight into Maxime.

Here are 5 themes, presented by :

Eric BIRMINGHAM (FM, Maxime’s first coach)

Eric Birmingham

Eloi RELANGE (GM, President of the French Chess Federation)

Eloi Relange

Pauline GUICHARD (GMF, Maxime’s club and French team-mate – gynecologist)

Pauline Guichard

Marc LLARI (CM, U8 world champion in 2022)

Marc Llari

Manuel AESCHLIEMANN (Mayor of Asnières, Maxime’s club town)

Manuel Aeschlimann

Your very first personal memory of Maxime:

Eric BIRMINGHAM

A little guy is taking my group course for youngsters in Créteil for the first time. He raises his finger, suggests a move and a variation. He’s got it! « Damned » I say to myself, he can barely see over his table! The kid’s only five. I ask him his first name: « Je m’appelle Maxime »…

Eloi RELANGE

When Maxime was very young, I didn’t play in the same competitions as he did, so I didn’t get the chance to meet him then. But of course, I’d heard about this little kid with a growing reputation, whom urban legend presented as a potential world champion. When you don’t see it with your own eyes, this kind of prediction always makes you smile a little, but it turned out to be absolutely right!

As for the first time I saw Maxime, it was much later…

Pauline GUICHARD

The first time we competed in the same French Youth Championship was, I think, in 1999. But my first real memory of him was in 2002 at the French Youth Championship in Hyères. He was 11 years old and playing in the U16 section; he was vastly outclassed and still won that year.

Maxime in 2002

What I remember most is that he was so small, it was quite funny compared to the 16-year-old boys… And that’s when I said to myself: “That’s impressive, he’s really, really good!

Marc LLARI

At the French Youth Championship in April 2023, as I was heading towards the stage to play, Maxime was in the middle of an autograph photo session just in front of the stairs, so we took a photo together before the round.

Manuel AESCHLIMANN

When we asked Maxime to play for the Asnières Chess Club. For such a young club, it seemed a little pretentious to ask a player of this level. On the contrary, Maxime responded with kindness and humility. I knew it was going to work out well.

A personal anecdote with Maxime:

Eric BIRMINGHAM

At a trophy ceremony in Cannes, in the south of France, Maxime and I are strolling through the town; Maxime is seven or eight years old. We find ourselves in a rather chic shopping street. I stop in front of a window displaying luxury watches. The little boy and I look at the prices, and burst out laughing. Despite his very young age, Maxime has his feet firmly on the ground; he’s perfectly aware of the value of everyday things. For a good hour, we looked at jewelry, watches, dresses, etc., which cost more than his father’s car! (and Patrick, his daddy, had a good car!). During that hour, despite our huge age difference, we were in symbiosis in the face of these oddities of consumer society, and we laughed a lot.

Maxime in 2000

Eloi RELANGE

I’ve had the opportunity to play blitz against Maxime several times in recent years, and each time I was winning in the first game, though of course I lost them all! I remember he was in real trouble in the opening, particularly against the Philidor. But systematically, he came back from these frankly desperate positions. Okay, one time it was in a bar, another time at the home of an elected member of the FFE, and a third time elsewhere. And then I have to admit that, as always when there’s a big difference in level, you give it your all in the first game, he’s not so hot, so you hold out pretty well, but the following games, it’s not the same story at all!

As for the one time I played against Maxime in a classical game, I had white and had prepared against the Grünfeld, since at the time, that was all he played (French Team Championship 2012). So I looked for particularly solid variations and in the end, he played a Queen’s Indian! I was very happy, because I thought he wouldn’t know this kind of position so well, and what’s more, I had good results in this variation. But as it turned out, he gradually grinded the advantage and I couldn’t do anything about it. As a result, the solid, innocuous white opening gave me a completely hopeless position at move 36, in which I lost on time.

La partie :

Pauline GUICHARD

In fact, the few times I played against Maxime were at parties! But I remember beating him in the first, or one of the very first games, even though I must admit he always played with 30 seconds and I with 3 minutes! But I prefer to keep the simple memory of having beaten Maxime once…

Marc LLARI

On the last day of the Rapid World Team championship in Düsseldorf (August 2023), we went to a restaurant with the whole team.

I was opposite Maxime and he proposed a riddle with a rabbit hidden in a box containing 6 cages. I had to suggest the cage where the rabbit was hiding and find it in as few moves as possible. It kept me thinking all through the meal!

Manuel AESCHLIMANN

Whenever Maxime takes part in an event in Asnières and there’s press, the media always ask me to play a few moves against him on a chessboard, just so they can film the exchange. It’s frustrating to stop once the catch has been made, after ten or so moves. This must be the sixth or seventh unfinished game we’ve played like this. That said, I’ve got an idea of how it would end if we went all the way…

A game or a moment in his career that stood out for you:

Eric BIRMINGHAM

In 2009, Maxime played a Najdorf in Biel against Alexander Morozevitch. This game is crazy. I didn’t understand it at the time (which didn’t stop me from showing it to my students in class… My God, I’m a fraud!). I went through it again before writing these lines. I still don’t understand anything (this game is really too difficult). I never asked Maxime: “If there had been a doping test after this game, would it have been positive?“.

La partie :

Eloi RELANGE

There are two moments that stand out in my mind. The first was when he beat Naiditsch in a French Team Championship match between Evry and Clichy in 2009. I wasn’t playing that match, and I was able to witness this fantastic Najdorf won against a Naiditsch in top form at the time, and very hard to play with white (2700, #31 in the world in 2009). And Maxime beat him with black as if he were a tourist!

La partie :

Like many others, I also remember the 2021 World Blitz championship final against Duda, which I watched with my family at home!

La partie :


With my three children jumping up and down shouting “Maxime, Maxime!”; so, apart from the exceptional performance of this first world champion title for a Frenchman, it was also an extremely enjoyable family moment for me!

Pauline GUICHARD

Without hesitation for me, it’s his 2021 World Blitz championship title in Warsaw. I wasn’t in Poland that year because I was too busy at the office at the time. But I remember very clearly that I couldn’t follow the end of the tournament because I was at the cinema with friends; there were 5 or 6 rounds left and I had to turn my phone off. When I turned it back on at the end of the film, I saw that he’d just beaten Carlsen

La partie :

, and was about to start the tie-break blitz against Duda! So I followed these games with my friends, who weren’t chess players at all and didn’t really understand my excitement at the time! I don’t remember the film I saw at all, but I do remember feeling very emotional when Maxime won; I was really happy for him…

Marc LLARI

His Blitz victory over Magnus Carlsen at the 2023 World Blitz Championship, when Maxime sent 5 pawns against 2 on the Queenside in the endgame!

La partie :

Manuel AESCHLIMANN

I’m not being very original, but I’d say it was his title of Blitz World Champion. Beyond the chess analyses relating his remarkable career, it was above all the recognition and media coverage he received from the general public that impressed me. The game of chess has suddenly become popular again in our country. A well-deserved consecration.

Imagine what Maxime will do after his career:

Eric BIRMINGHAM

MVL is an immense champion, perhaps the most fabulous calculator on the planet. But Maxime is also a nice guy, very sociable and kind-hearted. I can imagine him running a great restaurant (he loves good food), going from table to table with a kind word for everyone. Every now and then, a customer would tell him about Carlsen or Nakamura. And our 64-square Tartarin would tell a story or two. But, unlike Daudet’s hero, everything the old champion would say would be true!

Eloi RELANGE

Already, I imagine he won’t be doing what Kramnik is doing, namely focusing on chess cheating with questionable statistics!

I don’t see him as president of the federation either, because that doesn’t seem to me to be very promising for him; even though I think he’d make a very good president because he’s got a good grasp of things, as well as a very strong embodiment. And I find it hard to imagine him outside chess… Maybe in strategy consulting for some firms, but I’m not convinced he’d like it.

Pauline GUICHARD

Maxime is a big fan of games and sports, so I could see him as a sports commentator, rather specialized in NBA basketball. Or maybe, in the soccer world, he’d be the announcer for Olympique Lyonnais at Groupama Stadium 😊.

Groupama Stadium – Lyon

Marc LLARI

Wild boar hunter – Stone cutter – Ladybird breeder?

Or an Artificial Intelligence programmer for chess analysis engines!

Manuel AESCHLIMANN

First of all, I imagine and hope that the “after-career” is not on the agenda any time soon. Maxime still has plenty of victories to achieve, and great challenges await him for many years to come.

However, one day, I can see him as a web influencer on new technologies, with his phlegm and cold humor. He’d do wonders.

Bonus :

Reveals a little-known facet of Maxime’s personality or Find a joke to make him laugh

Eric BIRMINGHAM

People forget: as a teenager, Maxime was painfully shy. He managed to overcome this shortcoming relatively quickly. Beneath his somewhat debonair exterior, this gentle boy possesses a will of steel.

Eloi RELANGE

An interesting facet of Maxime’s personality is the fact that he’s extremely smiley, friendly and approachable, but in reality, in discussions, he always pauses to deliver an in-depth response. In fact, he really goes beyond the obvious little retort, and that’s what contrasts with his super warm side that everyone who approaches him sees and feels. I find this paradox quite amusing.

Pauline GUICHARD

I don’t know if this is a little-known aspect of his personality, and maybe people suspect it?

Chess is perceived more as an individual sport, but in reality, there are many team competitions. And what I find impressive about Maxime is his team spirit. Of all the top players I know, especially the French, he’s the only one with such a spirit. He’s always going all out, whether it’s with the French team or with Asnières. He’s really a leader and a driving force. And what I like about him is that he’s often under a lot of pressure because people expect results from him and, as far as I can remember, he’s almost always there!

Marc LLARI

I don’t have a joke, but I do have a riddle to get back at him for the riddle he gave me in Düsseldorf!

Why do rabbits only play with 39 cards, not 52?

Because they eat the clovers!

Maxime’s riddle:
A rabbit moves along a corridor of 6 rooms, each with its own door. Each turn, you have the right to open a door to discover the rabbit. If you haven’t discovered the rabbit, once you’ve closed the door, the rabbit moves one room to the right or left (of course, if it’s at the end of the corridor, it can only move in one direction next turn). How many turns do you need to find the rabbit?

Manuel AESCHLIMANN

Lame joke:

I gave my daughter a fridge for her birthday. I can’t wait to see her face light up when she opens it.

MVL man of (his) word(s)

Mvl with Fabiano Caruna in the C24 podcast.

At the start of 2024, Maxime had the opportunity to talk at length about a number of topical issues in the world of chess.

In French on the Blitzstream channel, and in English on Fabiano Caruana’s podcast. The format of the world championship cycle, the Champions Chess Tour, the future of classical games, draw proposals, managing nerves and the clock at top level, and many other topics and anecdotes are on the program of these two (long) broadcasts.

In English:

In French:

40 days in North America

North america

I arrived early in the United States, where I spent a few days running simultaneous displays in the New York area, before heading to Saint Louis, where I had time to accomodate before the traditional Rapid & Blitz and the Sinquefield Cup following it. The line-up was fairly familiar, except that in the Rapid & Blitz, there were a few American players who don’t get the chance to play this type of tournament very often, notably Sam Sevian, Ray Robson and Le Quang Liem (who is Vietnamese, but lives in the USA). It was fun, and the field was a little more varied than usual, more like that of the US championship.

In the Rapid tournament, I finished undefeated (8 draws and one win), which is perhaps a first for me in a 9-round rapid! Even so, there were a few missed opportunities, and a few topsy turvy games that could have gone either way.

In blitz, I had a very good first day and a very bad second, eventually finishing 2nd behind Caruana ; which didn’t satisfy me at the time, but it was nonetheless a good operation if you take into consideration qualifying for next year’s Grand Chess Tour (the top three finishers automatically qualify). My ticket was then validated at the Sinquefield Cup with 8 draws (following Duda’s withdrawal after the first round). It was a bit of a dull tournament, I admit, but it was important to secure qualification before anything else, and each draw brought me a little closer to it.

Thanks to a combination of circumstances and favorable results, I even took second place in the final Grand Chess Tour ranking.

After a few days’ rest in Florida, it was off to Toronto for the final of the Champions Chess Tour, with a very impressive and highly competitive field of eight players. The format was 2 rapid games with an eventual Armageddon, which left little room for error. To put it in a nutshell, my overall performance was pretty dreadful, reinforced by the fact that in the Armageddon games, I accumulated a famously low total of 1/6, for a final 6th place (out of 8).

Here are some interesting sequences from my games on the American continent:

Rapid & blitz St-Louis

Mvl – So (Blitz, round 7) : 1-0

An anti-Marshall I played at the Grand Swiss against Durarbayli, with the idea of 16.h4, which was a bit of a novelty. It’s not necessarily the best move, but it’s blitz and asks questions to black.

The important thing for me was to keep the initiative, which I managed to do on the Kingside.

The computer isn’t convinced, because black has an extra pawn, the Bishop pair and the passed c4-pawn, but in practice it’s really not easy.

Black is objectively better, with more possibilities, but I was confident because it’s still very complex and I was playing well that day. So I was ready to take more risks, and it showed in the game.

Here, 28…Rd8? gives White the opportunity to play 29.Nf5 Bf8 30.Qc1. After 30…Bc8 31.Qg5 f6, I sensed something was up, but I only saw the perpetual for a while, then after 30 seconds, I got the lightning! 32.Nh6+ Kh8 33.Ne5! Rd7 (the best defense) 34.Nef7+ Rxf7 35.Nxf7+ Kg8 36.Nh6+ (I hesitated for a moment with 36.Qh4 Kxf7 37.e5 which was also tempting) 36…Kh8 37.Qf4! gxh6 38.Qxf6+.

Here, Wesley played the normal 38…Bg7? 39.Qd8+ Qf8 40.Qxc7 Bg4 and I could have concluded with 41.f3! Bd4+ 42.Kh1 without fearing 42…Bxf3+ 43.gxf3 Qxf3+ 44.Rg2 and black’s Queen would only have one or two consolation checks remaining. But I played 41.Re3? allowing 41…Bd4! 42.e5 Nd7 43.e6 Bxe3 44.fxe3 Nf6 which I had assessed as winning in my head, but which in reality squandered the advantage, as indicated by the machine’s 0.00! Fortunately in the game, I was able to advance my e-pawn after 41…Nd7? 42.e5 Qf4 43.Qd8+ Nf8 44.e6 Bh5 45.e7 1-0, and record a high-flying blitz victory!

But the story isn’t over because there was a draw out of nowhere for black in the diagrammed position: after 38…Kg8 39.Re3 Bg4! and I couldn’t have used the g-file because there’s always …h5.

In the second day of blitz, I won only once, against Alireza, and I even shook despite an extra piece and 2 minutes against 10 seconds on the clock! Before the last round, somewhat miraculously I admit, I was just half a point behind Fabiano, so the calculations were easy 😊.

En mode décontracté avec les copains ! (Image : GCT).
Hanging out with the boyz! (Image: GCT).

Caruana – Mvl (Blitz, round 18) : ½

I had to score with black in order to win the tournament (and a draw was obviously enough for Fabiano); but I also had to be careful not to lose, so as not to risk my place on the Grand Chess Tour podium! So I had to remain capable of drawing at all times. In a Queen’s Gambit Accepted reached after a funny move order, he didn’t exchange the Queens, which he could have done early enough and might have saved him some trouble. I managed to get my pieces in place, but there was no obvious way to progress. Nevertheless, I pushed hard and managed to win a pawn. But in this endgame, playing almost on the increment, we both made mistakes, but it was me who made the last one!

Here, 56.Ra7+ Kg6 57.Re7 preserved the pawn and should have led to a draw, but Fabiano panicked and played 56.e5? fxe5 57.Bd2. Here, I wanted to play 57…Rh3, but for some reason I decided to go to e2 and as I dropped the piece there, I realized that my Rook was trapped after 57…Re2? 58.Kd3.

As a result, Fabiano drew the game and won the tournament.

Sinquefield Cup

Giri – Mvl (round 4) : ½

Anish managed to surprise me with a specific variation (7.Re1) of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. As he told me after the game, he spent an enormous amount of time on this position, not expecting it to arrive on the board, but thinking that if it did, he could put on maximum pressure.

He was hoping I wouldn’t find 18…Rc7, which was a really important move to regain control of the c-file, otherwise his Knight would eventually land on c5. With white’s Rook on c1, my Ra7 wouldn’t have had much future, for example 18…Rd8?! 19.Be4 Kf7 20.Rac1 followed by 21.Nb3 and it becomes very complicated to defend.

Anish was still in his preparation after 19.h3 Nh6 20.Bxe6 Bxe6 21.Nd4 Rc6 22.Nxc6+ Nxc6 23.Rac1 Rc8. The difficulty in these monster preparations, as we are well aware of, is to remember everything. Here he knew there was f4 somewhere. He looked superficially at the move 24.f4? right now, saw no problem and played it; admittedly, it seems to prevent 24…Nf5 because of 25.g4 and 26.f5. He figured I’d have to move my King, but on f7 there’s 25.Ne4 aiming for d6, and if I have to play 24…f5, then my Nh6 is offside. Except that I had anticipated that 24…Nf5! is actually possible, because if 25.g4 Nfd4 26.f5, I have the nice 26…Ne5! and if 27.fxe6? Rxc1!.

What he didn’t remember was that f4 had to be preceded by 24.Rc5! Nf7 and now 25.f4 with an a nice advantage.

Afterwards, I saw all the possibilities he had to force a draw and he didn’t choose any of them. I think he still believed he was better, and wanted to increase the pressure. Quite surprised, I played what seemed to me to be the logical moves, and began to think that I had quite a bit of initiative!

I saw that he could still force the draw (for example 30.Nf3 should be enough), but he didn’t and chose 30.Ne4 instead. I was beginning to think I might have real winning chances 😊.

After 30…N8c6 31.Rxa6?, I saw that 31…Bd5 was a move, but I figured I had time and preferred 31…Rxb2?. After 31…Bd5! I understood I would probably be more than fine, but I didn’t think I’d win at all. As far as I was concerned, Anish was still looking for a win, since he could already have forced a draw three or four times. In fact, as he’d missed many of my moves since 24…Nf5, he was terrified to see all my pieces come out and my attack become hyper-strong. As for me, I could see that I had an attack, but also only two pawns left on the board 😊. Of course, my pieces coordinate well, but I thought that, at worst, he could give away a piece and draw; so I might as well take the b2 pawn first… But in fact, I only realized after the game how crucial the move 31…Bd5! was, allowing the attack to break through in force; I’m threatening 32…Ne2+, but also …f5 or …Kf5 as the case may be.

After 31…Txb2?, Anish thought hard and came up with the sequence 32.f5+! Bxf5 33.Nd6, and instead of continuing to apply pressure with 33…Bd3 or 33…Bd7, I played 33…Bxh3+?! a little too quickly. My idea was that after 34.gxh3 Nf3+ 35.Kf1 Nh2+ 36.Kg1, I’d play 36…Nd4. Unfortunately, I realized too late that after 37.Re3 Ndf3+ 38.Kh1, there was nothing left! So I repeated the position and accepted the draw.

A game that petered out real quick, which is even more obvious after analyzing it in detail…

Classement final du Grand Chess Tour 2023 (image : GCT).
2023 Grand Chess Tour final rankings (image: GCT).

Toronto, 2023 Champions Chess Tour Final

Mvl – So (Armageddon, round 3) : ½

Between games, we had no time, and in any case no access to computers, so preparation was very limited 😊. In this tie-break, I decided to play 1.c4 by feel. I think I negotiated the opening rather well and got a playable position. What’s more, Wesley didn’t have much time on the clock (he’d bid less than 9′ against 15), so I thought I had a good chance. Then I forgot a two-move sequence for black, after which I immediately found myself in trouble. Nevertheless, I found some resources and arrived at the following position:

Here, I was quite happy because I’m threatening 25.Bxg7 as well as 25.a4. Now he played 24…f6? and I spent all my time on 25.Bxf6 gxf6 26.Nf4 variation, which I couldn’t make work. And I forgot that 25.a4! was even a possibility; an option that was almost winning after 25…Qc4 (25…Qb3 26.Nc5) 26.Nf4 Qb3 and now 27.Bxf6!. I then went back to 25.Bxf6? gxf6 26.Qxf6 after quite a long thought, and finally played this line. Unfortunately, I forgot that after 26…Qf5 27.Qxh6, there’s 27…Bc3! which seals the deal, and my attack flounders.

Somewhat miraculously, Wesley left me some small practical chances with Rook, Knight and 3 pawns against Queen and Rook, which is obviously objectively lost.

But it’s an Armaggedon and there’s no time added before the 61st move, and it’s only a one-second increment from there. Little by little, I managed to organize myself, to advance my pawns. I pushed them as far as I could, even if my King became a little vulnerable. I sensed that he wasn’t very serene. But it’s too hard to create real threats with this material imbalance, and I really did what I could under the circumstances.

Here he found 73…Rxg4 74.Kxg4 Qg6+ to stop my pawn avalanche and guarantee the draw.

This game, and even more so the one before it which I lost with white when all I needed was a draw, knocked me on the head, and was undoubtedly a turning point in the tournament.

Mvl – Nakamura (Armageddon, losers brackets)

Then I had my last chance against Nakamura. We repeated what we’d played in the first Armageddon of the round robin. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the details, as I thought he’d move on to another line. The start of the game was clearly bad for me…

Here, I thought of 21.b3, which didn’t satisfy me. So I played 21.a4, but immediately saw that 21…c6! could be very strong. After 22.b3, he had the sequence 22…Bb4+! 23.c3 Qxb3 24.cxb4 Bc8!. A not-so-hidden point objectively, even if this kind of diagonal retreat move is always difficult; in any case, it was missed by both of us 😊.
After 22…Bg7? 23.Rb1? (23.c3 first was compulsory, you can’t leave the d4 square to black’s Bishop) 23…Rhe8 24.Qc4, miraculously, he played 24…Qa5+? a little too quickly, which left me with a huge opportunity (24…Bd4! was extremely strong, with the idea 25…Be3+). After 25.b4! I suddenly felt better. Then I missed out on a few probably superior options, but still got the following beautiful position:

I played 30.Ra1? a tempo here because it was the move I had already planned. Obviously, if 30…Qxe4? I have 31.Rxb5+ Ka8 32.Rxa7+ and I mate. The idea was also that if he exchanged on c3, I’d take back with the Knight and regain b5. But I missed his excellent 30…Rd5! 31.Qa5?? and even though we both missed the mate in 6 that follows 31…Rxd3+!, he played 31…Rd7, kept everything under control and forced a draw from a strong position. Too bad I didn’t take the time to find the simple 30.Qxe5+! Rxe5 31.Nf6 Rxe1 32.Rxb5+ Kc7 33.Kxe1 followed by 34.Rxg5 with a completely winning endgame, which would have given me another chance in the tournament…

In any case, given my level of play, even if I’d won that game, it would have been more of a reprieve than anything else (even if you’re never safe from a good surprise 😊). But it still hurts. This game is a reflection of my performance in the tournament, a rather poor time management throughout, as I really played too fast, and difficulties in the Armageddon games that were glaring.

The year 2023 was a bad one from the perspective of then World rankings, because I was hoping for a rebound of my Elo, which didn’t materialize.

In terms of titles, I won the AI Cup and the Tata Steel India in Rapid, which is still a pretty big achievement, as are my 3 victories over Magnus Carlsen.

For the rest, in classical games, there was a lack of reference tournaments; the World Cup ended too soon. And as for the 2 classic Grand Chess Tour tournaments (Bucharest and Sinquefield Cup), the overall results were fairly neutral, with a lot of draws (+1, -1, =15 on the whole).

But quite a lot has been done in 2023, and although it’s sometimes gone wrong, I’m still quite optimistic about next year. Apart from the Leagues, I’ll have some time without a major tournament between January and April, which will allow me to work on what I still need to improve so that I’m really ready for a big 2024 season.

Next up, the Rapid & Blitz World Championships, to be held December 26-30 in Samarkand (Uzbekistan). I’m still counting on this last event of 2023, so see you in the next episode 😊.

Maxime’s games in St Louis (the Sinquefield Cup):

Maxime’s rapid games in St Louis:

Maxime’s blitz games in St Louis:

Maxime’s games in Toronto (Champions Chess Tour Final):


Statement from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Let’s be frank: the series of last-minute, tailor-made mini-matches organized in Chartres for Alireza (Firoujza), with the clear aim of qualifying him for the Candidates, does not correspond to my sporting values. However, I do wonder about the outcry this is causing when similar tournaments have been set up to help other players qualify for the Candidates – sometimes successfully so – without causing such a stir, and even without any reaction from the highest authorities. Suspicions of fixed games have even arisen, but as with accusations of cheating, we’d have to have the evidence to back them up. Of course, I’m counting on Laurent Freyd, the on-site referee, and the various authorities, to check that the games played in Chartres respect the integrity of the game.

In my opinion, this unpleasant situation is above all the result of a serious error of FIDE in the construction and wording of its rules. It is these shortcomings that offer players the opportunity to exploit loopholes, and this problem must be resolved as quickly as possible with a view to the next world championship cycle.

Without going back over the ways of qualifying for the Candidates, it would make sense to take into account the Elo performance of the year rather than the Elo rating at a given moment, or the average Elo of the year, which is mathematically unfair. Of course, it would then be necessary to impose clear rules enabling tournaments to be taken into account for the calculation of this annual Elo performance, which would be, for example, a calendar of tournaments set up at the beginning of the year; with perhaps the possibility of adding competitions up to 3 months before the end of the year, by dispensation.

Note that this would in no way affect the calculation of the current Elo ranking.

For many years now, with each qualification cycle, we have seen the rules changed and controversy accumulate. This has to stop, and in my opinion, the creation of a special commission to scrutinize qualification methods for the Candidates would certainly not be a luxury, but rather a necessity imposed by circumstances.

Grand Swiss, poor shape

Grand Swiss

The result of this tournament is of course a disappointment, as it was most likely my last shot at this World Championship cycle, and I couldn’t make the most of it (14-27th at 6.5/11).

When I arrived on the Isle of Man, I didn’t anticipate it was going to be so complicated for me physically. Because, unfortunately, I arrived sick, physically weak and with a constant cough. Although I’m not looking for excuses, it’s obvious that this was detrimental to my results in the first half of the tournament (2/5). And in such cases, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do…

But the truth is, if I take a step back, I have to say that not qualifying for the Candidates wasn’t really down to this tournament. In any case, my form over the first half of 2023 was really too erratic. As a result, I found myself out of the running for the Fide Circuit spot, and with a rating that made it virtually impossible to qualify by Elo: two of the four paths to the Candidates were therefore closed to me from the outset…

Let’s forget about the stakes for a moment, and revisit some interesting moments from my games on the Isle of Man!

Analyse avec les collègues (Esipenko, Maghsoodloo et Tari) (Photo : Fide).

Analysing with colleagues (Esipenko, Maghsoodloo and Tari) (Photo: Fide).

Round 1 : Gledura (2633) – MVL 1/2

Here, I made a mistake by playing 21…Ra4?. I had calculated many lines where I sacrificed an exchange and thought I had enough compensation, but each time the computer indicates +1 or +2! Gledura could have taken the advantage with 22.c4!. I didn’t believe in this move because I missed the very strong 22…Rxc4 23.Qa2!, for example 23…Rxd5 24.Qxc4 and the compensations seem insufficient.

So it would have been better if I’d chosen the first move I’d considered, namely 21…Ba6 22.Rf2 Bc4 23.Bxa8 Rxd2 24.Bxd2. I wanted to continue here with 24…Bd3 (idea …c4 then …Qa5), but after 25.Ra1 c4 26.Be3 I thought white was better, as I can no longer play …Qa5, while both Bishops will be perfectly anchored on d4 and d5.

Admittedly, after 24.Bxd2, the machine indicates 24…Qg4! with the idea …h5-h4, and estimates that Black has enough play. But honestly, this isn’t the kind of line a human GM will willingly enter…

Round 5 : Saric (2647) – MVL 1-0

Clearly my worst game of the tournament, peppered with mistakes. The Knight’s endgame is much more complex than the computer’s assessment (0.00 😊) suggests, as it doesn’t take into account how difficult it is for black to defend.

Here we had just passed move 40, and I thought long and hard before playing the horrible 41…Kc7? based on a huge miscalculation. First of all, I spent some time trying to find a clear path to the draw by not giving ground to white’s King and playing a Knight move, like 41…Nf4 or 41…Nc7. Having seen nothing crystal-clear, I was drawn to 41…Kc7? on the basis of the variation 42.Ke5 f4 43.Ne6+ Kb6 44.Nxf4? Nxf4 45.Kxf4 Kb5 and the pawn endgame is drawn. Unfortunately, I completely missed 44.Nd4! and black is in zugzwang; the Knight can’t move because of the f4 pawn, and if black’s King retreats, b5! wins. A big blunder on my part, which perfectly reflects my level of form in the early rounds…

Qui va là ? (Photo : Anna Shtourman).
Who goes there? (Photo: Anna Shtourman).

Round 6 : MVL – Idani (2633) 1-0

White’s position is preferable, but you have to take quick action to break through. In fact, I realized that I didn’t really have a choice, and was forced to play 20.Bxf5 exf5 21.e6! Qxe6 (21…fxe6 22.Qe5! shows the vulnerability of the c5 pawn) 22.Rfe1 Qxe2 23.Rxe2+ Kd7 24.Rae1. Despite the opposite-colored Bishops, the situation is tricky for black. The Fb7 is pretty, but hits the air; all endgames lose. For example 24…Rhe8 25.Rxe8 Rxe8 26.Rxe8 Kxe8 27.Bxc5 is absolutely hopeless – not all opposite-colored Bishops endgames are drawn 😊.

In the game, after 24…Kc6 25.Re7 a4 26.R1e5, the pressure quickly became too much.

Round 7 : Nguyen Thai Dai Van (2618) – MVL 0-1

In this chaotic position, I was expecting 26.Ned4, and I had planned 26…Rxd4 27.Nxd4 Qxd4 28.Qxe6 Bg5 29.Bf1 Qg4, but after 30.h3, the position is not clear at all. Fortunately, he played 26.Nfd4? Bg5 27.Qxe6, which runs into the intermediate move 27…Qb7! 28.f3 Be3+ and white won’t have enough play for the piece.

Pendant la partie contre Pichot… (Photo : Maria Emelianova)
During the game against Pichot… (Photo: Maria Emelianova).

Round 8 : MVL – Pichot (2650) 1-0

Black’s last move 17…Nb6 may look strange, as it seems to be abandoning the Kingside (with one Knight on a5, the other on b6 and the bishop on b7!). I replied 18.Bh4! Be7 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.b4 cxb4 21.cxb4 Nc6 22.a5 as I felt I was gaining the advantage. The alternative was to take advantage of the remoteness of the black’s minor pieces to play the attack with 19.Nf5 Bxh4 20.N3xh4 followed by the switch of the Queen to g4 or h5. But I didn’t find this line that strong; I thought it was less dangerous for him because he’d play …Kh7 and then …Qf6, and in the end, you could wonder what my Knights were really doing? Admittedly, it was possible to reinforce the attack with Re3, but I wasn’t at all sure that would be a good idea; my Bishop on c2 doesn’t attack, black will quickly have …Kh7, …Qf6 and …g6, and I would need to prove that I’ve got something.

In the game, after 22…Nd7, I intended to play 23.Qd2. But 23…Nd4 seemed strong, e.g. 24.Nxd4 exd4 25.Nf5 Qf6 26.f4 Rac8 27.Qf2 Nb8! 28.Nxd4 Nc6 29.Nxc6 Rxc6 didn’t seem clear at all to me. So I changed my mind to 23.Nd5, but after 23…Qd8 24.Bb3 Ne7! black was on the brink of total equalization.

A few moves later…

Here, I’m threatening 35.Bxf7+! followed by a fork on d6. Pichot played 34…Ne6, which suited me because I wanted 35.Bxe6 fxe6 36.Ne3, which leaves white free to torture the position for a very long time. Instead of 34…Ne6, I’d seen that 34…d5? didn’t work because of 35.Nxe5 Qc7 36.f4, and he can never take e4 because of Bxf7+ once again. But mostly, I spent time calculating the plausible 34…Bxe4!? 35.dxe4 Nxe4 36.Qc2 (not 36.Bxf7+? Kh8 with chaos on the board! ; 36.Ke3! Qxf5 37.Nh4 Qh7 38.Bc2 was strong too, but I didn’t see it during the game) 36…Qxf5 37.Ke3 d5 38.Bxd5 Nxg3 39.Qxf5 Nxf5+ 40.Ke4 g6 41.Nxe5 Kg7 42.Nxf7 and the endgame is completely winning because of the a6 pawn that will fall.

The Spanish player didn’t crumble under pressure, until the next position:

I realized that activating both Queens with 48.Qa7 Qf7 would probably lead to a draw. So I spent a lot of time, and came up with 48.d4! exd4 49.e5 which is strong, at least in practice. Perhaps it was still a draw after 49…d5 50.Qxd4 Nf4 51.Qc5+ Kf7 52.Qc2! Qxc2+ 53.Kxc2 Nxh3 54. Kd3 Ke7 55.Kd4 had he played 55…Kd8 now? In any case, the difficulty of defending this endgame in practice was such that after the natural but erroneous 55…Nf4? 56.Nf2! I was sure I was going to win!

Excellent tournoi d’Etienne, qui aura été dans la course jusqu’au bout (Photo : Anna Shtourman).
Excellent tournament from Etienne, who was in the race right to the end (Photo: Anna Shtourman).

Round 9 : Sindarov (2658) – MVL 1/2

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5+ Bd7 5.Qe2. In the 4th round, I noticed that India’s Nihal Sarin had played this minor line (against Ter-Sahakyan, 1-0). I analyzed quickly and saw that after 5…a6, black equalizes. But in this game, I didn’t want to draw, as I had to continue my rush of victories to have any hope. So I took my time and chose 5…g6, then after 6.e5 dxe5 7.Qxe5!? paused againto find 7…Nc6! which is the right move, sacrificing the c5 pawn.

Soon the game took an ultra-complicated turn, and Sindarov even used 48 minutes to play 12.Ne5 😊.

After 12…Nxc3 I calculated a rather crazy line. Given that my opponent had thought for so long, I suspected there was a reason: 13.dxc3 Bxg2 14.Rg1 Qd5 15.Ng4 0-0-0 (I know the machine gives 15…Qf3!, but no human accepts the kamikaze position resulting from 16.Rxg2 Qxg2 17.Nf6+) 16.Ne3 Bf3 17.Nxd5 Bxe2 18.Nb6+ Kc7. Sindarov stopped there, but I pursued the variation and found 19.Bg5! and black’s problems continue, e.g. 19…Re8 20.Kxe2 Kxb6 21.Rad1 with d-file control. Having discarded this variation, I would probably have fallen back on 14…Bc6, but after 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Qe5! it was perhaps even worse, which I hadn’t really realized on the board.

But Sindarov eventually took with the other pawn, 13.bxc3, and after 13…Bxg2 14.Rg1, I chose 14…Bc6 15.Nxc6 bxc6 and that’s my only regret in this game. I could also have played 14…Qd5 15.c4 Qe4, but after 16.d3, I thought I was slightly worse. On the other hand, if I’d seen it, and unfortunately I didn’t, I would have played the somewhat weird move 14…Bh3!?. It’s a pity because I felt there was something there, but I couldn’t find it. Black threatens to consolidate with …Bf5, and after 15.Qf3 Qc7 16.Nxf7 Qxf7 17.Qxh3 Bd6, he clearly has good compensation for the pawn.

In the game, after 16.Qe5 Rg8 17.Rb1, I opted for 17…Bg7 because I was afraid of a specific line after the more normal 17…Bd6: 18.Qe4 Qc7 19.d4 Kd7 (the natural square to connect the Rooks) 20.Qf3 f5 21.Qh3 Rg7 22.Bh6 Rf7 23.Ke2, and I thought my position was not good at all, which is probably not true.

After a few other twists and turns, the game ended in a draw on the 31st move, putting a definitive end to my remontada…

Classement final (chess-results.com).
Final standings (chess-results.com).

Of course, I’m disappointed with the result, but frankly, I felt I hadn’t been able to defend my chances to the full by not being 100% physically. The good news is that I don’t have time to lament, as the American tour begins on November 14, with the last two tournaments of the Grand Chess Tour 2023 (St-Louis Rapid & Blitz, then Sinquefield Cup), followed a few days later by the Champions Chess Tour Finals in Toronto.

I arrived in New York on November 8, and had a few days to do several exhibitions in Manhattan and Connecticut, which also allowed me to acclimatize to the time difference before arriving in St. Louis.

Maxime’s games:

As soon as he realized that his arrival in the United States preceded by a few hours the first game of the San Antonio Spurs and their new French star Victor Wembanamya in New York, Maxime immediately booked his ticket for this NBA evening at Madison Square Garden. A fan of many sports, he never misses the opportunity, whenever it arises and his schedule allows, to attend a sporting event taking place wherever chess destiny has taken him!

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