Looking ahead to 2023!

2023 !

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:

Van Foreest-Mvl, Ronde 2.
Van Foreest-Mvl, Round 2.

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 😊.

Li,L-Mvl, Ronde 5.
Li,L-Mvl, Round 5.

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.

Mvl-Santos Latasa au 1er échiquier du match France-Espagne, sous le regard du capitaine Jean-Baptiste Mullon (photo : Fide).
Mvl-Santos Latasa on 1st board of the France-Spain match, under the eyes of captain Jean-Baptiste Mullon (photo: Fide).

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.

Mvl-Vidit, ¼ Finale aller.
Mvl-Vidit, ¼ Final first leg.

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…

La grille de départ du Speed Chess 2022 (image : www.chess.com).
Line-up of the Speed Chess 2022 (image: www.chess.com).

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.

La partie de tableau de Maxime (image : www.chess.com).
Maxime’s half of the bracket (image : www.chess.com).

Danzhou
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:

Giri-Mvl, Round 4.

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

Rapid

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.

Kovalev-Mvl, Ronde 1.
Kovalev-Mvl, Round 1.

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:

Mvl-Yakkuboev, Round 6.

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).

La Petroff est-elle un signe de gentillesse ? (photo : Fide).
Is Petroff a sign of friendliness? (photo: Fide).

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.

Erigaisi-Mvl, Round 9.

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.

Indjic-Mvl, Round 11.

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!

Mvl-Keymer, Ronde 13.
Mvl-Keymer, Round 13.

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).

Le moment où Maxime sauve la nulle contre Keymer ; sous les yeux de Magnus, sacré champion du monde Rapide… (photo : Fide).
The moment when Maxime saves the draw against Keymer; under the eyes of Magnus, crowned World Rapid Champion… (photo: Fide).

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.

Blitz

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…

Les trois français avec Van Foreest (photo : Fide).
The three Frenchmen with Van Foreest (photo: Fide).

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:
:

Just a wristwatch on my arm

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…

Cycle change

MVL et Etienne Bacrot

Etienne Bacrot and I stopped our collaboration a few months ago… A collaboration that had started more than seven years earlier, in the spring of 2015, when he became my head coach; it was a long cycle that we lived together. And this cycle has now come to an end, since we shared the observation that there was not enough renewal of ideas and not enough new challenges in our collaboration. In the end, a certain routine had set in on my side, and it was becoming detrimental to my sporting results.

This is an opportunity for me to go back to the beginning – and even before the beginning – since the first time Etienne talked to me about working together, or rather that he works for me, was in 2014, during the French championship in Nîmes where I had spent a day.

He told me on this occasion that since the tournament in Biel the year before where we met, he had been convinced that I had become extremely strong. Even if my score there was only +1, with 3 wins and 2 losses, he considered that in my play, all the ingredients to bring me to the highest level were already present. And so he offered to help me, to guide me…

I must admit that my spontaneous reaction was mixed; in fact, this proposal proved to be complicated for me to handle. Even though I was flattered by his offer, he and I were still neck and neck in terms of Elo, so it seemed a bit premature to me in terms of this rivalry.

But for Etienne, I had just held the first board of the French team at the Tromso Olympiads, and the handover was now irreversible. He considered it natural to offer me his services. This discussion finally led to a trial run, i.e. a first preparation camp that we did together at the end of 2014, without any notion of coach/trained.

At that time I was still working with Alexander Beliavsky from Slovenia. Objectively, it was going pretty well, but that was the time when I started to participate in the most important tournaments and to play against really well-prepared top players. Certainly, Wijk aan zee in January 2015 had been a great success, as I broke my Elo record there, with 2775. But then there was a very complicated quarter, with I think only one win in three or four months!

That’s when I felt that something had to change. So I went back to Etienne, and he « officially » started working for me.

It completely changed my perspective on preparation in the openings because it was the first time I was confronted with someone who had a much more global vision of the work required. Alexander was a very good coach, but in terms of openings, he had become really limited, especially in trying to get the advantage with white. And the work with Etienne came to fruition quickly, in the second half of 2015, when I was moving up the world ranking at the same time as I started to play all the big tournaments, especially the Grand Chess Tour ones, first in Norway, then in St. Louis, and finally in London – with an extremely accomplished performance by the way.

Parfois, on doit jouer ensemble ! Comme ici au Grand Chess Tour 2017 à Paris, avec un certain Garry K qui donne le go (photo : Gct).
Sometimes they have to play together! Like here at the 2017 Grand Chess Tour in Paris, with a certain Garry K giving the go (photo: Gct).

In terms of work organization, it’s true that I was not as creative anymore, in the sense that I was less looking for ideas myself. My mission was mainly to be efficient in mastering my opening repertoire, and to arrive with as much energy as possible on the board! As for Etienne, his main task was to generate the opening files with the help of more and more powerful computers. This obviously meant checking carefully all the new ideas, everything that had been played in the previous week’s games, or even the day before, in order to be sure not to miss anything. In this way, I built a much stronger repertoire with black, able to resist the test of time; while avoiding having to work at the last minute before each game, which is obviously essential to compete with the top of the top. Although the openings remain central in the preparation, Etienne also constantly made sure that I kept my chess form through well chosen exercises and studies.

Throughout these seven years of collaboration, the main evolution has of course been the access to more and more powerful and easier to use software. There is no need for huge machines anymore since the arrival of AlphaZero (even if this software was not available to the public), which paved the way for Artificial Intelligence. Closer to us, the current Stockfish, Stockfish 15, is so much stronger than Stockfish 8 for example… So it makes some of the work easier, in the sense that finding the correct moves or the right ideas is obviously much more simple! But the problem is that everybody has access to these ideas and to make a real difference, you have to bring something more. So, it requires a lot more work, leading to ever increasing in-depth files, with the major risk of getting lost into them; as has often been the case for me lately 🙂 .

I had a rather complicated period in 2022, at least as long as Eloi s concerned. But despite that, I didn’t compromise my goals for the next two years, mainly thanks to my qualification for the 2023 Grand Chess Tour. I will therefore be present next year on all major competitions and on the qualifying events for the 2024 Candidates.

Obviously, I am not sitting idly by during this transition period, especially since I recently hired a new chess coaching team, whose profile fits the characteristics and orientations that I had set with my staff. Of course, working in a new environment requires a period of adaptation and adjustment. The good news is that I am lucky enough to have this time, a rare commodity usually! Indeed, my next big events should start around May 2023, which leaves a little bit of margin…

I’m going to take advantage of these lines to make an assessment of my period with Etienne, by recapitulating my palmares of these seven years… I won a lot – well, I don’t know if it is « a lot », but let’s say a certain number 🙂 – of tournaments. In Classical chess, the Sinquefield Cup twice, Bucharest, Dortmund, Shenzhen, as well as two new titles in Biel and two World Cup semi-finals; Rapid/Blitz in Paris and Zagreb, and the 2021 World title in blitz; 2nd place on the professional circuit (Grand Chess Tour) four years in a row! Let’s not forget the team competitions, which brought me several titles with my German club of Baden-Baden, with Clichy in 2017, then a French Cup with Asnières in 2019. The French national team did not win any competition during the different campaigns of these years, but we will nevertheless remember the beautiful silver medal we got at the 2021 European Team Championship in Slovenia.

In terms of world rankings, I had the opportunity to sit on top of the lists in Blitz as well as in Rapid, and be 2nd in the world in Classical. And finally, this famous second place at the Candidates 2020/2021, which will remain at the same time a good result and a disappointment 🙂 . Between the day when Fide announced that I was replacing Radjabov and the interruption of the tournament halfway through, only 3 weeks passed! Again, a big thank you to Etienne for his reactivity and for all the work done in this short time…

Mini-stage de préparation, juste avant les Candidats 2020 (Photo : Alpha Echecs).
Mini training session, just before the 2020 Candidates (Photo: Alpha Echecs).

All in all, the results are quite positive, even if the disillusions linked to the world championship cycle are certainly what will have marked people the most.

There was a very nice period in 2015/2016, as soon as Etienne and I started working together, although the very first tournament was catastrophic (Grand Prix Fide, Kanty-Mansyik), with a last place and a record of 4 losses in a row. So I went back down to a low point of 2723, but in the second half of 2015 I finished on a high to get to 2785 in early 2016. By the way, I think my best years in terms of results were 2016 and 2017; I went undefeated for a long period of time and got to my highest point at 2819.

If there’s one year where it’s a real shame I didn’t qualify for the Candidates, it’s 2017, which was probably my most successful season…

So the future has already begun for me, and I’m pretty excited about the new environment and ways of working that are now mine. I’m sure that the next few months will allow me to absorb the change and go into the major upcoming events better equipped.

Until then, there are still a few goals for the end of the year, with the World Team Championship in Jerusalem (November 20-25), and of course the defense of my world title during the Rapid and Blitz World Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan (December 26-30). As for the first months of 2023, nothing is very clear in the calendar for the time being…

The only time Maxime travelled to Austria was when he was just 10 years old, in early December 2000. He played in Graz in the U12 category of the Central and Western European Rapid Championship (Mitropa). Maxime took second place in the tournament. 22 years later, he had the opportunity to come back to Austria twice in the space of a month! At the beginning of October to compete in the European Cup with his club Asnières, which finally won the bronze medal in the competition. Then at the beginning of November with his new club Linz, for the first rounds of the Austrian Bundesliga. The competitions were organized in the Tyrol region, in both cases quite close to Innsbruck. In terms of result, Maxime scored 4/8 in total (+1, -1, =6, with 5 blacks), for what could have been his last appearance in a classical game for a long time…

Ups and Downs

Mvl mène la discussion pendant la cérémonie d’ouverture (Photo : St-Louis Chess Club).

Not all tournaments are alike, and the end of the Grand Chess Tour 2022 in the USA was not up to its beginning in Bucharest…

I arrived in St. Louis on August 24 for the traditional Rapid & Blitz and Sinquefield Cup, final stages of the Grand Chess Tour. I was already two weeks on American soil, so I was pretty well adapted to the time change (-7h). Of course, I had different sleeping hours than usual in France because I slept earlier. But I felt that it would be a good thing anyway since the games were scheduled at 1pm.

St-Louis Chess Club
St-Louis Chess Club

RAPID & BLITZ

I was quite convincing in the Rapid portion. Even though I missed a few chances, I converted two good ones against Mamedyarov and Caruana. I was quite satisfied with my performance during the three days of the Rapid. It was pretty clean, especially since I had had five blacks and had rarely been in danger, so I thought everything was fine 🙂 . But as soon as the blitz started, so did the problems… I don’t know if it was fatigue, probably a little, but in any case, I couldn’t play as fast and as smooth as usual.

It wasn’t at the level of the Norway Chess blitz tournament earlier this year, where I lost the first five games, but I felt that something was wrong. The first day I lost a lot with black and the second day, suddenly, it was the opposite! I lost a grotesque game against Nakamura… I was in complete loss of feeling. I know that it always happens in blitz to have bad days, but this was really brutal compared to the Rapid, which was quite strange.

Nevertheless, I shared the 3rd place in the Rapid & Blitz with Caruana, keeping the Grand Chess Tour lead in the overall ranking, just ahead of Alireza. I knew I would have to do well at the Sinquefield Cup to maintain this status, but things didn’t go exactly as planned 🙂 .

SINQUEFIELD CUP

I had a complicated first game against Dominguez but I found some good moves so I thought it was pretty good. Then I had two fairly normal performances against So and Mamedyarov; with three draws, two of which were with black, I thought it was off to a pretty good start, but now I had to get over the Caruana hurdle, once again with black.

At the beginning of this game, we all noticed the absence of Magnus. Like the others, I was disturbed for 15-20 minutes, the time to understand what was going on and to measure the mess it was going to generate . But I was able to quickly refocus on my game.

As expected, Fabiano challenged me in a long theoretical debate about the Najdorf. And his memory proved once again to be more accurate.

Caruana-Mvl, Ronde 4.
Caruana-Mvl, Round 4.

Here I remembered 22.Qb7, but not 22.Qe4. So I had to think about it and opted for 22…Re5 (22…Re8! is the most accurate) 23.Qxf4 f6?. I knew that this move was key in some lines, but here it is definitely not a good idea! I wanted a concrete solution that would force events, but I lacked a sense of danger and should have been content with being a bit worse after the alternative I had considered, 23…Qb4. In the game, 24.Qd2! (instead of 24.Qh2) would have asked black a lot of questions and the fact is that the computer is going crazy here in favor of white; my Queen is offside and White is threatening to develop an initiative on the kingside where my white squares are weakened.

So I continued to suffer, but in practice it was anything but easy for white, and I managed to get into a Queen’s endgame with good drawing chances. But I think I’m going to have nightmares if I start analyzing this ending. Anyway, the machines show us that Fabiano missed the win twice, while I also missed two draws, and as usual, the one who made the last mistake lost.

Caruana-Mvl, Ronde 4.
Caruana-Mvl, Round 4.

Here, the only move to draw was 88…Qe7!, don’t ask me why! But I played the more human 88…Qe6+? and lost…

I knew that in these Q + 2p vs. Q endgames, there are versions that are won and others that are drawn, and that for example Meier lost a similar one against Carlsen at the Olympiads. But then, to unravel which ones are which and why, it is absolutely impossible during a game! Besides, I must admit that my intuition was rather in favor of the draw, but that this intuition was therefore wrong!

Flower versus pineapple... (Photo: St-Louis Chess Club).
Flower versus pineapple… (Photo: St-Louis Chess Club).

Against Nepo the next day, I played my prep and thought I was a bit better in the ending, but I guess I was not precise enough to cause problems; a valid observation in general. With 2/5 before the rest day, I realized that winning the Grand Chess Tour was becoming unlikely. I felt I wasn’t playing well enough anyway to really hurt. But I had to come back in the last four rounds to keep the second or third place on the Tour, both qualifying for the 2023 edition.

Unfortunately, the round 6 game against Aronian confirmed my fears.

Aronian-Mvl, Ronde 6.
Aronian-Mvl, Round 6.

Still in the 6.Be3 Najdorf variation, Levon played a new idea, 16.Rhf1!? instead of 16.Rhe1, which I knew though – but not as well as him! I still managed to annihilate his small advantage and got back into the game.

Unfortunately, this improvement in quality came at the expense of the clock because I had to take much longer than in my game against Caruana. Overall, I was slower than I’ve ever been in the last ten years of my career at least! And so I ended up panicking as I ran out of time, not being used of playing under pressure on my last seconds.

Aronian-Mvl, Ronde 6.
Aronian-Mvl, Round 6.

Here, with only 1′ on the clock, I vainly tried to make 36…Rb7 work; but after 37.Rxe4 (37.Kc2? Rg5!), 37…Rxb3+? would be impossible because of 38.Kc2 Rb4 39.Kc3 winning material. I should have found the safety resource 36…Re7!, but with only 3 seconds left on the clock, I uncorked the ridiculous 36…f5? which gives the game away in one move; after 37.fxe4 Kh6 38.exf5 Rxf5 39.Rf1 Rcf7 40.b4, White easily won with his extra pawn on the queenside.

Thoughtful… (Photo : St-Louis Chess Club)..
Thoughtful… (Photo : St-Louis Chess Club).

I then finished with two draws to end the tournament. First against Niemann, probably missing the opportunity to take an edge in the early middlegame. And then against Alireza, knowing that this guaranteed me third place on the Grand Chess Tour, regardless of the three other results of the last round.

Mvl-Firouzja, Ronde 9.
Mvl-Firouzja, Round 9.

Here, something quite funny happened; Alireza thought for about ten minutes, during which I stood up and thought about the rankings. And I realized to my bewilderment that while a draw against Alireza would absolutely guarantee me 3rd place in the Grand Chess Tour, a win would not! Indeed, if Niemann and Aronian won against Nepo and Mamedyarov, then Caruana would have shared the first place of the tournament, and would have passed me by a quarter of a point in the Grand Chess Tour ranking!

So when I returned on my board, my determination to make a draw was complete!

Classement final du Grand Chess Tour 2022 (Image : St-Louis Chess Club).
Grand Chess Tour 2022, final standings (Image : St-Louis Chess Club).

Congratulations to Alireza for his exceptional performance in St. Louis. Winning the Rapid & Blitz and then the Sinquefield Cup in a row, no one has ever done that before!

Maxime’s rapid games in Saint Louis:
:

Maxime’s blitz games in Saint Louis:
:

Maxime’s classical games in Saint Louis:
:

Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman

Before participating in the two Grand Chess Tour tournaments in St. Louis, Maxime had first taken a week’s vacation in Florida, then participated in two exhibitions on the East Coast. The first one took place in Bridgeport (Connecticut), during the Open organized by the dynamic Dan Starbuck-Pelletier and his team. As a guest star for three days, Maxime was able to give masterclasses, play simultaneous games, and participate in a blitz tournament. Then, at the invitation of the Manhattan Chess Club, he traveled the hundred kilometers that separated him from Greenwich Village in the heart of New York to play a simultaneous in this mythical club, which has already hosted the biggest names of the 64 squares.

Magnus and the two Frenchmen

Participants GCT Zagreb

On the weekend of July 9-10, I made an express visit to Bremen for the end of the Bundesliga. Although I was unwell at the time, I was able to bring two draws with black, and participate in the new German championship title of Baden-Baden.

With Jules Moussard in the stadium of Werder Bremen (Photo: Paul Meyer-Dunker).
With Jules Moussard in the stadium of Werder Bremen (Photo: Paul Meyer-Dunker).

A few days later, I left for Zagreb, along with my fellow countryman Alireza Firouzja, to play in the Grand Chess Tour 2022 Rapid & Blitz tournament.

Here are the most important moments of the Rapid tournament, as well as some spectacular moments of the Blitz:

RAPID TOURNAMENT

Round 1: TOPALOV-MVL

A good start in the tournament despite a not very controlled opening.

Topalov-Mvl, Rapid ronud 1.
Topalov-Mvl, Rapid round 1.

My previous …Na6-c7 maneuver was not precise so I tried to complicate things by preparing …f5. I think Veselin was afraid of this move and he made the bizarre decision 12.dxe6? which turns out to be a strategic mistake because …f5 would have been at least as risky for me as for him! After 12.dxe6? Nxe6 followed by …Bb7, I was able to put pressure on e4 and quickly take an advantage.

Round 3: CARLSEN-MVL

Carlsen-Mvl, Rapide ronde 3.
Carlsen-Mvl, Rapid round 3.

Here white had to start with 9.Qd2! to try to refute my pawn sacrifice in the opening. Because after 9.Bb2? I was able to uncork the elegant 9…Ba3! and I had calculated that after 10.0-0-0 Qxc3 11.Bxa3 Nf6! (but not the suicidal 11…Qa1+? 12.Kd2 Qxa2 13.Bb5!) 12.Qc4 Qa1+ 13.Kd2 Qxa2, white had nothing better than the perpetual following 14.Re1+ Be6 15.Rxe6+ fxe6 16.Qxe6+. A line that may seem dangerous, but I understood that the Knights were actually protecting my King rather well.

A very funny game to end the first day of play…

Round 4: MVL-VAN FOREEST

Mvl-Van Foreest, Rapide ronde 4.
Mvl-Van Foreest, Rapid round 4.

An extremely complex game in which I almost cracked under pressure and ended up in an inferior endgame, which I managed to hold.

Despite 50 torture moves, the draw was signed at move 104!

La photo officielle du tournoi (Photo : Grand Chess Tour).
The official photo of the tournament (Photo : Grand Chess Tour).

Round 5: FIROUZJA-MVL

I got a good position against a marginal opening line, with a very quick h3-g4-Bg2 against the Sicilian. But as often, it was in the transition from opening to middle game that I had to lose a bit of momentum. Of course, this is a phase which is one of the main difficulties in chess, but there is certainly room for improving my game here.

In short, I found myself worse after 20 moves…

Firouzja-Mvl, Rapide ronde 5.
Firouzja-Mvl, Rapid round 5.

Despite a good series of defensive moves, I would have continued to suffer after a normal move like 21.Be4 or 21.h4, or even the more brutal 21.f4. But Alireza wanted to win a pawn he shouldn’t have taken! After 21.cxb4? Nxb4 22.Nxe5, I could activate my pieces by 22…Rd8 23.Be4 g6 24.h4 Nd5 25.Bd2 Rb8. After that, I played a very good game I think, with quite a few tactical points. That said, it became a hell of a game to calculate, and there were certainly mistakes on both sides; in a position like this one, it’s pretty normal.

But what’s not so great is that I missed the conversion when I had ended up with a winning endgame, plus a lead on the clock.

Firouzja-Mvl, Rapide ronde 5.
Firouzja-Mvl, Rapid round 5.

It was time to slow down and invest a good part of my remaining 2’30” to understand that the natural 52…Ra4! was quietly winning, despite the arrival of the King on b3: 53.Kc3 Bxg5 54.Kb3 Re4! and the Rook comes back to e8 to control the a-pawn, while the h5-pawn is a racer. In the game, I managed to let him build a fortress on black squares after 52…Rb1 53.Be3 Rb5 54.a6 Bxg5? 55.a7 Ta5 56.Bxg5 Rxa7 57.Ke4. When I saw in the evening what I had missed, I thought I was really an idiot 🙂 .

Round 6: MVL-SARIC

As I had already had two very long games, I refused to play against Saric’s Najdorf and chose 3.Bb5+, but I got absolutely nothing throughout an insipid game.

L’explication par le geste (Photo : Grand Chess Tour).
The explanation by the gesture (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Round 7: MAMEDYAROV-MVL

After once again being inaccurate at the end of the opening to counter white’s pawn sacrifice, I made the drastic decision to flee forward; give the pawn back and immediately sacrifice another one right after, in an attempt to free up my position!

Mamedyarov-Mvl, Rapide ronde 7.
Mamedyarov-Mvl, Rapid round 7.

Rather than passively defending myself, I therefore preferred 19…Ne7 20.Bxb7 Rxc1 21.Qxc1 d5!? even if after 22.Bxd5 Rc8 23.Qe3, white’s advantage has certainly changed in nature, but it remains unquestionable; it is no longer « pawn down with big compensations », but « pawn up and not enough compensation for black »!

But his reluctance to weaken the white squares by playing e3 allowed me to get back into the game, creating a miraculous counterplay just in time.

Mamedyarov-Mvl, Rapide ronde 7.
Mamedyarov-Mvl, Rapid round 7.

28…e3!. No need to tell me twice! 29.f3?! (too risky for my taste; I think he should have settled for the draw by 29.fxe3 Ng4 30.Qd3 Nxe3 31.Qxe3 Qxd1+ 32.Kf2 Qxa4, but I understand that it was difficult for him to make this decision…) 29…f4 30.Kg2 Ng6. The machine maintains that it’s equal, but in practice, his Queenside majority is blocked, my Qa1 controls the long black diagonal and the e1 square. So the Bishop can’t move, and the Queen can’t move much either…

Then I amplified my counterplay with …h5-h4-h3, arriving at the decisive moment of the game.

Mamedyarov-Mvl, Rapide ronde 7.
Mamedyarov-Mvl, Rapid round 7.

Here it was very hard, but you had to take and after 34.Kxh3 Qf6, find 35.g5! Qxg5 36.Qc3+ and 37.Qe1!. I might as well say that I didn’t have this line, and neither did he!

So he played 34.Kf1? and yes, I found the nice 34…Nf8!

Obviously, my first instinctive reflex was to play 34…Ne5 35.Qd5 Nc4, but I saw that there was 36.Qg5+ and perpetual. And if I play 34…Qf6 immediately, he simply replies 35.Bb3, and 35…Qh4 is always countered by 36.Qc3+ and 37.Qe1. So I fell back to the slower maneuver starting with 34…Nf8! aiming for e6, but not fully appreciating its impact. I didn’t know I was winning; I thought he still had a defense, with 35.Qd5 Ne6 36.g5, but it certainly wasn’t enough in reality. Anyway, I understood that I was not running any risk by choosing this maneuver. Because my Ne6 prevents all checks; it really controls everything and is finally better placed than on g6. As for my Da1, it is still strong and I have the idea with …Df6-h4 in reserve.

After 34…Nf8!, I had anticipated his attempt to break free 35.a5? Qxa5 36.Qd4+ Kg8 37.Qxf4, and saw that 37…Qd2! would be lethal. Which was true, but not without having to pass a final pitfall, which my opponent and I both missed. In our defense, it was really hard to detect with little time on the clock. In fact, after 38.Qa4, black had to calmly start with 38…Ne6! to actually win. But I thought that 38…Qd6? put an immediate end to the game, which turned out to be true after 39.Kg1? Ne6 40.Qc2 Qd8! followed by 41…Qh4 and white resigned.

But after 38…Qd6?, white had the possibility to free himself by 39.Bb3, since after 39…Qxh2, there would have been 40.Bxf7+! with a more than improbable perpetual! Whether black takes the Bishop or not, and despite the presence of the defending Nf8, black’s King won’t find any shelter…

Mvl en salle de repos, entouré d’un ami et du GMI péruvien Emilio Cordova, secondant de Dominguez (Photo : Grand Chess Tour).
Mvl in the rest room, surrounded by a friend and the Peruvian GM Emilio Cordova, Dominguez’s second (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Round 8: NEPOMNIACHTCHI-MVL

Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Rapide ronde 8.
Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Rapid round 8.

A little opening tragedy!

I knew that his move 7…c5? was bad and that 7…Nd7 should played instead, but I couldn’t remember the refutation. After 8.Nb5 Be6, I saw 9.c4! but not the continuation 9…dxc4 (9…a6 10.cxd5) 10.Ng5! which exploits the weakness of the d6-square and wins by force.

It’s a pity, and I made a non-game afterwards, putting up very little resistance.

Round 9: DOMINGUEZ-MVL

Always well prepared, the American obtained a stable and advantageous position in the 7.Be3 e5 variation against the Najdorf, but I maneuvered rather well in defense, especially with my Knights, to completely annihilate his initiative.

BLITZ TOURNAMENT

So here are the key or spectacular moments in my blitz tournament games:

Round 1: MVL-SARIC

Mvl-Saric, Blitz ronde 1.
Mvl-Saric, Blitz round 1.

28.Bxh5? ; an intuitive sacrifice, which would have been possible if 28.fxg6 fxg6 29.Bxh5!? had been intercalated, since 29…gxh5? would now be impossible because of 30.Qxh5, taking advantage of the f5-square for the Knight and the h5-e8 diagonal for the Queen. However, after 28.Fxh5? immediately, Saric could have safely taken because after 28…gxh5 29.Nxh5 Bh6, white’s attacking potential is clearly insufficient. But he trusted me and after 28…Qe3? 29.fxg6 Qxc3 30.gxf7+ Kf8 31.Qg4! my attack became irresistible.

Le t-shirt jaune spécial blitz ! (Photo : Grand Chess Tour).
The special yellow blitz t-shirt! (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Round 3: MAMEDYAROV-MVL

Mamedyarov-Mvl, Blitz ronde 3.
Mamedyarov-Mvl, Blitz round 3.

In this equal position, I decided in a few seconds to take my chance with 42…Fxf2?, even if I was not at all sure of the move! After 43.Kxf2 g3+, Mamed had to find the difficult 44.Kf1! though, the idea being that 44…Nd2+ 45.Ke1 f2+ is not possible because of 46.Kxd2 f1=Q 47.Rf8+. But in the rush of a blitz ending, he played the human move 44.Kg1? after which the position is again a draw: 44…Nd4 45.Rf7+ Ke3 46.Re7+ Kd2 47.Rd7. Unfortunately, I took the wrong direction here and after 47…Ke1? (47…Kc3! 48.Rxd4 Kxd4 49.Bxf3 b5! 50.axb5 Kc5 and draw) 48.Bxf3? (48.Bb5! and +- according to the machine!) 48…Nxf3+ 49.Kg2 Nd2 50.Kxg3 and again I didn’t manage to keep my King near the Queenside; 50…Nc4? 51.Kf4 Ke2 52.Ke4 Nb2 53.Rd4 1-0.

However, the draw was still there after 50…Kd1! 51.Kf4 (51.Rc7 Ne4+ 52.Kf4 Nc5 = or 51.Rd6 Kc2 52.Rxb6 Ne4+ 53.Kf4 Nc3 54.Rc6 Kb3 =) 51…Kc2 = ; the black’s King helps the defense, which changes everything.

Round 5: CARLSEN-MVL

A very good game on both sides, which was decided in the very last seconds.

Carlsen-Mvl, Blitz ronde 5.
Carlsen-Mvl, Blitz round 5.

I missed the draw a few moves earlier, and Magnus just had to play the trivial 63.a8=Q Bxa8 64.Rxa8 and I would have given up. But in the final frenzy he opted for 63.Re8? , and after 63…Ra4? 64.h8=Q 1-0. I obviously did not have time to find 63…Bc2! which led to a forced draw, but only manageable with time on the clock, so no regrets! The defense mechanism is however very nice and worth the detour: white starts by having the choice of his Queen promotion! 64.h8=Q (actually, 64.a8=Q doesn’t change anything) 64…Rd1+ 65.Kf2 Rd2+ 66.Kg1 (66.Kf1 Rd1+ 67.Re1 Bd3+ 68.Kf2?? would be refuted by 68…Rd2+ 69.Kg1 f2+) 66…Rd1+ 67.Re1!? (the last attempt!) 67…Rxe1+ 68.Kf2 Re2+ 69.Kf1 Be4 70.a8=Q Bxa8 71.Qxa8 and the easiest is now 71…Kg5 72.Qxf3 Re6! followed by 73…Kg6 and it’s a fortress!

Des spectateurs de luxe pour les derniers instants d’une partie folle (Photo : Grand Chess Tour).
Luxury spectators for the last moments of a crazy game (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Round 9: DOMINGUEZ-MVL

Dominguez-Mvl, Blitz ronde 9.
Dominguez-Mvl, Blitz round 9.

In a very wild Najdorf with opposite castling, white’s attack was faster. With my last move 29…Rf2, however, I managed to pose a complex problem to white: how to conclude? Obviously, 30.Ne6? doesn’t fit because of 30…Rxb2+ 31.Ka1 Rxa2+ followed by mate. The right solution was far from obvious, and none of us saw it: 30.Rhe1! (not easy to think of leaving the h-file!) and if the Queen moves, 31.Qe6+ wins instantly. For the sake of argument, let’s point out that black would still have had a devilishly strong looking defense after 30.Rhe1! Rd2!. Unfortunately, it’s not enough if you really go to the end of the line: 31.Rxe3 Rxd1+ 32.Kc2 Nxe3+ 33.Kb3 Rxd4 34.Qe6+ Kh7. Everything seems to be going well for black because white’s Queen cannot take both the Rc8 and the Ne3 simultaneously. But chess is sometimes magical! 35.g6+! Kh8 36.Qxe3+ Kxg6 (36…Kh5 37.Qh3+) 37.Qe6+ Kg5 38.Qxc8 and the trick is over!

Instead, Dominguez chose 30.Qh7+? Kf8 31.Rd3? (31.Ne6+ was this time imperative, and after 31…Qxe6 32.dxe6 Rxb2+ 33.Ka1 [33.Kc1?? Rxc4+ and mate] Black has the choice between perpetual or continuing the game with 33…Rh2+) 31…Bxd4! (the point!) 32.Rxe3? (32.Rxd4 Qxd4 33.Qh8+ Qxh8 34.Rxh8+ Ke7 35.Rxc8 still offered some practical chances in blitz) 32…Rxb2+ 33.Kc1 Rxc4+ 34.Rc3 Bxc3! 35.Rf1+ Bf6+ 36.Kd1 Ne3+ 0-1, it is mate next move.

Round 10: SARIC-MVL

Saric-Mvl, Blitz ronde 10.
Saric-Mvl, Blitz round 10.

In blitz, even endgames with hugely reduced material are difficult: here, 59.Kd3?, chosen by Saric, loses because white’s King is excluded from the defense after 59…a4 60.Rg6 a3 61.Rg2+ Kb3 (but not 60…Kb1? 61.Kc3!) 62.Kg1 a2 0-1.

Necessary was 59.Kc5!, but who can be sure to defend such an endgame perfectly with only two seconds per move?

Round 11: NEPOMNIACHTCHI-MVL

Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Blitz ronde 11.
Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Blitz round 11.

Ian did not see the threat introduced by my last move and fell into the trap! 33.Bc7? (33.Rd1 was necessary) 33…d2! and everything falls apart: 34.Qxa3 (34.Qe2 Qc6!) 34…d1=Q 35.Bxd8 Qc6! 36.f3 (36.Rxh3 Qh1+! 37.Kxh1 Qxf1 #) 36…Qcc2 0-1.

Le choc des frenchies (Photo : Grand Chess Tour).
The clash of the Frenchies (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Round 13: FIROUZJA-MVL

After a game full of twists and turns, Alireza and I were victims of hallucinations in the final rush:

Firouzja-Mvl, Blitz ronde 13.
Firouzja-Mvl, Blitz round 13.

I suppose black’s position must be winning in the long run, but not after 45…Nf3?,completely forgetting 46.Rd1 and I lose a piece. This was followed by 46…Nxh2 47.Rxg1 Ng4 and the position is a draw, nobody being able to do anything, except after 48.Kh4? Rc7! and 0-1, mate being unstoppable!

Round 15: VAN FOREEST-MVL

Van Foreest-Mvl, Blitz ronde 15.
Van Foreest-Mvl, Blitz round 15.

An opening disaster, after I got confused (pushing …c4 and …b4 instead of exchanging on d4). After 13.Nfg5, I almost resigned. I continued anyway with 13…Be7 14.Qh5 (14.Qf3! Rf8 15.Nxh7 is even easier) 14…g6 15.Qh6 Qb6 16.Qg7 Rf8. Here, moves that protect d4, like 17.Be3 or 17.Rd1, are good. 17.Ba4 is strong too. But not Jorden’s choice of move, 17.Nxh7? (was all I was hoping for!) 17…Qxd4 (I’m crazy about sacrificing the exchange!) 18.Bg5 Qxe5 19.Qxe5 Nxe5 20.Ba4+ Bc6 21.Bxc6+ Nxc6 22.Nxf8 Kxf8 and black is perfectly ok. It was a close call which I ultimately managed to win!

Round 18: MVL-DOMINGUEZ

Mvl-Dominguez, Blitz ronde 18.
Mvl-Dominguez, Blitz round 18.

In this position, I played 31.Bd3 Bg6 32.Bxg6 fxg6 33.Qe4 with a very slight advantage in the Queen endgame, transformed into a win after many adventures. But instead of this,, the position contained a rather elementary win, but I missed it completely: 31.c5! dxc5 32.d5 and the pawn goes!

Classement final à Zagreb (Image : www.chess.com).
Final standings in Zagreb (Image: www.chess.com).

The overall result is rather positive: 5/9 in the Rapid (with 5 blacks), and a mediocre first day of blitz (4/9), compensated by a huge comeback the next day (8/9). Strangely enough, my friend Alireza had an almost similar performance to mine, and it is therefore logical that we share the second place in the final ranking, half a point behind Carlsen, untouchable in Croatia.

I have already spoken several times about my non-participation in the Olympiads in India, and I take this opportunity to wish good luck to the French teams. The next step for me will be a month-long trip to the United States starting August 12. After a few days of rest, I’ll go to Connecticut, where I will be present during the Bridgeport Open (August 19-21). On the 23rd, the mythical Marshall Chess Club in New-York has invited me to give a lecture and a simultaneous display. I’ll then fly to Missouri the next day, where the Grand Chess Tour starts again in St-Louis, with the Rapid & Blitz from August 26th to 30th, then the Sinquefield Cup from September 2nd to 12th.

Maxime’s games in Bundesliga
:

Maxime’s rapid games in Zagreb :

Maxime’s blitz games in Zagreb :

The day before his departure to Zagreb, Maxime went to Saint-Denis, in the suburbs of Paris, to learn the new trendy racket game, padel. Accompanied by a few friends, including GMs Laurent Fressinet and Sébastien Mazé, he was able to discover this intense sport, as shown in this photo taken by Laurent Fressinet… moments before the drama!

Pour l’instant, tout va bien… (Photo : Laurent Fressinet).
For the moment, everything is fine… (Photo : Laurent Fressinet).

Indeed, a few minutes later, an unfortunate smash earned Maxime a return of the racket on the face, with however more fear than harm. But the glasses didn’t resist… Too late to change them before the plane the next morning, but fortunately for him, an old spare pair was lying around in a drawer. This saved him from having to play in Croatia « almost blind »!

Quite a busy month

Norway chess

Here I am again after a sequence of Norway Chess, the French Team Championships in Chartres, a 48h trip to Madrid for the public launch of the Immortal Game platform of which I am the ambassador, and finally the semi-finals and final of the French Cup in Paris!

NORWAY CHESS

Considering my busy schedule these days, I will come back rather quickly on these competitions… I arrived in Norway on May 29th, in the city of Stavanger that I am starting to know well. It’s a familiar place where I have my little habits and to tell the truth, it’s rather an advantage; especially in a healthy environment, where you can walk around and breathe the fresh air! Compared to other cities, it’s a huge plus. After that, there is not so much to do in Stavanger, but the whole context is quite relaxing. In addition to the walks and the chess preparation itself, I must admit that I always had an eye on the Roland Garros tournament! I was able to follow a lot of the big matches, but not the semis or the final, which were taking place at the same time as my games.

As for the format, Norway Chess has taken up the one that had been experimented for the first time in 2019, with games of 2 hours without increment, and an Armaggedon in case of a draw.

The day before the first round, a blitz tournament was organized, with the objective of giving the first 5 players the privilege of having 5 whites.

I did something that had never happened to me in my life and that is a bit disturbing for a reigning world champion… losing my first 5 blitz in a row!

Fortunately, there was a short 10-minute break that allowed me to recover my spirits and thus finish in a blaze of glory, but the 4 wins were not enough to compensate for the 5 losses!

Topalov in top form at the opening ceremony! (Photo: Norway Chess).
Topalov in top form at the opening ceremony! (Photo: Norway Chess).

On to the main tournament:

Round 1: ANAND-MVL 1-0

Anand-Mvl, Round 1.
Anand-Mvl, Round 1.

Here, influenced by the fact that the other options seemed a bit passive, I decided to be ambitious with the pawn sacrifice 17…b5?. Unfortunately, this choice turned out to be a bad decision, made at the wrong time! I just forgot that after 18.cxb5 Nxd4 19.Bxd4 Bxd4+ 20.Rxd4 axb5, white did not play 21.Qxb5 Ne5! which leaves a lot of counterplay, but the very strong 21.Qd2!, and black is clearly worse. I must also say that Vishy played a flawless game and converted very convincingly.

Anand montre le chemin ! (Photo : Norway Chess).
Anand showing the way! (Photo : Norway Chess).

Round 2: MVL-MAMEDYAROV 1/2

An uneventful draw followed by a chaotic win in the Armaggedon…

Round 3: TARI-MVL 0-1

Another Sicilian with 3.Bb5+, in which he placed a rather successful prep. But at the end of the opening I managed to turn things around, especially from the following position:

Tari-Mvl, Round 3.
Tari-Mvl, Round 3.

He did not anticipate 13…Nc7! and did not even really think about accepting the sacrifice and taking on d6: 14.Nxd6 Ne6 would indeed have complicated the position 🙂 . He preferred to play the energy-saving 14.g4 Ne6 15.g5 Be7, which was not uninteresting, but on condition to continue with 16.Nxe7+ Qxe7 17.f5, because I would certainly not have played 17…Nxg5 18.Qg3 which seemed too risky for my King, but rather 18…Nd4 with a complicated position. In the game, he opted for the inferior continuation 16.fxe5?! Qxe5 17.Nxe7+ Qxe7 18.Qg3. And bad luck for him, this position is not only a bit unpleasant for white, as one might think at first glance, but almost lost after the excellent 18…f6!.I think I converted clinically after 19.gxf6 Rxf6 20.Rxf6 Qxf6 21.Ne2 Rf8 22.Bd2 Nf4 23.Nxf4 exf4 and the forward march of the f-pawn, combined with the vulnerability of white’s King, is decisive.

Thinking hard against Tari… (Photo: Norway Chess).
Thinking hard against Tari… (Photo: Norway Chess).

Round 4: RADJABOV-MVL 1/2

After having held a long theoretical line of the Grünfeld, which is not very dangerous if Black is accurate, I crumbled in the Armaggedon, for lack of having all the adequate reflexes in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted that I integrated into my repertoire some time ago.

Round 5: MVL-TOPALOV 1/2

Not a great success with white as I clearly got tangled up in the opening. Fortunately, I solved my problems quite well and managed to hold the position. And in the Armaggedon, Veselin was kind enough to forget a little combination losing a pawn at the end of the opening!

Mvl-Topalov, Round 5 Armaggedon..
Mvl-Topalov, Round 5 Armaggedon.

White is probably already better after a normal move like 19…Nf6, but after 19…Qf6? 20.Qxf6 Nxf6 21.hxg6 hxg6 22.Bxg6 and if 22…fxg6 23.Rxe6, he is right away winning.

Group photo at the traditional garden party (Photo: Norway Chess).
Group photo at the traditional garden party (Photo: Norway Chess).

Round 6: WANG HAO-MVL 1/2

A quick and easy draw with black, followed by an Armaggedon where I clearly dominated.

Round 7: MVL-SO 1-0

Mvl-So, Round 7.
Mvl-So, Round 7.

In a normal position, Wesley played 18…Ne4? here, a move that loses two tempi after 19.f3 Nd6 (19…b5 20.fxe4 bxa4 21.Qc4 is really not nice either) 20.Nc5 Qc8 21.Bf4, and that’s more than Black’s position can tolerate in practical terms. I didn’t understand his choice at all, especially since this is precisely the kind of thing that never happens to him!

Didn't see the photographer! (Photo: Norway Chess).
Didn’t see the photographer! (Photo: Norway Chess).

Round 8: CARLSEN-MVL 1/2

Clearly the highlight and key moment of the tournament for me. The world champion came with a specific idea against my Grunfeld. Probably one of those that had been prepared for his world championship match; well, it was probably one idea among others that he decided to use against me that day. But I think he misjudged the position at the end of the opening phase. I found myself immediately slightly better, and on top of that, he spent quite a bit of time in a somewhat bizarre way. I was surprised by his poor time management because usually that’s one of his great strengths: to be able to stop at important moments and play quickly when there’s not much to decide.

As a result, especially without an increment, he found himself with very little time and a really difficult position to defend. Hence this error that should have been decisive on the 40th move, based on a miscalculation.

Carlsen-Mvl, Round 8.
Carlsen-Mvl, Round 8.

40.f4? Be3 41.Rd7 exf4 and I think he missed that 42.Rxf7? is impossible because of 42…Rb2 43.Kf3 fxg3.

A few moves later, we reached the following position:

Carlsen-Mvl, Round 8.
Carlsen-Mvl, Round 8.

Here, Black wins, but it requires millimetric precision. Before playing 47…g5, I had anticipated his counterattack on f5, but via h7, preventing the option of …Kg6. So when he played 48.Be6, for me 48…Kg6? was the natural reaction, since I had already calculated that 48…gxh4 49.Bxf5 h3+ 50.Bxh3 Rg3+ 51.Kh2 was not enough because no discovery worked, the Rd7 being protected; if I had spent a little more time here – and this is my great regret – I would have found the study-like move 51…Bb8!, and White is in total zugzwang; any Rook move would leave the piece en prise through a discovered check, and the same for any Bishop move. Not so difficult actually!

So the position was a draw, but Magnus misplayed it again later. Unfortunately, I missed my chance again, but frankly this second missed win was much harder than the first one!

I still think it was a good game on my part, but with a little taste of unfinished business…

End of the Armaggedon game: only one second left for Maxime ! (Photo: Norway Chess).
End of the Armaggedon game: only one second left for Maxime ! (Photo: Norway Chess).

Armageddon was a little crazy. During the 20-minute break, I decided to play the exact same line if he repeated, which I thought was unlikely but he did it anyway! It’s impossible to describe all the ups and downs of this tumultuous game, but let’s just say that I managed to find the right moves and have a better position. But obviously, it cost me time on some decisions. And just when I thought I had done the hardest, I found myself with a trapped Knight. With only one second of increment generously allotted after the 40th move, it was panic on board and I cracked!

Round 9: MVL-GIRI 1/2

I still had a theoretical chance to compete for the first place before this last round, but it would have required a rather improbable alignment of the planets. Anyway, Giri quickly took away all hope with his very surprising idea on the 5th move of the Rossolimo!

Mvl-Giri, Round 9.
Mvl-Giri, Round 9.

About ten moves are already known here, but not 5…h6!?. Incomprehensible at first sight, this move is in fact not so ridiculous and I will spare you the complicated attempts of explanation 🙂 .

Still, it worked very well after 6.b3 a6 7.Bxc6 Nxc6 8.Bb2 b5 9.Nc3 Be7 10.a4 bxa4! 11.Nxa4 0-0 and Black has completely solved his problems. To our great surprise, it turned out afterwards that we had played an almost perfect game!

I then won the last Armaggedon to finish at an honorable 4th place.

Official site: https://norwaychess.no

FRENCH TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP

On the first board of the decisive match for the title, against Laurent Fressinet (Photo: Ffe).
On the first board of the decisive match for the title, against Laurent Fressinet (Photo: Ffe).

When I came back from Norway, I barely had time to unpack my bags before I left for Chartres, to join my Asnières team which was playing in the Top 16 (French team championship).

I was happy to be back with my teammates and to play for the Championship win in the last 6 rounds. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned… Even though the suspense remained until the end because we had to beat Bischwiller in the last round to take the title from them, and had to finally settle for a draw on the wire 4-4.

With 3 draws and 1 win, I’m not particularly proud of my own performance, but I still remember the nice combination I had the opportunity to play against Tiviakov in the Asnières-Chartres game:

Mvl-Tiviakov, Round 8.
Mvl-Tiviakov, Round 8.

In zeitnot, my opponent did not sense the danger and played the very risky 36…Qxa3? After the nice double cross pin 37.Rc2! b4 (37…Qb4 was more resistant, but the problem remains that black’s King is too weak, for example 38.Rcxc3 Rxc3 39.Qe1 Rb3 [39…d4 40.Qd2!] 40.Qxb4 Rxb4 41.Rc3! Kf8 42.Rc7) 38.h6! Qa5 39.Qg4 g6 and here, many paths lead to Rome, but I chose the most linear one: 40.Rcxc3 bxc3 (40…Rxc3 41.Nxg6! fxg6 42.Qxe6+ or 41…hxg6 42.Qd4! or 41…Rxd3 42.Ne5+! Kf8 43.Qg7+ Ke7 44.Nc6+) 41.Qh4 Qa3 (41…Qd8 42.Rxc3!) 42.Qf6 Qf8 43.Rxc3! Rxc3 (43…Rb8 44.Rc7) 44.Nd7! 1-0.

Official site (in french): http://www.echecs.asso.fr/Actu.aspx?Ref=13997

FRENCH CUP

The green premises of the Boston Consulting Group, in the heart of Paris (Photo: Ffe).
The green premises of the Boston Consulting Group, in the heart of Paris (Photo: Ffe).

Organized in the premises of the Boston Consulting Group in Paris, the last two stages of the French Cup were very close: first a 2-2 draw against Châlons, but with a predominant victory on the second board of Alekseenko. I drew with black against Grandelius (2645).

In the final, on the other hand, for what was the same poster as the last edition played in 2019, we disposed of Tremblay-en-France 3-1, despite my draw with white against Malakhov (2652).

So Asnières keeps the Cup one more year!

Official site (in french): http://www.echecs.asso.fr/Actu.aspx?Ref=13997

Maxime’s classical games at the Norway chess :

Maxime’s Armaggedon games at the Norway chess:

Maxime’s games at the French team championship:

Maxime’s games at the French cup:

At the initiative of Apollo Magazine, Maxime went to meet Mathieu Bodmer, 20 years of professional soccer career behind him. The Normandy native has travelled the stadiums of France and Europe, playing for SM Caen, Lille, PSG and Olympique Lyonnais, before hanging up his boots during the pandemic.

Apollo hosts a column Vice Versa, which aims to allow two personalities, fan of the field of activity of the other, to meet but especially to exchange. We know Maxime’s interest for sports in general and soccer in particular, while Bodmer, appointed Sports Director of Le Havre a few days after the publication of the video, is fond of mathematics and chess.

See their exchanges here ;

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