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
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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 ;

Back on track?

Winner !

After the disappointment of the Fide Grand Prix, I had taken the time to decompress, in order to have a break and recharge my batteries. So, I was a bit in the unknown when I arrived in Bucharest, in the sense that I didn’t know what it would be like without specific preparation. Important parameter also, the Fide had just announced that the Grand Chess Tour 2023 would qualify two players for the 2024 Candidates, giving to the 2022 edition an additional interest; to keep one’s place in the circuit for the following year!

On this subject, I will say two words. On the one hand, it’s a good thing in that it gives the Tour an extra stake; that was a bit of a problem in previous seasons, this disconnection of the Pro Tour from the World Championship cycle.

However, if we kept the current format of 9 Full Tour players in 2023, I think we would have too few candidates for the first two places; moreover, if Carlsen and his challenger were included, this number would then drop to 7! So clearly for me, we should introduce qualifying tournaments in 2023, and obviously increase the number of Full Tour players.

However, if we keep the current format of 9 players – or even 7 if Carlsen and his challenger don’t participate – we have too few players fighting for the two places. So clearly for me, in 2023, we should introduce qualifying tournaments, and obviously increase the number of full Tour players involved.

Round 1: MVL-DOMINGUEZ 1/2

It was a pretty good start because I think I maneuvered pretty well and got a small advantage against his Petrov. Maybe I didn’t believe enough in my chances, especially in the final position; but I thought I had let some of my advantage slip away and I was even afraid I could become worse if I pushed too hard.

Round 2: SO-MVL 1/2

A game that marks the arrival of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted in my repertoire, even though I had already used it in Rapid. I figured it was the right time; obviously, this option had been in the air for several months… I didn’t have much trouble getting out of the opening. But you can still feel my lack of experience with this type of position, which is symmetrical and almost equal, but which you have to play very precisely to completely equalize; there are often two or three quite subtle moves to find.

So-Mvl, Round 2.
So-Mvl, Round 2.

For example, one of the subtle moves here would have been to avoid playing 21…Rg5?! which could have caused me some problems had Wesley not opted for the repetition after 22.Qf3 Rd5, but chosen 22.Qf4 (threatening 23.Ra5 or 23.Rxa6) 22…Nd5 23.Qf3, and the Rook is not at ease on g5. Instead, I should have returned to d8 with the Rook (21…Rdd8), which is not necessarily trivial, is it?

The Sheraton Hotel in Bucharest, where the tournament was held and where the players stayed (Photo: www.hrs.com).
The Sheraton Hotel in Bucharest, where the tournament was held and where the players stayed (Photo: www.hrs.com).

Round 3: MVL-MAMEDYAROV 1/2

A rather quick draw due to the fact that at the end of the opening – a Caro-Kann that I had hardly anticipated – I opted for a plan with a Nd2-c4 maneuver that I interrupted halfway, as I did not like the resulting position.

Round 4: MVL-CARUANA

The Open Spanish, and in particular the Dillworth Attack (11…Nxf2) was one of the options I had prepared against.

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

Here I was mostly expecting 15…Qd6 or 15…Bg4, the main moves of the position, but he surprised me with 15…Qd7.

Obviously, I understood his idea on the board; with the Queen on d6, white plays 16.Be3 and prevents 16…Bg4? because of 17.Bxh7+! Kh8 (17…Kxh7 18.Ng5+) 18.Qe1 Bxf3 19.Qh4. On the other hand after 15…Qd7, if white plays the normal 16.Be3 (as he does on 15…Qd6), then 16…Bg4 is possible, since the Qd7 protects the Bishop.

So I reacted differently with 16.Bg5, knowing that I was taking the risk that he was still in his prep, even though I hoped that 16.Bg5 would not be the main move. Unfortunately, he continued to blitz out his moves: 16…Rae8 17.Qd2 d4!; a reply played a tempo, which hurts even more because it was not a move I expected; I thought he would rather not touch his center…

Finally, after 18.Ng3, he started to think, and played 18…h6 19.Bh4 (but not 19.Qd3? Bf5 20.Nxf5 e4!) 19…dxc3.

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

Here my initial idea was 20.Qxd7 Bxd7 21.bxc3 g5 22.Nxg5 hxg5 23.Bxg5 letting me an exchange down but with a fine compensation, certainly enough for equality. In the end I still opted for 20.Qxc3, even if both answers 20…b4 and 20…Nd4 were worrying me. 20…Nd4 21.Nxe5 Qd5 22.Ng6 Nxc2 23.Qxc2 Qd4+ 24.Kh1 Rf7! (better than 24…Rf2 25.Ne2!) was a line I had trouble evaluating. As for the other option 20…b4, it brought different problems. First 21.Qc5 Nd4 22.Nxe5? Qd5! and b

lack wins material. The immediate exchanges on d4, 21.Nxd4 Qxd4+ 22.Qxd4 exd4 seemed to me also favorable to black. There remained 21.Qe3, which I originally thought to play, but which was based on a miscalculation: 21…Nd4 22.Bg6? Rxf3! (a key move I saw while he was thinking, but which I hadn’t anticipated before playing 20.Qxc3) 23.gxf3 Rf8! and b

lack has too many threats. So I would certainly have chosen my « back up » variation, i.e. the endgame an exchange down after 21.Qd3 Qxd3 22.Bxd3 g5 23.Nxg5 hxg5 24.Bxg5, with the burden of proving that the compensation is sufficient.

Anyway, what is sure is that his 20…Rxf3? really took me by surprise. Obviously, my very first reaction was to wonder if I hadn’t blundered something! After 21.gxf3 Nd4 22.Bd1! (forced and perhaps missed by Fabiano), I still had no clue what could be his idea. 22…Rf8 23.Ne4 Bc4 24.Kg2?! (24.Bf2! was much simpler) 24…Rf4! 25.Be1 (I had seen his traps based on a diabolical Queen sacrifice on h3; 25.Bg3? Qh3+! 26.Kxh3 Bf1# or 25.Bf2? Qh3+! 26.Kxh3 Bf1+ 27.Kg3 Nf5#). Obviously, the position is a bit scary visually, but what reassured me was that I saw no way to strengthen the attack for him. If 25…Bd5 I can come back with 26.Bg3, while after 25…Qf5, which he finally played after a long thought, I was able to definitely repel the attack with 26.Nd2 e4 27.Bg3 exf3+ 28.Kf2! and it’s curtains.

Mvl in full reflection (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).
Mvl in full reflection (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Round 5: NEPOMNIACHTCHI-MVL 1/2

Ian tried to surprise me in the opening with a very original move order, but after thinking about it, I realized that it would transpose into Sicilian 3.Bb5+ positions that I already knew.

After I comfortably equalized, Ian began to look for ways to continue the game. But that wasn’t what the position required, and he ended up being worse.

Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Round 5.
Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Round 5.

The d5 pawn is more vulnerable than its d6 counterpart and my heavy pieces are more active. But here I made the mistake of playing a little too easy. I know that this is something that is quite recurrent with me; often when I have the advantage, I don’t take the ten minutes necessary to ask myself what is the most accurate follow-up.

Here in particular, instead of 27…a4 28.g3 a3, which I could have postponed, I had the opportunity to start with 27…h5! before he could prevent me from putting my pawn on h4; with one pawn on h4, then the other on a3, I think black’s defense would have been much more difficult, and it’s quite possible that this detail could have made the difference.

Something similar happened in the final position:

Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Round 5.
Nepomniachtchi-Mvl, Round 5.

Without thinking too much, I accepted the draw by perpetual check after 41…Rh1+?! 42.Kg1 Rg1+, totally missing the possibility 41…Re1!, which would have already forced white to find the only move 42.Rd2; indeed if 42.Rxe1? Qxe1, the threat …Qe2 winning the a2-pawn can be parried only by giving up f2. And if 42.Qe3? Rxe2 43.Qxe2 Qb2! again black takes a2 or f2 and wins easily. After 42.Rd2, the Rook has been forced into total passivity, and even if white’s position remains solid, it is black who would have had every opportunity to continue causing problems.

Round 6: MVL-ARONIAN 0-1

I made the decision to play 1.d4 on the rest day before this game. So I had a lot of time to look at the lines on Levon’s favorite openings. But the problem with playing against a specialist is that he knows his patterns inside out. And it just so happens that I didn’t anticipate the move order he chose in the Queen’s Gambit, Vienna variation.

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

So, after thinking about it, I decided to avoid the big move 12.Kf1 in this position, which is one of the tabiya of the variation. Indeed, I had not reviewed the line for too long… After the rare 12.Ke2 Qb2+, my first intention was to play 13.Ke3 and settle for the draw after 13…Qc3+ 14.Ke2. But I saw the possibility 13.Qd2 Qxd2+ 14.Kxd2 gxf6 15.Rac1 0-0 16.Rc7? (both 16.Ke3 or 16.Rhd1 kept sufficient compensation for the pawn) and I thought I would never be worse there. But this was without the continuation 16…Rd8 17.Ke3 Nb6 with the idea …f5! and black takes a clear edge, taking advantage of the fact that white can never give up control of d5.

After 17…Nb6, I understood the problem and it was a bit of a panic. I didn’t defend this difficult position well and quickly lost…

Round 7: RAPPORT-MVL 0-1

An interesting game with a rather surprising, even improbable, transposition in the opening, from a Queen’s Gambit Accepted to one of the most popular line of the Meran in the 90s! Having had the opportunity to play this variation with white in the distant past, I at least knew that it was supposed to be ok for black, even if I couldn’t remember all the details.

Anyway, this is a type of position that requires a lot of calculation, and little by little I solved all the problems posed.

Rapport-Mvl, Round 7.
Rapport-Mvl, Round 7.

Here I found 27…Nd7! and thought I might be a little better, especially since I saw 28.Ree1 Nf8, challenging his only trump in the position.

This is the moment Richard chose to make what will probably remain as the blunder of the year: 28.Nd5?? Nxe5, forgetting that after 29.Nxe7+ Rxe7, white does not checkmate with 30.Rd8+ because the Bishop in a5 happens to control this square!

On stage (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).
On stage (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Round 8: MVL-DEAC 1/2

I chose a slightly marginal line against the Petrov’s 6…Bd6 variation.

Mvl-Deac, Round 8.
Mvl-Deac, Round 8.

Here I knew his new move 12…Na6, and I recalled it was better for white, but I couldn’t remember how – a great high-level classic 🙂 . After 13.Ne5 Qc7, I chose 14.Nc3 which gave me a tiny edge. Black has to be very precise but he really played well and found ways to neutralize me.

By the way, Deac was particularly solid during the whole tournament, finishing at a very honorable 50%. Note a rather singular characteristic of the young Romanian: his propensity to be in zeitnot, and to systematically get up after each move, even with only 30 seconds on the clock, and whatever the complexity of the position!

Round 9: FIROUZJA-MVL 0-1

I knew I didn’t need to play for the win at all costs because he was going to do it anyway 🙂 . That’s why I didn’t expect 4.g3 against the Grunfeld at all.

After that, it became a bit of a cat-and-mouse game; I wasn’t willing to take too many risks but I wanted to give him options, even more so since I could see that he was taking a lot of time on his moves.

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

The first illustration of this approach can be found here, at the end of the opening. I knew I could play 13…Db6 followed by …c5, with probably a symmetrical structure and a comfortable equalization for black. But I chose the other break 13…e5!? which leaves more tension in the position.

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

The second crucial moment is when I made the choice of 27…Re3!? in this position. Obviously, 27…Nc3 was normal, the position remaining roughly equal. But I felt that my move 27…Re3!? could send him into a tailspin as he started to run out of time. He reacted with the very natural and human 28.Rxc6, even though the machines prefer the timid 28.Rb2, forcing the exchange sacrifice 28…Rc3 (28…Ree8 29.Nc4 is not really what you want!) 29.Ne4 c5 30.Nxc3 Nxc3 with the idea …c4, and the position is not so clear in practice.

From the frustration I could see on his face, I think that after 28.Rxc6 Rc3 29.Nc4 Rxb3 30.e4 Re8, he calculated the continuation 31.Nd6 Re6 32.Rd1 Nf6 with the intention to play 33.Rc7?, before realizing that it was losing after 33…Rxd6! 34.Rxd6 Ne8. This explains in my opinion the other mistake 33.e5? and the fact that he didn’t find the moves that more or less kept the balance, 33.Rd4 or 33.Rc5.

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

Finally my passed b-pawn cost him a piece and I got an endgame that I believe objectively winning. On the other hand, it poses big conversion problems for black, and thus offered real practical chances of a draw to the defending side. It would take a more precise analysis to determine if my conversion was clean and if Alireza missed better options…

The end of the game between the two Frenchmen (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).
The end of the game between the two Frenchmen (Photo: Grand Chess Tour).

Having joined in extremis So and Aronian at 5.5/9, all three of us played a tie-break to determine the winner.

Tie-break 1: SO-ARONIAN 1-0

Tie-Break 2: MVL-SO 1-0

Tie-break 3 : ARONIAN-MVL 0-1

Fifteen minutes after the end of my game against Alireza, we were back to work, for my part without having had any time to prepare anything at all; and barely enough time to decompress, going back to my room for only a few minutes. I didn’t feel too much pressure though, as I knew that the Tour points would be shared (10 each); the extra $10,000 was not a priority for me, and honestly, my goal was mainly to add another line to my sporting achievements.

My two tiebreaker games were very high intensity tactical battles, there were a lot of incredible moments, I’ll just pick one per game.

Mvl-So, Tie-break 2.
Mvl-So, Tie-break 2.

Here, I found the difficult (and brave 🙂 ) idea to run the King to the Queenside via e1 and d2. 35.Ke1! Re6+ 36.Kd2 and after many other adventures, I ended up converting my extra pawn.

Aronian-Mvl, Tie-break 3.
Aronian-Mvl, Tie-break 3.

I sacrificed the Knight without hesitation with 25…Ne4! because I intuitively perceived that I would get a huge compensation. After many ups and downs there again, I ended up flagging Levon in a position that was winning again at that moment (exactly as against So by the way!).

In these two tie-breaks, despite the happy outcome, I felt that the fatigue of a long classical game could be felt. In particular, and this is a very clear sign for me, I had lost control of the time; usually, I have a clock in my head and in 10+5, I never find myself playing moves with only 1 second left; here it happened to me two moves in a row!

Grand Chess Tour rankings after the first tournament (Image GCT).
Grand Chess Tour rankings after the first tournament (Image GCT).

Finally, things turned in my favor and I am very happy to have started this Grand Chess Tour 2022 as I ended it in 2021, namely with a win in Classical chess!

I will resume the circuit on July 20th with the Rapid/Blitz tournament in Zagreb. In the meantime, the Norway Chess tournament starts on May 30th with its usual attractions, notably the Armaggedon game in case of a draw; but also its 2022 novelties, i.e. the return of the semi-retired Anand, Topalov and Wang Hao!

Maxime’s games

Rey Enigma is a Spanish youtuber whose identity is unknown. He always appears dressed in a black and white checkered jumpsuit that simulates a chessboard and completely hides his face. He uses a voice modifier in his public appearances. Only 6 people in the world know his true identity and he uses strict protocols to maintain his anonymity. At the beginning, he challenged onlookers in the parks of Madrid, but soon he was able to challenge some of the best players in the world, even getting to play Karpov in the Spanish version of the famous TV show « Spain’s got talent »; an opportunity for him to break the record for the most watched chess game in history!

Rey Enigma was present at the Grand Chess Tour in Bucharest to meet Kasparov. The day before the opening of the tournament, he challenged the world blitz champion MVL to a 1’-1’ blitz game. It took place on the terrace of a bar in the Romanian capital, and you can replay it here:

MVL’s game vs Rey Enigma

Life goes on

Berlin

The FIDE Grand Prix, with its two qualifying places for the Candidates Tournament in June, was my major objective for the year 2022. I had therefore set up a specific preparation to tackle the two tournaments in Belgrade and Berlin in the best conditions. Even if I felt particularly sharp, especially in Belgrade, I have to admit that the result was not up to my ambitions…

A look back at the key moments of this competition:

BELGRADE

Round 1: MVL-PREDKE 1/2

A very important game to begin with, since I faced the theoretically weakest player of the group with white. I got tangled up at the end of the opening and quickly found myself in pretty bad shape because of a big miscalculation.

Mvl-Predke, Round 1.
Mvl-Predke, Round 1.

Round 1: MVL-PREDKE 1/2

Here I played 19.dxe5? (19.exd5 was necessary), got up and immediately realized that there was 19…dxe4! which I had not considered at all, focusing only on 19…Nxe4 and 19…Nxe5. A disastrous start, but also a warning without cost since Predke failed to increase his advantage.

Round 2: MVL-MAMEDYAROV 1/2

Second white game, and second muddle in the opening, this time a very tense Open Spanish.

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

The game drifted in favor of Black, but the Azeri let me off the hook by opting for 24…d2? 25.Rxe2 d1=Q+ 26.Rxd1 Qxd1+ 27.Nf1 Qxe2 28.Qxg5+ Kf7 29.Qf5+ Kg8 and draw, because Black’s King can certainly cross the chessboard, but not escape the perpetual! Indeed, if 29…Ke7 30.Qe5+ Kd7 31.Qd5+ Kc7 32.Qxc5+ Kb7 33.Qd5+ Kb6 34.Qd6+. Instead, he could keep his two passed pawns as they are and begin with 24…gxh4 25.Nxe2 Ra7!; during the game I had not imagined that this move could be so strong. If 26.Rad1 c4; if 26.Nf4 Rf7! ditto 26.Qxc5 Rf7, and in any case, the potential threat of the two passed pawns on the 6th rank is stronger than its immediate use!

After a solid draw with black against Yu Yangyi, I had the opportunity to renew with the Najdorf against Predke.

Maxime relaxed after a game (photo: World Chess).
Maxime relaxed after a game (photo: World Chess).

Round 4: PREDKE-MVL 0-1

Predke-Mvl, Round 4.
Predke-Mvl, Round 4.

In this sub-variation with Bg5/Qf3 without f4, I knew the normal pattern was to play …Qc7 and …Nbd7. But I chose to improvise with 8…Qa5!? 9.h4 (9.Bd2 Qc7 would be to my advantage) 9…Bd7. Here I spent a lot of time evaluating the consequences of 10.e5 dxe5 11.Nxe6!? which seemed to me to be the critical continuation for white. Here is for example a variation I saw on the board; 11…fxe6 12.Bxf6 gxf6 (obligatory, we shall see later why) 13.Qxb7 0-0 14.Rxd7 (but not 14.Qxa8? Bc6 15.Qa7 Bc5! – a move that would not exist if we had taken with the bishop on f6 on move 12!) 14…Nxd7 15.Qxd7 Fc5 with a very uncertain game. I was rather relieved to see Predke opt for 10.Bc4 Nc6 11.Bb3 because I was aware that I had gotten a very healthy Najdorf after 11…h6 12.Be3?! (it was better to first exchange on c6) 12…Ne5!

Predke-Mvl, Round 4.
Predke-Mvl, Round 4.

Later in the game, he surprised me again by not opting for the continuation which once again seemed critical and which involved another sacrifice on e6: 24.Bxe6!? fxe6 25.Rxe6. Here I had planned 25…Nd5!? (25…Ng8 is possible too) 26.Nxd5 Rxe6 27.Nc7+ Kf7 28.Ne5+ Rexe5 29.Qxg4 Be4 and despite the material deficit, black seems to have a very strong attack, even if the machine remains stoic and shows a forced draw for white after 30.Rf1+!.

I finished this game nicely and I was quite happy with it. In terms of calculation, I was feeling pretty sharp in Belgrade…

I then had to concede a draw to Yu Yangyi’s Petroff – despite a small but persistent advantage – before entering the last round of the pools, where I had to hold with black against Mamedyarov.

Round 6: MAMEDYAROV-MVL 1/2

I decided to give up the Grünfeld and switch to the Queen’s Gambit, a line I had already played at the European Team Championships against the Turkish GM Dastan.

True to himself and in keeping with the stakes, Mamedyarov chose a very sharp line with opposite castling, forcing us to play move by move.

After a few twists and turns, we reached the following position:

Mamedyarov-Mvl, Round 6.
Mamedyarov-Mvl, Round 6.

Here I could have gone for the natural 28…Qd4 29.Qxd4 Bxd4, but white would have kept a slight plus in the ending. And I found something more forcing and elegant 🙂 .

28…Rac8 29.h4 Qe3! 30.Re2 Rc1+! 31.Rxc1 Qxd3+ 32.Ka1 Qa6! – the point ; white has a tempo at his disposal, but he has no choice but to repeat: 33.Kb1 Qd3+ and draw.

Détermined!! (Photo: Fide).
Determined!! (Photo: Fide).

1/2 Final first leg: RAPPORT-MVL 1-0

A game where I totally fell through, especially after I hugely underestimated white’s position in the opening. Not much to say…

1/2 Final return game: MVL-RAPPORT 1/2

I expected Richard to repeat the solid Petrov defense, which he had already played in the tournament. And the fact is that he really surprised me in the opening with this choice of the deferred Steinitz, quite daring in a situation where a draw is enough! Nevertheless, his choice paid off as he managed to equalize. Afterwards, he gave me some chances though, by playing the beginning of the endgame in an imprecise way, until we finally arrived in the following position after the time control:

Mvl-Rapport, ½ Final Return game.
Mvl-Rapport, ½ Final Return game.

Here I found the right move 43.Rd3! and I was pretty sure I was winning. Unfortunately after 43…R2h6, I took my first step in the wrong direction with 44.Ra7, even though this move still wins. 44.b3! right away was a more practical choice, forcing 44…Nd6 (44…Na5? 45.Rb6+ Ka3 46.b4+) and now 45.Ra7, taking advantage of the fact that the knight can’t be activated via b5 because of 46.Ra4 mate; and if 45…c4 46.bxc4 Kxc4 47.Rd7! Nb5 48.Ng4 wins. After 44.Ra7, Richard found the most resilient defense 44…Rb8! 45.b3 Na5 46.Ng4 Nxb3.

Mvl-Rapport, ½ Final Return game.
Mvl-Rapport, ½ Final Return game.

Here I thought that the two candidate moves 47.Rxg7 and 47.Nxh6 were both winning. Even if it is extremely difficult to calculate everything in this kind of position, I should have understood that 47.Nxh6! reduced considerably black’s options: 47…gxh6 (I had seen that the intermezzo 47…c4 48.Rd6! did not work) 48.Rdd7 and there I imagined that after 48…Kc3, there could be scenarios where black’s Rook sacrifices itself on the two kingside pawns, while the c-pawn would cost me a Rook; certainly not a very realistic scenario! So I chose 47.Rxg7? but I did not anticipate the excellent repositioning of black’s Rook after 47…c4 48.Rd1 Rhh8 49.Nxe5 Rhc8! after which everything holds by a thread, but I believe that white has no more win at his disposal!

Semi-finalists in Belgrade (photo: World Chess).
Semi-finalists in Belgrade (photo: World Chess).

With 7 points in the Grand Prix, I knew that I would have to win the last leg in Berlin to qualify for the Candidates.

BERLIN

Round 1: PREDKE-MVL 1-0

Predke-Mvl, Round 1.
Predke-Mvl, Round 1.

A bad start again with this horrible move 14…0-0?. My opponent replied instantly 15.g4!, the refutation he knew.

White simply wants to open the h-file by h4 without Black being able to close it by …g4. The plan is almost unstoppable, my position became spontaneously disastrous, and besides, I offered only a meager resistance.

Round 2: MVL-SHANKLAND 1/2

Sam surprised me by playing a sub-variation of the Berlin endgame that I thought was strategically risky. But he had really prepared well and was very precise until the end; it was a daring gamble and it worked out well for him.

Round 3: SO-MVL 1/2

Thanks to a good preparation, I was able to neutralize Wesley’s ambitions in the Bg5 Grunfeld. White kept until the endgame a very slight advantage, but more symbolic than anything else.

Post-match interview with the futur winner in Berlin (Photo: World Chess).
Post-match interview with the futur winner in Berlin (Photo: World Chess).

Round 4: MVL-PREDKE 1-0

Predke proved to be incredibly prepared on his Spanish Zaïtsev: and not on long tactical variations, but on a general idea of the organization of his pieces.

Mvl-Predke, Round 4.
Mvl-Predke, Round 4.

Here, instead of the mechanical and standard 12…Bf8, he played 12…Qd7 13.d5 Na7. Black will continue with …c6, then …Bd8 and …Nc8-e7, and finally …Bc8 followed by …Qb7 and the highlight, …Bb6; instead of moping around on f8, the Bishop comes to exchange itself for its fellow on e3!

Mvl-Predke, Round 4.
Mvl-Predke, Round 4.

The whole maneuver is actually splendid, and Predke has recited his concept to the end without any hesitation! It’s true that it seems strange to choose a really unforcing line and to just play on the regrouping of pieces in a type of position where the space advantage is supposed to favor White…

So I had to take a lot of risks, and that’s what I did! 21.Qd2 Kh7 (I suspected that he would not allow 21…Bb6 22.Bxh6!?, even though this sacrifice is probably objectively dubious: 22…gxh6 23.Qxh6 Nh7 [23…Ng6? 24.Nf5] 24.Ne2 [24.Qxd6 f6!] 24…Kh8! and Black should gradually push back the attack) 22.f4!?, again allowing 22…exf4 (Predke preferred to play the solid 22…Ng6) 23.Bxf4 g5. My idea was 24.e5 initiating massive tactical complications, but I wasn’t 100% sure of myself; still, I thought, « ok, let him have fun calculating that! »

After many other twists and turns, we arrived at the following position:

Mvl-Predke, Round 4.
Mvl-Predke, Round 4.

Short of time, Predke panicked with 37…Rb2? fearing that the breakthrough on e5 would allow the Bb1 to wreak havoc. On my side, I had already anticipated the continuation 37…Rxf1 38.Rxf1 Nf6 39.e5 dxe5 40.Bf5 and the game goes on, even if objectively Black risks nothing after 40…Qc7!. In the game, after 37…Rb2? 38.Nf8+ Kg8 39.Ne6, Black’s position becomes difficult, but Predke shortened his suffering with 39…Rxb1? 40.Rxb1 Qe7 41.Kh3 Qa7 42.Rf3! 1-0, black’s Queen is totally helpless…

The stage in Berlin (Photo: World Chess).
The stage in Berlin (Photo: World Chess).

Round 5: MVL-SO 0-1

For this decisive game, I decided during the rest day beforehand to play 1.d4. I figured that Wesley would spend the day refining his Berlin Defense, so this would be the best practical choice 🙂 . Without the rest day, I would have stayed on 1.e4.

I chose to counter the Nimzo-Indian with the 4.f3 variation, even though I knew that Wesley would have a precise line planned, if only because he had played the Nimzo against Shankland in the first round… But my hope was that he would have stuffed himself with Berlin endgames and that I would bring him a completely different position than expected 🙂 .

The surprise effect worked rather well, especially with my move 10.g4, which provoked a very long think from him.

Mvl-So, Round 5.
Mvl-So, Round 5.

Unfortunately, after 10…h5 11.Ng3 g6, I did not take enough time to play 12.Bxc4?. Instead, the machine suggests 12.h4, which I did not consider at all, but I immediately regretted not choosing 12.Be2, to play for the attack, with for example the 0-0 plan, followed by g5 and f4. It was obviously a better practical choice, one which does not leave him a concrete and easy plan as in the game.

Indeed, after 12.Bxc4? Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Qa5, I thought I’d have some play, and I was quite willing to sacrifice the g4-pawn if I had to. But the continuation of the game 14.Qd3 Nb6 15.Bb5+ Bd7 16.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 17.g5 h4! (a very important move that I had missed from afar) shows that black has in fact already and largely solved all his problems.

Wesley then played very well and there is nothing to say. I can’t regret this choice in the opening, I took it knowing the risks, but also knowing that a draw would certainly not be favorable to me.

Round 6: SHANKLAND-MVL 1/2

Only a miracle could have left me in the running for qualification at the end of this last round. I was able to uncork a new idea in the Hungarian variation of the Grunfeld, but the American, despite some big sweats, found how to clear all the traps and to find the denouement in the form of perpetual check. For once, I was the one who recited it from beginning to end!

The very last Grand Prix game against Shankland (Photo: World Chess).
The very last Grand Prix game against Shankland (Photo: World Chess).

In general, I made too many mistakes in these Grand Prix tournaments. For the record, with Nakamura’s finalist place in Berlin, even a final win in Germany would not have qualified me for the Candidates!

In spite of the disappointment, life goes on, and the serious things will start again for me on May 5th, with the beginning of the Grand Chess Tour 2022 in Bucharest…

MAXIME’S GAMES

Maxime’s games at Belgrad:

Maxime’s games at Berlin:

In January, Maxime became ambassador of the Immortal Game project, (https://immortal.game) a chess platform in gestation which surfs on the technical evolutions of these last times.
Based on blockchain, this platform will offer a chess game with strictly unchanged rules, but « enriched » with some NFT pieces that will allow to accomplish parallel « quests » (« don’t castle », « keep such pawn alive », « make a prise en passant » etc…) yielding additional points. Thus, the incentives for players to complete their quests will slightly change the way the game strategy is designed.
Immortal Game is currently in the testing phase of its Alpha version, while the public one should be launched later this year.

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