World Champion!

World Champion !

I prepared myself quite seriously for the Rapid & Blitz World Championship, which is one of my favorite tournaments; preparation of openings and training games of course, but also physical and mental preparation. The departure for Poland – instead of Kazakhstan initially planned, which allowed me to go to -5° instead of -25° 🙂 – was scheduled early in the morning on December 25th. So, no family Christmas…

At the airport, I bumped into Samy Shoker, the Franco-Egyptian Grand Master whom I had not seen for a long time, and who is now based in New Caledonia, after having spent some time in Uzbekistan! I also met other Frenchmen in Warsaw, notably the Franco-Algerian GM Bilel Bellahcène and WGM Nino Maisuradze.

The organization did pretty well at the beginning, it’s only later that things went wrong – see my tweets 🙂 . I quickly got into the swing of things by reviewing the openings I had planned to play, especially the French and the Queen’s Gambit accepted, which gave half-hearted results.

RAPID TOURNAMENT

The competition was held in the PGE Narodowy stadium, which hosts the matches of the Polish national football team.

The first day started very badly, with a big miscalculation against Durarbayli (2615), which forced me to take a draw after 15 moves with white. Even if I finally scored 3.5/5 that day, my play was still quite messy.

A hard-fought victory against the young Ukrainian prodigy Samunenkov, 12 years old (photo: Fide).
A hard-fought victory against the young Ukrainian prodigy Samunenkov, 12 years old (photo: Fide).

On the second day, I lost from the opening to Volokitine (2677), a game that shows things weren’t going well:

Mvl-Volokitin, Rapid Round 6.
Mvl-Volokitin, Rapid Round 6.

Because losing this position, with ten minutes against one, by forgetting that black threatens to take on d4 (18.Rb1? Nxd4!), that will take some beating!

I still finished this second day at 2/4, missing a nice win against Ponkratov (2641):

Ponkratov-Mvl, Rapid Round 9.
Ponkratov-Mvl, Rapid Round 9.

Instead of taking back on g2, the Russian played the intermediate move 36.f6? which should have been refuted by the aesthetic 36…g5! 37.Rxg5 (37.Qxg5 Rg6) 37…Bd5! and white is a piece down with no more attack.

On the third and last day of the Rapid tournament, it was already much better. I scored 3/4, with two good wins against Puranik (2604) and Petrossian (2573), and showed a stubborn defense in the last round against Fedoseev (2704).

Mvl-Fedoseev, Rapid Round 13.
Mvl-Fedoseev, Rapid Round 13.

Here I played 16.Rd1? and after 16…Ba4! black took the advantage. Instead, the machine instantly shows that White had a move at his disposal, admittedly a counter-intuitive one: 16.Qg5! with the idea 17.Nc4, even after 16…f6. The kind of move not to be found in Rapid chess, and that I could only imagine working out in an exercise, or in a classical game possibly.

Clearly, the end of the Rapid tournament made me believe I could gain momentum, despite the rather mediocre final result (17th with 8.5/13).

So I decided to play a few training games, in order to prepare myself for the two days of blitz to come. Deep inside, I knew that I was capable of winning it, based on my previous results, and especially my silver medal in 2015, after I had a 1.5 point lead with 4 rounds to go !-) .

Before moving on to the Blitz tournament, a quick word of congratulations for Uzbekistan’s Abdusattorov, surprise winner of the World Rapid championship at only 17 years old. Uzbekistan is going to become a chess power to be considered, because Sindarov – who is just 16 years old – will also prove his skills by finishing 8th of the blitz tournament…

Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw.
Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw.

BLITZ TOURNAMENT

After a first win against Krasenkov (2576), I had to content myself with a half-point against Vastrukhin (2376):

Vastrukhin-Mvl, Blitz Round 2.
Vastrukhin-Mvl, Blitz Round 2.

An instructive type of position, I got the same kind against Kravtsiv a few rounds later. Even though it is objectively very advantageous, perhaps even winning, this position one pawn down is much easier to play in defense. Sure in a classical game I could have pressed, but in blitz I couldn’t find the resources. White has no weakness other than his missing pawn, and his plan is clear; do nothing 🙂 and let black tear his hair out to make progress. On my side, I have to find something concrete, while always watching my b7 and e4 pawns, and also preventing the exchange of the queenside pawns: it’s just very difficult.

Then, a victory against Cheparinov (2664), but not without having experienced quite a scare:

Mvl-Cheparinov, Blitz Round 3.
Mvl-Cheparinov, Blitz Round 3.

Here, I had to content myself with 28.Bd2. Instead, I played the natural 28.Bxc7? which loses in an incredible way: 28…Qa1+ 29.Ke2 Kh6! (and not 29…Qxb2? as played by the Bulgarian, because after 30.Bxd6, the d-pawn will be decisive while the Bishop comes back to defend the black squares around the King) 30.f3 (from a distance, I had seen 30.Bxd6 Bh5 31.Bf4+, completely forgetting 31…g5!) 30…Qg1! and the attack on the black squares is decisive.

In round 4, I had my first setback against Vidit (2727).

Vidit-Mvl, Blitz Round 4.
Vidit-Mvl, Blitz Round 4.

Here, instead of the normal 18…Rc8 with equality, I thought I was being clever by opting for the sequence 18…Bxf3? 19.Qxf3 Ne5 20.Bxe5 Qxe5. I believed that by attacking the Bd3, and threatening …Qb2, or even …Bd6, my position would be sound. In reality, after the simple 21.Nd4!,black’s position becomes very difficult, even almost losing in practice: the c-file, the weakness of the c6-square and the a6-pawn are terrible.

This sequence still shows some shortcomings in my handling of new openings like the Queen’s Gambit Accepted 🙂 . It is certain that I do not have the same level of knowledge and understanding in this type of position as in those resulting from the Grunfeld…

Against Antipov (2615), I was hit by blindness in the ending, after a technical game that I had mastered well.

Mvl-Antipov, Blitz Round 5.
Mvl-Antipov, Blitz Round 5.

Here, instead of 64.Bd2, I could directly play 64.Be2! Be6 65.Ba6+ Kd8 66.Kb7 and black’s position collapses. A simple win that I managed to totally overlook several times, obsessed as I was with the pin on the Nd7.

After a win against Dudin (2474), I had a long theoretical debate on the Najdorf against Sychev (2550), who ended up losing on time in a tough endgame.

Which brings me to a general comment about the overall level. Clearly, the players, including those in the pack, have made a lot of progress in blitz. You can feel that there had been a lot of practice online and that almost everyone was ready to play theoretical lines, without any complexes! And in addition, there were far less blunders committed overall; for me it is obvious if you compare to the 2019 or 2018 editions for instance.

After a win against Timofeev (2572) who was too willing to trade pieces to a draw in an even position, then came the first big turning point for me, with this incredible loss against Amin Bassem (2680).

Mvl-Amin Bassem, Blitz Round 9.
Mvl-Amin Bassem, Blitz Round 9.

I was happy with the game. I thought it was pretty well under control since the beginning. And I felt that this endgame should be a complete win. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the forced line 64.Bf6! Kf5 65.Be5 Kg4 66.Kxe4 Kxh4 which gains a clear tempo over the line in the game: 67.f5 gxf5+ 68.Kxf5 Kh3 69.Kg5 h4 70.f4 Kg3 71.f5+ and curtains.

Instead, I played 64.Kxe4? directly, and after 64…Kxh4 65.f5 gxf5+ 66.Kxf5 Kh3 67.Kg5 h4 68.f4 Kg3 69.f5 (without check!) 69…h3 70.Be5+ Kg2 71.f6 h2 72.f7 h1=Q 73.f8=Q Qc1 I decided to try my luck a little bit more: 74.Bf4 Qc2 75.Qa8+ Kf2 76.Qa7+ Ke2 77.Qe3+ Kf1 until the incomprehensible hara-kiri 78.Bg3?? b2 79.Qf3 Kg1 80.Bf4 Qg2+ 0-1. A very bitter pill to swallow…

Still reeling from this defeat, I lost again, and this time in 26 moves, to Maghsoodloo (2701). However, I was much better after the opening with black!

Fortunately, there were still two rounds left in this first day, and I had the opportunity to double white and win both games, allowing me to stay alive in the tournament; first against Matlakov (2674), then against Zvjaginsev (2599).

Aerial view of the first boards (Photo: Fide).
Aerial view of the first boards (Photo: Fide).

When we arrived for the second day of blitz, we learned that several players had tested positive for Covid, including Nakamura. I really thought the tournament was going to be stopped, but many players were convinced that the organizers and Fide would do everything to make this last day go through. That’s what happened in the end, just one hour behind schedule.

Clearly, the Covid protocol in FIDE competitions will have to be reworked in the direction of a greater firmness because there was a lot of uncertainty and unsuitable situations, for example – but not only – in the buses put at the disposal of the players…

So, I started with a bad game against Gelfand (2663), after having done a bit of a mess in the opening. I still got a Queen’s endgame with 3 pawns against 4 on the same side, and just when I had a tough choice to make, I checked my clock and found that his was at 0:00 🙂 . « Thanks for the gift, Boris, I’ll try to enjoy it! ».

After a quick draw against Giri (2772) where we took 20 pieces in a mere 21 moves 🙂 , I faced the Uzbek Sindarov. An ultra-complex game from a fashionable variation of the Open Spanish finally led to the following position:

Mvl-Sindarov, Blitz Round 15.
Mvl-Sindarov, Blitz Round 15.

Here, black had to play 38…Qh1+ 39.Kg3 Qe1+ and the position remains very complicated to play. Instead, Sindarov chose 38…Qd3+? 39.Kh2 e3, which doesn’t work because of 40.Qe5! e2 41.Bf8, forcing 41…Qg6 42.Qxe2 and white wins.

After a draw against Kravtsiv (2604) where I couldn’t win a Rook ending a pawn up, I played my first really decisive game against Aronian (2772), who was leading the tournament at that time, two points ahead of me.

And this game did not fall short, with the advantage going back and forth from one side to the other, from start to finish!

Mvl-Aronian, Blitz Round 17.
Mvl-Aronian, Blitz Round 17.

It was Levon who made the last mistake here, but he had been playing on the two-second per move increment for a while. Necessary was the counterplay created by 54…d4 55.a6 (55.Ra3 Rg2+) 55…d3! and the fight continues in the endgame. But Levon opted for 54…Ra1? after which White has a trivial technical win with 55.Ra3 Rf1 56.a6 Rf8 57.a7 Ra8 58.Kc3 Kf7 59.Kd4 and black’s King is too far away.

Generally speaking, in this blitz tournament, I recovered my main quality of being able to put a lot of pressure on the clock; this is for example what happened in the next game against the Maroczy Bind of the new Indian prodigy Erigaisi (2629), which was a clean performance by me:

We then arrived in the money time, and with three rounds to go, I was paired with white against Dubov (2749) who was the new leader of the tournament, half a point ahead of Aronian and me.

The opening went badly and to my surprise, Dubov offered me a draw in the following position:

Mvl-Dubov, Blitz Round 19.
Mvl-Dubov, Blitz Round 19.

Of course, I didn’t want to accept and almost played 18.Rb4, but considering the position again, I finally thought it would be much more reasonable to comply 🙂 .

After all, there were still two rounds left, and anyway, I think you have to accept it when things don’t go as planned…

I then made a solid draw against Artemiev (2700) at the penultimate round, allowing a large regrouping in the lead, with the return of Duda, and an exceptional remontada of Alireza!

With 6 players at 14 points going into the final round, I had the honor of being underpaired against Carlsen (2856), who was all alone at 13.5. Obviously, we were both in a must-win situation.

The opening didn’t go too well because I missed a strong move for black. Nevertheless, the type of position that resulted, while certainly objectively favorable for black, was actually perfectly suited to my situation!

Mvl-Carlsen, Blitz Round 21.
Mvl-Carlsen, Blitz Round 21.

Here, Magnus thought for a really long time, 1’17” or an eternity at this rhythm; the proof that he was probably not comfortable… For me, the obvious move was 21…bxa4! which had the advantage of deflecting one of my pieces. 22.Rgxa4, you really don’t want! 22.Raxa4 Qb1 neither… That leaves 22.Bxa4, which I would have played reluctantly.

Instead, the world champion finally opted for 21…Qxh3?, a move which leaves me too many options, one of which wins immediately – to everyone’s surprise! Indeed, if 22.Qd5! had been chosen, Black could no longer have protected f7 without losing the Ra8; and he could have done absolutely nothing with his Queen and two Knights around my King! Unfortunately, I didn’t see this retreat move either, and I played 22.Rg3? instantly, letting black taking over. Under great time pressure though, Magnus finally went down and let me organize a mating attack with Queen and Bishop!

First 20 ranked players in the World Blitz championship (Image: chess-results.com)
First 20 ranked players in the World Blitz championship (Image: chess-results.com)

TIE-BREAK

Second game in the tie-break… (photo: Fide).
Second game in the tie-break… (photo: Fide).

Duda and Firouzja also won their games, so all three of us finished at 15 points. I had the best Buchholz, but the rules called for a tie-break on the board between the first two players, which unfortunately eliminated Alireza from the title race. After a stormy end to the tournament, which he is now famous for, he still finished in an excellent 3rd place.

So I faced the Polish Duda, who was playing at home, for the world title. The first series of two games was played in a very serious way on both sides, and ended in two logical draws. No Armaggedon in Warsaw, the rules specifying it would be sudden death instead! The title would now go to the first winner, the one who was ahead in the Buchholz having the advantage of starting with white. So I had the opportunity to strike first!

Mvl-Duda, Blitz Tie-break 3.
Mvl-Duda, Blitz Tie-break 3.

I repeated the same anti-Marshall line as in our first blitz game, up to the diagrammed position; mainly because I liked the position I had gotten. In the first blitz, I played 17.d4 exd4 18.Nxd4 Bd7 19.Qc2, but after 19…Qe8!, black had solved all his problems. In the short break of a few minutes before the game, I mulled over the position and found out that 17.Qc2!? would be very interesting: I’m threatening 18.Bxe5; on the natural 17…Bg4?! as in the game, I had anticipated 18.d4! exd4 (18…Bxf3 19.dxc5! might be what Duda forgot) 19.Nxd4 Bd7, and I’m a tempo up compared to the previous game, a privilege that allowed me to get a nice edge after 20.Nb5 Bxb5 (20…Ra6 is better, but hardly « human ») 21.axb5 Bxc3 22.Qxc3.

From a practical point of view, 17.Qc2!? was therefore an excellent choice, even if I saw afterwards that the machine still prefers 17.d4 over it, because it considers that black is ok after 17.Qc2!? Ne6! (the anti-d4 remedy); I had seen this Knight move, but I was not convinced that black wanted to have his Knight on e6 and block the Bc8.

It's not the right cup, but the title is there! (Photo Fide).
It’s not the right cup (guess why!), but the title is there (Photo Fide).

This World title comes at the right time to close a year 2021 in half-tone, with notably a very difficult first semester (nightmarish Tata Steel, the disappointment of the Candidates, failure in Bucharest, and very dubious online tournaments). Fortunately, I was able to recover from the summer, mainly by winning Zagreb and the Sinquefield Cup, and finally this World title in blitz!

January and February will be very light for me, the priority now being the preparation of the Fide Grand Prix tournaments, which will offer the last two qualifying spots for the Candidates Tournament in June.

As for me, I will play the 2nd tournament (in Belgrade from March 1st) and the 3rd (in Berlin from March 22nd).

Maxime’s games at the Rapid world championship:

Maxime’s games at the Blitz world championship:

Kool & the Gang – Celebration

The first days of 2022 saw Maxime being widely solicited by the media, the ransom of glory for a newly crowned world champion! The official reactions were also up to the task, especially with another Frenchman on the World podium… Maxime and Alireza were invited the next day by the French Ambassador in Warsaw, while the ministers Jean-Michel Blanquer and Roxana Maracineanu sent their public congratulations, before the Prime Minister Jean Castex followed suit.


We will also note that the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron was not to be outdone, as he opted for a private message sent to the new World champion 🙂 .

Small disappointment at the Grand Swiss

Grand Swiss logo.

I prepared for about two weeks for the Grand Swiss in Riga and the European Championships which followed it, even if this preparation was interrupted by a few games played in the Bundesliga in mid-October with my club Baden-Baden. I was holding board 1 at this gathering in Berlin which came to close the aborted 2019-2020 season 🙂 , and my score of +2 =3 helped to give the team a new national title.

German champion! (photo : schachbundesliga).
German champion! (photo : schachbundesliga).

Grand Swiss Riga

I arrived in Latvia on October 25, a few days after the implementation of a lockdown in the country, due to the high number of cases of Coronavirus in the population. This inconvenience, as well as travel difficulties for some, caused a few forfeits among the announced participants of the Grand Swiss. Because of this strict confinement, I could not leave the hotel after 8pm. Since the games were played during the day, I rarely went outside. Basically, I walked to and from the playing hall, and that was about it! Even when I finished early, I would go back to the hotel and head to the gym until 7:30. In this situation, the ability to work out was a must. You couldn’t walk around the city centre, you missed the warmth of mingling with people and having a minimum of contact with the local population.
Fortunately, this obvious lack was counterbalanced by the opening of a lounge in the hotel for the players. This quickly became an essential part of the daily life of the tournament. It was open 24 hours a day 🙂 , which gave rise to convivial scenes, with lively discussions, but also friendly challenges, chess puzzles, blitzs etc. I stayed there until midnight to relax. Of course, I also took the necessary breaks to prepare myself against my opponent of the next day.

Round 1: Niemann-MVL: 0,5-0,5

I started the tournament with a clean draw against the young American GM and world puzzle rush specialist!

Round 2 : MVL-Tabatabaei 1-0

n game 2, against Amin Tabatabaei, we found ourselves playing the Berlin endgame. As against Xiong in the Sinquefield Cup, I took my time to decide which line I would finally play. By the way, it led to almost exactly the same game 🙂 , with a pawn on f6, the knight going to g5, and taking control of the h file.

Mvl-Tabatabaei, Round 2.
Mvl-Tabatabaei, Round 2.

Here, my opponent absolutely had to play 16…g6 (instead of 16…Be7? 17.Kg3, and it’s already lost because Black doesn’t have time to play 17…g6 because of 18.f6 Bb4 19.Ne4 with an overwhelming position), but he must have been afraid of 17.g5 and that the h4 Bishop would be trapped; which never works since if Rd4, Black will always have …Be1.

Round 3: Donchenko-MVL : 0,5-0,5

I had a similar game against Mamedyarov. I made the mistake of not repeating that game which was quickly drawn. Indeed, I wanted to keep some chances. This did not turn out to be a good idea and my opponent took the draw a pawn up, although there was probably a way for him to cause me some more problems.

Round 4: MVL-Demchenko 1-0

I knew that my opponent of the day played a lot of sidelines against the Spanish, and I had looked at them before the game. 13.Bf4 would have been more accurate than the game move (13.Bg5). Nevertheless I got a nice initiative until 18.e6 fxe6 19.dxe6.

Mvl-Demchenko, Round 4.
Mvl-Demchenko, Round 4.

Here, the critical move was 19…Nxe6 20.Ne5 Bxe5 21.Rxe5 and now 21…c5! which we both missed and which would allow a further …Nd4. And then it would not have been clear, contrary to the game, where I took a decisive edge after 19…Qc6? 20.Re4 Ned5 (20…g5 21.Rxf4! gxf4 22.Qd3) 21.Nxd5 Nxd5 22.Rg4!.

Round 5: Firouzja-MVL 0,5-0,5

I was not in trouble in this game against my new compatriot.

Firouzja-Mvl, Ronde 5.

I even tried to take the advantage, but in the wrong way, so that I found myself a little bit worse after 21…Rfd8 22.Ne4 Nf4 23.Ra2 d5 24.cxd5 Rxd5 25.Rd2. I could have played 21…d5! right away, which was better after 22.cxd5 Rfd8 23.Ne4 (23.Nc4 Nf4 24.d6 b5) 23…Rxd5, because my knight remains on d3.

After that, I was very careful in defence, and the position flattened out. Maybe I could have gone on a bit at the end, but I didn’t see a realistic chance of winning. So I decided to leave it at that and concentrate on the rest of the tournament.

Round 6: MVL-Ponkratov 1-0

I played an Advance French variation involving a pawn sacrifice. Despite a low number of total moves, it was a very complicated game, with a lot of content. At the beginning, Black played all the good moves, especially 12…g5!.

Mvl-Ponkratov, Round 6.
Mvl-Ponkratov, Round 6.

But at move 15, in a position where we were already running low on time, Black made the mistake 15…h5?. I guess my opponent looked at the critical 15…Nxd4, but he must have felt something wrong with it. Pressed by the clock, he finally played this mistake 15…h5? after 20 minutes of thought. 16.Nf6+ Bxf6 16.exf6 Ng8 17.Qf3 Rh6 18.Qxd5 Nxf6 19.Qg5 Ng4 followed.

I was quite clinical afterwards with 21. Nc3! Qd8 (if 21…Qxd4, there is 22.Nd5! Qxf2+ 23.Kh1 and mate to follow) 22.Qxd8+ Kxd8 (Black might have resisted a bit with 22…Rxd8, but the result would probably not have been altered) 23.Ne4 e5 24.f3 Nxd4 25.fxg4 hxg4 26.Ng5 1-0.

So after this first half of the tournament and before the rest day, I had done the job with white, and I had never been in danger with black. I was in the lead ex-aequo.

Masked and wearing the MVL shirt! (Photo: Fide).
Masked and wearing the MVL shirt! (Photo: Fide).

Round 7: Sasikiran-MVL 0,5-0,5

A complicated and theoretical Najdorf! I was forced to repeat the moves at the end. I know that some people reproached me for it, but I don’t regret this decision. I preferred to take the draw because his position was too solid and I couldn’t see how I could create chances for myself; on the other hand, I could see very well how I could create chances for him 🙂 .

Round 8: MVL-Shirov 0,5-0,5

Definitely the turning point of the tournament. I thought a lot before the game to decide what I was going to play against this specific Arkhangelsk line that Shirov likes, but my choice turned out to be a failure. I had in mind that the type of position I got was good for white, but in fact it was not. I could see that after black’s 26th move.

Mvl-Shirov, Round 8.
Mvl-Shirov, Round 8.

Here, if I play 27.Qc3 or 27.Qa7 to attack the c7-pawn, black has 27…Re8! which is strong, because 28.Qxc7? is met by 28…Re1+.

After 27.Qg3, I expected my opponent to play 27…Rc8 and a draw to be quickly agreed, but he preferred to exchange Queens with 27…Qxg3. This was certainly not the best practical choice ? After some precise play on my part, I managed to create some chances in a pawn ending.

Mvl-Shirov, Round 8.
Mvl-Shirov, Round 8.

Unfortunately, I made a very big mistake (47.h4?) because, like Shirov, I didn’t realize the potential of this endgame. I feel bad I didn’t just start with 47.Kb4 Kb6 48.Kc4, because Black would have had some incredibly difficult decisions to make to save this endgame, which it would be difficult to analyze here because its apparent simplicity actually conceals a lot of finesses.

Round 9: Anton-MVL 0,5-0,5

A game where my opponent had decided to take his chances, which allowed both of us to have a shot at the initiative. The game had a very rich content: I sacrificed two pawns, but white took risks by returning them to create a long-term attack on my King.

A very interesting game that ended abruptly because I was forced to take the draw by repetition.

Round 10 : MVL-Caruana 0,5-0,5

A decisive game. The threat of a Marshall gambit was unexpected, but I was still able to cause him problems with the anti-Marshall 8.a4. But I made some small miscalculations in this game; even if they turned out to be inconsequential, they proved to be a bit destabilizing for me. For example, before playing 23.Ba5 afew moves earlier, I had forgotten that 26…Qb4! was possible here.

Mvl-Caruana, Round 10.
Mvl-Caruana, Round 10.

still kept a small advantage afterwards, but Fabiano played very well. 27.Rd1 Rb7 28.Nc4 Rxa7 29.Qxa7 Qb3 30.Re1 Qxd3 31.Qxe7 Qxc4 32.Qxd6 Qd4. My second strategic mistake was obviously 33.Qxe5? as I simply forgot 33…Qxe5 34.Rxe5 f6! which forces a quick draw, as he defended well to prevent the small chances I still had.

That said, if I had played 33.Rxe5, he would probably have replied with 33…Ra8!. With black’s Queen on d4 stronger than her counterpart on d6, I didn’t imagine I had any real chances either in this variation.

Round 11: Yu Yangyi-MVL 0,5-0,5

An all-in game. Besides my opponent, a usual 1.d4 player, chose to play against the Najdorf with 6.h3.

A mutual evaluation error led to the ultimate draw.

Yu Yangyi-Mvl, Round 11.
Yu Yangyi-Mvl, Round 11.

During the game, we didn’t realize that 27.Rf2 (instead of 27.Bxe5?) was strong. After 27…Nc4, I look like I have threats and it doesn’t feel like it’s so nice to play for white. But in reality, after 28.g5 Nh5 (28…Nd5? 29.Bd3 +-) 29.Bc1! the nuisance potential of the Bishop pair should be a problem for black.

The game continued with 27…Qxe5 28.Re2 Ne4 29.Qd5 Qf4. I thought before playing 29…Qf4 and so my opponent had time to see that after the natural 30.Rde1? Nc3+! 31.bxc3 Rb8+ 32.Ka1 Rxe2 33.Bxe2 Qg3 34.Qd2 Qc7! 35.Bc4 (forced) 35…Qxc4 36.Qd4 Qc6, he would have been on the wrong side of the draw! Unfortunately, he preferred the solid 30.Ka1 and there was not much left to do.

Congratulations to Firouzja and Caruana, who won their ticket to the Candidates. As for me, I will have to get one of the two remaining places at the FIDE Grand Prix tournaments which will take place in February-March 2022.

Note that the Grand Swiss in Riga ended with a blitz tournament in memory of Tal in his hometown. In spite of my status of favorite as top seed in blitz, I had to be satisfied with a modest 13th place…

Top seed at the blitz Tal Memorial (Photo: Fide).
Top seed at the blitz Tal Memorial (Photo: Fide).

European Team Championship

It was a pleasure to be back in the French team, with a new-look line-up. In addition to Alireza Firouzja and the evergreen Etienne Bacrot, I was teamed up with two players I know very well, Maxime Lagarde and Jules Moussard, although this was my first time with them in the national team. Even though Maxime had already been selected in 2019, he and Jules were in a new situation, in a team destined to play the first roles. This may explain some of the poor decisions they made at the start of the tournament. In their defence, it is never easy to get into this new role.

The atmosphere within the team was good, everything went really well. We were permanently followed by a cameraman. He filmed us discreetly, and every day the French Federation would broadcast a video on the life of the group: http://echecs.asso.fr/Actu.aspx?Ref=13656

Alireza and I were both ready to play first or second board, no matter which order. Our captain, Sébastien Mazé, finally decided that Alireza would play on board 1. Alireza and I finally played all nine rounds.

Round 1: Austria-France 1-3

A quiet debut, where I won my white game against Dragnev (2548), and a match victory without too much trepidation.

Round 2: France-Croatia 2.5-1.5

A match against a dangerous team. My black game against Brkic (2599) followed a huge theoretical Najdorf line, where I made the questionable decision to give away the d6-pawn, which was not necessary. Fortunately, after much thought, my opponent decided to avoid any complications and return the d-pawn to ensure a draw.

Thanks to Etienne Bacrot’s victory, the team won its second match, making a good start to the tournament.

Round 3: Hungary-France 2.5-1.5

That’s where the problems started… Alireza did the job on the first board by beating Erdos after a very nice game. But on boards 3 and 4, there were some turnarounds: when I signed the draw because I had nothing left with white against Berkes (2676), the team was not in danger: Alireza and Maxime were pressing a bit, Etienne looked to have the draw in hand.

The situation turned around in ten minutes while I was on my way back to the hotel. When I saw the faces of Sébastien Mazé and Jules Moussard and quickly looked at the positions, I understood…

Concerning my game, I missed some luck. 17.c4 seems to give me a good advantage because after 17…Nc6 immediately, there is 18.Nd5!.

Mvl-Berkes, Round 3.
Mvl-Berkes, Round 3.

Berkes opted for 17…c5, with the idea that if black’s Knight gets to d4, it’s a draw right away. I could have played the Nh4-f5 manoeuvre, but it seemed a bit light, and I wanted to get a sharper position. After 18.Rad1, Black had to come up with a few more odd moves, including 18…h6 19.Nd5 Rac8 but everything seemed to fit. I continued with 20.Nxf6+ Qxf6 21.Rd7 and I had in mind the position that occurred after 21…b6 22.Red1 Nc6 23.R1d6 Re6 24.Qd3 (24.Rd5 doesn’t bring much) 24…Nd4 25.Rxe6 Qxe6 26.Rd5.If 26…f6, I had considered 27.Nh4 followed by Nf5 which could be strong, but after 26…Re8!,I had no other choice than 27.Nxe5 f6 28.Ng4 Qxe4 29.Qxe4 Rxe4 30.Ne3. Of course, I remained a little bit better, but it’s actually quite easy to hold. After a series of precise moves, my opponent managed to earn the half point.

This first team loss was obviously a big disappointment.

Round 4 : France-Turkey 2.5-1.5

We had to get back immediately, and we di dit by winning on the first two boards. Unfortunately, Etienne lost from a very good position.

As for my game, I took advantage of the fact that my opponent (Dastan, 2572) had not played for a year and a half. I think he must be a student and not a professional player. It showed because he took a lot of time to make his decisions. He was playing good moves, and then he started to take risks by grabbing a pawn on the Queenside without logically following it up with castling Queenside. In his defense, he had only 2 minutes left at that time!

Round 5: Armenia-France 2.5-1.5

Unfortunately, Maxime and Jules lost their footing on the last two boards, although their positions were ok. The difficulties started for me with this white game against Martyrosian (2624).

Mvl-Martyrosian, Ronud 5.
Mvl-Martyrosian, Ronud 5.


n the final position, I repeated moves because I had not seen the strength of 26.h4!. After 26…Be6 27.Rxd8+ Kxd8, simply 28.a3. Black doesn’t have 28…Ke7 because of 29.Nf5+ Bxf5 30.Rxf5 which promises a nightmarish Rook endgame. And above all, black doesn’t have 28…Rg6 29.Nxf7+ Ke7 either since there is 30.Ng5 available now. And after a neutral move, e.g. 28…b6, the plan would have been 29.Rf4 (but not 29.Nf5? right away because of 29…Rg4) followed by 30.Nf5, with a tangible advantage.

Last round against Azerbaidjan: the whole French team (Photo: Ecu).
Last round against Azerbaidjan: the whole French team (Photo: Ecu).

Round 6: France-Greece 3-1

A match that came after the rest day, when we already had two defeats on our record. Clearly, we were now in all-in mode 🙂 .

White brought the two points of the victory. On my side, I managed to get some small chances with black against Banikas (2592), which I unfortunately wasted with an inaccurate move at the end.

Round 7: France-Georgia 2.5-1.5

We knew it would be a complicated and tricky encounter against largely underrated players. As often, the match was won on the first board by Alireza 🙂 . The others made three draws without too much relief, of which mine with black against Sanikidze (2458).

Round 8: Russia-France 1.5-2.5

A decisive match and a prestige victory, brought by Maxime Lagarde. He had been assigned to play solidly with white against Esipenko, but he finally got a little something and created problems that his opponent did not solve in reciprocal zeitnot. Etienne and Alireza, who were flanking me, were both under pressure with black, and my glances to the right and left were not exactly reassuring. For my part, I had gotten a slight pressure typical of the Italian against Dubov (2714), though it probably wasn’t much in the end. I still continued the game in case things didn’t go well for Maxime. And when he finally won, I immediately offered a draw. But it’s true that it was quite intense mentally to follow the other games carefully while playing his own.

Round 9: France-Azerbaijan 2.5-1.5

Against Azerbaijan, it was again Alireza who was decisive, overcoming Mamedyarov who first did too much to avoid a draw, then managed to get out of a very dangerous position to transpose in a Rook endgame that I was sure would be a draw. At that moment, I was quietly in my room resting, and I saw that …Rf3 was the only move to draw. So I went down the hall to force Mamed into error 🙂 . And it worked!

On my board, I had long since drawn my black game against Radjabov (2763) with ease. I should even have continued in the final position, in which I was probably already slightly better.

A wonderful final victory to conclude the tournament, even if we missed the gold for a few points of a rather improbable tie-breaking system. We will be satisfied with this nice silver medal behind Ukraine.

Silver medal (Photo : Ecu).
Silver medal (Photo : Ecu).

In the end, the French team showed that it was hyper competitive on the international level, obviously boosted by the arrival of Alireza. We have to congratulate him for his major contribution to our result, and for his new #2 spot in the World rankings that he occupies after a fearful run of results the last couple of months.

On my side, I lacked a little bit of energy, and if I could have put more intensity, I could have caused more problems to my opponents, especially in the second half of the tournament. My performance was still very solid, and I am now on a 29-game unbeaten streak.

Next up for me is the Rapid & Blitz World Championship, which is back on after a cancelled 2020 edition because of Covid. As usual, it will take place between Christmas and New Year’s Day, this time in Nursultan, the capital of distant Kazhakstan.

Maxime’s games in bundesliga:

Maxime’s games in Riga:

Maxime’s games in blitz:

Maxime’s games in the European team Championship:

Maxime often answers in interviews that he likes and follows many sports, but that it is probably tennis that holds the number one place for him. Before heading to Berlin for the Bundesliga, it was therefore with pleasure that he went to La Roche-sur-Yon on October 8, at the invitation of the organizers of the Open de Vendée de Tennis / ATP Challenger. On this occasion, Maxime was able to spend some time with the future winner of the event, the Czech Jiri Vesely. A time of sharing which also saw them exchange a few balls on the court, then play a couple of chess games in front of the cameras. Here is a quick interview with the two players:

Online Marathon Finale

Champions Chess Tour

After my long stay in the United States, I finally came home on September 12. I was able to reconnect with the pleasures of French life 🙂 . I could see a lot of people again, because after 2 months in the United States, there were plenty of them that I had not been able to meet during the summer.

I was offered a wild-card to play the Champions Chess Tour Final for which I was the first non-qualifier. I had indicated beforehand that I didn’t want to go to Oslo and inflict an extra trip on myself, especially in view of the Grand Swiss in Riga and the preparations to be fine-tuned. Fortunately, the organizers agreed that I could play from Paris.

I also wanted to be in a more « studious » setting than my living room. After my manager contacted all the parties involved (town hall, club and FFE – French Chess Federation), I was able to play all my games from the Château d’Asnières, where the FFE headquarters are located, in a room that was kindly lent to me. It was also more convenient not to play from home, because the presence of a referee was mandatory. Joëlle Mourgues and Loriane Lebret shared the thankless task of watching me for nine days!

I had already played two tournaments on the Internet while not at home: in March, where I played from my training place in the Alps, and where Internet access was a bit complicated. And of course, in St. Louis this summer, just after the Sinquefield Cup, where I played in the club premises. But that was a little different too, because the games were played very, very early…

Le château d'Asnières - Image : Wikipedia
Asnières castle – (Wikipedia)

This final of the Champions Tour online was pretty uneven on my part. I think I got into the swing of things pretty well and had some good matches at the beginning. Then I got tired because of the intensity of the matches. Also, I was playing different openings, which made me overwork during the games, since I was in positions that I wasn’t very familiar with. Of course, I didn’t play randomly either, I knew a few things 🙂 .

MVL-Aronian: 4-3

A very interesting match, where I came back well in the last long rapid game (15 min + 10 is like a long game 🙂 ). There was a lot of bouncing around in the blitz, but I managed to win the Armageddon in the finish.

MVL-So: 2.5-0.5

My tournament was off to a good start, especially since I followed it up with a second win, this time against Wesley So. A short match (3 games) but it was quite intense in terms of games.

MVL-Carlsen: 2.5-3.5

I lost the third round to Magnus in a tie-breaker. The content of my games wasn’t bad, but I could have certainly done better to win this match.

MVL-Mamedyarov: 1.5-2.5

My first real regret was that duel with the Azeri… I missed a few chances to finish it off, and in general I didn’t play well because of the fatigue that was beginning to show. I wasn’t happy with myself after that match.

MVL-Duda: 2.5-0.5

Just before the rest day, I had a convincing win against Duda.

MVL-Artemiev: 2.5-3.5

A very tight match against the Russian player. I made some questionable decisions, including playing the Dutch in the second blitz game, after having missed the win in the first one with 3 minutes against 10 seconds!

MVL-Nakamura: 3-4

The spring broke in this match. I missed an elementary win in the second game, when I had come back from a difficult position:

Nakamura-Mvl, Ronde 6, 2e partie.
Nakamura-Mvl, Round 6, game 2

Instead of 43…Re2?, 43…Re1+! would have won on the spot. It hurt, because it was an easy opportunity to end the match.

In the third game, I made a « misclick » on the very first move (1.e3 instead of 1.e4!) which is a bit unpleasant, but finally I got away without damage 🙂 .

The fourth game was completely crazy; a kind of King’s Indian attack where his pawns were about to Queen. In the next position, I felt like I had the opportunity to launch a mating attack:

Nakamura-Mvl, Ronde 6, 4e partie.
Nakamura-Mvl, Round 6, game 4

Unfortunately I made a mistake with 29…Nf6?. The right way to attack would have been to first bring the Queen with 29…Qg5!. And after 30.Qg3 Bh5? (30…Qc8) 31.Qd6! Qe8 32.Qe5 Qd8 33.a5, I could not generate any more play on his King. From then on, he found all the right moves and won convincingly.

After winning the first blitz, I lost the second one due to questionable choices, and in the final Armageddon, I just blundered horribly.

MVL-Giri: 1.5-2.5

After the missed opportunities against Nakamura, fatigue took over. I made a non-match against Anish Giri, where I couldn’t find anything with White against the Petroff. And with Black, I lost a stupid game in the opening by playing 9…Tb8?! when I knew the right move was 9…Bb4.

Giri-Mvl, Ronde 8, 1e partie.
Giri-Mvl, Round 8, game 1

MVL-Radjabov: 0.5-2.5

This last match was like the previous one. I couldn’t understand what he was getting at with his Berlin. However, I couldn’t find the means to take an advantage, even putting myself in danger stupidly, especially in the first game.

Radjabov-Mvl, Round 9, game 2.

In the second game, I experimented with a Ragozin that went very badly, actually getting the kind of position I wanted to avoid 🙂 . In the diagrammed position, I knew that the theoretical continuation, which had been played the day before by Mamedyarov against the same Radjabov, was 7…Nc6 8.Nd2 g5!?. I wanted to try to play solid, even if it meant being slightly worse, with 7…c6 8.e3 Nd7 9.Bd3 Ndf6 10.0-0 Fg4, but my position deteriorated very quickly after 11.Qc2 Bxf3 12.gxf3 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Bd6 14.Bg3 and White threatens e4-e5, and I immediately found myself much worse off.

In the last game, I thought I had a chance, but he found a good defensive follow-up. I could still force a draw by perpetual, but knowing that I would have black in the last game, I tried a rather improbable all-in, which actually had little chance of succeeding 🙂 .

I regret this end of the tournament, which I would have preferred to finish on a better note. I may have underestimated the intensity of this format with 9 rounds of four games, plus possible tie-breaks. It’s actually very different from 9 long games. Even if the length of the match is the same, the intensity is different because 4 games, plus possible tie-breaks, means more twists and turns, and more things to digest. And it’s true that at the end, it clearly disturbed me. I wanted to play hard-fought and intense chess and I think that’s what I did, until fatigue got the better of me. I’m happy with the match against Wesley So, where I was very alert, where I could see a lot. It was my most accomplished match of the tournament.

I must also admit that overall, I held back a bit in this tournament: indeed, it was useless to come out with big preparations for a tournament where Magnus started with a 14-point lead over me 🙂 . That said, when we signed the contract at the beginning of the season, we all knew the format and we knew that this could happen.

Classement final du Champions Chess Tour
Champions Chess Tour final standings

In my opinion, it is certainly normal to take into account the preliminary tournaments, but players like Artemiev who only played 3 of them, were at a disadvantage for the final. I think that while keeping a bonus system at the start of the finals (at what scale, that’s the debate…), we could have imagined a play-off with the top 4 at the end. That would have added some stakes and all the players could have tried to play for that 4th place.

As far as I’m concerned, the main thing in the next few weeks will be to prepare myself as well as possible, in order to be ready for the Grand Swiss, which will start in Riga on 27 October. A competition with a huge stake, since it will qualify the first two for the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

If I qualify in Riga, I’ll gain three months of preparation! And if I don’t succeed, there is always the last possibility, to qualify via the FIDE Grand Prix tournaments, scheduled in Berlin from February to April.

Maxime’s games:

Since 2016, New Yorker Ben Johnson has been publishing a weekly long-form audio podcast with a personality from the chess world. Many top players have already revealed themselves on his airwaves, including Anand, Kramnik, Polgar, Nakamura, to name a few. But also authors, streamers, trainers and the list is not exhaustive…
At the end of September, Maxime was the 245th guest of this show, whose success is undeniable. The long format allows you to go more in depth with the guest, but listeners who are in a hurry can just go directly to the themes that interest them, since they are perfectly listed for each podcast.
Listen to the podcast on Ben’s website.

American tour

Road trip

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

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

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

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

SINQUEFIELD CUP

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

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

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

Here are some highlights from my tournament:

MVL-SVIDLER

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

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

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

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

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

MVL-SHANKLAND

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

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

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

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

MVL-SWIERCZ

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

Mvl-Swiercz, Round 5.

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

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

CARUANA-MVL

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

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

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

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

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

MVL-SO

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

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

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

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

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

Final standings of the Sinquefield Cup :


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

Final standings of the Grand Chess Tour

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

CHAMPIONS CHESS TOUR / AIM US RAPID

New tournament, new format, new schedule 🙂 .

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

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

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

Final standings:

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

SHOWDOWN CHESS 960

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

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

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

MVL-MAMEDYAROV

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

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

CARUANA-MVL

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

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

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

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

NAKAMURA-MVL

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

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

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

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

Final standings:

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

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

Maxime’s games at the Sinquefield Cup :

Maxime’s games at the Champions Chess Tour :

Maxime’s games at the Chess9LX :

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

Victory at the Sinquefield Cup!

Sinquefield Cup winner!

This article will be very short, because the Sinquefield Cup being just over, I have to start the AIM US Rapid almost immediately (August 28-September 5). An online tournament which will close the Champions Chess Tour before the Grand Finale in San Francisco.

I will conclude this (very) long stay in the USA with the Chess 9XL, a Chess960 tournament scheduled from September 8th to 10th, with Garry Kasparov playing!

As soon as my schedule allows it, I’ll come back in detail on this American tour, probably in mid-September.

I went to St. Louis directly after the World Cup in Sochi. I was able to rest and prepare for a few days, which paid off. Apart from my loss against Dominguez, I am very satisfied with my performance, which allowed me to win the Sinquefield Cup for the second time, after my victory in 2017. I was told by the organizers that it was the first time someone had won this tournament without any loss.

Thank you all for the support and encouragement during this Sinquefield Cup, I hope to continue my momentum!

Maxime’s games in the Sinquefield Cup: